A fit and healthy research scientist is now in a fight for his life after being diagnosed with the rarest form of colon cancer.
Marty Paine, 38, has spent the last few years travelling the world in an effort to find a cure for diseases such as ovarian cancer and brain tumours in children.
He was living and working in Northern France in May 2020 when he suddenly began experiencing symptoms similar to that of a stomach ulcer, his aunt Lynn Shaw told Yahoo News Australia on Thursday.
X-rays of his lungs and liver and blood tests showed no irregularities so the 38-year-old - who grew up in Ulladulla, NSW - got on with his life.
However, by June the pain was still persistent and this time, CT scans showed massive tumours on his liver, lungs and lymph nodes.
A colonoscopy later confirmed he has aggressive Stage 4 colon cancer with a BRAF DNA mutation.
BRAF mutations are incredibly rare and only account for 10 per cent of colon cancer cases.
Without treatment he was told he would have just six months to live.
“It’s a beast of a cancer,” Ms Shaw said, noting how fast it had grown in between the two examinations.
She called the diagnosis “a massive shock”.
“More ironically because of the work that he’s done in his career - that his life goal is to cure cancer,” she said.
Scientist suffers through hotel quarantine in silence
Dr Paine immediately packed up his belongings and tried to book a flight home to Australia - but the Covid-19 pandemic delayed his plans.
The 38-year-old’s flights were cancelled repeatedly but eventually he was able to board a plane and landed in Sydney to undergo the two-week hotel quarantine after being denied an exemption.
“It’s been a pretty horrific journey, going from an incredibly fit, perfectly normal and incredibly engaged young man to getting diagnosed with a particularly aggressive, untreatable, incurable cancer and being on the other side of the world during a pandemic,” Ms Shaw said.
Dr Paine had decided not to tell the majority of his family about his diagnosis until he could see them in person, so the quarantine was “pure emotional hell”, Ms Shaw said.
He was finally able to begin treatment upon his release, but after numerous bouts of intensive chemotherapy, the treatment suddenly stopped working.
Clinical treatment provides pain relief
Dr Paine has just completed his second week of a new treatment called BEACON.
It’s his best and only option at this point, Ms Shaw said.
The medication has been able to relieve some of his pain and appears to be doing its job, she said.
A side effect of the treatment is acne, so Dr Paine goes to bed each night hoping “he’ll wake up pimplier than ever,” his aunt said.
Dr Paine is flooded with support
The 38-year-old’s family have created a GoFundMe to help pay for the more than $50,000 BEACON treatment.
“We love him and want him around. Family is everything. It’s as simple as that,” they wrote on the fundraiser site, which has since raised more than $100,000.
"It's hard to find the words to express my gratitude to every single one of you who has donated to this fundraiser for my treatment,” Dr Paine said.
“To know I have the love and support from so many people from around the world - friends, family as well as people I've never met - leaves me so humbled.”
Ms Shaw said all of the support has “reinvigorated Marty in a way the cancer treatment can’t - it’s doing the job on his soul.”
Dr Paine said that if he does not survive, he will donate the money raised to cancer researchers to continue with his work.
“He’s a scientist up until the end,” Ms Shaw said.
Surfer boy says cancer research ‘chose him’
Dr Paine, who loves the sunshine, swimming and surfing, told Yahoo News Australia that his career “chose him”.
“As an analytical chemist, early on I was able to work on many different projects involving different diseases.
“I was just fortunate enough that some of those were cancer projects.
“These were always the most interesting as they posed the biggest challenges scientifically and therefore the research outcomes generally had the highest scientific impact.”
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