For years, Michael Becker was one of the drug executives navigating swarms of cancer doctors at the annual meeting of American Society of Clinical Oncology, where 40,000 people gather every year to talk about the hottest cancer-killing drugs. This year he came back, but it was very different. This time he spoke to an audience of drug executives as a patient living on borrowed time.
Becker has been on a personal crusade to raise awareness about the human papillomavirus, or HPV, which caused the cancer that will likely kill him–possibly soon. “I’ve chosen to try to find a way to make lemonade out of lemons,” he says. Part of his journey, in addition to a widely read blog and a book, A Walk With Purpose, was to open his life to Forbes, allowing us to enter his home, to play with his dog, and to attend his last session of chemotherapy, after he decided to stop treatment for his cancer. You should watch the video about his life that is embedded in this post.
“The way Michael has used his experience to educate others has been incredible,” says Brad Loncar, founder of the Cancer Immunotherapy ETF, who’s known Becker for six years. “His outspokenness about getting boys vaccinated for HPV will save lives.”
Becker says he is “frustrated” to know that sixty percent of boys don’t get all doses of the Gardasil vaccine, which could prevent them from getting the type of cancer that could kill him. Forty thousand cancers—mostly in the throat and the cervix—are caused by HPV each year. But he has not limited his newfound voice to HPV. He’s also become a vocal opponent of the “right to try” law just signed by President Donald Trump, which seeks to give terminally ill patients like him access to experimental drugs.
After spending his life working to develop new medicines (he never got one through), Becker was failed by them. He finagled his way into a clinical trial of an experimental drug, but the side effects were excruciating as one of his lungs filled with fluid and required a tube to drain it. After that, he had to be convinced to try chemotherapy, which, in fact, did make his tumors, which had spread to his lungs, shrink. He’s living proof, he says, that even an expert can be seduced by the promise of an experimental drug, even when there is a better alternative. “Companies that are less than ethical might promote drugs to patients in a way where they would be prohibited from doing so today,” he says.
Chemotherapy shrank his tumors at first, but eventually it stopped and Becker decided he couldn’t take its mounting side effects. He took a trip with his parents to Lake Louise, and then hiked five and a half miles of the Appalachian Trail with his beloved dog, Humphrey. Without treatment, he looks better. His hair grew back. His face has color. He knows that his next scans may show his tumors growing again but says he still doesn’t think he wants to try another treatment. “I’ve already been through three very difficult therapies and prefer the quality of life over quantity of life,” he says.
We’d like to thank Mike for letting us, and now you, into his life.
To stay in the loop with Forbes Health coverage, subscribe to the Innovation Rx newsletter here.
More Info: www.forbes.com