John-Peter Bradford’s head and neck cancer started in his salivary glands. The Ottawa resident was diagnosed in 2009 with the disease already at stage 3, meaning the tumours were large and the cancer had spread from where it had started.
The radiation therapy and surgery that saved his life and eliminated the cancer have left him without functioning salivary glands, so speaking and eating require him to constantly drink water. The left side of his mouth and left shoulder and side of his body don’t function properly.
“But I’m happy as hell!” he says unreservedly. “I live a very full and productive life.”
He wasn’t always so accepting of his fate. “When you’re diagnosed with cancer you suddenly realize there is an expiration date on your birth certificate and you might know what it is,” he says. “It was almost paralysing to think of dying and the pain it would cause my family.”
His successful treatment came from participating in a clinical trial studying the use of very precise positron emission tomography (PET) scans to deliver radiation therapy in a very targeted way, and by varying the doses applied to different areas depending on the size and location of cancer as shown by the scans.
Since then, he co-founded the Life-Saving Therapies Network (LSTN), which works to obtain faster access to better treatments for Canadians with lethal diseases – including head and neck cancer. The aim is to save or extend lives of people who don’t have a lot of time. To do this, LSTN focuses on reform and innovative approaches to regulatory processes, clinical trial protocols, and reimbursement for treatments.