Leland Fay feels normal. Better than normal, if there is anything better.
He exercises every day and often hikes, climbing 14,115-foot-high Pikes Peak not too long ago. He has been keeping up with his hockey-playing sons, including a stint as their coach. An engineer, Fay is leading a team of more than 60 other engineers at a global aerospace and advanced technologies company.
No small feats for a 45-year-old man who had 98 brain tumors.
After treatment by neurosurgeon Robert Breeze, MD, at Rocky Mountain Gamma Knife Center, Fay’s brain cancer, which grew from metastatic melanoma, is no longer spreading or causing any symptoms or debilitation. And immunotherapy and surgeries for tumors in other organs has shut down the melanoma.
Outside of the hours required to undergo seven Gamma Knife treatments during the winter and summer of 2013 for his brain tumors, he hasn’t missed any work due to the non-invasive radiosurgery treatment.
“I feel great,” Fay says.
All but one of his 98 brain tumors responded to treatment with the Gamma Knife, a high-precision device that safely delivers gamma rays to the targeted areas of the brain while avoiding surrounding healthy tissue. Number 98 was surrounded by necrotic tissue and was surgically removed, Fay says.
"I really wanted to be around and be aware for my sons. I chose Gamma Knife
because it selectively targets only the cancer cells."
-Leland Fay, Gamma Knife patient
Fay’s battle with cancer began with a black bump on top of his fair Irish head. He had it checked in late 2011 by a dermatologist, but the melanoma was initially misdiagnosed. Six months later, the cancer had spread. In quick succession, over three months, he had surgeries for tumors in his stomach, lymph nodes, lungs and liver.
“It was pretty bad,” Fay says.
Like a good engineer, he researched all avenues that might provide a solution to his devastating problem. He took action where he could, changing his diet, exercising daily, and drawing deeply on his faith. He had long ago given up smoking and drinking. By Thanksgiving 2012, the Colorado Springs resident was participating in an immunotherapy drug trial in Los Angeles.
“I got radical. I decided to throw everything in the book at it,” Fay says. “But I got kicked out of the LA trial because they found 43 brain tumors. They should have found 98.”
After the engineer researched technologies on the internet and consulted with his University of Colorado Hospital oncologist, he went to see Dr. Breeze for Gamma Knife treatment.
“When you have lots of tumors in the brain,” Fay says, “radiation of the whole brain is considered — that or hospice — but I didn’t want to lose functioning. I didn’t want to lose memory. I really wanted to be around and be aware for my sons. I chose Gamma Knife because it selectively targets only the cancer cells.”
He began treatment with Breeze in winter 2013. If that many brain tumors seems an insurmountable obstacle to many, it didn’t to Fay or Breeze. Dr Breeze listened and agreed, Fay says, when he asked him to increase the pace and length of the Gamma Knife treatment sessions to fully and quickly attack his 98 tumors.
“Dr. Breeze is a great guy — smart as all get-out and with a great bedside manner,” Fay says. “He obviously cares a great deal about his patients.”
In the end, he recalls it took seven treatments. The shortest duration was 90 minutes. The longest session was more than four hours.
“You show up early in the morning. You are offered Valium for stress. The staff is great. They make you feel very comfortable,” Fay says. “They have to numb your forehead and sides of your head because they use screws to secure a frame to your head. I took a pain pill. The treatments are not overly painful.”
The frame is firmly attached because it serves as a reference point for focusing the gamma radiation beams where previous scans of the brain have pinpointed the lesions.
“I would be tired after treatments,” Fay says. “but I haven’t had any problems with memory or any other neurological deficits.”
Fay also is taking an FDA-approved immunotherapy drug trial to bolster the chances of keeping the melanoma from growing.
“I had this horrible diagnosis and to this day I’m still asymptomatic,” Fay says. “I go to work every day. I stay busy. It’s been business as usual.”
He considers himself fortunate. A big chunk of his scalp is missing where the melanoma was first removed. His neck bears the scars of the removal of his lymph nodes. But for a man who was facing less than a 5 percent chance of survival — who heard from one doctor several years ago he had six weeks to live — he feels “pretty normal.” And normal is great.
To learn more about his journey, read Fay’s blog at www.98braintumors.com.