Gofundme campaign raises $60K in 2 days for Calgary cancer patient's U.S. treatment

Oliver Descoteaux kept his battle with a rare form of cancer hidden for months before finally turning to social media to ask for help to pay for an expensive clinical trial in the United States. Two days later, he says he can't believe what's happening.

Oliver Descoteaux says 'it's really moving' to get so much support to take part in experimental drug trial

25-year-old Oliver Descoteaux says he's overwhelmed by how quickly he's raised tens of thousands of dollars in his Gofundme campaign to help him take part in a drug trial for cancer patients in the U.S. (Colleen Underwood/CBC)

Oliver Descoteaux had been hiding his battle with a rare form of cancer from friends for months — not knowing how to break the news.  

But when he realized he needed them to help save his life, he did what so many others have done in the past — he started a Gofundme campaign to ask for their support so he could take part of a new drug treatment trial in the U.S.

Then he hid from social media for the rest of the day. The next morning, he was overwhelmed with the response.

"I got woken up at 6 or something with my phone vibrating, with all the updates. It's been like that for the past few days, it's been absolutely amazing," he said. 

The 25-year-old, who recently graduated from the University of Calgary with a mechanical engineering degree, raised more than $60,000 in two days from both friends and strangers.

"I knew I'd have a decent amount of people saying, like, 'yeah, I'll pitch in.' But everybody posting their shared memories, and all the things like why they want to donate or why other people should donate, it's really moving, it's something else I really wouldn't expect."

Oliver Descoteaux's father says he is proud of his son for being so proactive as he fights to beat his rare form of cancer. (Oliver Descoteaux)

Descoteaux was diagnosed with INI1-deficient sinonasal basaloid carcinoma in January 2015.

He says he had been battling flu-like symptoms such as extreme tiredness and a lack of appetite for about a month. But the doctors kept telling him they didn't know why. Then the symptoms started to worsen. He felt light headed, dizzy and his vision was blurred.

That's when his parents became worried. They took him for a CT-scan, which led to the rare diagnosis.

"It's quite shocking how your life, in a fraction of a second, just goes onto a completely different track. It was just a matter of just doing what needs to be done after that. And then the hard work and all the hardship that goes along with it starts accumulating and you really start feeling it," said Jean-Gaston DesCoteaux, Oliver's dad.

Since then, Descoteaux has undergone four major surgeries to have the infected parts of his skull removed, as well as radiation and chemotherapy.

Last October, he was told he had had a reoccurrence. But instead of spiraling into a depression, he decided to use his analytical mind to figure out what to do next.

"I think I just looked at myself in the mirror and I tried to cry, I'm like, 'I should be feeling something,'" he said.

"That night I read my friend's pathology notes and the next day I somehow found this trial."

To participate in the trial in Chicago, Descoteaux says he was told he needs to put forth a $134,000 US deposit. He says the drug itself is paid for, so the money would go towards the cost of any treatment required to address complications or other problems that arise during the trial.

If all or even part of the money is not used up during the trial, Descoteaux say he will reach out to the supporters to ask what they'd like to see done with the money — such as donate to charity, for example.

Oliver Descoteaux has already undergone four major surgeries, dozens of radiation treatments and three rounds of chemotherapy to treat his cancer. (Oliver Descoteaux)

Descoteaux says his doctors have told him this type of cancer will continue to come back, so he will probably face more surgeries and cancer treatments down the road.

But at some point, even those might not help. That's why he is hoping the drug trial will work. The drug is supposed to inhibit the growth of abnormal cells and encourage them to grow normally.

"Hope is the unfortunate word though, because then you have all these attached feelings to it and if something doesn't go quite as expected it's absolutely crushing. But it's the best shot." 

The trial could start within a week or two. Right now he's waiting on more test results. In the meantime he's been in constant contact with the staff in Chicago who are willing to begin the treatment despite the fact that all the funds aren't there, trusting the rest of it will come, either through donations, savings or from family.

Descoteaux's dad says he's proud of all the work his son is doing to advocate for his own health.

"Obviously I don't enjoy the fact that he has to go through this, but I can't change that so to see him take on that challenge the way he does is just marvelous." 

His dad says Descoteaux has always been highly motivated and engaged in whatever he was involved in. Last year he took part in a fundraiser for cancer research at the University of Calgary while undergoing radiation and therapy.

"He raised the most money of all the people there," he said.

"Nobody knew he was going through cancer treatments then. He was keeping it kind of quiet. Even then he had the energy and the will and the desire to participate and contribute and be part of a movement in his community of students, to support something."


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