Fort McMurray firefighter approved for experimental cancer therapy
Bo Cooper hopes Car T Cell therapy will help him beat leukemia a third time
Fort McMurray's Bo Cooper is getting another chance to survive.
The 26-year-old is set to undergo experimental cancer treatment in the United States, therapy that may be his last hope in his long battle with cancer.
"Everybody is just really happy, really ecstatic. It's like a weight has been lifted off everybody's shoulders," said Cooper's friend Rob Van Hecke.
Cooper, a firefighter and professional MMA fighter, has been plagued with leukemia for most his adult life. Blindsided with a diagnosis last year — his third since 2011 — Cooper was told chemotherapy was no longer an option and his treatment options were limited.
He hopes Car T Cell therapy,a treatment rarely approved in Canada, will rid his body of the disease, and two major hurdles in getting that treatment were cleared this week.
The U.S. federal government will cover the "lion's share" of the cost, and doctors at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Md., have approved Cooper for the therapy.
Family still in limbo
Although relieved, Van Hecke says Cooper and his family are still in limbo.
If Cooper's cells don't respond well to the therapy, doctors will be forced to halt the treatment. They'll know for sure within the next week.
"The immune system is supposed to be able to fight off cancer, for the most part," Van Hecke said.
"When our own natural (system) can't do it on its own, that's when we get really sick. This process enhances the specific cells that are required to work with your immune system and kill the cancer.
"As happy and ecstatic as they are, there is some cautious optimism moving forward."
Just how much coverage the government is willing to commit to is unclear at this point, but the family expects to see a dollar figure within a few weeks.
"It sounds like they're willing to do something for him, but we just don't know the extent of it," Van Hecke said.
Even without medical coverage, $605,000 of the anticipated $900,000 cost of Cooper's therapy has already been raised through a community fundraising campaign.
"It's been a phenomenal campaign," Van Hecke said. "The family has said that 'thank you' almost sounds cheap because it doesn't fully reflect just how gracious they are."