PORT DUFFERIN – Diagnosed with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma in May 2020 – in the midst of the isolation period of the COVID-19 pandemic – 59-year-old Dale Pye of Port Dufferin is fighting a very aggressive and fast-growing type of cancer.
Pye’s oldest daughter, Shelly Pye, told The Journal via e-mail, “They wanted to do a stem cell transplant here, which they can do in N.S., but the cancer became unresponsive and became refractory lymphoma. This meant dad couldn’t get the stem cells and instead needed to get CAR T-cell therapy [where a patient's T cells, a type of immune system cell), are altered in the lab so they will attack cancer cells]. CAR T-cell therapy for Dad is only offered in Boston. They frequently send patients there – with great success.”
A specialized physician from the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, where Pye will receive his treatment, frequently travels to Halifax, referring patients for the CAR T-cell therapy. “The doctor told me many patients from the Maritimes go to Boston and they had been working to bring the treatment to Nova Scotia. If COVID-19 hadn’t happened, they were going to be able to offer it here in Canada. But, since the pandemic, it’s been put on pause,” Shelly said.
Personal expenses are not covered by MSI – with the exception of possible flight and accommodation for the patient – so the family is raising funds to enable the trip to Boston with support. Shelly will be making the journey with her father, taking two months off work, as he cannot make the trip alone and he will need assistance after treatments.
Taking the U.S. exchange into consideration, the family has estimated flights, taxis to and from the hospital, accommodations and food for a two-month period will cost in the $15,000 range. Family, friends and community members are coming forward to offer support to Pye and his family, to enable him to take advantage of this lifesaving treatment.
A GoFundMe account has been established and promoted on Facebook, and 50/50 tickets have been for sale. Local businesses and organizations are contributing to the family or to an account set up at Scotiabank in Sheet Harbour. Currently, $9,000 has been raised and more has been pledged.
“Social media is a great way to see what’s going on,” said Shelly, “… and community and family support has been amazing. The response in the last few weeks has been so overwhelming; we just can’t thank everyone enough.”
On Friday (Jan. 29), Shelly received the call about their date of departure.
“They originally said more than likely the second week of February – and it’s been booked for February 8.”
The father and daughter will be staying at a hotel for patients, less than a mile from the hospital where Pye will receive his treatments.
Pye, a labourer by trade and father of two daughters, has undergone significant treatment here in Nova Scotia – scans, bloodwork, blood transfusions, biopsy and chemotherapy. He has completed six rounds of R-CHOP chemotherapy and three rounds of GDP chemotherapy and high doses of methotrexate.
“Dad is dealing as best he can and has tolerated the chemotherapy alright,’ said Shelly. “But it’s so much travel back and forth to the city [Halifax].”
The last few weeks Pye has undergone tests for his heart and lungs to ensure he is strong enough to make the trip. “My Dad is very strong and told the doctors that he wants to live and will do whatever he needs to do.”
While the estimate is for them to be gone two months or longer – the timeline depends on his reaction from side effects.
In this procedure, cells are collected and sent away to be modified to fight the cancer and then transfused back into his body. He needs to stay within 20 minutes travel time from the hospital and the procedure will be for at least 30 days. Before returning home to Port Dufferin, he will have a PET scan to verify that treatment has worked and to reveal how his tissues and organs are functioning.
“[My sister] Melissa and I – and her son, Jackson – just want Dad to beat this and be cancer free and be able to do all the things he used to be able to do. He loves hunting and fishing and being outside with his grandson Jackson. Many times, I asked Dad what his thoughts are and he said, ‘I feel confident about this working and – if it wasn’t for my family and community support – I probably wouldn’t live very long without this treatment.’”
“The worry and precautions with COVID have me very scared - for myself and Dad,” said Shelly.