“Dana-Farber has turned fear into hope”

Neil A. finds his inspiration and faith in many ways: through literature and poetry, the lyrics of country singer Eric Church, and traveling, specifically to the coast. Why? Just like the famous Lee Ann Womack song “I Hope You Dance,” Neil believes it’s a good reminder to “still feel small when you stand beside the ocean.”

In 2014, Neil was diagnosed with kidney cancer. A 4 cm complex cyst on his left kidney was discovered during a full-body scan offered through his company. As a top lawyer in Toronto, Canada, Neil feels adamant about preventative and proactive measures when possible. “Knowledge is pain, but I’d rather be in that pain than not know and stick my head in the sand,” he says.

Moskie, Neil’s family dog

After undergoing treatment in Toronto, it seemed like Neil was on the road to remission. Then, in 2018 his annual MRI picked up a nodule on his left lung. The original kidney cancer had spread. After a series of surgeries, the cancer became non-operational, and he decided it was time for a second opinion.

A tenacious patient who’s always hungry to learn, Neil conducted an extensive search to find the top doctors across North America before focusing on Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

He flew to Boston with his wife to meet Toni Choueiri, MD, director of the Lank Center for Genitourinary Oncology at Dana-Farber, and David Braun, MD, PhD. A Dana-Farber ad came on the radio during the taxi drive from the airport, and both broke down into tears.

“It was the feeling of hope and safety; I knew I was in the right place,” Neil recalls. He met Dr. Braun first, and the two bonded over their shared connection to Toronto.

“Dr. Braun was human. He talked to me about my life and my family,” Neil says, highlighting that the medical and emotional support he found from his Dana-Farber team started with Dr. Braun. After meeting Dr. Choueiri, both bantered with Neil and made him feel comfortable. They proposed a novel treatment: a targeted immunotherapy mixed with chemotherapy. But before treatment could start, new scans found the cancer had spread to Neil’s bones, which caused more worry during an already stressful time.

“I got a call from Dr. Braun after discovering the cancer spread. He said, ‘Don’t worry about the new scans. Kidney cancer commonly spreads to the bones.’” Neil recounts. “The fact that Dr. Braun called me out-of-the-blue just to reassure me was incredible. I thought to myself, ‘Who am I to be so lucky?’”

After several scans, the novel treatment slowed the cancer’s growth but didn’t shrink it. Drs. Braun and Choueiri soon recommended another groundbreaking treatment option, which Neil is happy to report is successfully shrinking his cancer. Since Neil began treatment, he has become a donor in support of Dr. Braun’s work at Dana-Farber.

“Dana-Farber has turned fear into hope,” Neil says. “It’s not baseless hope.  It’s grounded in science, compassion, experience, new techniques, and practicality.”