Daily Discoveries. It was supposed to be one of the best days of Tom Marsilje’s life. After years of hard work and determination, the research team he was a member of had developed a new drug to treat lung cancer. The same day the breakthrough treatment was announced at the 2012 ASCO conference, a doctor urgently told Tom’s wife the news: he had colon cancer, and they had to operate as soon as possible.

Tom’s a cheerful guy. He’s Stage IV, but prefers to think of himself as “currently incurable.” He undergoes biweekly chemo treatments just to keep the disease at bay, or “treading water,” as he puts it.

The Driving Force. Tom’s mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer when he was getting his graduate degree in Medicinal Chemistry. He and his sister were her end-of-life caregivers, and that only bolstered his desire to work in drug research.

Challenges, Chances and Looking Forward.
In the five years since his diagnosis, Tom has become an advocate for cancer patients and clinical trial participants across the country. He works full-time as a research consultant for Novartis. His blog, entitled (in typical Tom fashion) “Adventures in Living Terminally Optimistic,” keeps readers informed on developments in cancer treatment.

He cofounded a web community called the Colontown Clinic, which advocates for a bold new way to give patients and caregivers access to important information about colorectal cancer clinical trials.
“We bring patients together and talk about clinical trials 24 hours a day, every day. It’s about educating patients about new trials opening up and new data coming out and providing a space to talk about it.”

Tom remarks, “I was shocked by my diagnosis, like anybody who gets diagnosed at a young age. But one of the things I was able to do from the beginning is separate the different hats I wear as scientist and patient. I consider it to be the greatest science project of my life.”