UW Carbone Cancer Center improving survival rates for gastrointestinal cancer patients

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Tom Freye was diagnosed with colon cancer in his mid-forties.

“Not sure colon cancer but stage 4,” recalled his mother Dee Burke. “He was given a six month prognosis.”

Freye, who was already battling ulcerative colitis, sought treatment at the UW Carbone Cancer Center with Dr. Dustin Deming.

“Unfortunately in Tom’s case, his cancer had already spread by the time we found it,” said Dr. Deming. “We fortunately have a lot of treatment options that hopefully we can use to help prolong people’s life.”

Deming and the staff at UW Carbone Cancer Center worked to form a treatment plan.

He says new additional treatments are helping patients live longer.

“It went from a disease where most people passed within six months to a disease where we can keep many patients alive for many years,” said Deming.

The treatments and research are coming at a critical time as over 100,000 people are diagnosed with colon cancer every year in the United States.

“It actually ends up being one of the leading causes of cancer related death,” he added.

The age of those diagnosed is also getting younger.

“The rate at which people are diagnosed in their 20s, 30s and earlier 40s that has doubled for colon cancer and actually quadrupled for rectal cancer in the last 20 to 50 years,” Deming continued.

For Freye, a patient in his mid-forties, six month quickly turned into two years.

“We knew we was going and getting worse, but we just kept going,” said Burke.

Burke says her son knew his death was inevitable he told her how he wanted to be remembered.

“He would say, ‘Never let anybody say I lost my battle with cancer, because I’ve only ever gained from cancer,’” said Burke.

Freye died in March 2017 at the age of 48.

Deming remembers his positive spirit the entire time.

“He was going to make sure that others would benefit from his experience,” said Deming.

Dr. Deming says currently he and his team are working on new techniques to understand the individual gastrointestinal cancers to actually try and predict what a patient might respond to.

“Just like when you have an infection, they send off a culture and they try to figure out which is the right antibiotic,” he said. “We’re hoping to do a very similar thing with cancer and chemotherapy.”

If you’d like to support the work UW Carbone is doing for colon cancer research, you can sign up for Bowlin’ for Colons a fundraiser on March 3rd.