Sanderson battles on

BARBARA Briggs's cancer story touched the likes of Alan Rickman and Scarlett Johansson.

But following her death, it is now her husband, Paul Sanderson, from his new home in Bombo, who continues the fight to have immunotherapy accessible to all cancer sufferers.

The New York costume designer, writer and producer died in 2009 but the love Sanderson had for his wife still shines through.

"The biggest philosophical disagreement we had is that she liked blue cheese and I didn't," he said.

"Pretty much everything else we agreed on."

Born in Sydney, Sanderson remains an actor, writer and director - Alan Rickman directed and starred in one of the couple's co-written plays in London.

But the test to their bond came when Briggs was diagnosed with stage four colorectal cancer in 2007.

"After she was diagnosed, she skipped down the street saying, 'I've got cancer, I've got cancer' - she thought she'd get some chemotherapy and it would be cured in three months," Sanderson said.

Chemotherapy, drug treatments and a failed colostomy followed and Sanderson began researching her treatments, noticing several had a detrimental effect on Briggs's health.

"She was prescribed a protein supplement because she'd lost so much weight," he said.

"I looked into it and discovered it contained an amino acid, cystine, that causes the tumour to grow - morphine's another and that's the drug of choice for cancer patients.

"We went through four hospitals in New York because they caused damage to Briggs, each one."

He said a study by Royal North Shore Hospital had showed chemotherapy's effect on five-year cancer survival rates was 2.1 per cent and it was only effective in treating 2-4 per cent of cancers.

"Chemotherapy is not evidence-based, it never has been evidence-based except for that range," he said.

Eventually, Sanderson heard about an immunotherapeutic vaccine developed at Oxford University.

"I started looking at the studies and they had this incredible success rate in stage four colorectal cancer," he said.

"What they do is they isolate a particular protein on the tumour and then they do a simple blood draw and they take white cells from your blood draw and they load the protein into the white cells and then inject that back into you.

"That travels to your lymph nodes, alerts your immune system to that particular protein and in going after the protein, it goes after the cancer cells - it's such a natural thing."

Despite the studies and earlier successes with similar treatments by Dr William Coley since the 1890s, Briggs's oncologist did not support the treatment, leaving Sanderson to pursue it himself.

"I'm pursuing it with the company and getting nowhere, I write to the CEO who put me in touch with the vice-president who was in charge of it in Paris and I emailed the vice-president and he didn't even know there had been trials with colorectal cancer," he said.

A public appeal ensued on YouTube to help Briggs gain access to the treatment with the help of Google chairman Eric Schmidt - a petition gained about 3000 signatures, including Rickman, Johansson and Naomi Watts.

But just four days after American talk show host Katie Couric agreed to make representations to the drug company's CEO on Briggs's behalf, Briggs became critically ill, later dying in hospital due to fluid build-up in her lungs.

Briggs kept a diary of her condition and treatment and after her death, Sanderson compiled it into a book titled Love, Cancer and the Medical Profession.

"If I'd known what was in the book, she wouldn't have died," he said.

"There was nothing about what you're going to face every step of the way."

He said the book contained information about the process of dealing with surgeons, oncologists and radiologists, as well as tips Briggs found useful during her treatment, including changes to her diet and dealing with the mouth sores she experienced during chemotherapy.

Love, Cancer and the Medical Profession is available in hard copy or as an e-book.

The petition remains active to push for universal access to immunotherapy - visit change.org/petitions and search for "Briggs".

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop