A 1,500-Mile Journey to Ivy Brain Tumor Center
In August 2016, Police Officer Ryan Masales was driving home from work when he realized something was wrong, almost as if he’d gotten into a crash—he’d had a grand mal seizure. He was admitted to Vancouver General Hospital in British Columbia, Canada. There, Ryan had a CT scan, where they discovered he had a brain tumor. He was quickly taken into surgery and a biopsy that revealed Ryan’s tumor was glioblastoma, or GBM, the most aggressive form of brain cancer.
“I had no idea what glioblastoma was at all,” Ryan explained, recalling the moment he was diagnosed and told by his surgeon that it was not something he was going to win. “And I do remember that because it was very important for me. As a police officer, I wanted to think that I was going to get past anything.”
“It was a real shock,” his wife Estelize Masales said. “Because prior to this, Ryan had been extremely healthy.” Following surgery, Ryan received the standard of care for glioblastoma – radiation and temozolomide, an oral chemotherapy. He was also put on seizure medication.
Six months later, Ryan started having seizures again. He was transported to the hospital where they did a CT scan, and through a follow-up MRI discovered his cancer was growing despite the treatment he was receiving.
Ryan then had a second brain surgery, and they decided with his oncologist that the only option was to try a second-line treatment. Five months later, they learned that, yet again, the cancer was growing.
Fighting Back Against GBM
Despite the challenges, Ryan and his wife Estelize weren’t giving up.
“Giving up is just, you know, even in our lives prior to this was just never something you did,” Estelize said. “Like Ryan said, as a police officer you go into a fight, which is how we see this thing, and the aim is to come out winning. And that’s always been how we’ve lived.”
That was the moment Estelize began searching for precision medicine options—and found the Ivy Brain Tumor Center, a brain tumor clinical trials program in Phoenix, AZ. “For me, anyways, it was a huge relief, because you always try to stay one step ahead,” Estelize explained. “So, that was our first big hurdle.”
The Ivy Center’s clinical trial screening process confirmed that the genetics of Ryan’s tumor were a match for a new drug combination being tested in a Phase 0 clinical trial. This innovative approach bridges the gap between initial drug testing and clinical efficacy studies, with the goal of providing a better understanding of how an individualized drug cocktail works for a patient in as little as seven days.
Presented with a new avenue of hope, the couple with their seven-year-old son planned to travel to Phoenix, Arizona, from Vancouver, Canada, so Ryan could begin treatment at the Ivy Center.
A Send Off from the Couple’s “Family in Blue” to Ivy Brain Tumor Center
Before the family left Canada, both having worked for the Abbotsford and Vancouver Police Departments, they received a surprise from their “family in blue.” The police departments organized a police-escorted sendoff from Abbotsford to their hotel at the Vancouver International Airport. “All the way from Abbotsford to Vancouver they blocked traffic on the highway, in the cities,” Estelize explained.
Once at the Ivy Brain Tumor Center, Ryan took the experimental drug combination for five days leading up to a planned resection of his tumor by Dr. Nader Sanai, Director of the Ivy Center.
During the operation, the team woke Ryan up for language testing to help protect the language function so the operation didn’t permanently affect it. The surgery was a complete success. All of the tumor was removed and samples of the tumor tissue were sent to the Ivy lab to determine if the drugs being used had an impact or not.
The advanced analysis quickly found that only one of the two drugs had penetrated his tumor. This was valuable information. It meant it would not benefit him to be on this particular drug combination and that as a team they would need to continue looking for other options for him outside of the clinical trial.
The surgery helped to give him an additional window of quality of life, allowing him to spend more time with his wife Estelize and their son Ryder. He left Arizona in good spirits and continued to treat the tumor at home in Canada.
The End of a Journey and Hope for the Future
In March 2020, Ryan ultimately succumbed to the disease after a valiant fight. Nevertheless, his participation in the clinical trial played a vital role in accelerating research to identify new drugs that will increase life expectancy and contribute to a brain cancer cure.
“I do consider it to be a very privileged experience that I have to work with our clinical trial patients, so that we can build on it and continue to open up new avenues for the next patient,” Dr. Sanai said. “Ryan’s participation in this clinical trial was certainly meant to help him, but he also knew he was helping this larger community of patients that are struggling like he did.”
And through it all, the Masales family showed courage and strength, never accepting defeat.
“Anybody that knows Ryan would say that he’d say ‘Never, ever give up.’ That was his one thing, and he never did,” Estelize said. “He fought to the very end and coming to the Ivy Brain Tumor Center was part of that fight.”