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In Israel for cancer treatment, county pol buoyed by community support back home

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ROTTERDAM – In  between tears,  Brian McGarry recalled how the debilitating pain of dealing with Stage 4 prostate cancer got so bad six weeks ago that he called hospice care and was ready to throw in the towel.

“When you’re in pain, it’s not worth living,” said McGarry , a Rotterdam Republican who serves on the Schenectady County Legislature, adding he couldn’t focus and was sleeping in 3o-minute blocks.

His wife, Patty McGarry, who doubles as his caretaker,  said “the big difference was once the pain management got under control, it was like a 180 (degree turn). Brian chimed in that once the pain subsided he started to once again “focus on life” and the simple things in life like brunch and dinner.

Today, the Rotterdam father of six adult children, who turns 64 later this month, spends most days with Patty at  Sheba Medical Center in Tel HaShomer in Israel where he’s days away from getting his first dose of lutetium-177, a drug gaining popularity as a way to treat advanced cancer that is still in clinical trials in the United States for prostate cancer.

“I’m at the 11th hour where I’m ready, let’s get this going,” said McGarry.

McGarry recalled how having to take the nonstop 11-hour flight from Kennedy Airport to Tel Aviv on March 11 by himself was one of the hardest decisions he ever had to make.

Patty was supposed to travel with him but she wasn’t listed in the paperwork that granted her husband the special exemption for the trip. She made the journey to the Middle East the next day.

He was forced to have partial hip replacement March 25 to repair a fracture, a common occurrence, McGarry said, when cancerous bones are located  next to healthy ones. If the bloodwork looks good, the first of what will be a total of four applications of the lutetium-177 therapy, which is flown in from Germany or Australia, could occur as early as  Sunday.

“It will definitely help me, to what extent is the variable… ‘will it give me years, will it give me months? Only God knows,” he said.

The former educator who also ran a photography business, explained that he must undergo a PSMA PET scan, that “identifies markers on tumors, and they give you the (lutetium-177) which lands right on the tumor site and releases low-dose radiation over a period of time to kill the tumor.”

After that he’ll be in quarantine at the hotel by himself for three days.

“For 72 hours, I cannot be in the same room with my wife, so that’s the issue right now – ‘Am I self-sufficient enough to be by myself and take care of myself for three days?’” he said. He said nausea is one possible side effect but patients who have had the therapy have not reported any other adverse effects.

McGarry will have to wait between three-to-nine weeks for the second treatment, a process that McGarry will have to endure three more times for a total of four applications.

“Then I go home, and a period of time goes by, and I come back over and I guess do it again,” added McGarry.

His friends back in Rotterdam and rural Schenectady County  have set up a GoFundMe page to help the McGarrys with mounting medical bills that between the lutetium treatments and partial hip replacement stand at around $100,000. As of Tuesday afternoon, the site had raised $44, 605, with 41 messages from friends expressing well-wishes to the family.


He recounted about a half dozen people reached out to him about starting the GoFundMe page, which he turned down. Eventually, Deborah Proulx of Duanesburg, a family friend, convinced him it do it. The site has been up since March 15.

“The response was immediate, and we had raised in one day, $25,ooo,” said Proulx, whose two children had Brian McGarry as a teacher. She recounted having a conversation not long after that when McGarry wanted to take take the site down.

“I just said you’ve made an impact on  so many people, and to maybe look at it as a gift that so many people want to give for themselves as well as for him,” she added. “There’s peace and joy in giving.”

He’s hoping his health insurance company, which has told him to keep all his receipts, will also pick up some of the medical bills.

McGarry said he is humbled and overwhelmed by all the love from the community. He tries to keep everyone updated on his progress on Facebook.

That long gruelling journey from Rotterdam to Israel, with stops in Houston, began in earnest in January 2014 when McGarry was diagnosed with  Stage 4 prostate cancer. Since then, he’s made dozens of trips to a University of Texas MD Cancer Center in Houston for trial treatments, noting that over the years the cancer has “waxed and waned from a raging fire to little embers that are just harmless.”

In hindsight, McGarry realizes getting his blood tests done regularly to determine his PSA levels instead of once in nine years since he was 47-years old might likely have saved him a lot of pain and heartache.

“If I had just had annual check ups, if I had just went and had blood work for my PSA, this all could have been avoided, I’m so discouraged in myself,” adding with a chuckle, “I feel like walking up to every guy in the street and say ‘what’s your PSA?”

Patty McGarry said despite all the pain racking her husband’s body that he mostly maintains a healthy attitude that uplifts her and their children.

https://www.timesunion.com/news/article/In-Israel-for-cancer-treatment-county-pol-buoyed-16081277.php

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