Closer to Free Ride

Closer to Free Funds Lifesaving Clinical Trial for Smilow Patient

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Christopher Brewster’s cancer story is one of repetition. It all started in the fall of 2019 when he was living in China and was diagnosed with lymphoma.

“My original diagnosis was hard to get because the first symptom that I had was back pain, severe back pain, and I thought it was maybe a pulled muscle, the doctors thought possible nerve damage,” Brewster said.

“But I eventually got an MRI and they found tumor pressing on my spine. That day, I went into surgery," he continued.

He was traveling between China and the U.S. during a global pandemic with a compromised immune system. He wore entire PPE suits with full ventilators on flights, taking every precaution between treatments that ultimately didn’t work.

“Chemo for the first time, went into remission, came back. Did chemo again in China, went into remission, came back. Stem cell in New Haven, it came back again,” Brewster said. “And then CAR-T, all within you know, under two years.”

But it was that CAR-T clinical trial at Smilow Cancer Hospital that’s given him the most hope.

“CAR-T attacks the protein on the cancer cell. And the standard CAR-T treatment targets one protein and the trial that I’m in targets two,” he explained. “Because one of the problems with CAR-T failing in some patients in the past is that the cancer can shed that one protein. So, by targeting two, I figured I had a much better shot.”

He likes those odds. Plus, he’s six months into remission. It’s the longest remission he’s had so far. He also likes that 100% of the money raised from Closer to Free goes to support programs like clinical trials that potentially save lives.

“I don't know what I’d do without access to be honest. I mean, the cancer that I had was so stubborn and came back so many times I'd still be fighting it, but I wouldn't have the same results that I’ve had,” Brewster said. “Not everyone has access to cancer treatment, it's expensive. And knowing that this enables other people to have access to that care at Yale is super important.”

He said the help from Yale Cancer Center and Smilow Cancer Hospital makes planning for the future easier. This year, the plan for Closer to Free is to ride with his son 40 miles in their first in-person ride.

“I’m really looking forward to it. I'm hoping to see some of the doctors and nurses out there, whether they're riding alongside or cheering us on from the sidelines,” Brewster said.

They’re on Team Brewster Family with a $3,500 fundraising goal. This year, teams of five or more can designate where they’d like their money to go.

“Whether it's research or physical therapy or, you know, direct patient assistance. So that's a wonderful addition," Brewster said.

They’re choosing physical therapy. It was his physical therapist that first introduced him to the Closer to Free ride.

“Having been in Smilow, for, you know, a couple of months in total time, the amount of exercise that I saw people doing up there was fairly limited,” Brewster said. “So, I'm hoping to have my money go towards physical therapy in general at Smilow, making sure that the people up there are doing what it takes to both bring them through this and make recovery so much easier.”

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