Hill's 'huge miracle:' New 45th District Senator healthy again after pill eliminates his lung cancer
January 13, 2011 · 3:58 PM
Diagnosed with lung cancer in March of 2009, first-year Sen. Andy Hill faced a grim future — and with each stage of treatment, the prognosis only got worse.
The cancer started in his left lung, but spread to the right one. Surgery would do no good because the cancer had already spread to the lymph nodes. Doctors could only tell Hill to wait and see if the chemotherapy and radiation would improve his condition.
Staring at the possibility of death, the 47-year-old Redmond resident never wavered. Instead, he only worked harder to find a solution.
“I wasn’t getting the best of news from the very start, but at the same time I felt like it wasn’t my time,” said Hill, a husband and father of three who never smoked in his life and lived a healthy, active lifestyle. “I felt like I was going to beat it. I kept thinking I have to find that silver bullet that will take care of it and I kept very positive.”
In October of 2009, he was approved by a clinical trial in Denver to use a drug called crizotinib, a white pill which is part of a new arsenal of “targeted” cancer therapies. Hill and his wife, Molly, call the pill “a miracle.”
The pill was developed over the past decade to keep tumors in check by blocking the production of proteins that make cancer grow. In other words, instead of attacking all proteins, like chemotherapy, which scorches the whole body, crizotinib, just eliminates the cancer-spreading proteins, creating no side effects and a stronger, healthier body.
Since he started taking the pill in October 2009, the cancer tumor continually subsided and the chest scans since February 2010 show no cancer at all. He is not cured from cancer, but he has regained his strength and is doing things, such as jogging, hiking and skiing, he once thought he would never do again.
“I call it a huge miracle,” Molly said. “We are just incredibly lucky. I knew we could do it.”
Every other month, Hill travels to Denver to get a chest scan to make sure the cancer has not reappeared. So far, so good.
Armed with a can-do attitude and plenty of family support from his wife, daughters Katie, 14 and Allie, 12 and his son, Charlie, 10, Andy, a retired Microsoft software designer, remains cancer free.
“We never thought once that he wouldn’t beat it,” Molly said. “We kept thinking we were going to get through it.”
‘A SECOND CHANCE IN LIFE’
The six white pills Andy now takes daily gave him what he calls “a second chance in life” — one that he is now living out in Olympia as the new state senator of the 45th District, which includes parts of Redmond.
Before he was diagnosed with cancer, Andy was an avid community activist, volunteering at his children’s schools and serving as the treasurer and president of the PSTA at Emily Dickinson Elementary School. In addition, he coached his children’s soccer teams and was on the board of trustees for the Lake Washington Youth Soccer Association (LWYSA), most recently serving as president right before his cancer diagnosis. He jogged three times a week and played soccer on an adult team once or twice a week.
In late 2008, he started feeling sick and doctors at first diagnosed him with pneumonia, but the antibiotics didn’t work. Despite lots of poking and prodding, doctors couldn’t pinpoint his problem. His sickness got worse and worse, then he coughed up blood in March of 2009 and that’s when the doctors performed a chest CT scan, which revealed a cancerous tumor in his left lung.
“It took my doctors over four months to diagnose this disease (lung cancer), figuring that a healthy, athletic person that had never smoked a day in his life would never have lung cancer,” he said.
Chemotherapy and radiation helped a bit, but not nearly enough. The worst of the news came when Andy found out that the tumor spread to the lymph nodes and the other lung, eliminating the possibility of a surgery solution.
That’s when Andy, who has an MBA from Harvard Business School, along with his doctor from the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, started searching for clinical trials — really his only hope to survive.
He was relentless in his search and travelled all over the country to try to find something that would kill his cancer.
Finally he found “that silver bullet.”
MR. HILL’S MIRACLE
In his research, he found a mutation in three percent of lung cancer patients — all of them young, non-smoking males — where two genes “had gotten squished together and the result was that it made the cells cancerous and created this protein that allowed the cancer to grow,” Andy said. He found a clinical trial in Denver, where he grew up, that offered a pill called crizotinib for these patients. He qualified for the clinical trial and started taking the pill in October of 2009. Before taking the pill, he had a constant cough, chest pains and he had lost his voice. After one week of the taking the pills, his cough and chest pains were gone. After two weeks, he regained his voice and after three weeks, he was jogging again.
“It’s pretty miraculous,” he said. “I am doing things I never thought I would ever be able to do again. I think it’s a little more than just the science.”
In fact, a mother who lives up the street from Andy told him: “I want to thank you in faith formation for my son because my son just told me, ‘I just witnessed my first miracle with Mr. Hill.’
“It’s really remarkable stuff,” he added.
In January of 2010, Andy returned to coaching his oldest daughter’s soccer team and the girls played with extra motivation, dedicated the season to their coach and won a state title.
Soon after, he surprised many by filing to run for state senator — and won.
“It’s amazing,” said Curt Bateman, the director of operations for LWYSA who worked closely with Andy. “I expected him to come through it (and beat cancer). I knew when he came back, he would have certain limitations, but running and becoming a state senator was a surprise.”
Molly supported Andy’s decision to run for state senator as she and the kids went to Olympia on Monday to be on hand for Andy’s swearing in ceremony.
“He’s not thinking about a long-term political career,” she said. “He working right now to turn things around.”
FIXING EDUCATION AND SPENDING
For the previous year and half, Hill’s focus was on saving his life, now he is turning his focus to reforming the state’s education system and balancing the state budget.
“For me, its about getting our education system fixed, getting our spending under control and also making sure our government is doing the right thing to create jobs,” Hill said of his priorities in this year’s legislative session, which started Monday. “In my view, I think businesses are overburdened with taxes and regulations. I want to give some relief. They raised taxes on businesses in the last session and it just killed many businesses.”
Andy calls his battle with cancer, “the end of a long road” and his new job as state senator “the start of a new one.”
“It will be an adjustment, but I am ready for the challenge,” he said. “It will be a very interesting exercise in persuasion and developing relationships.”
Bateman said he is confident Andy will quickly make an impact in Olympia.
“He listens and he tries to get to the root of the concern,” Bateman said. “He also has a brilliant mind in that he does a great job of looking for solutions for everybody. He will bring that approach to politics. It’s something we desperately need down there (in Olympia), especially with these budget concerns.”
But no matter what happens in his new job as state senator, Andy said he will work hard for residents of the 45th District and always keep his “eyes on the prize.”
It’s a philosophy that saved his life and one he hopes will bring reason and reform to Olympia.