In September 2016, Marvin Carsley was shaving when he felt a lump on the side of his throat.

He asked his wife, Philippa, to have a look. When they went to a doctor the next day, their fears were confirmed: a biopsy revealed anaplastic thyroid cancer.

“I looked it up on the internet,” Marvin recalled. “What I discovered was shocking: I was told that only 1% or 2% of people with anaplastic thyroid cancer survive up to six months.”

He knew that if he wanted to survive, he would need to be treated quickly. He was faced with an extremely aggressive, fast-moving cancer and every moment was critical.

He and Philippa searched for a surgeon in Hong Kong, where they were based, but they could not find one who would operate on him.

“They sat me down and told me that there was no real treatment they could offer,” Marvin said.

Something had to be done, because Marvin’s prognosis did not look bright.

Journey to the JGH

A viable treatment was not available in Hong Kong, so Philippa promptly got in touch with the JGH’s Dr. Richard Payne. They knew the JGH well from their ties to Montreal, which is home to much of Marvin’s family.

“I think we can do something,” Dr. Payne told them both after looking at Marvin’s scans. “I’ve studied the images you sent. Dr. Michael Hier can do the lymph nodes, and I will do the thyroid.”

Not only is the JGH close to Marvin’s heart, it’s also a world-class hospital. The JGH’s Segal Cancer Centre offers groundbreaking cancer treatments that raise the bar for patient care. That’s why, after hearing Dr. Payne’s response, the Carsleys were convinced to fly back to Montreal, the city where Marvin was born.

A post-surgery reoccurence

Staff at the JGH knew that Marvin’s situation was mortally urgent, and he was scheduled for the earliest surgery available. Eight hours after going under, Marvin woke up to some of the best news of his life: they had gotten all of the cancer out.

“I had my doubts, after what I heard from other clinics and doctors,” Marvin acknowledged. “But of course, there’s always hope.”

But not long after Marvin’s surgery, his doctors saw evidence of a reoccurrence. He underwent many weeks of radiation therapy combined with chemotherapy. By the end of it, he was utterly exhausted.

“Truthfully, I was very concerned that within three or four months, there would be another reoccurrence,” he said.

Paying it forward

“That’s six years ago now,” he said. “It hasn’t come back.”

Once he had been successfully treated, Marvin donated to the Otolaryngology (ENT) and Head and Neck Surgery department, where he sponsors an incoming medical student every year.

“Philippa and I have been able to do quite a few things for the JGH, but it’s never been enough and it never will be enough,” said Marvin. Gratitude drives his philanthropy.

His wife is the namesake for Philippa’s Garden of Life, a picturesque work of art in the outdoor space next to the Family Waiting Room of the Perioperative Unit, which is named for Marvin and his son Robert. The structure was installed as a fundraising project in support of the JGH’s Digital Health Initiative.

Marvin continues to give generously of his wealth, and not only to the JGH. He never loses sight of his gratitude for life.

“Now here I am, telling you my story,” he said. “I survived, and I’m 86 years old. It’s a miracle.”

Last Updated January 2023

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