PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A Yardley man who dedicated his career to finding cancer remedies is in the fight of his life against the disease.
As the former head of two biotech companies focusing on oncology, Michael Becker has learned a lot about cancer.
“I got kind of an on-the-street PhD from all of the executives that traveled through my office over the years,” Becker said.
None of that prepared him for Nov. 25, 2015.
“I saw literally, probably, slightly smaller than a golf ball-sized lump right here on my neck,” Becker said.
A biopsy confirmed his suspicions: stage IV cancer of the head and neck. But an even more unexpected diagnosis: HPV.
“I was just amazed and angry,” he said. “I had no idea I had HPV. There’s no test for HPV.”
The tables had turned. Becker, once a pharmaceutical developer, had become a patient of the same disease he had spent decades researching and treated by the very same medications he had helped launch.
“The drug I in-licensed and brought to the market was actually a drug that I used for me,” he said.
He adds that the medications he’s taking are more targeted and have improved his quality of life.
“I don’t think you look at me and associate me with a terminal cancer patient. I have almost no side effects aside from fluid in my lung. I’m not nauseous, I’m not losing my hair,” Becker said.
Initially, doctors believed the cancer could be cured. After rounds of radiation, at one point, he even entered remission.
“The ulcers in my mouth, the red rashes on my neck from the radiation, I’ve got a chest tube right now from the current treatment,” he said of the side effects of treatment.
Then came the gut punch.
“I had seen many a radiology scan in my career in the industry and I knew as soon as I saw a picture of the lungs up on the screen, the dots were all over the place,” he said.
The tumors had multiplied and the diagnosis turned terminal.
While Becker is in a clinical trial, doctors have given him until December to live.
“The rug got not only yanked, but ripped out from underneath,” he said.
But in the face of death, Becker remains positive.
“I’ve been really blessed with what I’ve had so far and I can’t complain or feel bad or sorry for myself that it’s going to come to an end,” he said. “I feel very fortunate. I’ve had a fantastic life. I have an amazing wife. I have two beautiful daughters. I’ve traveled the world.”
And while cancer has marked his life, he wants to his life to be the mark of something bigger.
That’s why he’s published a book called “A Walk With Purpose,” and is encouraging others to consider the HPV vaccine, which he believes could have prevented his cancer diagnosis had the vaccine been available when he was younger.
His family has also recently welcomed a brand new member, a golden retriever puppy named Humphrey, who is just weeks old.
Because for Becker, while cancer cells can invade his body, they can’t seize the spirit he has for life.
“Live every day as if it’s your last day; there’s no magic to it,” he said.