'I wish I had cancer': Australian man's mystery illness baffles doctors

Philippa Lees
Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Phillip in January 2013
Phillip in January 2013 with his grandson

For Phillip Hancock, a cancer diagnosis would be a relief.

The 59-year-old has gone from being a healthy tradesman to a crippled state because an illness no one can identify is eating away at his upper body and respiratory system.

Mr Hancock's shoulders are dislocated, he can't hold his head up and his weight has dropped from 90kg to 64kg.

The father of three first became unwell when he suffered a heart attack in January 2011. Seemingly unrelated symptoms of dizziness and muscle deterioration soon followed and, despite attention from a team of specialists and being cleared of aggressive cancer, Mr Hancock's body continued to waste away.

"Dad would like some kind of diagnosis and cancer seems to be the closest link to his syndrome."

"If he did have cancer, then he can be treated as a cancer patient," daughter Lisa, 31, told ninemsn.

With around-the-clock care from his daughters no longer possible, Mr Hancock has learned to live without the use of his arms.

"He eats like a dog basically," Lisa said.

"We have a thing attached to the fridge that lets him open it with his leg. There are always cups with straws filled for him but with food he just has to use his mouth when we can't be around.

"Dad's arms have no feeling at all. They are just hanging there. He cannot move his fingers. It's so disheartening not knowing what is causing this horrible condition."

"Dad's condition continues to deteriorate rapidly on a day to day basis. His neurologist actually said, 'I don't know what to do with you, this is a very rare condition.'"

That neurologist, NSW Professor Robert Heard has been working with the family for two years and has argued for Phillip to undergo experimental treatments, admitting the condition is baffling.

He believes Mr Hancock most likely suffers from a "severe refractory antibody mediated disease" — but specifically what kind is difficult to diagnose and may be even more difficult to treat.

For Mr Hancock, the uncertainty is harder to bear than the illness.

"Mr Hancock has had three PET scans. He has been reviewed by Prof John Pollard and associate professor Judy Spies at the Royal Prince Albert Hospital and his case has been discussed with colleagues in the Neuro Immunology clinic at the Mayo clinic in the US," Professor Heard said.

The most recent tentative diagnosis was Paraneoplastic Syndrome, caused by the antibodies that attack cancer targeting the nervous system instead, but he didn't respond to the treatment.

"This is a unique and difficult case and Mr Hancock is becoming progressively and severely disabled."

Aside from caring for their father, Lisa and Nicole have been trying to find help online by creating a Facebook page detailing their father's condition.

"He sat in front of a panel of five doctors to try and work out what was wrong with him but I feel like they just put him in the 'too hard' basket," daughter Nicole , 34, said.

"This is our throw of the dice and hopefully we can get his story across and spread the word about his condition and his life at present, even just one response would be an achievement."

So far they said the response has been heart-warming, but hasn't provided any answers.

Visit the family's Facebook page here or email us below.

Author: Philippa Lees

Approving editor: Rory Kinsella.

Do you have a story for us? Email us at healthwellbeing@ninemsn.com.au

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