Dec. 20, 2011 at 11:04 AM ET
Just a few months ago the future seemed impossibly bleak for Elisa and Nathan Bond, the Brooklyn wife and husband who had both been diagnosed with late stage cancers earlier this year.
But in what seems like the ultimate holiday gift, just this week the couple got the news that Elisa’s cancer had finally responded to therapy and disappeared.
“It’s as surreal as when I was told I had cancer,” Elisa told TODAY’s Carl Quintanilla “It’s wonderful.”
The couple decided to share their news with the world the same way they had told everyone they had been diagnosed: on the TODAY show.
“They got the brain tumors ,” Elisa told Janet Shamlian. “They’re all gone. Beyond that, I had a new PET scan and all my active cancer is gone.”
Before their diagnoses, Elisa and Nathan Bonds’ life seemed picture perfect. Not long after their fairy tale wedding they’d conceived a beautiful baby girl who was growing into a happy, well-adjusted toddler named Sadie.
But then, on Valentine’s Day of this year, the fabric of their existence started to unravel. Nathan, 38, was told he had Stage 3 colon cancer with a 65 percent chance of surviving five years.
Just nine days later, 36-year-old Elisa learned she had breast cancer that had already started to spread through her body. Her chances of surviving the next five years with a cancer caught this late were just 16 percent.
For months there was only bad news. Elisa’s condition worsened over the summer. Tumors were popping up everywhere, including her liver and her brain.
“The liver was the worst place,“ Elisa told Shamlian. “It had the most cancer. And then the brain tumors emerged.”
For Elisa, the lowest point came when she was told she could no longer drive.
“It was almost like finding out about the cancer because it was a real loss of independence for me,” she told Quintanilla. “I am a driver. I love to drive. The minute I got my license I was out the door. I felt so hamstrung. And it was almost worse, in my everyday life than the cancer was.”
Doctors treated Elisa’s cancer aggressively with chemotherapy and a breast cancer drug called Herceptin.
And then, just a few days ago, the doctors told the couple they couldn’t find even a trace of Elisa’s cancer.
Even in the liver? Shamlian asked.
“The liver!” Elisa said. “That’s exactly what I said. The liver.”
“Breast?” Shamlian prompted.
“I am what they call N.E.D.,” Elisa said. “No evidence of disease. It’s the best news I can get.”
Elisa is one of a select few, said Dr. Adam Brufsky, a professor of medicine and director of the breast cancer center at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
“In my practice this has happened in about 3 to 5 percent of [comparable] patients,” Brufsky said. “But I think we’re going to see this more and more. Herceptin has really changed the natural history of the disease.”
What’s surprising is the disappearance of Elisa’s brain tumors, Brufsky said. Scientists didn’t think that Herceptin was able to enter the brain, he added.
The really good news, Brufsky said, is that patients who respond to Herceptin seem to be staying healthy for years.
The 5-year survival used to be of the order of 5-10 percent, Brufsky said. “Now it’s upwards of 25 to 30 percent if not higher,” he added. “There are a lot of new things coming out that have us all very excited.”
It certainly wasn’t how Nathan expected things to go.
“I’ve kind of always been waiting to get over my treatments so I could be there to support her more,” he said looking at his wife with a big grin. “And [this] definitely makes it a much more happy time to go into surgery.“
The Bonds posted their wonderful news on the family blog that has touched so many others around the world. Over the past year, strangers have posted back encouraging the Bonds to keep going and not to give up.
“I think without not only the family and friends, but also the strangers that wrote to us, it would definitely not have been as easy to do,” Nathan said.
Although the family isn’t completely out of the woods – Nathan still has a surgery scheduled for his rectal cancer – the future looks a lot brighter today.
“It looks like a sandy beach now, as opposed to a rocky hill,” Elisa said.