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Katy-area man doesn’t let cancer slow him down

November 26, 2018

The bad news is that Westley Moore has lung cancer. The good news is that drugs have been developed to treat his disease caused by a gene abnormality allowing him to continue his passion: driving his muscle car — a 2015 Mustang GT painted in “Competition Orange.”

Moore, who turned 60 in July, considers himself a car guy since he was a little kid. “As I grew up I decided I wanted to buy a muscle car of my own. When I did, I realized it was a lot of responsibility and I need to learn to drive right.” He attended a high performance driving event to upgrade his skills. “When I did I thought I would do it one time. I got bit by the bug as a result and I just kept going. The more I went, the more I learned. It’s a great group of people. Four years later I’m still doing it.”

Two years ago, when he and his wife Denise lived in the Woodlands/Conroe area, he went to a doctor because he was coughing up blood and his symptoms were connected to severe acid reflux that he experienced. He lived with his symptoms another couple years. Now living in the Katy/Fulshear area, he visited another primary care physician who ordered a CAT scan of his lungs, which led to visits with an oncologist and radiologist, who Moore calls “three doctors who all did good things for me all by doing their day-to-day job. Having those three doctors has saved my life.”

Dr. Branden Hsu, the oncologist, said the CAT scan showed suspicious spots on Moore’s lungs. Further testing showed the cancer has spread. Hsu said gene mutations represent only 3 percent to 4 percent of the population of lung cancer patients. “Significantly, it’s not a hereditary mutation; it just shows up.”

The stage IV lung cancer diagnosis surprised Moore who said he formerly smoked but quit a dozen years ago. He added he always was physically active from football in high school and college to long-distance cycling when he was older.

The radiologist and oncologist developed a two-week program of targeted radiation, said Moore. “They zapped the cancer in my chest and the stuff metastasized in my brain.” Then Hsu called him and his wife into his office with Moore expecting bad news. Instead, Hsu told Moore that he had a rare form of cancer and that the FDA in the last three to five years has approved drugs that target that form of cancer. Moore is taking Alectinib, known by the trade name of Alecensa. The FDA also just approved this month another drug that could be used called lorlatinib.

Hsu said the drug is not curative but patients respond better to the pills vs chemotherapy that also brings hair loss and nausea. “There’s a lot better quality of life associated with these medications,” Hsu said.

After taken Alectinib, Moore said, “It immediately brought back my appetite. I started feeling better; it works to kill the cancer in me.” He called it a game changer and said it has enabled him to function at a higher level.

Moore said he was willing and happy to share his story to help others fight the disease. Hsu calls him inspirational. “He’s done everything we’ve asked him for and more. I really respect his courage.”

The No. 1 impact of his illness is that he fatigues quicker than he used to. “It slows me down. Unfortunately, I have to ask for help - which I’m not used to doing - loading a car up on a trailer , ie physical labor. The guys who run the tracks all jump in and help me.”

One of those tracks is MotorSport Ranch, a 304-acre facility south of Fort Worth. There’s a track near Angleton, too. He also drove at Texas World Speedway near College Station. That track, however, was used as a staging area for vehicles affected by Hurricane Harvey and now will be home to a new subdivision. That track holds good memories for Moore. “That track was incredibly wrought with history. It held multiple records for decades.”

Moore’s record high speed is 155 mph. He said he’s always been a Ford guy though he did own a Porsche for a number of years. When it came to buying his muscle car, he weighed the costs of ownership and thought they would be higher with a Porsche. Plus, Mustang was just coming out with a brand-new model. “I preordered it before they started manufacturing.”

His move to high performance driving was spurred, in part, by seeing people buy high horsepower cars and not knowing how to drive them. He talked of them spinning on the road or racing each other on public streets. “Doing what I think are pretty dumb things and unsafe as well.”

For Moore high performance driving is competitive. “The big part of what we try to do is not be fast but be smooth and efficient around the course. The smoother and more effective the faster you are. You try to be smooth and efficient and follow the right line and hit the corners right. When you first start out, you don’t get anything right. You start building on small successes.”

After three years of high performance driving, he was one of seven guys approached as instruction school candidates. He did that last summer and passed. As an instructor he said he’s been fortunate and has had a lot of good students. “It’s fun to watch someone else growing and that someone else gets it. From the moment you get it, there’s still a lot of driving that has to take place. It’s repetitive so it becomes second nature.”

The track is where Moore and his wife headed after he received the initial call from his doctor about the CAT scan results. She asked if he still wanted to go to the track. His answer: “Now more than ever.”

It was a good decision. “We had a great weekend,” he said. “We had 5½ hours to talk on the way up there.” Surrounded by his friends, he said it was a good distraction from the initial shock of the cancer diagnosis.

“Unfortunately, lung cancer is hard to treat,” Hsu said. “Most patients are diagnosed in later stages when it is symptomatic and by that time it has already spread.” While emphasizing that this is a very rare form of lung cancer — some oncologists in his group had not seen this disease in their career, Hsu said he recently diagnosed two other patients.

“A big misnomer is that smoking is the cause of lung cancer,” said Hsu, who added that he wants to increase people’s awareness of the disease. People with shortness of breath shouldn’t wait six months to see a physician, he said. While lung cancer doesn’t respond well to chemotherapy, the FDA has approved five drugs in the last two years that target cancer caused by mutations, he said. They may not be curative but they can make a difference, he said.

karen.zurawski@chron.com

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