Adam Coules graduated from business school with honours, was a professionally trained pastry chef, travelled in Southeast Asia, raised thousands of dollars for cancer research, and was engaged to the love of his life.
An impressive list of accomplishments for any young man. Even more amazing? He achieved it all while fighting glioblastoma, a deadly brain cancer.
“It was important for him to get out and experience life,” says his father Dave Coules. “He was determined not to miss a thing.”
In December 2006, the seemingly healthy 22-year-old suddenly had a seizure. Forty-eight hours later, he was diagnosed with a brain tumour. In February 2007 he was told he had terminal cancer.
“It was a complete shock to us because there had been no symptoms,” says Dave. “Adam was told at that point that the type of tumour he had was not one people survived. So he knew by his 23rd birthday that he was not going to be around forever.”
The tumour began as an oligodendroglioma, but evolved to the much more aggressive glioblastoma over time. Around two to three people are diagnosed with glioblastoma per 100,000 – and fewer than five per cent live longer than five years, with average survival from diagnosis around 15 months.
Doctors removed around 90 per cent of Adam’s tumour during surgery, and gave him the option of joining a clinical trial. He agreed, and underwent 28 radiation sessions at Toronto’s Princess Margaret Cancer Centre – while continuing his business degree at McMaster University in Hamilton.
“He was adamant about finishing school,” says his mother, Leslie Coules. “The poor guy, he kept on saying ‘I’m so tired’ and I’m looking at him thinking: How could you not be tired? You’re getting radiation therapy every day and you’re still carrying a full course load in an honours program’…and he graduated on the Dean’s List.”
By September 2007 the treatment was working and Adam once again dove into life. Over the next few years he changed careers, proposed to his girlfriend, and sat on the Patient and Family Advisory Committee at the Pencer Brain Tumor Centre in Toronto, where his treatment was based.
Adam and his girlfriend surfing during their travels
Then in January 2011, on the day he was supposed to start his dream job, Adam had another seizure. The cancer was growing again.
He began chemotherapy with TFRI-funded glioblastoma researcher Dr. Warren Mason at the Pencer Centre, followed by several more surgeries to debulk the tumour – but it was aggressive.
“As we wound into 2012 it was becoming apparent that we were not going to win this battle,” says Dave, his voice breaking. “He bravely fought on, and was doing quite well until about six weeks before the end.”
On Aug. 31, 2012, five weeks before his wedding day, Adam passed away at age 28.
Today, his family is continuing his legacy through fundraising for brain cancer and supporting promising scientists with an annual research award.
Further, TFRI’s funded glioblastoma project is moving forward with a clinical trial for one drug and others in the development pipeline -- news that inspires the Coules family, as does their son.
“Adam knew he was not going to survive this, but raising money was his way of paying it forward so there would be research opportunities for other people,” says Dave.
“He just always wanted to give back and make everybody feel loved and appreciated,” adds Leslie. “We couldn’t be prouder that he was our guy, that he was our son."