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Wilmot Stories

Walter Horylev

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

As a photographer, 91-year-old Walter Horylev notices details – a unique doorknob, a pattern in nature, a historical church steeple.

Perhaps it’s somewhat poetic, then, that when he received a stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis with surgical oncologist Christian Peyre, M.D., in July 2018, a tiny detail in his genes has allowed him to maintain his quality of life – including his hobbies, like photography.

Walter has a genetic mutation that made him eligible for a targeted therapy called osimertinib (Tagrisso). It’s a single pill taken daily prescribed by his medical oncologist, Ronald Maggiore, M.D.

So far, the only side effect he’s experienced has been a change in his taste for food. He sometimes experiences pain and breathing problems because of his COPD, but he’s grateful to not have other side effects on top of that from cancer treatment.    

“The quality of life issue is an important one for me as it is for a lot of people and I think these drugs offer the possibility of addressing the problem and not creating problems,” he says. “Trying to cure a disease is important but if you throw in quality of life issues that make it miserable, you wonder whether you’re really doing the patient a favor.”

Walter lives alone, although he’s only a few miles from his girlfriend, Jan, whom he visits regularly. He’s grateful to maintain his independence, with Jan and others close by.

“I do my own shopping and cooking and I get my house clean once in a while,” he jokes.

Those activities are indeed quite numerous. In addition to photography, he golfs, reads books and newspapers, plays bridge and goes to local garage sales. He’s always been physically fit, too. He says at one point, he could hold a plank position for six minutes straight, and he thinks about getting back into yoga again.

Walter’s lived an adventure-filled life. He served in the Army at the end of World War II, helping bring men home from the war. He has degrees from St. Bonaventure University and Fordham University, which helped him to eventually get a job at Kodak, where he worked for 33 years. In that role, he lived in London and traveled all over Europe. He’s gone on numerous cruises in recent years.

While his adventures these days remain closer to home in the Rochester area, he’s glad for the research that’s made his comfort possible.

“I have adversity but it doesn’t affect my daily activities,” he says. “I have a very positive attitude on life, always have, and so I’m thankful that I’m able to at least continue many of these activities.”

“I have adversity but it doesn’t affect my daily activities. I have a very positive attitude on life, always have, and so I’m thankful that I’m able to at least continue many of these activities.”