Ken Hall of Eston was the first NHS patient in the country to be given a new immunotherapy drug for the treatment of lung cancer.
Ken was told he may have less than a year to live when a persistent cough led to a lung cancer diagnosis in April 2014.
But the retired British Steel engineer responded so well to chemotherapy treatment that his consultant, Dr Talal Mansy, made a special request to use an immunotherapy drug called Pembrolizumab through the Early Access to Medicines Scheme.
“I’m really excited about it,” said Ken. “The chemotherapy had limited success but I’m hoping the effects of this will last longer.
“I had two lots of chemotherapy and I was okay for nine months but then it started to grow again. I knew I wasn’t right because I lost my appetite and was short of breath.
“Dr Mansy said he would put me in for more chemotherapy but then he mentioned this new treatment. He made some enquiries and was really keen to try it. He thought it would work so I agreed.”
Thanks to a team effort including support from histopathology, pharmacy and the chemotherapy day unit, a sample was sent off for special tests to check Ken met the right criteria to benefit from the drug and the first treatment was scheduled.
His wife Jean said: “Dr Mansy and his team worked very hard to make it happen and we are very grateful.”
Immunotherapy is designed to stimulate the body’s immune system to fight cancer cells and is less toxic than chemotherapy.
Ken’s treatment is long-term and will be given intravenously for 30 minutes every three weeks, but it is only suitable for patients meeting strict criteria and side effects have to be carefully monitored.
“Cancer switches off the body’s immune system, stopping the immune system from fighting the cancer. Immunotherapy is designed to switch the immune system back on, which allows the body’s immune system to then fight the cancer,” said Dr Mansy, consultant medical oncologist.
“It’s very exciting for my patient and for James Cook as we are the first centre in the UK to get access to this drug for lung cancer patients as part of the Early Access to Medicines Scheme. Previously it has only been available for lung cancer patients in clinical trials or privately.”
The Early Access to Medicines Scheme aims to give patients with life threatening conditions access to medicines that do not yet have a marketing authorisation when there is a clear unmet medical need.
Under the scheme, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency give a scientific opinion on the benefit and risk balance of the medicine, based on the data available.
Artist Laurie Peacock presented The James Cook University Hospital with a unique painting following his life-saving cancer treatment.
Laurie, 81, was diagnosed with two tumours – one on his lung and another on his gullet – when wife Pauline managed to persuade him to go and see his GP about a persistent cough.
“I was told that if I didn’t have treatment then I would not be here next year,” said Laurie.
“They said surgery would leave me out of action for up to six months and the only alternative was to try and treat the tumours using chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
“I was introduced to oncologist Dr Nick Wadd at James Cook who said he thought they could do something for me. He told me it was not going to be easy but he talked me though what would happen and gave me confidence.”
Laurie of Billingham benefitted from a state-of-the-art treatment called stereotactic ablative body radiotherapy (SABR).
SABR delivers very high doses of radiation to tumours in the chest with millimetre precision. By maximising the dose to the tumour, the risk of damaging surrounding normal tissues is minimised, increasing cure rates, reducing side effects and cutting treatment times.
Laurie had SABR to treat his lung tumour followed by chemo-radiotherapy (radiotherapy and two courses of chemotherapy) on his gullet.
“The chemotherapy really knocked me. I used to go into my studio and just sit in front of the canvas, I just couldn’t focus,” said Laurie, who studied at the Royal College of Art and has seen his work exhibited worldwide.
“But I can’t praise the staff enough. They were always cheerful and I never felt as if I did not want to see them even when I felt really poorly.”
As a thank you to all the staff who treated him Laurie has donated a painting entitled The North York Moors in Winter to the oncology and radiotherapy team.
“I feel great now and very fortunate,” said Laurie who is now in remission and glad to be back painting again. “You have got to believe the treatment you are getting is the best and I think it is – the staff at James Cook were all wonderful.”
Liz beats cancer twice!
Assistant head teacher Liz Shaller is urging people to get any symptoms checked out as early as possible after beating cancer not once, but twice.
Mrs Shaller was first diagnosed with cancer 10 years ago when an unrelated scan revealed a tumour on her left kidney.
The kidney was removed along with the tumour, which had grown to the size of an orange. Luckily the cancer had not spread as it had been discovered at such an early stage.
“I survived cancer and I thought that’s it for me. I had had my cancer,” said Mrs Shaller, who lives in Middlesbrough.
“But then last year all of my holiday plans went out of the window when they found a cyst on my ovary.”
The cyst turned out to be a tumour which grew to the size of a rugby ball and attached itself to the ureter of my remaining kidney.
“I just thought I was going to die, but they removed the tumour and tests revealed it was still at an early stage and had not spread – I was very lucky.”
Mrs Shaller agreed to share her story at South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust’s annual cancer conference where she urged everyone to attend cancer screening appointments and get any symptoms checked out by their GP.
“It’s all about early screening,” she said “If you get it caught early enough they can cure you.”
Mrs Shaller, who works at Ingleby Mill Primary School, said she could not fault the service she received both from James Cook and from her GP practice, Cambridge Medical Group in Linthorpe.
“It was second to none in all areas. The surgeons and the gynaecology cancer nurses were incredible and you could ring the nurses or the chemotherapy ward at any time day or night and they would just put your mind at rest. The Macmillan volunteers and the holistic centre were fantastic too.”
It was 10 years ago when Brian Henderson was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
The 78-year-old granddad underwent an operation at James Cook to remove the cancer and has never looked back.
But back then he admits he had no idea just how much support was available to cancer patients.
“Macmillan helped me out no end. Their little corner at James Cook is like an Aladdin’s cave! They have books on everything from treatment and benefits to diet and exercise.
“Until then I thought Macmillan people were for terminally ill nursing, I did not realise the extent of their expertise.”
Brian joined the prostate cancer support group and the trust’s cancer patient and carer support group and he is now urging others not to face cancer alone.
“Don’t be hurried into making a serious decision there’s plenty of people around to ask for advice and to put your mind at rest and give you details about all the directions you can go in.”