“Thanks to Clatterbridge and the NHS, I’m now free of cancer”

Posted 5th July 2023

New treatments developed in the last 75 years of the NHS are saving lives.

When father and stepfather Carl was diagnosed with Stage 4 skin cancer in 2018, his main aim was to be around long enough to see his daughter Alana start school.

“The Christmas after I was diagnosed was really emotional” explains Carl, 46. “I’d spent my life assuming that cancers like melanoma weren’t that serious. It turns out, it really can be and the large freckle on my elbow was diagnosed as cancer.

“I had surgery and reconstruction on my elbow in 2016 but was later told the cancer had spread to my lungs. This was devastating for me and my family. I wasn’t sure what the future would hold.”

Carl was referred to the Immunotherapy Team at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre. A relatively new way of treating cancer, immunotherapy uses elements of the body’s own immune system to help treat cancer, activating the immune system to identify and target cancer calls.

“I received immunotherapy treatment at Clatterbridge Cancer Centre. It was a difficult course of treatment – I suffered with some serious side effects, including something called orbital myositis, an inflammation of the muscles around my eyes. I ended up in hospital for several weeks, but the team were able to manage it with medication. It was a long and complicated process. But it was worth it in the end.”

Carl was declared cancer free in 2018, just 3 months after his treatment had started. In 2020, he had his last immunotherapy treatment and in May this year, hit the milestone of five years without any disease, meaning he has every chance of going on to live a long and healthy life.

The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre is one of the biggest users of immunotherapy in the country and was the first cancer centre in the UK and within the NHS to establish a dedicated toxicity management service. Immunotherapy, whilst effective, can lead to potentially serious side-effects. The team work with patients to manage and treat the side-effects, allowing them to live a better quality of life whilst going through cancer treatment.

Immunotherapy was first licensed by the NHS in 2011 to treat melanoma. In 2016, its licence was expanded to treat eligible patients with lung cancer and in the last five years, renal cancers and some other cancers have also been able to be treated with immunotherapy.

With constant developments in the field of immune-oncology, in the last six months, patients with triple-negative breast cancer have become eligible for treatment with immunotherapy. Triple negative breast cancer is an aggressive form of the disease which doesn’t respond to hormone therapy. This means there are few treatment options and a high mortality rate; immunotherapy has offered an opportunity to thousands of patients with the disease.

Trudy Guinan, who is part of the Immunotherapy Team at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, is the country’s first Nurse Consultant in Immuno-oncology. She says: “We’re so proud to be the first cancer centre in the country to have a centralised service for the management of the side effects of immunotherapy.

“As a result, patients are more likely to stay well during their treatment and be able to finish their treatment successfully. We help them avoid being admitted into hospital which is a benefit to both them, and the NHS as a whole.

“Over the past 5 years immunotherapy has been made available in multiple types of cancer and the outcomes have been astounding – it’s saving more lives than ever before.”

Carl is one of the many lives saved through immunotherapy. Carl says: “Cancer is no longer part of my daily life. I don’t think about it, we can now focus on looking to the future.

“Whilst I still suffer with some of the lasting effects of my treatment such as migraines and fatigue, I’m so grateful to be here. When I was first diagnosed, all I wanted was to see Alana start school and in two years, she’ll be starting high school. I’m back working full time in a job I enjoy and we’re planning a family holiday to Euro Disney in the next few months.

“Clatterbridge Cancer Centre and the NHS have saved my life and thanks to innovations in healthcare, I’m now cancer free. I’ve got a lot to look forward to.”