Saturday, 14 December 2019

My fight with blood cancer by musician to the stars

My fight with blood cancer by musician to the stars

HAVING performed alongside the likes of Queen, Rod Stewart and Bon Jovi, you would be forgiven for thinking Carol Jarvis is one of life’s winners.

The trombonist, keyboard player and musical arranger and director has travelled all over the world with some of music’s biggest names.

She works regularly with the London Symphony Orchestra and in top West End shows and her orchestrations have featured on chart-topping albums both here and in America.

She has also developed a successful career as a voiceover artist for the BBC, Amazon and Vodafone, among others.

What makes her achievements all the more remarkable is that 15 years ago, when she was 26, Miss Jarvis was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

This is a type of blood cancer whereby parts of the immune system, which would normally fight infections, get out of control and divide in an abnormal way.

Lymphoma is the fifth most common type of cancer in the UK and the most common among young people. Every year, nearly 20,000 new cases are identified.

During her nine-and-a-half-year battle with the disease, Miss Jarvis underwent chemotherapy, radiotherapy and a stem cell transplant. After all these traditional methods of care had failed to completely cure her, she was eventually saved by a new drug called adcetris and a bone marrow transplant.

Now the 42-year-old musician, who lives in Harpsden Road, Henley, with her partner Niki, is fronting a national campaign for Lymphoma Action.

This is the only UK charity which helps people affected by lymphoma.

Miss Jarvis says the charity’s support, coupled with that of her mother Helen, was vital at a very difficult time in her life.

She says: “The kind of help they offered me and my family was absolutely phenomenal.

“Mum was my everything. For almost a decade she dealt with the emotional rollercoaster that was my lymphoma and she continues to support me today. She reached out to Lymphoma Action, accessing their support services to find out as much information about my condition as possible and using their helpline to ask questions or to simply talk when she needed to.

“Mum could be there for me because Lymphoma Action was there for her. I can’t put a price on the help they gave our family — we couldn’t have coped without them.”

Her mother, who was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, was by her side throughout the process and the experience brought them closer together.

Miss Jarvis says: “It was a bit of a shock when the tables turned. She got through it very quickly and had a mastectomy. She has got the all-clear. The mastectomy was tough for her to recover from but she has bounced back.

“I am still a bit afraid of hospitals but I surprised myself in how strong I was able to be for my mum. I would not do anything else but be by her side.”

Miss Jarvis was diagnosed in 2004 shortly after graduating from the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester with a bachelor of music with honours degree after five years of study.

At the time, she was already receiving regular offers of work on a freelance basis.

Miss Jarvis recalls: “Being a professional trombonist, I thought it was a muscle problem but my physio said something didn’t look right about it.”

In fact, she had a tiny lump in the left side of her neck and a CT scan revealed another lump between her lungs. She had 12 standard and higher doses of chemotherapy over a period of six months but this did not cure her completely.

In 2005 she had a stem cell transplant in which her own stem cells were harvested from her blood.

The treatment left her wheelchair-bound for a while and when she did regain some of her energy there was more bad news from her scans.

She required treatment to eliminate the tumours and she was taken to the Christie Hospital in Manchester, which specialises in cancer care.

She had three weeks of intensive radiotherapy which took away much of her lung capacity and, more significantly, didn’t destroy the disease.

Miss Jarvis says: “I was in the 0.1 per cent of people that don’t respond to standard treatment.

“I had exhausted every single avenue of chemotherapy. Before my first treatment, my chemotherapy nurse said it was like having 10 of your worst hangovers all at the same time. It makes you feel very sick all the time.

“It goes to literally every part of your body. You look grey and feel absolutely dreadful. I had no energy and I couldn’t keep any food down, not that I ever felt all that hungry.”

During the process, she also lost her hair three times.

The oncologists decided to pursue experimental methods of treatment. For this she had to remain in a lead-lined room for eight days at the Royal Free Hospital in London because she was highly radioactive.

The early signs suggested she had responded well to the treatment but she still needed another four months of chemotherapy.

Although the first two clinical trial drugs were unsuccessful, she showed signs of improvement so the doctors offered her adcetris.

Unlike chemotherapy, which affects the whole body, this drug can be targeted at a particular part and interferes with the growth and spread of cancer cells.

Miss Jarvis says: “When I had the first clinical trial drug they realised I responded to it but they had to wait for other things to be invented for me to be experimented on.

“I responded well to the second drug but it didn’t do enough.”

The tumours were getting too big so she signed up for the third trial in between her tours with Sting and Seal at the end of 2009.

Miss Jarvis says: “I was only the second person in the UK to try the third drug when it was still in the trial stage.

“Other people who had it across the world had responded well and had started going through remission, so I thought it was worth a try.”

The process required her to have a bone marrow transplant and a perfect match was found on the Anthony Nolan Register.

Miss Jarvis was helped by a 43-year-old man from Germany and was nervous to start the procedure as she was warned it was potentially dangerous. She received her donor’s cells in September 2011 but it took more than two years for her blood type to change to match her donor’s type.

She had to have blood transfusions every two weeks, with more chemotherapy and biopsies in between.

After receiving the all-clear, she decided to move to Henley, saying it reminded her of being at home in Newport Pagnell, where she grew up with her parents and older brother, James.

Ever since she was diagnosed, Miss Jarvis has helped raise money for a number of charities, including Cancer Research and the Christie Charitable Fund, which supports the Christie Hospital, where she was treated.

Through Lymphoma Action, she hopes to raise awareness of the condition. For more information, visit

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