Monday, 20 September 2021

Woman free of cancer after treatment with trial drug

A WOMAN from Wargrave who had pioneering treatment for cancer after being told she might have only

A WOMAN from Wargrave who had pioneering treatment for cancer after being told she might have only 18 months to live is now free from signs of the disease.

Susan Cakebread took part in drug trials at the early phase clinical trials unit at Oxford’s Churchill Hospital which aims to discover new  treatments.

Now she will be a special guest at the celebrations to mark World Cancer Day in Oxford on Thursday — her 69th birthday.

Doctors, scientists and patients will join members of the public to form a human chain and will be urging others to wear “unity bands” to show their support for people affected by cancer.

Mrs Cakebread was first diagnosed with malignant melanoma in 2008 after finding a spot on her head which became bigger and harder over a few weeks.

Although the news hit her hard she vowed to stay positive and strong for her husband, Brian, 72, and family. The couple have two children, Andrew, 42, and Nikki, 40, and two grandchildren, Lily, seven, and Austin, five.

She said: “I was on my own at home when I got the letter and I was totally down for about half an hour.

“Then I decided I couldn’t be like that and picked myself up. I’m quite a positive person and had to think about my family.”

Mrs Cakebread had surgery to remove the melanoma and a skin graft before having regular check-ups for the next three-and-a-half years. Then during a holiday in Dorset in 2012 she became unwell with kidney stones. She said: “We had to drive 15 miles to Dorchester Hospital where I spent the night and then they let me go. I knew I wasn’t feeling wonderful so we went home and I ended up in the Royal Berkshire Hospital for a week.”

An X-ray showed up abnormal spots on her lungs. Further tests confirmed her cancer had not only returned but had spread to both lungs.

Mrs Cakebreak said: “The kidney stones were a bit of a blessing in disguise because it showed up the cancer. It’s not a normal cancer and doesn’t really have any symptoms.

“I wanted to ask how long I had but I couldn’t so Brian asked. The consultant told me it was difficult to know but said around 18 months at maximum.

“In a way it helps to know when the end is when you are trying to make a decision. It sounds silly but I think the people closest to you suffer more than you do.”

Mrs Cakebread was offered the option of joining the clinical trials by her consultant.

She said: “Having been told I would probably only live for about 18 months without treatment, it was a no-brainer. I wanted a chance to live.”

She was one of the first patients enrolled in testing a new type of immunotherapy and started a regime of weekly trips to Oxford for treatment, tests and results. The team at the early phase clinical trials unit treats, on average, 18 patients a day, testing new drugs and therapies as well as new combinations of existing treatments.

Many of the patients have advanced cancer and are no longer benefiting from standard cancer treatment.

Mrs Cakebread said: “I was really nervous but the general atmosphere was relaxed and the staff were so friendly. I found their honesty reassuring. They told me the trial was new and there were no guarantees it would work.

“To begin with the side effects were pretty awful and the research nurses spent hours monitoring me.

“I had a rash and pink eyes but gradually the side-effects settled down and I was able to go home soon after each treatment.

“Because I was doing well — not everybody does — I was kept on the trial and by 2014 the tumour in my left lung had disappeared on scans and the other had shrunk by a third”.

At the end of last year, the remainder of the tumour in her right lung was removed in a six-hour operation. Subsequent tests have indicated that she is clear of any signs of cancer in either lung.

Mrs Cakebread, who ran a garage with her husband until her retirement two years ago, said: “When I was given the results I had a few tears. I have been very lucky. I didn’t even find the treatment that hard to cope with. I believe I am the longest survivor on this trial drug”.

She has now been able to stop the treatment and will only return to the clinic for regular three-monthly check-ups, although she hopes that will be extended if all goes well.

Mrs Cakebread said: “I will miss going to the unit every week. I was bowled over by their friendliness and professionalism.

“They encouraged me to look ahead and stay positive.

“I never wanted friends and family to see me and think about the ‘Big C’.

“I believe it was best to get it out in the open so that everyone knew and could talk about it openly.”

Her husband added: “Thanks to the clinical trial and this new drug, we could have years together.”

The couple are highlighting the unity bands as leading cancer charities — Cancer Research UK, Breast Cancer Care, Anthony Nolan and the Movember Foundation — join forces for World Cancer Day.

Helen Johnstone, of Cancer Research UK, said: “So many of us have been affected by the disease, which is why on Thursday we want people to wear their unity band with pride.

“Success stories like Susan’s would not be possible without the commitment of our amazing supporters.

“Wearing a unity band is a simple way to show support and a small action taken by many people really can make a huge difference.”

The bands are available from each charity in their own colours at for a suggested donation of £2.

All the money raised will go towards the charities’ individual research projects and support services.

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