Thursday, 17 October 2019

Father given year to live told he is cancer free

Father given year to live told he is cancer free

A FATHER who believed he wouldn’t live until Christmas after being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer has been given the all clear.

Nick Dipper, 51, was diagnosed with the disease in his pharynx, which connects the back of the nose to the back of the mouth last summer.

He then learned it had spread to his bones, lung and liver and was given just a year to live.

However, he was denied treatment on the NHS because his tumour was in the “wrong” place, so his wife Lisa launched a £140,000 fund-raising appeal.

Since the couple’s story was first published in the Henley Standard in April money has poured in, enabling Mr Dipper to undergo pioneering treatment called immunotherapy, which helps the body’s immune system recognise and attack cancer cells.

This had been working with the cancer disappearing from the liver, lung and from four bones.

Now they have been told that a scan shows the treatment has eradicated the disease five months after it started.

The couple are now looking forward to getting back to normality at home in Highmoor with their three-year-old twins Ely and Ezra and making the most of this Christmas.

The pair have thanked everyone who donated to the appeal saying they are “eternally grateful” for the support they received.

Mr Dipper, a project manager, said: “It’s being able to see Ely and Ezra grow up and hopefully see them get married and be part of their lives, channel them, direct them and help them. When you stop and think about it it’s unbelievable really what it’s given me.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous what Lisa did and managing to keep the boys up with nursery, keeping them not away from what was happening but sheltering them from the reality of what was happening and just keeping life going as normal as possible for them.

“To be able to do that in itself was amazing with the enormity of what was going on, to maintain a home and to keep being with me as much as she did.

“It means an awful lot that you’re now getting this positive outlook from that official, that professional, for a decent future.

“In February I was given four to 12 months to live but where it had gone it was probably more likely four months. I came out of hospital on Christmas Day but was back in the next day.

“When I look back I wasn’t going to croak that day but thinking back it probably looked that way because I was that bad. Now we’re look forward to Christmas which is absolutely fantastic.”

Mrs Dipper added: “My one priority was to save Nick and come hell or high water I was going to find a way to do that. I shouldn’t have had to do it. I’m eternally grateful for every single pound that was donated.

“Never would I have dreamt that we could have raised that amount of money in that amount of time and I’m absolutely ecstatic that we have got the result we did. At least the boys will remember Nick now.

“Christmas is always the benchmark because Nick wasn’t going to be here for Christmas. We’re going to have a great one this year. We just want to cram in as much as we can for the boys.”

The couple were given the good news on Thursday last week at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading by consultant oncologist Dr Nicola Dallas.

Mrs Dipper, 38, said: “Nick knew from how he felt we had a good idea something had happened. She just said ‘we’ll cut to the chase and tell you the bit you want to know’. It’s just relief really.

“For the last year and a half I’ve run on autopilot and now I’m struggling with the enormity of what’s happened.

“We went from one disaster to another and it was just a matter of days or weeks in between and you don’t have time to get used to good news.

“When you look back at what we have been through it’s spine chilling, it’s awful the reality of what we have had to experience and I’m quite angry about a lot of it. Realising you are on your own in life.

“It’s been a long road and it’s not until you look back and reflect on the last year and think ‘how on earth did I look after two children and see Nick in Oxford every day?’

“I felt like the responsibility of life was lifted from my shoulders. It feels like there’s been a huge element of responsibility on my shoulders. I’ve been the one sorting out the treatment for Nick.

“There are different factors that have contributed to Nick’s success. Yes, it’s the drugs, but the fight we have had to get them is the disgusting part.”

Mr Dipper said he hoped it would be good news following his last positive scan in July.

“The tumours were only previously left in my shoulder and I could feel an improvement there so I was hoping the result would reflect that,” he said.

“I had more stamina every day and a bit more strength and flexibility and was able to stay awake a bit longer and stuff like that.

“To be honest it’s a blur really — she said ‘it’s all gone and there’s no sign of cancer’.

“I guess I was a little bit stunned at the time. Although I was half expecting it, to hear it from an official that it has all gone and maybe your outlook can change a bit.

“It’s fitting back into normality and almost putting it behind you. You can now do the ordinary things like plan for next year’s holiday.”

He said he would still need “ongoing maintenance therapy” with more immunotherapy over the next 18 months in both the UK and Germany.

He has treatment in the UK once a month and another in Germany every six months.

“After that we don’t know what advances will be made in what people understand about it and whether that treatment or maintenance will continue,” he said.

“Scientifically there are no guarantees. Statistically with people who have shown a good response at the beginning, like I have, these guys have shown a continued response even after the treatment has stopped.

“It would appear their bodies have kicked in and have continued the good work as it were. Although the cancer is still there it’s effectively your body keeping it at bay and killing the cells off when they appear.”

Mrs Dipper added: “It is known metastatic cancer comes back at some point. However, the treatment of immunotherapy is proving different.

“The only thing we haven’t got is enough years behind us for them to measure it by. It’s not something we can just turn around and put completely behind us and say ‘Nick’s cancer-free, get back to work tomorrow’.

“We’re not the only ones who got told to go home and die. It happens on a daily basis to thousands of people.

“Not everybody has got as strong a character as I have and therefore I think people are losing family members and loved ones because they are not in the know, because they don’t challenge and we think doctors are the oracle.

“I feel like I’ve got a duty to do as much as I can to make other people aware that you don’t just have to accept these death sentences.”

Mr Dipper was diagnosed with nasopharyngeal carcinoma, where malignant cells form in the tissues of the upper part of the pharynx, last summer.

He began chemotherapy treatment immediately and then had radiotherapy as well. The treatment caused severe side effects as it aggressively targeted the hard-to-reach tumour.

Mr Dipper lost the ability to swallow or speak and lost his hearing, taste and vision.

Then in December he suffered multiple organ failure. His kidneys were shutting down, which meant he was overdosing on morphine as his body could no longer process it, and one of his lungs collapsed.

He was transferred from the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading to critical care at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford for specialist cardiothoracic surgery where two blood clots were removed from his right lung.

He spent six weeks in hospital and then had a week of recuperation at the Sue Ryder hospice in Nettlebed.

Mr Dipper appeared to be out of the woods when an MRI scan in January suggested that the cancer had gone. However, days later the couple learned that it had spread and there was nothing more the doctors could do. Mrs Dipper then began looking into alternative treatments and was recommended immunotherapy by an oncologist friend.

She suggested the treatment to the consultant at their next meeting and was initially told her husband could have it.

However, the couple then discovered that in fact the NHS was only licensed to offer it up as far as the mouth and that they would have to go private instead.

Mrs Dipper started an online appeal for the £40,000 needed to begin treatment and another £100,000 for the rest of the course.

She hit her fund-raising target in July and the couple received support from as far afield as Australia, South Africa, Canada, USA as well as in Highmoor and Mrs Dipper said they were “proud” to live in such a special community.

 

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