The words ‘boost your immune system’ are often uttered as a cliche, but cancer specialists are now taking this literally by administering a new form of treatment - immunotherapy
Andrew Willday, of Lytham St Annes, is one patient at Rosemere Cancer Centre to undergo the immunotherapy treatment, and says it has saved his life after being diagnosed with skin cancer.
The 27-year-old says: “My doctor once said to me: ‘If I could bottle up healthy eating and exercise and administer it to all of my patients, cancer survival rates would be even higher than they are today.’
“I agree, and look forward to that day, but for now I will have to do it the old fashioned way.
“For those of you who are not familiar with immunotherapy I will do my best to sum it up in my own words.
“It is a concoction of drugs that is administered through a drip (in my case), which heightens your body’s immune system.
“With an immune system that’s working overtime you are more capable of targeting cancer cells and killing them, in the same way you fight the common cold, but better.
“This revolutionary treatment has only been used widely for about six years, and would not have been possible without dedicated research of medical professionals around the globe.”
Andrew, who works at the DWP, based in Blackpool, was diagnosed with stage 4 skin cancer in January 2018, which started as a mole on the back of his neck.
This then spread through his bloodstream and into his liver and spine.
He adds: “I was 26 when I was diagnosed and fit as a fiddle.
“I thought it was more common in older people, but it turns out nobody is exempt.
“The mole that contained the melanoma was on the back of my neck, making it difficult to see the colour, size and shape.
“Following my diagnoses, I was taken under the professional care of the Rosemere Cancer Centre in Preston Royal Hospital.
“I have been told that the centre has the capacity to treat 2,500 patients per day, and whenever I attended for treatment it always seemed to be full.
“This, to me, says a lot about the sheer scale and impact that all types of cancer are having on all walks of life.
“Equally, having these state of the art facilities demonstrates the progress that has been made to date.
“The staff always manage to find the perfect balance between professionalism and empathy, but never pity, which is an important distinction if you ask me, and their skill should never be overlooked.
“About 12 weeks and three treatment cycles later, I was back on my feet, back to working full time, back to exercising like I used to and most importantly about 90 per cent cancer free – something I never thought possible just a few short weeks prior.
“I had a great deal of support from my family, friends and girlfriend Nicolle, which means a lot to me.
“Just over a year on I am still able to live a very fulfilling life. I still have monthly treatment at the Rosemere Centre, which at this stage feels just as mundane as popping down the corner shop for some milk, as I am made to feel so comfortable.
“Still just under 10 per cent to go, as the dose has been reduced right down to allow me the freedom and ability to live my life side
effect free. Fingers crossed I reach the magic 0 per cent soon.”
Andrew adds he has been a bit lapse on slapping on the sun screen, but warns others to take all the health warnings about sun burn seriously.
He says: “Like most young adults, I have been on the odd holiday abroad and not looked after my skin as well as I should have.
“Refusing to wear a high factor sun cream because ‘you might as well not bother going on holiday if you don’t come back with a sun tan.’ Some might say that’s vain and a bit arrogant to think that the laws of biology didn’t apply to me. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
“You may be surprised to know that I haven’t been advised to knock these holidays on the head, but take every proportion possible to enjoy the sun responsibly.
“My hope is that in sharing this with you that it changes your perceptions.”
He is now hoping to raise awareness and more funds for Rosemere by doing the Great North Run in September.
He adds: “I completed the run in 2014, before all of the above, and this is my opportunity to do it again to prove that cancer hasn’t held me back. Back in 2014 I ran alongside Sir Mo Farah. I say alongside, I managed to figure out that if he hit the five-mile mark, realised he had dropped his wallet at the start line, went back for it and then finished the run, he would have still beaten me.
“I have started training and ran my first 5k a few weeks ago. I completed it in just over 20 minutes, sort of (26.04). I was pleased with this at first, before realising that it was about a quarter of the full North Run distance. It’s going to be a long seven months or so.
“I can’t stress enough how incredibly lucky I am to have battled stage 4 skin cancer and am seemingly winning. This is down to incredible
research into new treatments, fantastic care by everyone at the Rosemere Centre, and a huge dose of positivity.
“I read loads of good news stories when I was diagnosed and I hope that I have given people one more ray of hope if they know someone in a similar predicament.”
To support Andrew, visit www.justgiving.com/fundraising/GNRtobeatcancer
For more information on skin cancer visit www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/melanoma/symptoms