Professor Hope had arranged for me to visit two research centres that were carrying out Phase I trials. Phase I drugs have previously been tested in the laboratories but never on humans. Current Consultant had told us I wasn’t eligible for any trials but it turned out there were scores of them, although they were mostly in the very early stages of testing. In Phase 1 researchers are still trying to find out the optimal dose of these new drugs, with the starting dose being very low. This is gradually increased in very small test groups of patients who fulfil the criteria, so if you join an early group the dose is likely to be so low that it won’t make any difference. But when you’ve been given months to live, a shot in the dark is preferable to no shots at all.
The three of us headed off to see the research specialist; me with my limp, John with his positive attitude and Tom, nervous but full of purpose.
Sometimes in life you meet people who seem to have it all; extremely intelligent, good looking and super nice. The lovely doctor we met ticked all three of these boxes. I’ll refer to her on the blog as Dr Rosy because of her rosy disposition. I warmed to her instantly. She chatted with us, asked us what we did, told us how we were in good hands with Professor Hope and she thought that someday he would be famous. Dr Rosy explained the risks of a Phase I trial and answered all of our questions. If the Capecitabine didn’t work she had a trial for me starting in August, which would give me time to try two cycles of the chemotherapy, get scanned and have a three or four week washout period before I started the trial.
It was explained that research into cancer was now taking a different approach. When drugs had previously failed in shrinking tumours they had been tossed aside, but now the scientists were looking at not curing but managing the disease – much like diabetes. This made perfect sense to me. Aside from the limp I had no ill effects from the cancer living in my bones, liver and lungs. If a drug could be invented just to stop the cancer growing I could live with these tumours, and some of the trials they were running were designed to ‘chop off the legs off’ the cancer cells so they couldn’t spread.
At the end of the meeting a similar feeling to when I’d seen Professor Hope washed over me. I challenge anyone to go to a cancer research centre and not leave completely in awe of the people that work there. God knows how professional footballers or film stars dare to have such egos when people like Dr Rosy and Professor Hope do such genuinely amazing things.
Professor Hope and Dr Rosy had begun the process of rescuing us from the defeatism and despair provoked by the attitudes of the doctors I’d been seeing at my current hospital. They talked about new and exciting findings, of options and possibilities. There was no mention of timescales. There was a mind-set of what could be done, not what will happen.