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Grant Whitlock

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I’m running the London Marathon for University College Hospital Cancer Fund because without CAR-T I would have lost my friend

114 %
£3,096.00
raised of £2,700 target
by 86 supporters
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  • Event: London Marathon 2019, 28 Apr 2019

UCH Cancer Fund London Marathon 2019

Welcome to our London Marathon team page!

Charity Registration No. 1165398

Story

I’m running the London Marathon this year to help fund the new Immunotherapy unit at UCLH. I’m sure anyone reading this will have lost a loved one to cancer. I’m no exception to that either. Last summer I came close to losing my friend Alex. He was diagnosed with a type of cancer and within a few months told that the chemo wasn’t working and he had a few months left to live. He underwent a clinical trial called CAR-T and thankfully is now in complete remission. He is living proof that Immunotherapy can work and hence why I’m raising for this charity.

Here is his story in his own words:
The last 12 months were the toughest of my life. A lot of you are probably still unaware of what I have been through as I purposefully sat quiet about my battle with cancer. The last thing I wanted was attention. I felt it would just act as a constant reminder that everything I knew had been turned upside down. That is not to say I felt defeated, far from it, I just wanted to take this head on, deal with it then move on and return to normality as quick as possible. After getting over the diagnosis I felt confident I'd win, apparently I'd already won the cancer lottery or at least got 5 numbers! I'd been diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma which is a form of blood cancer and is very treatable. However as I was stage 4 and with the most aggressive form we had to move quickly. To say the NHS was incredible would be doing them an injustice. They went into overdrive and within days I had been seen by a number of specialists and given the rundown of my treatment which would start in a weeks time. 6 rounds of chemo, once every 3 weeks with a scan half way to chart the progress. Unfortunately the half-way scan showed my body wasn't responding to the chemo and the cancer would not be put into remission with this course. So the next option was 'salvage' chemo, and it's exactly as it sounds. It's used as a last ditch effort to put you in remission and I would be having a stem cell transplant afterwards to keep it that way. Stem cell transplants are extremely complicated procedures and take many months to recover from. But if that's what it was going to take, I was ready to do it. But yet again my body decided not to play ball and after 3 gruelling rounds of this harsh chemo, this was shown not to be working either. There would be absolutely no point in carrying on with the treatment or the transplant.

This is when shit got real scary.
I was told there were no more recognised forms of treatment for my disease and in all likelihood, I had months to live. My only option now was to get on a clinical trial. Any new form of treatment has to go through medical trials as this is where they show how effective they are, and that they are safe. So I would basically be donating myself to medical science. Taking a chance. But hell what other option did I have. I was sent to University College London Hospital as they are at the forefront of many of the cancer trial therapies in the U.K. Especially for blood cancers. They were about to open up a trial for a form of immunotherapy treatment called CAR-T cell therapy, which had seen some great results in the USA. It harnesses the power of our own immune system and is a targeted therapy, which means it seeks out the cancer and destroys it. As opposed to a blanket treatment like chemo which just kills everything. It is modern science at its best. My cells were harvested (taken from my blood) and sent to a lab where they were modified in preparation for the big fight. One month after my cells were harvested I was back in hospital to get the new and improved cells back. I was warned to look out for anything odd, as it's a trial and only a small sample of people have ever had this treatment they are very worried about side affects and anything unusual would set off alarm bells. Fortunately nothing weird happened except for a day or two of flu like symptoms, and just under 4 weeks later I was sent home. I had had a large mass (tumour) under my collar bone which had been causing pressure for the previous 9 months. A week after the treatment I could literally feel it melt away. So it was pretty difficult not to get excited about that! But I wouldn't have any hard facts for a few more weeks when I had my next scan. Three days after that scan I received the words I had been waiting for for the last 10 months. I was in complete remission, there was no active disease anywhere!!! Science had won.
It's now 4 months since I received my super-cells. My 3 month scan confirmed I'm in complete remission. I can now start thinking about putting our lives back together (it's the close family that really suffer in situations like this as there is no control and all they want to do is fix you). I'm going back to work and it's almost like it didn't happen. I've got another chance and I intend to make the most of it. So why am I writing this now? Well I also have an opportunity to raise awareness that there are some amazing medical minds fighting behind the scenes and they are definitely looking for that "cure". But cancer is a tricky beast. This type of therapy is in its infancy and isn't currently recognised as a form of treatment anywhere outside of the US. UCLH is undergoing a large build project. Once complete it will house a new proton beam therapy centre along with the largest haematology centre in Western Europe. They are doing truly amazing things on a daily basis and I want to try and raise funds that will help go toward making this place a centre of excellence. This literally will save lives. I'm living proof of that.


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