Health: How research in Sheffield can create hope for a future free from incurable cancer

Dr Andy Chantry, Consultant Haematologist at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital

Dr Andy Chantry, Consultant Haematologist at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital

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Imagine if this Christmas was your last. Or it was the last for one of your family members. For those living with myeloma, this is a reality they have to face.

Myeloma is a bone marrow cancer which affects the plasma cells in the body. These cells help to fight infection. In the UK alone, around 5,000 people are diagnosed with this cancer every year. But currently there is no cure, with the life expectancy being on average, just five years.

Dr Andrew Chantry, haematology consultant at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield with patient Jaqui Copley.

Dr Andrew Chantry, haematology consultant at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield with patient Jaqui Copley.

As a consultant working with myeloma patients, I have seen the devastating effects this disease has, not only on them, but their families. I don’t want these people to be in pain or to feel distressed. I know every single one of my patients personally and I desperately want to change things for them. I’d like to see every one of them walk out of my ward fit and healthy, without needing to return ever again.

Thanks to improvements to treatments over the last decade, survival rates are increasing at the fastest rate among all cancer types in the UK. But more research is needed to beat this.

My dream is to give myeloma patients hope - hope that one day we will find a cure for this cruel disease. Hope for patients like Jaqui Copley, a mum of five who is battling this cancer.

Jaqui, who is just 56, was diagnosed with myeloma two years ago, after suffering with severe rib pain for more than a year. She’d always been active and full of energy; she was the one who stayed up late, danced on tables at parties and sang karaoke. So she was completely shocked, overwhelmed and terrified. She told me that all she could think is that she was going to die.

Jaqui isn’t afraid of dying - but she is scared of what she’ll miss. All of my patients deal with their cancer differently

Dr Andy Chantry

The hardest thing for her was breaking the terrible news to her family. She didn’t bring her husband to her consultation, as she didn’t expect to hear that she had myeloma.

He was devastated and he crumbled. The rest of the family’s reactions ranged from anger, disbelief, shock and horror at the treatment. Jaqui underwent various intensive treatments including radiotherapy, keyhole surgery on her spine, six rounds of chemotherapy, a stem cell harvest, and a stem cell transplant.

Jaqui isn’t afraid of dying, but she is scared of what she’ll miss. She has five children and two grandchildren, who she wants to be able to see growing up. All of my patients deal with their cancer differently. Jaqui feels angry, the way she copes is to work hard to raise funds to help find a cure for myeloma.

The anti-myeloma virus project, which is being worked on by our team of researchers, has the potential to completely eliminate myeloma – finally leading to a definitive cure.

The project has used a genetically engineered virus to target and kill the cancerous myeloma cells without affecting healthy cells.

The results so far have been incredible. After just two days of being introduced to the virus, myeloma cells were reduced by half and after four days, they had gone. We are the only team using this virus at the moment, but unfortunately we can’t go further without funding.

To raise funds, we have teamed up with Sheffield Hospitals Charity to launch an appeal to raise £90,000 to continue research for the next three years.

Unfortunately, for all of my patients, the myeloma will come back, and they will have to face rigorous treatment again. Please think about what Christmas means to you and your loved ones and consider donating to help fund further research into this potentially groundbreaking cure.

n Visit www.sheffieldhospitalscharity.org.uk/curemyeloma to donate.

Myeloma Factfile

n Myeloma affects plasma

cells, a type of white blood cell which helps fight infection.

n The condition is the second most common form of bone marrow cancer, but only represents two per cent of all cancers

n Symptoms include bone pain, fractures, fatigue, anaemia, kidney damage, infections and hypercalcaemia - high calcium levels

n Treatments available for myeloma are aimed at disease control, relieving the complications and symptoms the illness causes, and extending and improving the quality of patients’ lives - it is not curable