11th June 2021

Helen’s lung cancer story

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Just six months after Helen James had a stage 3 melanoma successfully removed, she was completely stunned to be diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer – another primary cancer, separate to the melanoma. Helen is currently being treated on a clinical trial and wants to share her story to help anyone else like her who may be deciding whether to begin a clinical trial for their lung cancer.

“After having the melanoma removed, I continued to attend routine scans every three months. I mentioned to my cancer nurse specialist that I had a slight ‘tickle’ in my chest – she decided to request a chest x-ray to ‘tick the box’ – thank goodness that she did.

I was incredibly shocked to discover that I had stage 3 lung cancer. At first, it was thought it would be curable but sadly we found out that the tumour is inoperable due to the position of it. But fortunately, it is treatable.

I began radical chemotherapy and radiotherapy soon after my diagnosis. It seemed to have done a good job when scans following treatment in March/April 2019 showed that the tumour had reduced in size.

However, in January 2020, the tumour which was originally thought to be contained in my right lung was found to have spread to the pleura (the lining of the lung).

I then started taking Immunotherapy which kept my lung cancer stable for around 5-6 months. I was devastated when I found out it had stopped working. But thankfully, I was offered a phase 1 clinical trial* at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London.

My Clinical Trials

Clinical Trials are a crucial part of medical research. I know that trialling treatments on people like me will help the development of more ways to treat lung cancer and more ways to keep lung cancer stable. Although I was initially worried, I felt very privileged to be offered a trial.

The discovery of me having a rare mutation (Met Exon) meant that I was first put onto a trial Targeted Therapy. This began in October 2020 but pretty soon after that, it had to be stopped due to it becoming too toxic.

Just when I thought that all of my options were running out, I was then offered a second clinical trial which I started in January this year. While I’m on the treatment, I am scanned every six weeks and I am pleased to say that my first scan showed amazing results of a 68% improvement and substantial shrinkage. Just last week I received the news that I have an overall improvement of 74%. A truly outstanding result.

My treatment has shown great promise for me. I’m always cautious to not be too over-confident as cancer is a tricky thing which can catch us unaware. However, I’m positive in my thoughts and I’m grateful for the results that I have had.

Treatment during the pandemic

As if starting new treatments wasn’t enough to be thinking about, I started mine during the coronavirus pandemic, an incredibly worrying time for so many, but especially people like me who are immunocompromised.

Both my husband and I totally isolated throughout the majority of 2020 to be safe. If we needed anything, our eldest daughter brought it to the window. It was difficult not seeing my three girls and my grandchildren, but it was important to be as safe as we could.

The care that I have received from the Royal Marsden was, and is, second to none. I feel safe attending the hospital for treatment and scans and I have a lot of faith in my consultant.

Cancer treatments have come on leaps and bounds, even just over the past few years. I feel very lucky to have been offered clinical trials to keep my lung cancer stable. I’m realistic in knowing that my lung cancer won’t be able to be operated on, but staying stable would be brilliant.  

There was a time when I feared that I may not see my children and grandchildren grow up, but I can now look forward to my youngest daughter’s wedding in August this year. We were also blessed with the arrival of another granddaughter nine months ago – she is an absolute joy.

Although treatments can be tough – it is worth it. If one treatment doesn’t do what you hope for, there may well be another one that will.

Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation came up on a Google search for me – they are so knowledgeable and helpful. I see other cancers getting so much media coverage and yet lung cancer – the biggest cancer killer – is not given the exposure it deserves. Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation are working so hard to change this.

I would advise anyone to take note of any subtle changes in their health. If you have any concerns, please contact your GP as soon as possible. The sooner lung cancer is found, the sooner it can be treated. I would be in a very different position today if my cancer nurse specialist hadn’t have sent me for that chest x-ray.”

*A phase 1 clinical trial predominantly look at doses and the side effects of a new treatment. For more information on clinical trials, please click here.