Iwas diagnosed with bladder cancer in February 2009. After 5 years in which I had three major surgeries and what seemed like endless months of
radiotherapy and chemotherapy, which made
me really, really sick, I was told to put my
affairs in order. But then, I was offered a spot
in a clinical trial testing an immunotherapy
called atezolizumab (Tecentriq), and I’m now
the picture of health. I start work at 7: 15 each
morning and spend my spare time in the garden,
doing jobs around the house, and building
memories with my family.
My journey with bladder cancer started very
suddenly, toward the end of 2008, when I noticed
my urine was bright red. It was a huge shock,
and I immediately made an appointment with
my physician. About 8 weeks later, after lots of
poking, prodding, tests, and scans, I was told that
I had a tumor on the tube [ureter] that connected
my right kidney to my bladder.
I was filled with fear. Fear of suffering, fear of
pain, and fear of dying.
After a 9 ½ hour surgery to remove the tumor
and my right kidney, the doctors told me there
was no sign that the cancer had spread and that
I didn’t need to have chemotherapy.
But 6 to 8 months after the surgery, a follow-up scan showed that a tumor had developed
where the kidney had been removed. So my
oncologist started me on a 4-month course of
chemotherapy—gemcitabine and cisplatin. The
day after my first infusion, I collapsed at home
and had to be taken to the hospital, as I was so
sick. That was just the first day of 4 months of hell.
I couldn’t keep food down, one particular brand
of grapefruit juice made up about 60 percent of
my diet, I had extreme constipation, and my
quality of life was about 15 percent of normal.
Over the next few years, I had radiotherapy
and more chemotherapy in an effort to keep my
cancer at bay. But by February 2014, I had 11
tumors in my body, nine in my right lung, one
in my lymph system above my stomach, and
the primary tumor in my pelvis, which was the
size of a grapefruit. My oncologist told me there
was nothing more she could do and that I had
8 months to a year left to live.
To make sure she left no stone unturned, she
referred me to another oncologist who she said
would know about all the oncology clinical trials
being conducted. I saw him 2 months later,
and he connected me with Professor Thomas
Powels at Barts Cancer Institute in London
who he said had a clinical trial that would be a
perfect fit for me.
After speaking with Professor Powels, I
jumped at the 50/50 chance of living he said
that the trial offered me. I’ve been receiving
atezolizumab through the trial for the past 2 ½
years. I go to London every 3 weeks for a 1-hour
infusion of the immunotherapy, and I’ve never
had a single side effect, except a little fatigue in
After just nine infusions of atezolizumab, the
doctors could no longer see 10 of my 11 tumors,
and the primary tumor in my pelvis had shrunk
to the size of a thumbnail. I was later offered
the chance to stop taking atezolizumab, but I
chose to continue with it. Why would I want to
stop when it has turned my life around? Before
I started taking atezolizumab, I was preparing
for death. Now I can’t get enough of life, and
I’m so thankful to have been given the chance
to share moments with my grandson that by
all predictions should not have been possible.
For me, enrolling in the atezolizumab clinical
trial was my last chance for life, and I got it.
Today, I try to give back by telling my story.
I speak to a lot of people at Barts who are
considering a clinical trial. I tell them about
my experience and answer their questions.
I also share my experience because I know I am
the lucky beneficiary of research. Atezolizumab
only came about because of immunotherapy
research and the hard work and money that
supported it, and I have no doubt research saved
\\ AGE 70 \\ BISHOPSTEIGNTON, UNITED KINGDOM
SURVIVING BLADDER CANCER
THANKS TO RESEARCH