I guess I should start this week’s missive with an apology. To anyone who was strolling the streets of Brighton on Wednesday evening I’d like to say sorry. Sorry for stumbling around in a drunken stupor, singing at the top of my voice and doing a passable impersonation of a very inebriated Baloo the Bear.
But I had good cause for celebration. Firstly it was my birthday, not a significant one, I was sixty-three, although I suppose if you’re informed when you are fifty-nine that you have a terminal illness every birthday is significant. But secondly, and more importantly, I had seen the fragrant Dr Sarah Westwell earlier that day to ascertain the results of my latest scans. For some reason the old “scanxiety” had kicked in even more than usual this time; it was after all eight months since my last infusion of JJ, so since then my body has been fighting off Bastard Cancer unaided and unassisted. And in the meantime every new ache or pain, sore throat, cough and twinge sent those same fears racing through my mind. The fear every cancer sufferer recognises.
However, my fears were misplaced. The scan results yet again showed no evidence of any new tumours anywhere in my head or body. There were no signs of any active cancer cells, everything was as it should be. We breathed a hefty sigh of relief, and I have to admit I wiped a tear from my eye.
But before we left Dr Feelgood’s office, with a promise to have another scan in three months, the Blonde had a question. It was quite simply whether I was still considered as a category Stage IV patient.
The answer came in the form of a curve chart that the Good Doctor elegantly drew with her Mont Blanc fountain pen on a spare sheet of paper from my very thick medical file. I shan’t try to replicate it here, but there were 3 quite distinctly shaped curves within the parameters of the chart, which incorporated percentage survival rates on the vertical line and a time line on the horizontal. Pointing to each line individually, she explained their significance as follows:
Line 1 – Until just a few years ago, anyone diagnosed with Stage IV Metastatic Melanoma, like me, had a life expectancy of a maximum of eighteen months. It was an absolute 100% certainty that nobody would survive longer than a year and a half.
Line 2 -When the first wave of immunotherapy drugs were introduced, 90% of patients would be dead within 3 years. Only 10% would see a fourth or fifth year.
Line 3 – Since Pembrolizumab, aka Jungle Juice, aka JJ came on to the scene, 50% of patients receiving that drug are expected to live for three years, and that statistic of course includes me. But better than that, the line on the chart then flattens out – those that have survived, starting with the very first clinical trials in 2011 and since, have all gone on to see no return of their cancer for four, five, six, even seven years, and the considered likelihood is that they never will.
Dr Westwell still wouldn’t use the terms “cancer-free” or “cured” but she informed us that I was now officially classified as “Treated Stage 4 Metastatic Melanoma,” and as birthday treats go they don’t come much better than that.