A grandfather who was given just weeks to live after being diagnosed with cancer has made a ‘miracle’ recovery thanks to a revolutionary new immunotherapy drug.
Donald Cheetham, 77, from Pershore, Worcestershire was diagnosed with malignant melanoma and it spread to his lungs, liver, brain, lymph nodes, spleen, bones and skin.
Doctors discovered tennis-ball sized tumours in his lungs and clusters of growths on his liver and told Mr Cheetham to say goodbye to his family.
But after taking the newly available immunotherapy drug Pembrolizumab, his health began to improve rapidly.
Donald Cheetham, 77, from Pershore, Worcestershire was diagnosed with malignant melanoma and given just weeks to live
Two years after starting the treatment, Mr Cheetham was given the all clear when scans showed the cancer had been completely eradicated from his body.
Mr Cheetham, a retired managing director of an engineering firm, said: ‘To me it is a miracle.
‘I was being given palliative, end of life care and being supported by a hospice. I thought my time was up.
‘The immunotherapy treatment was relatively new and I was told it might or might not work, especially because the cancer had spread to my brain.
‘But after a few weeks I suddenly felt like I had more energy and the scans showed the tumours were shrinking until they were gone.
‘The doctors said they were not expecting such good results and I have to say I’m amazed to still be here.
Doctors told him that he should say goodbye to his family (pictured with wife Sylvia) after finding tennis ball-sized tumours on his lungs
Mr Cheetham and wife Sylvia with son Phil, grandson Chris, daughter Angie & granddaughter Hannah
‘I didn’t spend one night in hospital and didn’t undergo any chemotherapy and I’ve been clear of cancer for almost a year. I consider myself extremely lucky.’
Mr Cheetham was diagnosed with aggressive cancer in May 2016 by his GP following an appointment for what he believed was a urine infection.
A CT scan revealed a large tumour on his lung but the cancer had also spread to his liver and spleen.
Doctors told Mr Cheetham, who has two children and three grandchildren, the disease had spread too far to be treated effectively.
Mr Cheetham was told chemotherapy was not an option for treating his cancer, though immunotherapy could be worth trying because it could extend his life by a few months.
After taking the newly available immunotherapy drug Pembrolizumab, Mr Cheetham’s health began to improve rapidly
Immunotherapy uses drugs to re-programme the immune system into attacking cancerous cells while leaving healthy cells unharmed.
He was injected with the drug every three weeks as an outpatient at Worcestershire Royal Hospital.
Initially, Mr Cheetham suffered side effects but his family soon noticed an improvement.
His daughter Angie Crump, 48, said: ‘Suddenly he began to improve, each day he became stronger and stronger, no one could believe the speed of the recovery.
He was injected with the drug every three weeks as an outpatient at Worcestershire Royal Hospital, with doctors describing the results as ‘jaw-dropping’
‘Doctors put the radiotherapy on hold to allow the progress of the immunotherapy to continue.
‘And then scans began to show that the cancerous nodules on the brain were gone, and they were shrinking elsewhere too.’
Mr Cheetham completed his immunotherapy treatment last year and is currently cancer-free.
Pembrolizumab is a revolutionary skin cancer treatment that shrinks tumours and it has been made available on the NHS.
Doctors described the results as ‘jaw-dropping’.
Pembrolizumab is the first of a new wave of immunotherapy treatments, which harnesses the body’s own immune system to teach it to attack tumours.
In trials it was shown to be twice as effective as chemotherapy, halting and even shrinking tumour growth for 34 per cent of patients with advanced malignant melanomas.
Immunotherapy Clinical Nurse Specialist, Helen Grist, for Worcestershire Royal Hospital, said: ‘We treat around 100 patients a year with this form of Immunotherapy treatment, and although it’s not suitable for all patients with cancer, we’re delighted to hear that Donald responded so positively to his treatment.’