My life insurance was paid out in full in 2010 when I was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer – thanks to the ICVI I’m still here and have a future with my amazing children”
Ruth was finally diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2010 after spotting a disturbing mole while pregnant four years earlier.
“I remember being pregnant with my youngest daughter and noticing a mole on my ankle becoming increasingly angry. I mentioned it to my GP who said it wasn’t anything to worry about but to keep an eye on it. It became so incredibly itchy and by the end of that pregnancy it was oozing.
Shortly after giving birth the midwife came round to my house and asked what all the blood on my sheets was, so I showed her my ankle and she told me to get another GP to take a look. Luckily this time the doctor was Australian and very aware of skin cancers, so referred me straight away to a consultant dermatologist who removed it. I remember sitting in that waiting room looking at a poster of different types of melanoma and recognising my mole – a nodular melanoma with the worst possible prognosis.
Biopsy and scan results came back the following week showing it had a depth of 2.3mm, and was likely to have spread. I was then referred to St George’s Hospital in London for further biopsies which came back positive. I then had an operation to remove some lymph nodes in an effort to stop any cancer spreading. I was told chemotherapy and radiotherapy had little effect on melanoma, so had to just hope for the best and the surgeons told me the operation had gone as well as could have been expected.
Over the next few months I started getting pains in my pelvis and then, around a year after that op, felt a lump on my pelvis. At this point I knew my cancer was stage 3, but not that it had spread to the rest of my body, so alarm bells started to ring. A needle biopsy of the lump came back negative, which didn’t shed any light on the situation. But something was obviously wrong – I’d lost loads of weight, I had night sweats, couldn’t eat and was in unbearable pain almost all the time.
Further biopsies and scans showed the cancer had spread. I then had another operation to remove a tumour, which helped me to feel better. However my body was still riddled with cancer.
I was then put on randomised trial for 6 months, but the symptoms started again and a CT scan picked up another tumour just outside my stomach. This time I was told my cancer was stage 4 – so terminal. I was a single mum with three young daughters and felt like my world had fallen in. My life insurance instantly paid out, but of course I didn’t care about money then. I knew that most people with my prognosis were very lucky to live more than a year, news I couldn’t really comprehend.
I was then referred to Professor Dalgleish, Principal of the Institute for Cancer Vaccines and Immunotherapy. He offered me the chance to take part in a trial of a vaccine called IMM-101 and of course I said I was happy to try anything. So I had that little jab once a month and waited. Three-monthly CT scans showed the metastases in my abdomen stopped growing, then actually started to shrink – without any chemo or other treatment. It was unbelievable. It took a year for those metastases to shrink to nothing.
So now I’m over eight years past and I have to say I feel fantastic. When I was given that original prognosis my youngest daughter was just four and I thought I wouldn’t get to take her to her first day at school –I’ve seen her start secondary school and hopefully much more in the future.
I’m in no doubt that immunotherapy not only saved my life but also gave my children a mum when they most needed her. Of course there are no guarantees and the cancer might come back, but right now I feel so incredibly blessed. I am so grateful to the ICVI and their research which has been going on for so many years and has the potential to help so many.