He had been told he was going to die.
Doncaster grandfather James Gardiner had been told to prepare his family for the worst by his doctors.
But after being selected for a trial of a revolutionary new treatment, he is facing the future with hope.
The 64-year-old from Bawtry first suffered from cancer in 2007, and initially underwent treatment at Weston Park Hospital in Sheffield. Two years ago he was told his condition appeared to be terminal, and that he could have just months to live.
James, who has two children and four grandchildren, refused to give up, and managed to get on a pioneering new trial. And just a few days ago whilst attending his regular clinic, his oncologist told him: “James, you’re cancer free.”
James says it is the news he’s been hoping, praying and waiting for, but not because it was expected. He was diagnosed as terminal and after undergoing three operations, countless radiotherapy and chemotherapy sessions, he was told there were no other options and to prepare himself and his family for the worst.
In 2007, James had his first experience with cancer after discovering a lump in his neck which was dissected. He went on to lead a normal life but sadly in 2012, James’ cancer returned when he discovered a new lump in his neck.
The lump continued to grow and grow – no treatments could stop it from growing. He was essentially told there was nothing more that could be done.
James, a retired company director, refused to accept his life was over and spent hours every day and night searching online for further answers.
Through that he discovered a scientist who was carrying out trials of a new treatment, Dr John Maher. After he was contacted, John was keen to help and invited James to see him and his team to discuss the trial of a new treatment he was pioneering – T4 immunotherapy.
T4 immunotherapy is a new cancer treatment aimed at using the person’s own immune system to try to kill cancer. T cells are a type of white blood cell that are part of our immune system. T4 immunotheapy works by helping these T cells attack the cancer.
James had his blood taken and the T cells were altered in the laboratory. The changes they make to the T cells help them to recognise cancer cells and attack them.
John’s team injected the T4 immunotherapy directly into the cancer. Fortunately it was good news and the results showed the cancer had decreased quickly. It wasn’t long however for the tumour to start to grow again which James said was very difficult to cope with.
He visited Guy’s Cancer Centre in London after he finished the T4 immunotherapy trial and signed up to take part in a new clinical trial. He was the only patient to sign up for it. Here he was treated with pembrolizumab - another immunotherapy drug.
PD1 is exploited by tumours to prevent the immune system from recognising and killing cancer cells. PD1 inhibitor drugs turn off this protective mechanism so that the immune system can kill cancer cells.
Doctors believe that one of the reasons James is doing so well, is that maybe by giving pembrolizumab after the CAR T-cell therapy, the CAR T-cells are awakened from their ‘dormant’ state and can attack the tumour again, in combination with the natural immune system response because PD1 has been stopped.
They believe that it may be the combination of treatments that James has received that has allowed him to be given the all-clear.
Within three months, the lump had disappeared! He said it literally killed the cancer both inside and outside him.
Now, he says he is indebted to the funding and support of the charity Worldwide Cancer Research.
He has praise for all the oncologists and nursing staff he has met over the years who he calls heroes.
But most of all, he says his Russian-born wife Tatiana has been his rock.
They celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary recently and Johns said the he feels like he has been given his life back.
Tatiana has been with him through thick and thin and attended all of his appointments, dressed his wounds and nursed him day and night.
Even when James’ own father was dying from Parkinson’s disease in 2013, Tatiana helped to nurse him too and was there for all the family during the dark days.
James knows cancer research saved his life. He now enjoys reading, playing guitar, walking and enjoying his home in Doncaster. He treats every day as if it’s his last – after all, he knows what it feels like to almost lose everything.
‘My treatment has been lifesaving’
James said the new treatment he had received had been “life saving”, and described the doctors who treated him and the charity which paid for the research as ‘heroes’.
James said: “Imagine being rock bottom, living with a terminal cancer diagnosis, being told to prepare your family for the worst – then after months of hoping, praying and thanks to pioneering cancer research hearing the words ‘you’re cancer free’.
“Well, that was me.
“In 2012, after being diagnosed with neck cancer and I came across a new immunotherapy clinical trial.
“It turned out to be life-saving.
“When I was told that my cancer was terminal I didn’t give up. I kept searching for further answers. It’s vital that we keep searching for the answers to to cancer on a worldwide level too.
“Cancer changed my life, but cancer research saved it. For this I’m forever indebted.
“Just before Christmas 2016, the tumour was massive in my neck, and it didn’t look like I had much time.
“But I have a fantastic wife, a wonderful family and I had too much to live for than to give up.
“That’s why I searched the internet to see if there was any treatment I could try. That was then I contacted Dr Maher, and got involved in his trial through my oncologist at Sheffield.
“I have been very lucky. It took time for the tumour to shrink. But now the doctors have said I’m clear I feel fantastic and the doctors have been amazed.
“I have another chance to to have a good life. The heroes of this story are my wife, the doctors and the charities that funding their work.”