Pioneering treatment aimed at curing cancer

Michael Durham was devastated when doctors said he had incurable leukaemia. Then they told him about a revolutionary stem cell therapy - and that instead of going to hospital, he'd stay in a four-star hotel
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Indy Lifestyle Online

FRIDAY, 14 MAY 2004
My wife sends me to the doctor. Two days later I am due to run in the Crouch End 10km "fun run", and I've been training for six weeks. My wife says I've lost too much weight. "Pah!" I say.

The half-hour at the health centre changes my life. My doctorhas found lumps in my armpits, neck and groin. She says, "You've got a lymphoma - let's get you an appointment", and she rings the local hospital. As I am leaving she smiles sadly and says, "Good luck".

TUESDAY, 24 MAY 2005
A year on, and I've had all the luck in the world, good and bad. The diagnosis turned out to be chronic lymphocytic leukaemia - CLL - one of the commoner blood cancers. Ironically, I feel well. I've been given various drugs over the winter, and two weeks ago I ran the Crouch End fun run in a personal-best time. But the treatment is only buying a couple of years of life. I ask my consultant, Professor Tony Goldstone, how long I have got, and he says, "I think you'll be in trouble in about three years."

MONDAY, 6 JUNE 2005
The doctors have come up with a brilliant plan: a bone-marrow stem-cell transplant - more specifically a "mini" peripheral blood transplant. The idea has been around for decades, but only in the last five years have "mini" transplants been a realistic prospect.

CLL, like all the leukaemias, makes the white blood cells reproduce uncontrollably and invade the lymphatic system. Without effective drugs, you die. A bone-marrow transplant offers a chance of complete renewal. The marrow manufactures your blood, and the plan is to completely renew my blood and immune system, with a donation of healthy stem cells from someone else. It could cure me. I'll be a pioneer in modern stem-cell treatment for CLL. And where will I undergo this renewal? In a four-star hotel. It's safer and cheaper than hospital.

TUESDAY, 21 JUNE 2005
The first thing is to find a donor. I turn to my brother, Stewart, who lives in Scotland. He wants to come down on the next plane, but the Anthony Nolan Trust, the charity that maintains the UK's bone-marrow register, will send him up a blood-test kit.

TUESDAY, 5 JULY 2005
Great news! Stewart is a perfect match.

FRIDAY, 16 SEPTEMBER 2005
Today things finally kick off when Stewart donates his stem cells at UCLH - they are to be frozen until I can receive them. My brother has been amazing - he's flown up and down from Scotland, he's taken time off work and been ready to cancel his holiday. In the last two days he's spent 10 hours attached to a blood centrifuge, and the result is eight small plastic bags of pink stem cells. My chance of a new life.

MONDAY, 26 SEPTEMBER 2005
If all goes well the main part of the procedure will take place in the four-star Grafton Hotel in Tottenham Court Road, opposite UCLH. If I'm well enough, I'll be free to wander about Fitzrovia, meet friends and share a bed with my wife, Bobbie, despite having the immune system of a dead fish. UCLH calls this revolutionary scheme the ambulatory care option. It's cheaper for patients to live in a hotel - about £160 a night compared with £500 a night on a ward. And it's safer. Hospitals are full of germs.

THURSDAY, 29 SEPTEMBER 2005
My treatment starts. But things are not going well. I am stuck on a ward because there's no room in the ambulatory care scheme. It takes them 13 hours to get round to giving me the first 15-minute infusion of chemotherapy. I'll be on the drip daily for the next four weeks. All sorts of side effects are predicted: nausea, tiredness, reduced appetite, hair loss. I can't wait.

SUNDAY, 2 OCTOBER 2005
I'm in the hotel. What a relief! I have a view of the BT Tower.

MONDAY, 3 OCTOBER 2005
I have to spend several hours in the ambulatory care unit - for a health check and chemotherapy. But the rest of the day is my own, so I go out for a long walk.

THURSDAY, 6 OCTOBER 2005
DAY ZERO: Today is the day I get my brother's stem cells. At about 11am the nurses arrive with Stewart's frozen cells. There are more than six million of them, in their small plastic packages. Debbie and Claire defrost the packages in a warm water bath, attach them to a drip stand and plug them in to the catheter that goes into a vein in my chest. It takes four hours. I begin to feel ill. They let me go back to the hotel, and by 10 o'clock I'm asleep.

FRIDAY, 7 OCTOBER 2005
Feeling revived. Today they start me on a new drug to prevent graft-versus-host rejection, which takes six hours each day to deliver by drip.

MONDAY, 10 OCTOBER 2005
I'm neutropenic [very low white-blood-cell count] at last. I don't have an immune system to speak of, yet I am walking around central London. I've reached the most serious point in my treatment and tonight I'm having supper at a café.

SUNDAY, 16 OCTOBER 2005
Oh no! I'm back in hospital. And I'm feeling awful. Since my red-blood counts were low, they gave me a transfusion of platelets on Friday, and my temperature rocketed to 38.5 degrees.

TUESDAY, 18 OCTOBER, 2005
My temperature is normal. I'm back in the hotel. Hooray!

SUNDAY, 23 OCTOBER 2005
I'm home - at least a week earlier than expected. My blood count is rocketing and I haven't succumbed to an infection! They tell me I've got at least five months' recuperation before I can think of work, and maybe even longer before I can take up running again. We'll see. Next May I'm not going to let anything stop me from entering the Crouch End fun run again, and I'll be looking for a personal best.

Read the continuing story of Mike Durham's treatment on the internet at his blog, 'This Is It, Then'. http://this-is-it-then.journalspace.com/

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