A consultant who works in Salford has significantly extended her life by taking part in clinical trials at The Christie.
Catherine Stewart, 40, from Levenshulme was diagnosed with an acral lentiginous melanoma five years ago. She was 37 weeks pregnant at the time.
Catherine said: "It was a warm summer, I had sandals on and we had a dermatologist come to our clinic. We were asking what the names of our freckles were, having a bit of fun, and I asked him about what I thought was my verruca. Immediately he said he didn't like the look of it and recommended I get it biopsied."
Acral lentiginous melanoma is very rare and is most commonly found on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. It can also grow under the nails.
Because of her pregnancy, Catherine was unable to have the immediate investigations normally recommended, she said: "During the pregnancy the melanoma was a bit unpleasant looking and had grown quite large. The doctor had concerns that it may have spread to my lymph nodes but as I was pregnant I couldn't have a CT scan or anything more than local surgery to the foot."
"Following the birth of my son, Tolamo, I found out the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes and I had the tumours removed."
However, Catherine has since had recurrences of her tumours almost every year since her diagnosis, including a tumour on her brain. Cancer has had a huge impact on Catherine's life, she said: "We did not expect cancer and it has completely altered our life plans. We always envisaged that when I completed my training we would move back to South Africa where my husband is from. Due to my cancer diagnosis we are still in the UK, my husband has had to care for me and look after our son. I can't move to somewhere that doesn't have an NHS, I'd be uninsurable and I wouldn't be able to access the life-extending drugs and trials available at The Christie."
Catherine is determined to live as long as possible and with help from The Christie's Clinical Trials Unit she is hopeful for the future: "I continue to be scanned and monitored. My current medication has shown rapid shrinkage of tumours but this is not permanent, the melanoma cells mutate and there will be re-bound growth. It's not the cure but it is one of the least toxic ways of extending my life."
The Christie has been pioneering cancer research breakthroughs for over 100 years. These don't just benefit people like Catherine, but cancer patients across the world. Around 400 clinical trials may be taking place at any one time.
Catherine added: "My treatment will continue indefinitely until progression or until other options become available. Things are changing so fast with cancer research and clinical trials. Thanks to The Christie I have taken part in two clinical trials that have extended my life, allowing me to spend precious time with my son and husband, and to continue to work in a job I love. I have hope that there will be other new treatments available to me in the future."
Christie consultant, Dr Paul Lorigan, who has been a principal investigator on a number of ground-breaking clinical trials said: "Patients like Catherine take part in our clinical trials because they want the chance to possibly benefit from new treatments. By taking part patients also help others like them, now and in the future, with their condition. We want patients at The Christie to know its ok to ask us about what clinical trials are taking place and whether they are eligible to take part."
The NIHR has launched a national 'OK to ask' campaign to encourage many more people to ask their doctor about accessing research as part of their care and treatment and highlighting that they have a right to information about 'relevant and appropriate' research under the NHS Constitution. For more information or to ask about a clinical trial at The Christie, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
The Christie charity continues to fundraise to help us learn more about cancer and the ways it can be treated. To find out more about how you can help us visit www.christies.org.