Since escaping lockdown and the lifting of the shielding restrictions, I’ve loved the freedom of catching up with friends and family over the summer. It has passed all too quickly and after a lovely weekend in the Peak District last month to celebrate my mother in laws 75th birthday it was back to awaiting for the latest scan results. I had a new experience going to the Marsden for my latest scans as they took place in the car park. I understand from the radiographer that the MRI scanner in the car park will be moving into the main hospital building later in the year but actually having it there was good given all the current COVID restrictions. The experience was efficient as ever but part way through the scan I began to need the loo and lying still became an issue for me. The radiographer stopped the scan and told me I needed to stop wriggling as they had to repeat a section of the scan. I had to hang on a bit longer and then bolted straight to the nearest loo, memo to self always go to the loo in future before scans.
After a gorgeous weekend in the Peaks where I didn’t have much time to think about scan results, it was back in the car on Monday morning for the return to London. The consultations with my doctor are currently taking place by phone so David suggested we stop for coffee around the time of my appointment. As my appointment time passed and I was anxiously looking at my watch, David said “you didn’t expect to be called on time did you?” And yes the clinic was running late so we stopped at a service station and I was feeling anxious. It wasn’t helped by the fact there was nowhere to have a private call and there were lots of screaming kids in a playground and I kept needing the loo. However, after the stress came the relief when the phone rang and I was told that my latest scans were all good. My wonder targeted drugs Debrafenib and Trametinib that I have been taking for 2 yrs 9 months are still working and I am feeling well which is amazing. I left the service station feeling much happier than when I arrived but receiving scan results in service stations definitely won’t become the new normal.
With the sense of relief that my scans are good comes the worry of the resurgence of COVID cases in the UK. The thought of returning to shielding is just not something I can bear to think about and of more concern is the continued priority focus on COVID at the expense of other serious health conditions including cancer which are becoming part of the collateral damage of this pandemic. Charities such as CRUK, Macmillan and Maggies are all making huge cuts to their funding which will impact cancer research, support services and end of life care. The reason I am still here alive and kicking is very much due to cancer research. Only 10 years ago the average prognosis for a stage 4 melanoma patient was just 9 months. If it wasn’t for cancer research and clinical trials I would not still be here today.
The Royal Marsden cancer charity has also been severely affected by the pandemic and fundraising has dropped by 70%. As you are aware, we have been fundraising to support melanoma research at the Royal Marsden and now more than ever with so many fundraising events cancelled due to COVID it is a critical time to support the charity. In just under 2 weeks Team Shomelanoma will be taking to the epic coastline of the Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland. In this tough one day challenge we will be trekking a marathon distance along the undulating terrain of the Giants Causeway ascending over 1000m along this dramatic coastline. The team have been training and we are so excited to get back out there and continue raising funds to support vital melanoma research to continue developing new treatments to save more lives. https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/shiona-ramagegiantscauseway
Over the last 5 years impressive progress has been made for the treatment of advanced melanoma with the introduction of immunotherapy and targeted treatment and for many patients who respond to these treatments the outlook is much brighter. However much still needs to be done as many patients (50%) don’t respond to immunotherapy and resistance is often developed to targeted therapy. In the UK alone we still lose 2500 people every year to melanoma.
Despite the COVID 19 pandemic involving a partial closure of trials at The Royal Marsden the hospital is now in progress of getting trials back up and running as quickly as possible. One of the major programmes the melanoma research team is working on is trying to understand which patients with advanced disease will respond to immunotherapy treatment. Immunotherapy drugs boost the body’s own immune system to attack cancer cells.
Dr Samra Turajilic – the Melanoma Unit’s Consultant Medical Oncolologist. – has found that a particular type of mutation in melanoma patients, called Frame Shift Mutation responds strongly to these kind of immunotherapy drugs. By analysing many different melanoma datasets over the last year, the Unit now have more information about Frame Shift Mutations. From this information, the team is now developing a more precise way to stratify patients according to how likely they are to benefit from this kind of immunotherapy.
This research has also presented new approaches to information on locating and targeting cancerous cells. Being able to identify Frame Shift Mutations may also allow researchers to look for and find cancerous cells in the body which are otherwise difficult to locate. This has great implications for the development of new therapy approaches.
Using techniques such as this to study the samples has enabled the team to make novel observations regarding the way that melanoma spreads to other sites in the body. This has shone a light on how these cancerous cells escape the immune system helping to understand why tumour response to immune therapies in melanoma cancer patients is so diverse.
These preliminary findings have already been presented at numerous scientific meetings and ongoing work in this area will significantly advance the Melanoma Unit’s understanding of how cancer evolves and remains undetected in the immune system.
A big thank you to the melanoma research team for providing this update on the melanoma immunotherapy project. Its thanks to your support and generosity that the Melanoma Unit at the Royal Marsden can continue to be at the forefront of melanoma research improving the lives of patients world wide and I feel very fortunate to be treated at such a wonderful hospital.
Team Shomelanoma has been out training for the next challenge in various locations around the UK and here are a few pics. The conclusion this week after a few steep climbs on the SW Coastal Path was that the legs may not have had enough hill training in preparation for the Giants Causeway. With just under 2 weeks to go we are praying that the lashing storms of the Welsh mountains stay away from the Irish Coast but at the end of October in Northern Ireland we will be preparing for all eventualities. A full update on the Giants Causeway Challenge will be provided in the next blog.
In the meantime thank you as always for all of your generous support it means the world. This has been a very difficult year for everyone and I hope that you are all staying safe and I’ll be back with more Shomelanoma Adventures soon.