An estates manager at a care home given 12 months to live after being diagnosed with bowel cancer is enjoying time with a grandson he thought he would never see. Richard Condie, 64, was given a bleak prognosis in January 2021 when, six years after his original bowel cancer diagnosis in 2015, specialists told him it was incurable.
But Richard refused to be beaten and six months ago joined a trial for an immunotherapy treatment known as AFM24 at Royal Marsden Hospital in Surrey and feels fighting fit. He even met grandson Josh, two, for the first time in February when his daughter visited from Australia.
Richard, who lives in Burgh Heath, Surrey, with his wife, Judy, 61, a welfare manager, said: “The immunotherapy infusion which I spend three hours having in hospital every week has not only stabilised my cancer but has also shrunk some of my tumours. In January 2021 I was given a year to live, but I’ve beaten those odds and feel like I have second chance at life.”
Richard first realised something was wrong back in January 2015. He said: “I noticed there was blood in my stool and knew I needed to get it checked out. I went for an appointment at my GP surgery, who referred me to my local hospital for a colonoscopy.”
Results from the examinations and tests he had confirmed the worst and Richard was diagnosed with bowel cancer. He said: “It was quite a shock and I had to have an operation to remove part of my colon in May 2015.”
The estates worker added: “At the time, my prognosis looked okay and the cancer seemed very treatable, but it was at my final review in June 2015 that they discovered through tests that the cancer had spread to my liver.
“It was a bit of a blow as everything was looking positive up until that point. I had to go through eight rounds of chemotherapy, before having an op on my liver to remove the new tumours.”
The operation in the winter of 2015 was a success and Richard was given the all-clear. He said: “It was a great feeling to be cancer free, but I still needed regular check-ups and it was a scan in summer 2016 that showed a reappearance of the cancer in my liver.”
Given more chemotherapy, Richard was dealt a devastating blow at the beginning of last year. He added: “I went through extensive treatment with chemotherapy and since then doctors have been trying different options and treatments on me, but it got to the point at the beginning of 2021 where I had run out of options.”
Doctors dealt a devastating blow to Richard, informing him that he had just 12 months to live. Richard went on: “The future I had imagined with Judy and with us watching our four grandchildren growing up was lost.”
He added: “One of the most upsetting things was that my daughter lives in Australia and had her first child, Joshua, in 2019. Because of Covid, I still hadn’t met him and I found myself having to come to terms with the fact that I might not ever get to meet him.”
But hope arrived in the form of a trial treatment which was made available to Richard in October 2021. He said: “My doctor told me that I was eligible for a trial of immunotherapy which I now spend three hours a week having done through an infusion at the Royal Marsden in London.”
The immunotherapy, known as AFM24, redirects the body’s own natural killer cells and engages them to kill tumour cells, without having to go through a complex process to re-engineer a patient’s own cells, as happens with CAR-T cell therapy – an established cancer treatment.
Researchers believe the new treatment has the potential to be safer and less complex than cell therapies and might also work against a wider range of cancer types. It works by activating natural killer cells – immune cells that release toxic molecules to kill tumour cells – and directing them to cancer cells expressing EGFR (epidermal growth factor receptor) and increasing their ability to selectively kill them.
Richard said: “I’ve been on the trial immunotherapy for six months now and, while I was told over a year ago that I had just 12 months to live. I haven’t had a new prognosis but my cancer has not only stabilised, some of the tumours have also shrunk.
“It’s incredible and has given me my life back. The biggest difference that I’ve noticed as well is that this has the least amount of side effects I have experienced while on treatment, so I have been able to go about my normal life.”
As Richard’s health continues to come on in leaps and bounds, he is also very happy to have had a very special visitor.
He said: “My daughter came over with my grandson from Australia which was just a dream. They were here for three weeks and we had a great time. It was overwhelming to think that I might not have ever met Josh and it was the first time seeing my daughter in five years.
“On the last full day and the morning that they were due to go home, I was very emotional, not knowing if I’ll ever see them again. My cancer is unpredictable. It’s responding to treatment now but that could change.”
The trial’s UK lead Dr Juanita Lopez, a consultant medical oncologist at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, is pleased with its progress. She said: “Natural killer cells are an essential part of the immune system and are able to recognise cancer cells.
You don’t have to suffer in silence if you’re struggling with your mental health. Here are some groups you can contact when you need help:
Samaritans: Phone 116 123, 24 hours a day, or email [email protected], in confidence
Childline: Phone 0800 1111. Calls are free and won’t show up on your bill
PAPYRUS: A voluntary organisation supporting suicidal teens and young adults. Phone 0800 068 4141
Depression Alliance: A charity for people with depression. No helpline but offers useful resources and links to other information on its website
Students Against Depression: A website for students who are depressed, have low mood, or are suicidal. Click here to visit
Bullying UK: A website for both children and adults affected by bullying. Click here
Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM): For young men who are feeling unhappy. Has a website here and a helpline: 0800 58 58 58
“This new immunotherapy, AFM24, can redirect natural killer cells to tumours by targeting a protein called EGFR, which is often found on the surface of cancer cells. Our early findings suggest it shows signs of effectiveness in some patients with very advanced cancers who have stopped responding to conventional treatments.
“This treatment is still highly experimental and our trial is at an early stage, but we are excited by its potential. It does not have to be personalised for each patient like CAR-T cell therapy, so it could potentially be cheaper and faster to use and might work against a wider range of cancers.”
Richard plans to take part in The Banham Marsden March, which raises money for The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity, next month. It will be the sixth time he has taken part in the 15-mile walk between the hospital’s sites in Chelsea, west London, and Sutton in Surrey.
He said: “It’s a small way to repay the hospital that has been keeping me alive. It’s given me the prospect of a future with my grandkids.”
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