Cancer survivor takes on challenge 20 years after diagnosis

A cancer patient on a clinical trial who saw his tumour disappear after a few doses of an experimental drug, is showing his appreciation to the hospital that treated him by tackling a gruelling 6-day charity walking challenge. 

At the start of June, the retired chartered engineer is going to walk 130 kilometres along part of the pilgrim’s route, the Camino de Santiago, in Northern Spain to raise money for The Christie charity which will go towards further research to find treatments for lymphoma.

John McCormick, 70, who lives in New Brighton in Merseyside, and is originally from Rotherham in Yorkshire, was first diagnosed with non Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of cancer that develops in the lymphatic system, 20 years ago in 2002 when he was 50. Remarkably he didn’t need any treatment for 16 years, but 4 years ago the cancer became more aggressive and John underwent 7 cycles of chemotherapy and then a stem-cell transplant, which unfortunately failed to keep the cancer at bay, and his condition worsened less than a year later. With limited treatment options left, he turned to clinical trials and was referred to The Christie NHS Foundation Trust just before Christmas 2020.

John was recruited onto an international commercial early phase clinical trial at the NIHR Manchester Clinical Research Facility (CRF) at The Christie and just six weeks after starting a combined immunotherapy* treatment, administered as an injection and tablets, he was in partial remission. His scans after 3 months showed he was in complete remission with no signs of lymphoma. He is now fit and well and free of cancer, just having to go to The Christie once a month for ongoing tests and treatment.

John, who has just celebrated his 70 birthday explained: “The outlook was bleak 14 months ago but The Christie gave me hope straight away. I had a good reaction almost immediately to the combination treatment and now I only receive the trial immunotherapy drug. The chemotherapy I previously received was pretty brutal but the immunotherapy drugs have far less side effects which means I have experienced a much better quality of life.” 

Talking about his trip John said: “I’ve wanted to walk the Camino de Santiago for a long time. I’ll be doing the Western section finishing in Santiago. It’s a big challenge for me to walk for 6 days and I’m building up my strength. It’s a fantastic walk and it’s been a pilgrimage since the 9th century so many pilgrims have passed along that way. For me I believe that it will prove to be a profound spiritual experience and a celebration of my regained good health. Some of it I’ll walk with friends and other parts on my own. I’m looking forward to meeting people along the way and explore their motivations for being there.” 

Dr Kim Linton, consultant oncologist at The Christie, and leading on the study said: “We are delighted at the response John has had to this treatment. His case highlights the potential benefits that clinical trials of new drugs can hold and gives hope to people. He was the first patient at The Christie to trial this combination of drugs, and results so far are extremely promising. The clinical development programme is very rapid and we could see this drug combination being used routinely within the NHS in less than two years. This is really good news for patients who have relapsed, as this treatment is looking effective across many different types of lymphoma.” 

John, who is married and has 2 grown-up sons and 2 grandchildren is now looking forward to celebrating his 50 wedding anniversary next year with his wife Jacintha. 

The Christie charity supports the work of The Christie NHS Foundation Trust providing enhanced services over and above what the NHS funds. This includes money for care and treatment, research, education and extra patient services. Gifts from the public make a huge difference to the care and treatment that The Christie is able to provide to patients and their families.

*Immunotherapy boosts the body's immune system to fight cancer. This drug combination binds to proteins on the lymphoma cells and T cells (immune cells) engaging the immune system to kill the lymphoma cells.

Last updated: April 2022