As a professional viola player Cathy Perkins was worried when, eight years ago, a painful lump appeared on her right index finger.
The 62-year-old was diagnosed with melanoma but when she was later referred to specialist cancer hospital The Christie in Manchester it was discovered that the cancer had spread to her lungs and she was given just months to live.
Four years later, thanks to a clinical trial at the hospital in Withington, the former assistant head of strings at the world famous Chethams School of Music in Manchester says she is glad to be alive.
When she first noticed the lump, Cathy’s GP referred her to North Manchester General Hospital where it was removed. The lump returned and had to be removed again and melanoma was diagnosed.
Cathy, from Prestwich, Manchester, was then referred to The Christie and the top of her finger was amputated to try to prevent the cancer from spreading. Four years later, however, scans revealed it had spread to her lungs and she was told there was no viable treatment, chemotherapy would not be effective with this type of tumour and Cathy was given just months to live.
Believing she had little time left, Cathy, who is a keen horserider and regular visitor to Africa, travelled to the Okavango Delta in Botswana on a horse safari.
Defying expectations, six months later she was well enough to be placed on a clinical trial involving immunotherapy which started in November 2013 and she has now been receiving treatment every two weeks for nearly four years.
Cathy said: “At first I was angry that the retirement I had planned after doing a very full-on job with high stress levels and long hours was being stolen from me. I have enjoyed safaris, often on horseback, for many years and have friends in Africa so when I was given the news I may only have had a short time to live I wanted to be there. I wanted to be completely out of touch and away from everything.
“Now, four years later I feel not only glad but privileged to be alive. I’m grateful for the skill of the scientists and doctors who have developed this amazing immunotherapy.
“The treatment doesn’t make me feel ill and the regime is perfectly manageable.”
Her treatment is given intravenously and Cathy says staff always try to fit her regular appointments around her trips away.
Cathy, who is single, decided to take early retirement and concentrated on playing the viola again. Due to her treatment she has changed her bow hold and is now able to play for pleasure.
The Christie has been pioneering cancer research breakthroughs for more than 100 years. These don't just benefit people like Cathy, but cancer patients across the world.
Around 600 clinical trials may be taking place at any one time at The National Institute of Healthcare Research (NIHR) Clinical Research Facility at The Christie, a large, high quality, dedicated clinical research environment where patients can participate in complex and early phase clinical trials.
“The Christie is the best place going,” Cathy said. “I do nothing but praise the place. It’s the professionalism of the doctors, the staff as a whole. I have to go there regularly and they feel a bit like family to me now. Even when I bump into a member of staff outside the hospital they always smile and know my name.
“Anyone who is offered a clinical trial should seriously consider it. I’ve recently seen a friend’s daughter come through chemotherapy for breast cancer. It was very gruelling for her so anything that can help towards finding new treatments is to be welcomed. Compared to chemo, immunotherapy must be a path worth developing.”
Christie consultant Professor Paul Lorigan, who has been a principal investigator on a number of ground-breaking clinical trials, said: "Cathy has had a phenomenal response to taking part in this clinical trial. Cancer is a complex disease and not every patient responds in the same way but the results obtained in this case are very promising.
“This trial led to this treatment becoming a standard of care. So Cathy benefited, but so did others because of what we learned, and now many other patients are having the benefit of this treatment.”