“The number of people expected to get cancer is expected to rise to one in two over coming years.” Those were the stark words of Professor David Cunningham, one of the world’s pre-eminent cancer specialists at a public meeting in London last night.
When David Cunningham speaks, the medical world listens. When David Cunningham spoke to me seven years ago, I listened. In June 2010, I was diagnosed with stomach cancer; technically speaking a T3N1 adenocarcinoma, i.e. a cancer that had grown into the subserosa layer (T3; 1 being the mildest stage, 4 the worst) and spread to one or two lymph nodes (N1). Professor Cunningham led my treatment in fighting a disease that currently has an 18.9% five-year survival rate in the UK.
I was in the best possible hands. The Professor is the Director of Clinical Research at The Royal Marsden in London, arguably the world’s leading cancer research and treatment facility. He is also Head of the Gastrointestinal (GI) Unit, Profession of Cancer Medicine and Consultant Medical Oncologist at The Royal Marsden.
Forgive the long introduction but it matters. David Cunningham is making a huge difference to the battle against cancer. To what is a worldwide battle. His main research interests are clinical trials in GI cancer and lymphoma, along with the development of translational research and novel molecular therapies including immunotherapies.
Professor Cunningham is ensuring that the historically one-sided battle between this brute and bully of a disease is being evened up. He and his team have been responsible for an astounding series of breakthroughs in cancer research over the past decade in particular.
Last night in London at an event dubbed “An evening with Professor David Cunningham”, he spoke of the huge advances in medical treatment, both in terms of diagnosis and treatment, that are seeing the odds between mankind and disease constantly improved. For lymphoma, for example, “there are very few patients we cannot get into remission!” The fight against cancer is “unrecognisable” from what it was even eight years ago, he noted.
Professor Cunningham was joined on stage by Andrew Stebbings (second to right below), a partner at the law firm Pemberton Greenish. Andrew was diagnosed in 2009 with “inoperable” cancer, comprising two different primary cancers (bowel and kidney), of which the former had spread to the liver. This remarkable man, treated of course by David Cunningham, has been in full remission since December 2014. He spoke movingly of the treatment he had received at the Marsden, noting, “You have no idea of what is journey is going to take you through. You have to have trust in the care that you will receive. And in some ways the outcome is incidental to the journey.”
I found those words both poignant and humbling. It took me back to my journey.
Why am I writing this Blog now? Because last night The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity kicked off a fund-raising campaign for a world-leading £50 million cancer research and care facility in Sutton, near London. It will be called The London Cancer Hub. It will house world-class clinical care and research in a single building. It will feature the ultimate in technology. It will quite simply be a game-changer. But it has to be paid for, mostly from donations.
The tagline for the facility is “For a future beyond cancer.” Professor Cunningham believes there can be one. On a personal level he has already proved it to me. In coming days we will be announcing our own initiative to fund cancer research. But if you would like to help fund not only a facility but also a battle against a foe that can and must be beaten, please visit https://www.royalmarsden.org/ to learn more.