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Case study: Martin’s experiences receiving new prostate cancer treatment

Martin, 63, explains that getting involved in a research study has given him a new lease of life

I was first introduced to the idea of research when I was having courses of radiotherapy and chemotherapy at St Luke’s Cancer Centre at Royal Surrey County Hospital in Guildford. One day I was having a chat with a wonderful nurse, who told me that there were a number of interesting clinical research studies going on at the hospital, particularly in St Luke’s.

Some time later, I was reminded of that conversation in a meeting with my consultant. My cancer had become quite advanced, and we spoke about the possibility of joining a trial called PROpel*.

At that time, deciding whether to join the trial seemed like a no-brainer - a brutal but easy choice to make. I signed up straightaway, and I’ve never looked back.

Signing up involved a lot of reading, and some serious considerations, such as what happens to my test material when they take biopsies, how long it can be used for, who's going to use it, and exactly what for.

Wider benefits
Thinking about these things helped me realise that I wasn’t just doing this to keep myself alive – I was actually helping other people. I was very grateful to have the opportunity for myself and my family, but it was also incredible to feel that what I was doing would hopefully go on to improve treatments for others, long into the future. People that I will never meet. That was a wonderful feeling.

PROpel was a blind trial, where half the participants were taking a drug called Olaparib, and the other half were taking a placebo. Of course, I had no idea which arm of the study I was on. But what became clear very quickly was that my cancer slowed right down.

As of now, I have been on the trial longer than anyone else – three years – and it was only very recently that the researchers were allowed to tell me that I was actually taking OlaparibI which I had guessed as much, but you can never tell the power of placebo.

One of the really great things about taking part in research is that you are tested more regularly, at shorter intervals. In my case, they were performing full-spectrum blood tests, and doing CT scans. So you know exactly what's going on with your cancer, and with your health as a whole. And obviously that is the case whether you are on the control arm of the study or not. So you could say that even if you’re receiving a placebo, you are still benefiting from taking part in research. I’ve developed very close relationships with the nurses and consultants. I feel part of a team working to fight prostate cancer, and that is very energising in itself, regardless of the effects of the treatment.

Lasting benefits
Today, I feel fantastic. I have a few aches and pains, and some side effects from all the different drugs - I'm on a cocktail of different things - but I'm very grateful to be around, and am physically fit enough to exercise.

I have a loving family, and it's given my teenage daughter a newfound confidence that her dad's going to be around a little longer. I'm very lucky to have a very strong wife. She's a counsellor and she's been with me on the whole journey.

I often think back to the conversation I had with the nurse and how such a seemingly incidental conversation led me down such a life-changing path.

I am a former firefighter, and help to raise awareness around the potential links between the firefighting profession and cancer triggered by exposure to fireground contaminants. It is proven that prostate cancer is more prevalent in firefighters, due to the particle inhalation that comes with the job. So I am active in encouraging all firefighters to get themselves tested for prostate cancer, and to look out for the symptoms.

I have also signed up to be a Royal Surrey Public Research Champion. This role involves talking to people about the benefits of research, and giving some reassurance to those who find themselves faced with similar choices to make.

Taking part in research can be intimidating, and there is a lot you need to think about. Hopefully, others can benefit from my experience, and that I can help them when deciding whether to take part in research.

* Full study name: “A Randomised, Double-blind, Placebo-controlled, Multicentre Phase III Study of Olaparib Plus Abiraterone Relative to Placebo Plus Abiraterone as First-line Therapy in Men with Metastatic Castration-resistant Prostate Cancer”