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Harvey Greenwood's story

Posted by
13 May 2011

This new drug was my only shot

"I was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) in 2001, aged only 30 years.

"My chances of survival were low and I'm not afraid to say it was the most frightening time of my life.

"A life-saving stem cell transplant was not an option as I was unlikely to find a good donor match and there was no other cure. 

"At the time I was diagnosed my blood was so clogged up with leukaemia cells that my doctor said I was lucky to be alive. The standard treatment for patients who, like me, were not eligible for a stem cell transplant was a drug call Interferon, which would still only give me 40 percent chance of survival.

"I cannot begin to express what that statistic does to your mind. I had a wife and little girl, with another on the way. I was determined to beat this.

"Then hope arrived. I learned about a clinical trial testing a new drug called STI 571, or imatinib that was proving to be effective in patients with CML.

"Apart from my wife Fiona, my family were not keen on trying a drug that was still being tested. I disagreed, this drug sounded like a decent shot in the relative dark. I wanted to give it a go.

"A few days later my hopes were dashed. There were no trials open in the UK and the drug was not yet available on the NHS. 

"I was discharged from hospital taking a drug called hydroxyurea, which controlled the leuakemia cells in my blood, but in no way treated the cancer.

"As a last resort I applied to my insurance company to ask about getting access to imatinib privately. Amazingly they agreed to the claim and I began on treatment in August 2001.

"Since then my life has turned around. I take imatinib, or Glivec as it is more commonly known, every day. This wonder-drug keeps the leukaemia cells in check and allows me to live a near normal and happy life.

"While I cannot claim to be cured, Glivec has turned my incurable cancer into a manageable condition. Following clinical trials, Glivec is now frontline treatment for patients diagnosed with CML in the UK."

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