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“I’ve been given a second chance” – Mark’s story


Mark was diagnosed with kidney cancer in April 2021. After surgery to remove the tumour and affected kidney, he was initially told there was no evidence that the disease had spread. However, a biopsy of the tumour showed it was an aggressive type of cancer, prone to returning.

Posted on 14 March, 2024 by Mark Kellaway

Mark and his wife smile at the camera

Image: Mark and his wife credit: Mark Kellaway

"Being diagnosed with cancer was such a shock. My family and I were horrified, and it was a dark time for us all. I just saw my life rushing away in front of me.  At the age of 55, I’d lived a full life spending 20 years working and travelling overseas, and generally having a great time.  So I didn't feel sorry for myself, but I felt sad and worried for my wife and my two children who were aged 10 and 14 at the time.

Because of the likelihood of the cancer returning, I immediately applied to join a immunotherapy trial, which combined the drugs ipilimumab and nivolumab.  These drugs are usually given to patients once the cancer has spread – but the trial aimed to find out whether giving this combination to patients before the disease had a chance to spread, was effective.

A massive shock

In order to take part in the trial, I had to have another scan to make sure I was still clear of cancer. The result was a massive shock.  The cancer had already returned and was moving quickly - spreading to my lungs and liver within eight weeks.  Participating in the trial was therefore out of the question, and I immediately started on immunotherapy to treat a very aggressive stage 4 incurable cancer.  My oncologist said it was rare to see a cancer move and grow so quickly.

The news was devastating, but I had to pick myself up – my children needed me. I was so determined, and I think that my mindset has had some impact on my recovery.

My treatment was ipilimumab and nivolumab infusions every 3 weeks for three months. I managed to finish the four cycles and then I had to wait six weeks before they would scan me again to see if the treatment had worked.

Most of the cancer had gone

When I got the result of the scan, I was in hospital because I had inflammation in my liver, due to the treatment. When my consultant saw the results of my scan and heard I was an in-patient he raced across the hospital to find me and said, ‘Quick, put your slippers on and follow me.’

He showed me my scan images. Most of the cancer had gone and he said that it was one of the best responses he’d ever seen, which was pretty amazing. One of his theories was that people with the more aggressive types of kidney cancer tend to respond better to immunotherapy.

Mark's son, Mark and his wife - all wearing sunglasses stand next to his daughter who is taking a selfie of them all

Image: Mark and his family. Credit: Mark Kellaway

Treatment is a regular part of my life

Fast forward nearly three years, the treatment is just a regular part of my life. I have the maintenance infusions of nivolumab monthly and I’ll continue with the treatment indefinitely. My side effects are minimal and my three-monthly scans have shown the cancer gradually disappearing. At first, they showed tiny remaining lesions, then eventually, no evidence of disease with only tiny scar tissue remaining. My latest scan showed nothing at all.

I felt like, against all odds, I’d been given a second chance and I was determined to make sure I took full advantage.

I have radically changed my life since diagnosis, including my relationships with my family. I have also started a new business. When I was diagnosed, I was a boatyard manager, which was a stressful job but also fun. My employers were fantastically supportive when I was diagnosed, and I stayed with them for a few months.

However, when I was told the cancer had spread, I decided to quit work and focus on my health. I started my career as a joiner years ago and I’ve now gone back to that. I’ve built a workshop at home and started my business building furniture. I love it, and I am always around for my kids and have plenty of time for cooking healthy food for my family and myself, and to practice various healing techniques that I have adopted since diagnosis.

Mark is wearing ski gear and stands in front of a mountain

Image: Mark in the mountains. Credit: Mark Kellaway

I’m eternally grateful for research

I suppose I didn't really take care of my mental health before. Going through this journey has made me look at that, and I’ve purposefully slowed things down. I meditate and have changed my mindset, I watch my stress levels and while I’m not in denial about my cancer, I try to look at the positives of what’s happened to me, not just the negatives. I’m getting on with life. I am eternally grateful for the research and the science that is enabling new treatments such as immunotherapy, that are changing cancer prognosis.

People with advanced cancer are often told that it’s incurable – but I would like to help empower these patients with the knowledge that there is hope and a future beyond an advanced diagnosis."

Mark wears a hat and sunglasses poses on a boat with the sea behind him

Bringing more hope to people with cancer

We have made huge strides in research and treatment for people with cancer, extending their lives and improving their quality of life.  But we want to make stories like this a reality for more people with advanced cancer. Our work is ambitious – and we need your ongoing support to help continue making more discoveries and saving more lives.

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immunotherapy kidney cancer nivolumab ipililumab Patient stories advanced cancer no evidence of disease
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