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‘Immunotherapy is giving hope to cancer patients like me’: Alison’s story of being on a combination therapy


Alison, 61, was diagnosed with advanced non-small cell lung cancer in 2018. After three years of treatment on a combination therapy of immunotherapy and chemotherapy, she has no cancer on her scans.

Posted on 28 June, 2022

Photo of Alison, a patient with non-small cell lung cancer

Image: Alison, 61, from Dorset, was diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer in 2018. Credit: Alison

In October 2018, I found a tiny lump in my neck and my GP referred me to the ear, nose and throat department at my local hospital. CT and MRI scans were inconclusive, so I had a biopsy and ultrasound, then went for a PET scan that highlighted little spots on my chest membrane. 

I was told the cancer had actually started in my lungs and that I had non-small cell lung cancer. The day before I had run 15 miles – I just couldn’t believe it. And then I was told that I had a year left to live. It was devastating – the biggest blow of my life. 

Thankfully I was referred to my amazing thoracic consultant. He said ‘we'll fight this’ and referred me for immunotherapy, alongside chemotherapy. For the first three months I was on pemetrexed and carboplatin as well as pembrolizumab – an immunotherapy drug. I then went on to just pembrolizumab and pemetrexed, and it was called an immuno maintenance programme – the chemo on its own wouldn’t have worked for me. And I stayed on that up until November 2021. 

'I'm just living day by day'

Three years after my diagnosis I have no cancer in my body. It may come back, it may not. I'm just living day by day.

I’m 61 now and I have two children in their 20s – I’ve been given more time with them. I work part-time as a waitress. Now I appreciate every single day and what I’ve been through has given my life a completely different meaning. Before, I’d think – it's raining outside, I'm not going out today. Now. I think it's raining outside – go out and get a walk and breathe in the fresh air. 

'I ran the marathon last year'

But one of my biggest achievements in the last few years has been to run the London Marathon. My treatment has taken a huge toll on my body, but I ran the marathon last year, in the rain in the streets remotely because of lockdown. It was gruelling but I finished it and it’s given me so much joy.

I’m one of the admins on a UK Facebook support group for people who are being treated with immunotherapy. We know that advanced cancer doesn’t mean the end. Nobody in this world can say to somebody you have got a year left to live because everybody's different. Immunotherapy has made many of us realise that we can live with cancer, and we are hearing of new targeted and  combination treatments and trials on a weekly basis. It’s giving hope to cancer patients like me.

Our research is already helping patients live longer and live well with cancer. But cancer is clever and can adapt and evolve to evade treatment, so we are looking for new ways to stay one-step-ahead and outsmart cancer. Using treatments in combination is one way of doing this. Please support our research to unlock new combination therapies, so more people will survive cancer.

Let’s finish cancer, together.

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chemotherapy lung cancer immunotherapy carboplatin non-small cell lung cancer combination therapy
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