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Inspirational dad calls on Scotland to play a part in cancer fight

This news post is 8 months old

Harry Cartmill had a stem cell transplant during the height of lockdown in March 2020

An inspirational dad saved from cancer thanks to a stem cell transplant during lockdown has been chosen to launch a new campaign in Scotland.

Harry Cartmill, who has served for a decade as a councillor for Bathgate in West Lothian, knows exactly how vital new breakthroughs and discoveries are to help more people survive the disease. He recalls vividly the three weeks he spent in isolation in hospital at the height of the first Covid-19 wave last spring after he was diagnosed with the blood cancer myeloma.

Now feeling fit again, dad-of-one Harry is backing a Cancer Research UK campaign to help save more lives, as the charity fights back from the impact of the pandemic.

Harry, 55, of Bathgate, said: “I am living proof of the power of research to give people back their lives.

“I owe a great debt to research and I will do everything in my power to help others. I was in hospital for three weeks. I’m an outdoor person. I love climbing, cycling and golfing. I was confined to a small space and there was the additional complications of the covid regulations which meant I could have no visitors. It was the hardest three weeks of my life but it was three weeks that saved my life.”

That’s why Harry is highlighting a powerful new tv appeal from Cancer Research UK, which underlines how everyone has a part to play in the fight against the disease.

It features the rallying call to arms: “One in two of us will get cancer in our lifetime. All of us can support the research that will beat it.”

It’s a sobering statistic, but Harry hopes his story will inspire people to make a difference and become a part of the solution to this devastating disease.

Just weeks before being diagnosed with cancer, Harry climbed the UK’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis near Fort William. He recalls feeling pain then in his mid to lower spine which became worse over the summer of 2019. But it was a huge shock on 1 September when after tests at St John’s hospital in Livingston, doctors diagnosed Harry with myeloma, a cancer of the white blood cells. The cancer had fractured a vertebra in his back.

Harry said: “I was on so much pain medication I didn’t really take it in at first.

“I had never heard of myeloma but the consultant explained what it was. What worried me was to hear him say it was treatable but incurable. I should have concentrated on the positive. It had only attacked one of my vertebrae and was caught early which was a blessing. But it was hard to hear the word cancer at first. I was under a dark cloud, wondering if I would see another summer.”

Harry started on six months of chemotherapy and steroids but by spring 2020, doctors advised that his best chance of long term survival was a stem cell transplant, to help his body make new healthy blood cells after her own had been damaged by the disease.

At the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh, doctors collected healthy stem cells from Harry. Then on 17 March last year he started two days of high dose chemotherapy followed by the stem cells being administered back in to his body through a drip. Harry missed his partner Carrie and daughter Rachel, 23.

Harry said: “It felt like being in solitary confinement seeing nothing but the four walls of a hospital room for those three weeks.

“My hair had fallen out after the chemotherapy and I was stuck in doors with tubes sticking out of me. I’m a very sociable person and I missed my family so much. I felt a sense of bereavement for myself and my old life which I didn’t think was coming back.

“When I came out of hospital in April I could barely walk. Just taking the steps out of the ward felt like a marathon. The weather was great during that first lockdown so I bought a reclining chair and sat in the garden listening to the birds. I was looked after so well by my family and slowly started to build my strength back up.”

And by September last year, Harry was well enough to scale to the top of Ben Aa’n in the Trossachs accompanied by his daughter Rachel and German Shepherd dog, Corey. By New Year’s Eve, as he stood at the top of Bathgate’s Knock Hill with his partner Carrie watching the sunset his energy levels had returned.

Harry now has hospital check ups every three months. He has been told he may need another stem cell transplant in the future if he relapses but for now is making every second count.

Cancer Research UK is revolutionising treatment for myeloma. In Leeds, Professor Gordon Cook is leading the Myeloma XII clinical trial for people whose myeloma has come back. The trial is investigating whether a drug called ixazomib could boost the effectiveness of stem cell transplants. This is the first time ixazomib has been tested as a treatment option for people with myeloma in the UK. The Myeloma XII trial could transform the way people with myeloma are treated, helping more people survive their disease.

In Scotland every year around 32,400 people are diagnosed with cancer in Scotland. Thanks to the generosity of its supporters, Cancer Research UK’s work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has been at the heart of the progress that has seen survival in the UK double in the last 40 years.

Lisa Adams, Cancer Research UK spokeswoman in Scotland, said: “We are grateful to Harry for his support. Covid-19 has hit us hard, but we are more focused than ever on our ambition of seeing three in four people survive their cancer by 2034.

“This past year proves, more than any other, the value of research and what can be achieved together. Just like science is our route out of the pandemic, science is our route to beating cancer.

“That’s why we want to harness the ‘people power’ of our incredible supporters, because the progress we make relies on every hour of research, every pound donated and everyone who gets involved.

“So, whether they give £2 a month, sign up to Race for Life, volunteer at our shops or pledge to leave a gift in their Will - with the help of people across Scotland we believe that together we will beat cancer.” 

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