How medical advances helped put lorry driver’s blood cancer on the run
PUBLISHED: 08:41 20 September 2019 | UPDATED: 11:50 20 September 2019
Thanks to medical breakthroughs and a German man he’s never met, lorry driver George McCarter has a bright future. STUART ANDERSON spoke to him about living through a rare form of blood cancer.
When he started to experience stomach cramps, constipation and food intolerances, doctors thought he had irritable bowel syndrome.
But after 18 months of treatment with no effect, it was clear there something more was going on.
Mr McCarter, 50, from East Ruston, in north Norfolk, said: "My throat swelled up and they did a biopsy and found I had mantle cell lymphoma.
"The problem was, it has exactly the same symptoms as IBS, so we had been going down the wrong avenue.
"They quickly got me on a chemotherapy regime called the Nordic regimen, which is quite brutal."
Mantle cell lymphoma is a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma which develops when the body makes abnormal B-cells, which normally fight infection.
These build up in the lymph nodes, which can then form tumours and spread to other parts of the body.
Following the diagnosis in March 2017, Mr McCarter had to give up his job as a lorry driver for a year, and he was given a stem cell transplant from his own cells.
This put the lymphoma into remission, but when it resurfaced after 18 months, the search began for a new source of stem cells.
Mr McCarter said: "The big challenge was whether they could find a donor to match my tissue type.
"I've got two brothers but they were no match at all - it gets very complicated with genetics."
They then turned to the Anthony Nolan charity, which has a worldwide register of potential donors.
"They managed to find two that were a very good match for me - a 22-year-old German man and a 23-year-old American.
"So now the German chap will go to his local hospital and donate his cells.
"They will be frozen in nitrogen and be transported to Addenbrooke's in Cambridge, and in November I'll have the stem cell transplant. It's quite an amazing thing."
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Mr McCarter said it basically meant getting a whole new immune system.
"My immune system now is basically not recognising the lymphoma as a bad thing anymore, so I have to have a new one. That will mean a week of intense chemo before my immune system is removed, and then they hope to save you with these new stem cells.
"They say I'll still get graft-versus-host disease, which is when your body starts to reject a transplant. But the doctors are ready for all that."
Mr McCarter has also been taking Ibrutinib, a new treatment which keeps the symptoms at bay.
He said: "It's a fantastic new drug that's much more targeted than chemo, which wipes out everything it path. It miraculous.
"I'm working again and taking the drug and carrying on with pretty much a normal life, although fatigue is a problem."
Mr McCarter, his wife, Paula and other friends, family and supporters recently did a charity walk for Anthony Nolan, raising more than £3,000.
Donations can still be made at www.justgiving.com/fundraising/wwwgeorgemccarter.
Mrs McCarter said they had faced the cancer together, along with support from their sons Harry, 19, and Archie, 17.
She said: "When you're given that kind of diagnosis you're terrified, you don't know what's going to happen.
"Seeing him so poorly was the hardest thing, watching him go through it. But we pick out the positives."
She said they wanted to highlight the importance of stem cell donors because without them, people like George "wouldn't stand a chance".
Mrs McCarter said: "It's so simple, they just send you a kit and you take a swab and send it back. I think a lot of people just don't know about it."
Mr McCarter added: "Without the Anthony Nolan trust, where would I be? Still searching for a donor or back in chemotherapy.
"The hope is if this is all successful I could be cured of it, be free of it, which is the dream.
"I'm extremely fortunate this German chap made the effort to go and register himself as a potential donor."
To find out more about joining the Anthony Nola donor register, visit www.anthonynolan.org.