Tommy Brennan with his grandson, Tommy. Tommy Brennan with his grandson, Tommy.
Tommy Brennan, 65, is from Merseyside. He and his wife Barbara have two sons, and a three-year-old grandson, also called Tommy.
Here, Tommy senior tells his story of being diagnosed with cancer and joining a clinical trial, which he also shared as part of our Annual Review.
It was March 2012 when I first noticed some blood in my pee. I decided to go to the doctor the next day to get checked out. He did some tests and decided to send me to the hospital for a scan and a cystoscopy – that’s where they use a camera to look at your bladder. It sounds painful, but it’s actually not too bad. I’ve had around 16 of them now!
Even after being referred to the hospital I didn’t think it was anything serious. I thought it might be an infection or something. But unfortunately it wasn’t. The tests showed that I had a tumour in my bladder.
The first thing I thought was: ‘what’?! I was terrified to begin with, but then I decided I had to just get on with it.
My treatment involved chemotherapy as well as surgery to remove the tumour. But the cancer had spread into the muscle tissue, so it was worse than they first thought.
The doctor gave me two options. One was to have very complicated surgery to remove the whole of my bladder and reconstruct it from the bowel. I decided I definitely didn’t want that.
The other was to join a Cancer Research UK-funded clinical trial. Even though the doctor said I should take some time to think about it I decided within around 10 seconds that I wanted to join.
‘I was really well taken care of’
The trial was called TUXEDO and it involved having chemotherapy every week, along with radiotherapy 5 days a week for 7 weeks.
Being close to research made me realise just how much things have progressed.
Before I joined I was told about the long list of possible side effects. That made me panic a little and I was a bit nervous. But I was lucky enough not to experience any of them.
I did put on a bit of weight in the beginning because I was taking steroids, but thankfully I didn’t have to take these for too long.
I was really well taken care of when I was on the trial. All the staff at the hospital were brilliant – from the receptionists through to the nurses, radiologists and doctors. Everyone was fantastic.
On top of that, the clinical trial nurses were really knowledgeable and reassuring, and they put me completely at ease. Without them and my consultant, Dr Hussain, I don’t know where I’d be.
When I finished having my treatment on the trial I had to wait about 3 months before the doctors could tell me whether it had worked.
It was April 2013 when Dr Hussain told me the good news that the treatment had been successful and that my cancer was gone.
I was over the moon.
‘Without clinical trials things would just stand still’
I have to admit that when I joined the trial I was thinking more about myself than anything else. But now I look back and I’m so glad I did something that could potentially help others in the future. And that could help science and cancer medicine move forward.
I knew nothing about clinical trials before I joined one. Now I realise how important they are. They’re needed to test new treatments, new drugs and new drug combinations. Without them we wouldn’t be able to make any progress; things would just stand still.
Being close to research made me realise just how much things have progressed. The advances in technology have been amazing and mean that even though I’ve been in an operating theatre 4 times, there’s not a scar on my body to show for it.
I know it’s not the same for everyone and some people do have scars after surgery. But in my case I’m lucky enough to not have any visible signs of the operations I’ve had.
I got a lot out of being on a clinical trial. Obviously there’s the fact that the treatment worked and my bladder didn’t have to be removed, which was great.
But on top of this, one of the main things I got out of being on the trial was the courage to be more open, and to talk about my cancer experience.
When I was diagnosed, I didn’t want every Tom, Dick and Harry knowing my business so I didn’t talk about it.
But a few months after my diagnosis the local radio station asked me to talk about my experience of being on a trial. And the local newspaper asked me to share my story too.
I decided to do them both.
I changed my mind because I know some people shy away from joining clinical trials and I wanted them to know it can be a really positive thing to take part in one. And I wanted people to know that joining a trial has the potential to help you right away, and many more people in the future.
‘If it wasn’t for research, I might not have got to see my grandson’
I’m delighted to say that 5 years after my diagnosis, I’m doing well.
I have a check-up and a cystoscopy every 3 months, just to see how things are. And I have blood tests and scans done once a year for the same reason. It means going through a couple of minutes of discomfort every few months, but I don’t mind.
It’s worth it, especially if it’s helping keep me cancer-free.
I’m so grateful to have been given the opportunity to join a clinical trial. I truly believe it’s what’s allowed me to see my grandson Tommy grow up.
He’s my little mate. We do everything together. I love taking him to the woods to show him the wildlife and to watch the birds flying around.
But if it wasn’t for research, I might not have got to see him at all.
Right now, things are good. I can look forward to the future and to spending more time with my family and little Tommy. And I truly think that’s thanks to research.