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Monday, 15 October, 2001, 00:00 GMT 01:00 UK
Living with cancer
Nikki Murray, left, and her husband Craig
Nikki Murray, left, and her husband Craig
Half a million people in Britain today are living with cancer.

Survival rates have increased for almost every type of cancer since the 1970s.

However, Nikki Murray, 30, and John Elleston, 63 have both seen their cancer come back.

On Monday, a BBC documentary will tell their stories.


Nikki Murray was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998, and it has now spread to her bones and her liver.

But she is determined not to let it beat her.

"I refuse to live my life through cancer, and I'm not about to live my life as if it's about to end."

About to finish her fourth course of chemotherapy, she says she is determined to enjoy whatever time she has left.

"If I've only got a few years to live, then I want those years to be brilliant."

Jim Elleston (left) who donated stem cells to treat twin John's leukaemia
Jim Elleston (left) who donated stem cells to treat twin John's leukaemia
John Elleston had leukaemia a year ago.

It has now returned, and his only hope is a stem cell transplant from his twin brother Jim.

Normally he would be considered too old for the procedure, but doctors have given the go-ahead because Jim's blood type is a perfect match.

If the transplant fails, there are no other cures for John's cancer.

"Although I was one of the unfortunate people to get leukaemia, I felt I was strong enough to fight it, and if this second round comes round and is tougher than the first, well life's better than snuffing it." he said.

Both Nikki and John are featured in the BBC1 documentary series Living With Cancer, and were treated at University College London Hospital (UCLH).

Battles

Nikki still works for the intensive care unit at UCLH, where she was once a nurse.

Her consultant Rob Stein praised her resilient attitude. "She's one of the most outgoing patients I've ever looked after, and someone who wants to know, and is not afraid to confront the realities of what she's facing."

Nikki says that throughout every kind of treatment she has had, she tries to minimise the disruption it could cause to her life - even continuing to work as much as possible.

She even found time to go to Las Vegas with Craig, her boyfriend of 14 years to be married by "Elvis" and have the trip of a lifetime.

Nikki and Craig at their Las Vegas wedding
Nikki and Craig at their Las Vegas wedding

At the end of her latest chemotherapy course, doctors told her the treatment had been successful in treating the cancer in her liver.

She adds: "What's important is not the cancer, it's living a good life.

"There's no point in being depressed. If I'm depressed for the next two years, and everyone else is depressed - what's the point in that."

Transplant

John, a butcher from Potters Bar, north London received chemotherapy and radiotherapy to prepare him for the stem transplant transfusion.

The treatment is to get rid of all the leukaemia cells in his body. It destroys his immune system so it can be replaced by Jim's stem cells.


I refuse to live my life through cancer, and I'm not about to live my life as if it's about to end

Nikki Murray
Stem cells are master cells that have the ability to develop into any of the body's tissue types, such as blood, liver, muscle and other cells.

Jim received drugs to produce extra stem cells, which were extracted from his blood ready for transplant.

Because John's own immune system was destroyed, he was very vulnerable to infection.

For weeks after the transplant, John was extremely ill, and both he and his family were worried he was going to die.

But he pulled through, and a year after the procedure, his leukaemia is still in remission.

The first episode of the documentary series Living With Cancer 'Second Time Around', will be shown on BBC1 on Monday October 15 at 22.35BST.

A companion book to the series, also called 'Living With Cancer' is also being published by Bloomsbury.

Viewers can also contact a helpline offering advice about living with cancer on 08000 688456.

See also:

23 Aug 01 | Health
Cancer patients 'choose chemo'
04 Aug 00 | Health
Clues to massive leukaemia rise
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