A fit and healthy father diagnosed with stage four cancer says he was left looking like the “Nightmare on Elm Street” after a horrific reaction to chemotherapy left him too embarrassed to go to his young son’s cricket matches – and is now hoping to save his life with a ground-breaking vaccine.
Geoffrey Seymour, 41, a procurement specialist, loved playing tennis, basketball and cricket and had always been healthy until just before his 41st birthday when he began experiencing blood in his stool.
Geoffrey was aware of this being a symptom for cancer from adverts on the television, so quickly went to his GP.
Geoffrey, who lives in Richmond, London, with his wife Santa, 44, and their son Marco, 10, was diagnosed with stage four colorectal cancer, which had spread from his colon to his liver – a situation so severe and seemingly hopeless he likened it to “being wrapped in a paper bag that is on fire”.
He also had a bad reaction to chemotherapy severely blistering the skin on his face and, according to Geoffrey, making him look like Freddy Krueger from the 1984 horror film, Nightmare on Elm Street.
The chemotherapy stopped working however and now, in an attempt to save his life, Geoffrey has travelled to Germany for dendritic cell therapy – where a personalised vaccine is created in a lab with the aim of stimulating the immune system.
Research in this area is at an early stage, according to Cancer Research UK, and so the treatment was not cheap – just one injection in Germany, on October 17, cost £17,000 and Geoffrey is now waiting to see if it was enough to help him, while continuing to fundraise to pay for it.
He said: “I couldn’t even wait until the end of the fundraising to have it done just because I’m so worried that the disease was going to spread.”
Geoffrey was determined to find a new approach after three sessions of five doses of chemotherapy didn’t work and left him with side-effects so bad he no longer wanted to go out in public, even to see his little boy play cricket
“I had a really bad reaction in my face, it was full of painful blistering that made my face feel like it was on fire,” he said.
“I just got to the point where I was looking a bit like Nightmare on Elm Street. Unless I went there with a bag on my head, I’d have other people coming up to me and looking at me thinking, ‘What’s wrong with this guy?’ when I’m quite happy blending into the crowd.”
Geoffrey’s ordeal began in April 2021, just two weeks before his 41st birthday on March 4, when he got the first warning signals of cancer.
After spotting blood in his stool, Geoffrey decided to visit his GP, as he knew it could be a symptom of cancer. And in late March at Kingston Hospital, he was diagnosed with stage four colorectal cancer, which had metastasized in the liver.
After the diagnosis, in March 2021, he had five cycles of chemotherapy every three weeks which initially reduced the lesions in his liver. At this point he says he felt “optimistic”.
In December 2021, he had surgery to have a third of his liver removed, and the medical team began getting him ready for radiotherapy which was going to be used on his colon – he even had radio markers tattooed for the laser alignment.
A month later, a scan showed more tumours in his liver, so he had another round of chemotherapy. This time it was a success and liver surgery was booked in for June 2022.
But, just as things were looking up, a few weeks before the surgery, a scan revealed disease progression. Geoffrey was put back on chemotherapy with a different agent and the surgery was cancelled.
After just two cycles, blood work and a scan showed disease progression again, all while the side effects were getting unbearable for Geoffrey.
He said: “The side effects have gotten worse, worse, worse, and now, chemotherapy is just not effective anymore, the body’s gotten used to it.”
Explaining why he reacted badly to a chemotherapy drug, he said: “Essentially it kills all your fast-growing cells, which include your cancer cells, but also includes your hair and nails. I had a really bad reaction to that in my face.”
Determined to find an alternative, Geoffrey started doing his own research by looking online and found dendritic cell therapy, only to be told it would not be available to him in the UK.
He decided to fly to a laboratory in Ulm, Germany to have the week-long treatment on October 17 2022. Friends and family rallied round to contribute towards his Go Fund Me appeal, which has raised over £14,000 and helped to pay for the £17,000 injection.
“I am still in pain, I have a lot of pain, which I’m trying to find a good balance of very strong medications,” he said.
Geoffrey is due to meet with his oncologist on November 1 in the UK, but knows he may well need to pay for further vaccine doses and more treatment abroad and is continuing to fundraise to pay for that.
Specialist cancer information nurse at Cancer Research UK Caroline Geraghty said: “Dendritic cell therapy is a type of vaccine that can treat cancer. Dendritic cells help immune system recognise and attack abnormal cells, such as cancer cells.
“To make the vaccine, scientists grow dendritic cells alongside cancer cells in the lab. The vaccine then stimulates your immune system to attack the cancer. It’s still being researched, so the evidence base is not yet strong enough for it to be available in the UK.
“Decisions about the best course of treatment must be based on sound evidence of benefit – so it’s important patients talk to their doctor about any alternative treatment they might be considering.”
She added: “Thanks to ongoing developments in research, there continues to be many new cancer drugs showing effectiveness in clinical trials, providing potential options for people with cancer.
“But while regulators have improved the speed at which they assess these for routine NHS use, there are still, unfortunately, times when particular drugs aren’t yet easily accessible for people who may benefit. We understand how frustrating this can be.”