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Retired teacher told she had just two months to live is now cancer-free after miracle drug trial

A terminally cancer-stricken woman with just two months to live is now disease-free after receiving an experimental drug.

Eliana Keeling, 65, of Chorlton, Greater Manchester, was shocked when a routine blood test revealed she had a rare form of leukemia ahead of Christmas in 2020.

The retired teacher began chemotherapy on Christmas Day, only to receive devastating news in May 2021 that her illness was terminal.

Ms Keeling refused to give up and a month later took the chance to participate in a drug trial at Christie’s cancer center.

She was given a groundbreaking new cancer treatment, which has yet to be named. It was designed to exploit a chemical weakness deep in leukemia cells.

The tablet is thought to give azacytidine — an injection already given to leukemia patients — an extra boost, so it’s taken alongside.

In December last year, Ms Keeling’s body was declared cancer-free, allowing her to undergo a bone marrow transplant. She has been in remission ever since.

Eliana Keeling, 65, from Manchester, who was given just two months to live, is now cancer-free after receiving an experimental drug in a clinical trial

Eliana Keeling, 65, from Manchester, who was given just two months to live, is now cancer-free after receiving an experimental drug in a clinical trial

The retired teacher began chemotherapy at Manchester Royal Infirmary on Christmas Day but received devastating news that her illness was terminal in May 2021, despite two intensive rounds

The retired teacher began chemotherapy at Manchester Royal Infirmary on Christmas Day but received devastating news that her illness was terminal in May 2021, despite two intensive rounds

The retired teacher began chemotherapy at Manchester Royal Infirmary on Christmas Day but received devastating news that her illness was terminal in May 2021, despite two intensive rounds

Ms Keeling, a regular gym-goer who enjoyed active vacations before her diagnosis, celebrated her 31st wedding anniversary with husband John (pictured together) last month

Ms Keeling, a regular gym-goer who enjoyed active vacations before her diagnosis, celebrated her 31st wedding anniversary with husband John (pictured together) last month

Ms Keeling, a regular gym-goer who enjoyed active vacations before her diagnosis, celebrated her 31st wedding anniversary with husband John (pictured together) last month

WHAT IS ACUTE MYELOID LEUKEMIA?

Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a type of blood cancer that begins in young white blood cells in the bone marrow.

AML affects about one in 200 men and one in 255 women in the UK at some point in their lives.

About 19,500 new cases occur in the US each year.

It is usually diagnosed in older people.

Symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • A fever
  • Frequent infections
  • Bruising or bleeding easily, including nosebleeds or heavy periods
  • weight loss
  • Bone and joint pain
  • breathlessness
  • swollen belly
  • Pale skin

The exact cause of AML is unclear, but the risks include:

  • To smoke
  • Being overweight
  • Exposure to radiation
  • Previous chemotherapy
  • Certain blood disorders, such as myelodysplastic syndrome
  • Some immune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis

AML is usually treated through chemotherapy. A bone marrow or stem cell transplant may be needed.

Source: Cancer Research UK

Ms Keeling said: ‘When I was told that the chemo hadn’t worked and I had a few months to live, I knew I would never accept that.

“It was as if a huge hole had opened in my world and everything planned disappeared in the blink of an eye.”

Ms Keeling was referred for a blood test in December 2020 after suffering some bruising, but had no other symptoms and was not feeling bad.

The results showed she had acute myeloid leukemia, a rare form of leukemia that begins in white blood cells in the bone marrow.

It affects about one in 200 men and one in 255 women in the UK at some point in their lives. Some Every year 19,500 new cases occur in the US.

She began chemotherapy at Manchester Royal Infirmary on December 25 and underwent two rounds of treatment before doctors told her there was nothing more they could do for her.

Ms Keeling refused to accept that this was the end and asked to be referred to The Christie for the clinical trial.

The drug – which is used specifically for leukemia – has not yet been given a medical name.

It was given alongside the traditional treatment for acute myeloid leukemia azacytidine, which is regularly offered on the NHS.

She had no significant side effects from the treatment and was told she was cancer free before Christmas last year.

Ms Keeling, a regular gym-goer who enjoyed active vacations before her diagnosis, celebrated her 31st wedding anniversary with husband John last month.

And she said the hospital trial — which she described as the best thing that ever happened to her — has given her a new lease of life.

She added: “The Christie is the best thing that ever happened to me. I like going there, which is crazy because who likes going to the hospital?

“Everything is always explained to me and you are treated like a human being and not just a statistic. Every member of the staff is incredible.

“I’ve now been given a new lease of life thanks to research and I feel like The Christie worked a miracle.”

dr. Emma Searle, consultant hematologist at The Christie, said: ‘Eliana had a poor prognosis and her only chance was the clinical trial and bone marrow transplant for long-term survival.

“We are very pleased that Eliana has had such a good response and is now leukemia free.

‘Since she had a very limited life expectancy when the chemotherapy did not work, this is an excellent result for her.

“Not all of our trial patients with AML respond as well as Eliana, but we are grateful to every patient and family member who feels able to support research here at The Christie.

“Trials are so important to make progress in cancer treatment.”

Acute myeloid leukemia is a type of blood cancer characterized by the rapid growth of abnormal blood cells that build up in the bone marrow and blood and interfere with normal blood cells.

It is one of the most common forms of adult leukemia, but overall still quite rare, accounting for only about 1 percent of all cancers.

It is generally a disease of older people and is uncommon before the age of 45. The average age of people when they are first diagnosed with AML is about 68.

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