Lowestoft cancer patient Dean Lawson's big chance
PUBLISHED: 09:06 18 February 2011 | UPDATED: 09:06 18 February 2011
A LOWESTOFT man told this week how he had been given a chance to beat "a death sentence" after undergoing a ground-breaking operation to treat a rare form of cancer.
Dean Lawson, 36, was told by doctors that he had only a year to live when a tumour was found attached to his first rib - in a case that experienced surgeons have described as almost certainly unique.
But he is now fighting back to health after undergoing treatment two months ago.
So rare was his condition that the surgeon who performed his operation had to practice first on a cadaver, having never previously seen a similar case in his 20 years in medicine.
Dean’s traumatic 18 months began when he went to his doctor after discovering a lump above his collar bone. The problem was initially put down to a muscle strain, but his life changed when scans revealed a tumour the size of an apple.
Unbeknown to Dean, his case was about to get more complex.
“I was lying on this table and there were was a nurse and all these doctors coming in and out the room,” he said. “Then a surgeon came in and I noticed all this claret over him and I realised he must have come out of a surgery to look at me. I couldn’t understand whey they were making all this fuss over me.”
Following initial x-rays and MRI scans, doctors told Dean that he was suffering from lung cancer and he was given just one year to live. But further biopsies revealed he actually had a Ewing’s sarcoma - a rare disease in which cancer cells are found in the bone or in soft tissue.
The tumour was attached to his first rib: a condition that Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital surgeon Wyn Parry believes is almost certainly unique.
“Ewing’s sarcoma most commonly occurs in the bones of the leg, arm or pelvis,” said Mr Parry.
As he was not aware of any previous cases similar to Dean’s, he explained that he had to practice on a cavader before carrying out the operation.
“I have never seen it in the first rib in my 20 years of experience as a chest surgeon,” Mr Parry said.
The operation took place on December 14 last year and just over two months on, Dean is frail but on the long road to recovery.
He is still receiving chemotherapy, but with help from his friends Shaun Underdown and Gemma Seaby, who run the Mariner’s Rest in Rotterdam Road, Lowestoft, he is taking each day as it comes.
“I’ve been to hell and back,” he said. “I was living under a death sentence but the operation gave me a life-line... I’m so grateful to Mr Parry and to Shaun and Gemma, who have taken me under their wing and given me so much support over the last 14 months.
“This last course of chemotherapy has really knocked me back: I’ve been in bed for two weeks. But I’m trying to make everyday count. I spend time with my friends.
“I am not sure if I’d be here without Shaun and Gemma. Shaun is like a brother to me. He has been with me every step of the way.”
The friends only met when Dean, who is originally from Middlesbrough where his family still live, walked into the pub one evening - not long after being told the cancer was malignant.
The couple now accompany Dean to all his hospital appointments, liase with his Macmillan nurses and help him administer his medications including a booster injection after each gruelling chemotherapy course.
Dean, a former Bird’s Eye worker who now works behind the bar at the Mariner’s Rest, is due to start his next session on Tuesday.
Last September, Shaun, a lifelong Tottenham Hotspur supporter, took Dean to Switzerland to watch Spurs play Swiss team BSC Young Boys.
“Dean wasn’t a football fan; he even asked me what colour our team was playing in, but now he loves it,” said Shaun. “It’s been like we’ve got cancer, but not the disease. It’s a rollercoaster.
“When Dean gets results from scans and tests, it’s like he has blinkers. It’s hard to listen. I am there to explain it all and act as a go-between really.”
Summing up Shaun’s help and support, Dean joked: “He’s my receptionist.”