Father reveals incredible response to cancer treatment after being given months to live
World Cancer Day will always be an emotional day for Telford engineer Will Bowen - for it was this time last year the father of three was given the news that the stem cell transplant he had received from his brother was working.
It was remarkable news because just six weeks earlier his fiancée Emma had been told his condition was so grave that she might never see him again.
Will had been diagnosed with T-cell lymphoblastic leukaemia in April 2021 and spent the months that followed fighting for his life as the nation battled the second wave of the Covid pandemic.
He missed all three of his children’s birthdays and had to learn to walk again after falling into a partial coma that doctors warned he may not survive.
“By November 2021 the Omicron Covid variant was rife and hospitals were only letting people in to see relatives if they were dying,” said Will. “Emma was with me for two days and she asked the nurse as she left if that would be the last time she’d see me. The nurse didn’t know the answer.”
A year on from the day the 31-year-old finally got the good news he’d been waiting for, Will is using World Cancer Day, which is on Saturday, to back a Cancer Research UK campaign to help give hope to future generations.
The charity is currently funding further research into one of the drugs that saved Will’s life. At the time, doctors said they weren’t expecting the drug - Nelarabine - to work.
“My consultant said I had two choices,” explained Will. “I could stop treatment and live and enjoy the time I had left - or I could try a drug they had only ever used sparingly before.
"Doing nothing was not an option but they told me not to expect a miracle. I even had to sign a form to say I understood that the drug was going to manage the symptoms of my cancer, not cure it.”
Will hopes that sharing his story will inspire others to mark the awareness day by joining the fight against the disease.
He’s asking people across the region to give regularly to Cancer Research UK to help fund long-term research projects that could drive new breakthroughs for people like him.
“Without research I wouldn’t be here,” said Will. “It’s as simple as that. Twenty years ago the treatment I’ve had didn’t exist but there’s still a long way to go. I got to know people in hospital who weren’t as lucky as me which is why I feel passionately about supporting further research.”
Will first began experiencing symptoms in February 2021 when he noticed he had a sore neck and bruising on the top of his chest.
He was sent to Shrewsbury Hospital for a CT scan and biopsy and was told he would need chemotherapy for lymphoma.
But a week later, he became very sick overnight. Will went straight to A&E before being sent for a PET scan and bone marrow biopsy.
He was told he had T-cell lymphoblastic leukaemia and would be starting chemotherapy the next day.
Will remained at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham (QE) until the end of May when he then had to have daily blood transfusions at Shrewsbury Hospital.
It was later confirmed that he would need a stem cell transplant, and Will’s sister and three brothers were tested to see if they were a match.
One by one, the tests came back negative until the fourth and final one showed Will’s brother Ben was a 100 per cent match.
The transplant was set for October 2021 but had to be delayed a month when Will contracted food poisoning. After five days of radiotherapy and a cocktail of drugs designed to strip away his existing bone marrow, Will finally had surgery on November 16 and was discharged on New Year’s Day 2022.
“I was having blood products three times a week as a day patient in Shrewsbury and I still had to have more tests to see if treatment had worked,” said Will.
“Then, in February I caught Covid and had to go back to the QE. Four days later, on World Cancer Day, my consultant came to see me with my latest bone marrow biopsy results and said that treatment was working and the transplant had done its job. I still needed more stem cells transplanted but this was great news after everything I’d been through.”
Will’s last stem cell top-up was on March 16, 2022 and his body is now producing blood cells like any normal person.
“Last year I got to see all my kids’ birthdays which was massive,” said Will. “I returned to work and Emma and I got married in November."
People can support Cancer Research UK by getting a World Cancer Day Unity Band from one of the charity’s shops while stocks last. Available in pink, navy or blue, wearing one is a way of showing solidarity with people affected by the disease.
Charity spokesman Paula Young said: “This World Cancer Day, we want to say a heartfelt thank you to our customers, donors and supporters like Will. Thanks to their generosity and commitment to the cause, we’ve been at the forefront of cancer research for over 120 years and we’re not stopping now.”
To support the charity's vital research, visit cruk.org/donate.