Stephen Searl, aged 60 from Whickham in Gateshead, has a unique perspective on the Sir Bobby Robson Cancer Trials Research Centre. In fact, he knows it inside out.

Stephen Searl inside the Sir Bobby Centre

When the clinical trials unit at the Northern Centre for Cancer Care, Freeman Hospital, Newcastle, was being built, Steve was one of the construction team. At that time, he also knew he would be a patient there when it was completed.

The insulation engineer had been diagnosed with cancer and was receiving treatment and was trialling a new cancer drug under the care of Professor Ruth Plummer, who became director of the Sir Bobby Centre.

Stephen says: “All those months helping build the Northern Centre for Cancer Care were very strange for me. I knew which bit would be the trials unit and I knew I’d be a patient there when it was finished.

“Like Sir Bobby, I was already on a clinical trial then and we both received our treatment through Professor Plummer who was then based at the General Hospital. The facilities there weren’t purpose built for drug trials though and were a bit dated.

“Whenever I had my appointments with Professor Plummer, I’d let her know how the build at the Freeman Hospital was going and update her on the new unit. She had all the inside information that way.

“One day she mentioned to me that Sir Bobby was getting involved to help raise the money needed to equip the new unit. What a fantastic thing he did and it’s amazing to see how things have grown. I bet he had no idea how big his charity would get.”

Stephen, who is married with three step-children and four grandchildren, has been on trial cancer drugs for the last 14 years to combat melanoma.

He was first diagnosed 21 years ago after noticing a small lump on the side of his neck. After treatment, he was clear for around six years before noticing a lump on the other side of his neck and was diagnosed once more.

The first trial drug he took for around six months was not successful, however the next drug, Tremelimumab has worked well for Stephen and with no ill-effects to date.

Stephen explains: “I come into the Sir Bobby Centre every six months or so. I have a scan about 10 days before that just to check on things and so far, thankfully, things are going well.

Andrew Robson joking with the Sir Bobby Centre team on a recent Open Day

“It’s like a maintenance stop for me. I’m at the unit all day because it takes about five hours to take the drug intravenously. Then my wife picks me up, we go for a meal and I’m back at work the next day.

“I’m hugely grateful to have the chance to go on a clinical trial. Obviously, they don’t work for everyone but I’ve been lucky. It’s given my wife and I the opportunity to live a happy, healthy life and to travel and see amazing places.

“I must have been one of the first patients in the Sir Bobby Centre when Professor Plummer’s trials patients were transferred over from the General. The staff in the unit are fantastic. Always so friendly and easy-going.

“There’s a serious purpose behind every visit but they make you feel relaxed. It’s like catching up with friends.”