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Tessa Jowell calls for cancer patients to be given chance to try experimental treatment

Former Camden councillor who became cabinet minister deluged by messages of support

25 January, 2018 — By Richard Osley

Tessa Jowell speaking to the BBC

BARONESS Tessa Jowell called for cancer patients to be given the chance to try more experimental and innovative treatments as she spoke about how she is to travel to Germany for immunotherapy.

The former Camden councillor who became a government minister and is credited with helping to bring the Olympic Games to London revealed last year that she was being treated for a brain tumour. She is due to open a debate about cancer treatments and life expectancy in the House of Lords today (Thursday) and wants NHS rules to change so that more patients can take part in pioneering trials of untested medicine and therapies, if they want to.

“I am absolutely 100 per cent trying to stay alive,” the 70-year-old told the BBC’s Today programme. “That is exactly the kind of risk that patients should be free to take. It should be a risk that they have the chance to take and it’s certainly what somebody like me wants.”

Baroness Jowell, who lives in Highgate Village after many years in Kentish Town, added: “It got to the point in the NHS in London where I couldn’t be given any more treatment but it was very clear that if I went to Germany then I had a chance of taking out this immunotherapy, a new experiment. I was and I am prepared to try that.” She was swamped with messages from well-wishers from across the political spectrum as her interview was broadcast, with friends and former rivals praising her bravery in campaigning to help patients while being treated herself.

After hearing the interview, health secretary Jeremy Hunt tweeted: “Grace, courage and passion: what a moving interview. I’ll look carefully at her suggestions on cancer care and treatment.”

Baroness Jowell said she had received 2,500 letters of support. “I was deeply touched by Seamus Heaney’s last words when he said: ‘Do not be afraid’,” she added. “I am not afraid. I feel very clear about my sense of purpose and what I want to do. How do I know how long [my life is] going to last? I’m certainly going to do whatever I can to make sure it lasts a very long time.”

Ms Jowell often jokes that she fell into politics by mistake after winning a seat on the council that was supposedly unwinnable for Labour. She went on to become an MP in Dulwich, stepping down in 2015 after a Commons career which saw her become culture minister in Tony Blair’s Labour government. She was later made a peer and competed to become Labour’s London mayoral candidate, losing out to Sadiq Khan. The mother-of-two announced she was suffering from a tumour, known as a glioblastoma, in September.

“Like thousands of others diagnosed with cancer every year, I have had to learn a huge amount very quickly about the disease I am living with,” she said. “I now know that brain cancer survival statistics make particul­arly grim reading, where­ver you are diagnosed around the world. “But there is growing momentum globally to change that, driven by the Brain Tumour Charity and others. “I hope this debate will help to raise awareness of the need for more research into effective treatments for brain tumours, as well as for the continuing development and improvement of cancer services generally.”

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