The biggest fight of Martyn’s life began at the age of 31 when he was told he had cancer in January 2012, but in December 2012 the fight got even bigger when he was told his cancer had spread to both his lungs. He was told there was nothing more the National Health Service (NHS) could do to cure his advanced bowel cancer; other than palliative care consisting of fortnightly chemotherapy and a super drug called Avastin, which unfortunately had caused blood clots in his lungs. Being realistic, we knew that there was only so much of the palliative care his body could cope with so Martyn (now age 33); who has not once given up hope of finding someone who could help him, increased his own research and for many hours trawled the internet in the search for someone who might be able to give him hope.
After looking up various leads, one particular medical paper he found stood out from the rest and was about a German surgeon called Professor Axel Rolle. The report detailed information about a laser machine (Nd: YAG 1318) that had been developed by the Professor in which he could remove multiple lung metastases (+100) by resecting areas of the lung. The results showed there were minimal complications and a very good success rate. The main criteria for a referral is that there is no other cancer outside the lungs. Martyn met this criteria, as in September 2012 his primary cancer had been successfully removed so he decided to pursue his find further...
When your whole life has been shattered into a million pieces, when you hear that potentially someone can help give you that lifeline you been searching for, you grab it and don't let go. Knowing how time critical fighting cancer can be, we found ourselves in a position where we had to work out how we were going to fund the surgery ourselves and fast as we were unsuccessful in getting any help financially.
The German hospital informed us that the first operation would cost in the region of 12,000 – 18,000 euros and a deposit of 12,000 euros (this is approximately £11,000) was required two weeks prior to our arrival. To secure the first deposit for the operation we borrowed the money, which gave us a bit of time to source the rest. In order for us to secure the money for the second operation, we put our house on the market at a price that was too good to be missed and sold it within three weeks. This allowed us to book the surgery in Germany for 31 July 2013, which could have been much earlier as the Professor was prepared to have us out there within the week! However, as much as we wanted to get out there as soon as possible for the surgery, we needed to pack up our home and get everything in order.
In the weeks prior to leaving for Germany, we moved our entire life into storage and on 25 July 2013 flew via London City Airport direct to Dresden. Our one way flights cost £360 which included 3 suitcases and a light meal. We arrived in Germany half an hour ahead of time due to no head wind and took a twenty minute taxi (costing thirty euros) to Coswig hospital. The receptionist told us where we needed to go and we were met by the nurse on the ward who showed us to our room.
On the day prior to the operation (Monday), we met with Jen Krasler; the Anaesthetist who would be taking care of Martyn’s pain relief during the operation. Jen went through all of the procedures he would be carrying out and answered any of our questions. He made arrangements for me to be with Martyn when he was having his epidural and being put to sleep ready for the operation. I’m not sure if this is offered to all patients but I was very grateful to have been given the opportunity to be there with him.
Once all of our questions had been answered by Jan and we had signed the paperwork, we met with Professor Rolle in his office, where he showed us Martyn’s scans in detail so we could see where the tumours were located and understand what difficulties he might encounter. The scans showed approximately 6-7 tumours in each lung and the decision was made to operate on his most difficult lung, where one tumour was very deep and near some arteries. There were also some tumours that were close to the chest wall, which again could be tricky as one in particular was very close to the rib bone which could result in part of the bone being removed.
As with any operation we were informed about the possible complications and told that there were no guarantees of knowing what the outcome would be. However, the Professor reassured us he would do his utmost best to remove all the tumours and find any extra ones (a skill the Professor is highly experienced in) that may not have been picked up from the CT scan. The Professor also informed us that prior to the main operation, a check would be carried out on Martyn’s bronchial for any traces of cancer before the main operation, which is a standard procedure. However, we were told that if a biopsy was needed, the surgery would be postponed for two days for tests to be carried out. We are pleased to say this was not a problem and Martyn’s bronchial was clear.
The first operation went well and Martyn had 22 metastases removed from his right lung, which was a shock, but one that we were prepared for. After only one day in intensive care, his recovery went well and after two weeks, he was well enough to leave the hospital.
When we returned to the hospital for his second operation five weeks later, despite excellent lung function test results, an x-ray showed his lower lobe had collapsed which he'd been completely unaware of. It meant that the operation had to be postponed, which was a minor setback and although it was disappointing, it was easily fixed. Under local anaesthetic, the doctor reinserted a lung drain to re-inflate the lung and over 3 days gave a course of sugary water (Glucose) which was flushed through the drain to help the lung stick back to the ribs. After one week Martyn's x-ray results showed it was better and he was back in the operating theatre having his second operation on his left lung.
The operation went well but Martyn did experience some complications which included an infection in the lung, which was treated by a course of antibiotics. After a routine x-ray his lung showed that his upper lobe was showing signs that it was not fully inflating and there was a vacuum that needed to be monitored in case there was an air leak. After four days in intensive care, he was released back out onto the general ward and back into our own room. Like with any operation there can be complications, which unfortunately Martyn did experience but it was nothing he couldn't overcome. His recovery was slower than expected but the doctors were not going to take any risks after learning from the first operation, that his body needed more time to recover.
We have since returned to Cornwall (UK) and Martyn is continuing to make his recovery. We will be forever grateful to Professor Axel Rolle and all of his team at the hospital in Coswig for helping Martyn. The care and dedication from the staff at the hospital is outstanding and we would recommend anyone fighting cancer that finds themselves in a similar situation to ours, to seek a referral to the specialist hospital. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. We can't say any of it has been easy or without sacrifice but it was the best decision we could have made, we only wish we had found out about it sooner. In total the cost of Martyn's surgery was £27,500 (31,650 euros) - a small price to pay to be cancer free.
If you would like to know any more information about the treatment my husband had in Germany or from the point of view from being a carer, you are welcome to email me at: email@example.com or leave a comment at the bottom of this post and I will endeavour to reply.
Useful info for anyone considering a referral / treatment to the specialist lung hospital in Germany
- Information about the specialist lung hospital in Coswig - Germany
TIP: Use Google Chrome as it will ask if you want to translate the information held on the website into English which helps greatly if you do not speak German like us!
- Professor Rolle's contact details at the hospital:
Axel Rolle MD PhD - Professor of Surgery
Chief of Department of Thoracic and Vascular Surgery
D-01640 Coswig/Dresden, Neucoswiger Straße 21
Tel: +49(0)3523 65-102
Fax: +49(0)3523 65-103
- Is surgery for multiple lung metastases reasonable?
- Read another patients post who has had treatment at the hospital, who can offer more help and information on his experiences from the hospital in Coswig.
- Read a post by a family who details their experiences whilst at the hospital
- this post is useful as it details what the to expect at the hospital and helped us prior to our visit.
Our heartfelt thanks
We would like to thank Professor Rolle and everyone at the Coswig hospital that helped and cared for Martyn, we will never forget what you did for us, The Fire Fighters Charity for their ongoing support and help with our living costs whilst we were out in Germany, my work colleagues at Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service who have supported me during my leave from work and set up The Martian Fund to help raise some money towards the cost of the operations, our family, friends and people that don't even know us personally that have supported us through this and the team at the Royal Cornwall Hospital - Treliske, for their ongoing medical care for Martyn.