UCL Faculty of Medical Sciences


Sophie's story

Sophie, 26, began CAR T-cell therapy after her leukaemia returned for a third time. Now. things are finally getting back to normal for the horse trainer.

Sophie, trial patient, leaping over a barrier on a horse

1 February 2023

Sophie was 17 years old when she was first diagnosed with leukaemia.

A keen horse trainer who was also working in a bridal shop, she had begun to lose weight and was often feeling tired. Although she put this down to being so busy, when she got a nosebleed that wouldn't stop, her dad took her to hospital. 

"The nurses told me, 'we think you've got something. It is curable, but the doctor will come back tomorrow and tell you'. The doctor came the next day and said, 'you've got leukaemia'."

The news was a shock, and Sophie soon began chemotherapy treatment. Although effective at first, the cancer eventually returned. This time, it was more aggressive, attacking her central nervous system. 

As a result, Sophie had a bone marrow transplant. This was an uncomfortable procedure which kept her in hospital for three months, but it cleared the leukaemia, and she was able to get back to work, and back to her horses.

But Sophie explains what happened next: "About a year later, I didn't feel right, it was weird. So I went to the hospital and got tested and they said 'look, it's come back'. I just thought 'oh god, not again'. This was the third time now."

With the leukaemia even more aggressive than before, Sophie's consultant suggested CAR T-cell therapy. This would, however, involve the daunting step of travelling from rural Somerset where she lived to busy central London, where the treatment was being trialled at UCLH.

Sophie is keen to reassure others who may face a similar journey that there was nothing to worry about. She met Dr Claire Roddie and the team: "They are a lovely team up there. You couldn't wish for nicer people. They make you feel quite positive and tell you what it's like, in simple terms."

After initial tests, Sophie began CAR T-cell therapy.

She had to be closely monitored, and her experience wasn’t without side-effects (which, a month after therapy, meant a further weekend in hospital and steroid treatment), but Sophie is now in complete remission.

For someone who was always so physically active, she has needed a period of adjustment, but is making progress by the day: "I can do early mornings, but I used to get up at 5 or 6 o'clock, and now if I do that for too long, it does catch up with me. I’ll try and keep going, but now I just feel when I need to stop, and listen to my body, and have a quiet day."

Sophie is now glad to be back to riding horses, taking part competitions for the first time since her treatment. She speaks with us after spending the previous evening paddleboarding with friends. Things are getting back to normal: "My life's just busy," she smiles.

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