CHRIS Widdows will never forget Christmas 2013 - for all the wrong reasons.

But he's been enjoying the greatest gift of all since then and it came unwrapped. A shot at life.

There wasn't much festive fun just over five years ago for Chris, from Norton Fitzwarren, after he received the bombshell that he had advanced, life-threatening prostate cancer.

Aged 68 at the time and almost before he had time to gather his thoughts, the former deputy headteacher was speedily put on a course of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

It was during that treatment that he was offered the opportunity of becoming a guinea pig in a revolutionary trial at Taunton's Musgrove Park Hospital known as STAMPEDE.

Chris, now an optimistic and enthusiastic 73-year-old grabbing his second chance with both hands, is keen to share his experience to help highlight the work of the trials and the importance of research to improve outcomes.

He said: "I was given the opportunity to go on the STAMPEDE trial and I really wanted to be able to help add to research that is ongoing.

"Both my parents had undergone treatment for different cancers and they had extra years thanks to research.

"I wanted to be able to contribute and to do anything I can to improve treatments, not just for myself but for others too in the future."

Referring to the period when he was first diagnosed, Chris added: "It was around Christmastime in 2013 when I felt myself needing to go to the toilet more often.

"I booked myself a GP appointment and following a series of tests it was discovered my PSA (prostate-specific antigen) levels were very high.

"I had hormone injections to bring down the levels and in January 2014 I had seven weeks of radiotherapy and at this point I was asked if I would consider taking part in the Stampede trial.

"I knew my own father had taken part in a trial many years before when he was diagnosed with lymphoma and he went on to have an extra ten years of life.

"I had to complete a questionnaire every three months until the end of my radiotherapy and for me I am glad to have done it."

But by 2017, a test showed Chris’s PSA began to creep up again and a shadow was discovered on his vertebrae. The cancer had spread and more chemotherapy treatment followed.

He said: "Being on a clinical trial made me feel positive that I was doing something to add to future research and I know that I was monitored very closely and for me that was reassuring.

"I still managed to work through some of my treatment, teaching A level politics and for me having a routine really helped.

"I am now back to enjoying my life and still participate in hobbies such as playing golf and singing in a local choir. Life is good and thanks to research I am here."

So what is STAMPEDE? Well, to start with, it's nothing to do with a herd of elephants running out of control.

Its full title is a bit of a mouthful that will probably only serve to confuse the layperson - Systemic Therapy in Advancing or Metastatic Prostate Cancer: Evaluation of Drug Efficacy will mean nothing to most of us.

Best to settle for the description that it's a large clinical trial that aims to assess new treatment approaches for people affected by high-risk prostate cancer.

The trial has been open since 2005 and has tested many different ways of treating prostate cancer and some results are now already known.

Each new or alternative treatment is compared with the current standard approach, referred to as a 'comparison'.

STAMPEDE is actually many different trials in one that looks at new combinations of treatments for prostate cancer patients to see which, if any, can improve survival.

More than 10,000 nationwide have joined the initiative so far.

Meanwhile, a dedicated group of fundraisers in the area are highlighting the importance of raising money for research into cancer.

The Taunton and District Committee of Cancer Research UK, many who have lost close family to the disease, is always looking to recruit new members and ideas to raise money.

Since the group was formed in 1977, members have raised £2.5 million.

Treasurer Alan Reeve said: "We are celebrating a successful 2018 of summer collections and collaborating with a Cancer Research UK corporate partner, Roadchef.

"Throughout the summer members of the committee worked tirelessly spending every weekend at Taunton Deane M5 Service Station – the result was a staggering £6,678 raised.

"And then a further week of collecting at Morrisons in Taunton realised £2,312.

"Their goal is to beat cancer sooner and they have been supporting clinical trials taking place in the UK and on their doorstep in Taunton.

"Every year, around 3,500 people in Somerset are diagnosed with cancer, and some of them are taking part in the STAMPEDE trials.

"These people are getting the chance to try the most cutting-edge treatments, while contributing to advances in cancer research.

"That’s why we’re working every day to find new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat the disease. But we can’t do it alone."

As a charity Cancer Research UK funds nearly 200 clinical trials across the UK that look at the best ways to improve treatments and find new ways to prevent cancer.

The committee is also supporting an advanced ovarian cancer trial at Musgrove, ICON8B, to find out which treatment causes more or fewer side effects and which offers the best quality of life.

Anyone interested in getting in touch with the committee should call secretary Chris Knapman on 01823-335303 or e-mail