A man who had tumours so big they broke his collarbone has become part of history after a medical trial saved him.

Now his wife, who had breast cancer at the same time, is releasing a book about their journey to help people struggling through cancer.

Hamiltonians Russell Bishop and his wife Rowan had their healthy, active lives turned upside down after Bishop was diagnosed with double-hit lymphoma, a mutation of two rare and highly-aggressive cancers which can resist traditional chemotherapy.

"It was devastating, it just stunned us really," he said.


"I found out later a tumour had broken my collarbone and I hadn't even noticed it there was so much pain in my back."

The 66-year-olds were on holiday in France three years ago when Bishop first felt some back pain. Within three weeks he was under the knife to stop a tumour from piercing his spinal cord and paralysing him.

Bishop said in hindsight he missed some key warning signs of cancer like night sweats, pain and losing concentration. Cancer never sprung to mind as he had been fully checked in April, but by September 2013 he had a "raging bunch of tumours" in his back.

The Waikato University professor started treatment with a month-long chemotherapy course.

"I nearly died. That was such an aggressive treatment and it makes you really nauseous. I lost 20kg in a month."

But the worst part was that the treatment hadn't worked.

Another treatment would have killed Bishop so his haematologist pored over academic journals to find an alternative way to treat the disease. As his type of cancer had only been discovered in 2010 there wasn't much written on DHL. But luckily his doctor found one medical trial that had worked on five cases.

"So I became number six."

The trial involved the same chemotherapy chemicals he'd had before but administered over 96 hours. This way it didn't give the cancer a chance to mutate between doses of chemotherapy.

In the meantime Rowan, who had been caring for Bishop, was diagnosed with a raft of health problems including breast cancer. The double diagnosis is where they drew inspiration for the book's title - Double Whammy: A Story About Beating an 'Unbeatable' Cancer.

On May 29 2014, eight months after Bishop was diagnosed, the couple were both declared in remission. Bishop was told he was in the clear two hours after Rowan heard from her doctor.

"We both jumped up and down like crazy.

"It was almost as unbelievable as getting the cancer in the first place."

With the success of Bishop's treatment he has now become a part of medical history. His medical trial has gone on to raise survival statistics from under 20 per cent to over 80 per cent.

While Bishop didn't want to know about his cancer, Rowan found it therapeutic to read everything she could get her hands on. She made a project of understanding the medical jargon and explaining it to loved ones via email.

After the cancer scare was over they realised lots of people must struggle to understand the terminology and medical process that they were confused by, so Rowan wrote a book to explain them.

"When this happened to us we both felt we would have liked to have access to something like the book," she said.

With the encouragement of their GP and haematologist Rowan published the book, which is being released on November 7.

Bishop's biggest message to cancer sufferers is "don't give up".

"I never thought I was going to die. Even though intellectually I knew things weren't too great. I always had hope and faith something was going to happen, and it did.

"I'm very fond of life."