Health: Living on borrowed time, but thriving: Doreen Wilson has cancer. For 10 days each month she wears a 'bum-bag' with a pump that sends drugs to her liver, but it hasn't stopped her tap dancing. Clare Dover reports

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DOREEN Wilson has two goals: to get a silver medal in tap-dancing and to live up to the promises of a clairvoyant who told her years ago that she would live to be a very old lady.

'I have always had this feeling that I had a very long life ahead of me. I think we all have a sense of our own destiny if we allow it to get through,' says Mrs Wilson, 58, who admits, however, that she is now taking each day as it comes, since being diagnosed nine months ago as having secondary cancer of the liver.

Mrs Wilson, a former secretary from Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, is not only living on borrowed time but thriving on it. Her blue eyes are clear. There is no yellowish tinge to her skin indicative of liver problems. And her sense of fun and appreciation of everything from the roses in her small garden to tap dancing, for which she says she has more enthusiasm than talent, rubs off on her family and the doctors and nurses who are striving to control her cancer and provide her with a good quality of life.

She is well aware that she has the same type of cancer which claimed the life of the football star Bobby Moore in February, and that she is already into 'extra time'.

'I have a marvellous husband (Fred), brilliant children and the best doctors and nurses in the world,' she says.

Having come through breast cancer and a mastectomy 15 years ago, Mrs Wilson developed the view that cancer is not the end of the world. Then in 1989 she had surgery for colon cancer, and last year the cancer was found to have spread. It was dotted throughout her liver, offering no opportunity for localised surgery to remove the affected part. More recently another breast cancer has been discovered.

She attributes her present state of well-being to having been taken on to a clinical trials research programme at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, London, in which she was fitted with a small device called a Portocath through which chemotherapy is delivered directly into her liver for 10 days in each month, using two different drugs. During the 10-day periods, she wears a 'bum-bag' that holds a small plastic pump containing the drugs.

The drugs are directed straight to the tumour rather than circulating around the body, which minimises unpleasant side effects. A Macmillan cancer-care nurse on the trial team comes to connect the pump once a month, although Mrs Wilson is now learning to do this for herself.

Initially, she received a conventional course of chemotherapy at a different hospital. She says that she started to feel ill within weeks. 'I had no energy and couldn't get up the stairs. I used to lie on the sofa, and began to wonder if this was it.

'My daughter-in-law rang up and said she had read that Mr Tim Allen-Mersh, a consultant surgeon at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, was looking for volunteers with my type of cancer to take part in testing new ways of treating it. It would mean receiving chemotherapy directly into the liver.

'I phoned and volunteered and also asked my GP, who told me he had already written to Mr Allen-Mersh the day before.' An appointment was made, but when she went for tests a new lump was found in her other breast. When she had this news she rang the unit. 'I told them: 'There's no point in coming. I've had it.' ' But they insisted and they took out the lump at the same time as they gave me the operation to prepare me to receive the drugs into my liver.'

Cancer of the large bowel is the second most common cancer in Britain, with 30,000 new cases diagnosed each year. Secondary liver cancer develops in about three out of 10 sufferers. 'Everything seems OK, but 18 months to two years later, you realise everything is not OK and there is a problem in the liver,' says Mr Allen-Mersh.

Mrs Wilson is receiving drugs to treat her liver cancer and her breast cancer, and because she needs a large amount of medication, her pump is external. She is one of 90 patients entered into the trial. Other patients have the pump fitted internally in the area of the stomach muscles. The drugs are injected into the pump's reservoir once a month. The surgery to fit this implant, which is about the size of a flat tobacco tin, and connect it to the hepatic artery takes about an hour and a half.

Mrs Wilson has a small bump on her chest, under the skin just below her bra-line, which is the nipple-shaped end of the the tube that was implanted leading to her hepatic artery. Each month this is punctured with a hollow needle and connected to the pump in her bum-bag containing the drugs.

The liver drug is entirely taken up by the liver, but about 50 per cent of the breast drug goes through the liver unchanged, to reach, through the blood system, other parts of the body.

'Having the drugs directed straight into my liver has made a great difference. I am back to normal, doing housework, wheeling my shopping trolley round the supermarket, going tap dancing and having a good laugh. My family has bought me some new tap shoes and threatens to get me a leotard.

'I have a phone number at the Chelsea and Westminster and at night time I can ring it. I don't feel marooned. They are all people I can talk to. They don't have any facts and figures yet on the treatment, but I think it is working for me. I don't think I would be here the way I am, without it.'

'Everyone says that I look so well. I say I am ill, though I don't feel it.' The research project is being financed by the Britta Dolan Memorial Cancer Fund, a charity that was founded in 1987 to develop treatments for bowel cancer. The implant operation and follow-up treatment are given free on the NHS. There are other patients on the trial whose progress, like Mrs Wilson's, appears to be better than would have been expected. One male patient has already survived for three and a half years.

Mr Allen-Mersh says: 'Does it keep people feeling better for longer and sustain the quality of life? Does it prolong survival? Is a placebo effect at work? We need to know the answers. We know from scanning that the treatment is capable of making tumours shrink.'

The word 'cure' is not part of the vocabulary. Progress and quality of life are being compared with a control group of patients receiving conventional treatment.

Doreen Wilson says: 'I really value each day. When we think we are well we are so careless with time and fritter it away. Since I found out, I know I am going to die, but I don't feel it is going to happen for a long while.

'It has been a good life, whatever happens. It is so sad when some people tell you that they have never really lived. Talking about my cancer has cut it down to size'.

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