A Bowdon psychologist with a rare type of cancer who was due to go on a life-saving trial is having to raise £240,000 herself – after the treatment was abruptly withdrawn due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Wendy Peake, who was diagnosed with ocular melanoma in 2017 and spent almost a year without an eye, has spoken out about the “traumatic” journey she’s been through, including being told the trial had been cancelled a few days before her first session.
The trial was to take place at Aintree Hospital in Liverpool with an American healthcare provider paying for six rounds of treatment that was initially quoted at £60,000 per session.
Peake, a 58-year-old mother of two daughters, was first diagnosed with ocular melanoma in January 2017, which resulted in her having an eye removed. Prior to having her eye removed, she described the radiotherapy as the most stressful thing she’s ever been through.
“When you lie down on the radiotherapy table, they tightly bolt your head down with the plastic mask onto the table so your head is in a fixed position,” she told Altrincham Today. “It was horrific. It took me three days to muster up the courage for that.”
With ocular melanoma, Wendy was told that there was a 60% chance of the tumour not spreading to the liver, and a 40% chance of it doing so. At the time, she decided not to find out and just have regular MRI and CT scans to keep track of the risk of the tumour developing in the liver – something that was untreatable at the time.
Wendy said: “For almost three years, I went back to work and everything in October without an eye until I got a prosthetic one in December. Even during treatment, I was never ever ill and I carried on living life.
“There was obviously the anxiety of whether it was going to come back. The monocular vision took a little bit of getting used to but I could still drive. You just learn to be more hyper-vigilant.
“In November 2019, I was told I had tumours in the liver and the news was absolutely devastating.”
After an ultrasound scan in January 2020, Wendy learnt that the tumours in her liver were inoperable. “I had a look online and guessed that I only really had five years of my life left. I thought I was done.”
The doctor then told Wendy that she was a good fit for a new experimental trial specifically for ocular melanoma, where the tumour had spread to the liver and was inoperable.
Wendy went over to Aintree Hospital for all of the preparatory scans, something she describes as “mentally tiring”.
“After each stage, I was waiting to see if I had passed that level, at each point thinking that there’s a chance I wasn’t going to be suitable for the trial. It’s stressful.”
After passing every test, she was ready to begin the trial in March of this year.
“When the doctor said there’s a chance of the tumours completely disappearing, I believed there was a fighting chance.”
On March 13th, she went in for the first stage, where the doctors blocked off the outlying vessels from the liver which aren’t needed to prevent the chemotherapy spreading elsewhere. The doctor told her that it was the first day of her trial.
With her first round of the cutting-edge treatment scheduled in for March 26th, Wendy was phoned by Aintree Hospital on March 23rd – the day the country went into lockdown – saying that the trial had been cancelled.
Wendy said: “She told me that it’s not going ahead and that I’ll never ever be put through these series of assessments again in this hospital. It was on speakerphone and my girls were hysterical and Andy was speechless.
“I had to put the phone down and calm my family down. The treatment had been promised and I was now being told that it would never go ahead. The liver surgeon phoned the next day and said due to capacity and Covid-19, I wouldn’t be going on the trial. I really couldn’t believe it.”
Wendy and her family got in contact with Public Health England who said that all cancer treatments were going ahead, and then sent a letter to political leaders begging for the trial to be reinstated.
Novum Law also took up the case on a no-win-no-fee basis, arguing that because Wendy had signed up for the trial, gone through all the preparation and promised the treatment, it could be illegal that she was then denied it.
After suspecting that Aintree was overreacting, it turned out that a surgeon returning from a holiday in Italy had brought back Covid-19 and passed it on to a lot of the medical team. This was later confirmed by medical staff to Wendy, who described what happened at the Liverpool hospital as “absolute chaos”.
Wendy’s doctor then said that there was the option to get the treatment privately in Southampton, and that instead of the projected £60,000 per session for six treatment rounds, it would cost £40,000 each time. She was also told that if she could have three or four sessions, it would massively reduce the risk of the tumours growing.
Whilst considering selling their family house in order to pay for the treatment, Wendy’s daughter set up an online fundraiser which has now, thanks to help from Radio 5 Live and BBC Panorama who covered her story, raised almost £90,000.
The donations made by friends, family, strangers and others have now helped Wendy pay for and undergo her first session of this potentially life-saving treatment.
She added: “Being able to send them the money that we’ve raised for the first round of treatment was amazing. It’s taken all the stress out of it. We would love to hit £100,000 so that we could get close to funding enough for a few more rounds of treatment. We are incredibly grateful for it.
“I often think about a Where’s Wally page when I’m looking out the window and think, what does two and a half thousand people look like – the number of donors so far. It makes me emotional to think how many people have supported and helped me and my family. I imagined that Where’s Wally page, Andy and my girls as I went under general anaesthetic for the first treatment session in July down in Southampton.”
“It’s been one rollercoaster of a ride. My daughters didn’t like the intrusion and going public with everything, worrying that if I went on TV, it could damage my chances of getting treated. It’s definitely up and down, loads of tears and anxiety, but it is really touching and moving to see people donate.”
If you like to help Wendy secure further future rounds of treatment, you can visit the fundraising page here.
Many Altrincham businesses have also donated prizes for a raffle to fundraise for Wendy. Enter this by visiting the @Win4wendy instagram page.