'I'm not ready to die,' says mum in emotional plea to fund life-saving cancer treatment
A mum-of-two with secondary breast cancer has made an emotional plea for the community to help her access cutting-edge treatment in America which could help save her life.
Debbie Bolaky, from Colchester, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer in 2014, and after chemotherapy treatment and a mastectomy the family believed she was in remission.
However, doctors dealt her a devastating blow in 2016 when she began having seizures – her cancer had returned, and she now had secondary breast cancer in her brain.
Medics in Colchester referred her to hospice care, gave her just six months to live and warned her she would not survive – and as there is no more the NHS can do for her, the family have switched to private healthcare, which has included craniotomies and radiotherapy.
Despite her illness, 56-year-old Debbie is determined not to give up and her family – including husband Jay and daughter Jessica Bailey – are crowdfunding for the £180,000 needed for a clinical trial in the US.
“Even though I have secondary cancer, I’m not ready to die,” she said. When I had what they call ordinary cancer, I obviously went through all of those emotions of being diagnosed then told I was in remission, went back to work and back to carrying on with my life, on discovering the secondary cancer, they told me I wouldn’t survive.
“I said to them, ‘I would’.”
She added: “The technology in America is personalised to my specific breast cancer in the brain and without this treatment my options are very limited. To put this very plainly – I want to live.
“If this treatment is successful it could not only save my life but could potentially open doors to others who have my disease and could save countless lives.”
The last few years have put the family through a rollercoaster of emotions. Daughter Jess, 29, said it has been very tough.
“The last few years have had a lot of ups and downs,” she added.
“When mum got through breast cancer, we thought that was it but then she had the seizures.
“Every time you reach a high you get knocked down, and it’s been very tough.”
She set up the GoFundMe page in 2016 – and said around £30,000 has been raised so far through charity balls, black-tie dinners and skydives.
However, the family are still short of their £180,000 target, and in a plea for more donations, Jess said: “You can’t put a price on someone’s life. If we can get mum over to America – even if people can put a pound in, that’s not much but it’s getting her there.
“This could be something that 10 years down the line is a real cure for people going through what mum is.”
If the target is reached, Debbie – who is thought to be only second in the world to be offered the treatment – will receive a trial of Chrimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR T), a completely new kind of therapy using the immune system to kill cancer cells.
In recent weeks her secondary cancer has prompted seizures, and she has trouble communicating because of the amount of tumours in her brain.
Despite this, she said she does not feel ill and is more determined to live than ever.
Her family also wants to raise awareness of secondary cancers – which they believe is seen as a taboo – and Debbie is particularly keen to get it talked about, to help others with similar illnesses.
Jess said: “Secondary cancer is not something people know very much about, you hear a lot about the first line breast cancer but not about secondary.
While Debbie added: “It’s pushed off and not talked about a lot.
“Going to London they support it a bit more, but when you come back to the outskirts of Colchester they just don’t have the tools or the drugs.”
Although doctors at Colchester have been helpful and exhausted all options open to them, the family feels Debbie was referred to hospice care too early – so they took it upon themselves to go private.
“People go to a doctor and what the doctor says you expect that’s it, you trust them, and to go to Colchester and be told there’s nothing that was it,” Jess added.
“That was two years ago, and since then treatment has been going well, but we just need that little bit extra now.”
Medics originally gave Debbie just six months to live – and she has defied all odds, with her husband and daughter praising her fighting spirit.
Husband Jay added: “She’s gone through the wars, but we’re on this road to recovery.
“We’ve got everything crossed for this trial in America.”
How to donate
The appeal to help Debbie’s fight against cancer has been shared almost 2,000 since it was set up.
Almost 500 people have donated to her cause.
To donate to Debbie’s appeal, go to her GoFundMe page.
What is secondary breast cancer?
This kind of illness occurs when breast cancer cells spread from the first (primary cancer) in the breast through the blood stream or lymphatic system to other parts of the body.
In Debbie’s case, her cancer has spread to her brain.
It cannot be cured but it can be treated, sometimes for a number of years.
For further help and support, visit Breast Cancer Care.
Debbie’s US cancer treatment explained
The 56-year-old is one of the very few people in the world to be offered a trial for Car T Cell therapy.
“There is nothing like this anywhere in the UK, and although this type of therapy is available for blood cancer here on the NHS, it is not available for breast cancer,” she explained.
“Living with cancer is intense. As a family we spend every waking hour thinking about it and how we can fight it.
“It feels like we’re all struggling to survive in a world dominated by cancer.
Debbie added: “This new treatment has given us some much needed hope.”
NHS bosses respond to family’s concerns
Representatives for the East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Colchester Hospital, have invited Debbie and her family to get in touch.
“We are really concerned to learn of the family’s disappointment, and would urge Ms Bolaky and her family to be in touch with us directly so that we can meet and talk through all of the issues,” hospital spokeswoman Jan Ingle said.
Bosses at the North East Essex clinical commissioning group (CCG) were approached for comment but are yet to respond.