The family of a 24-year-old Rotherhithe woman are appealing for help to pay for trial cancer treatment in America that could save her life.
Brooke Gregory, who as a teenager represented England and Great Britain in karate all over the world, was diagnosed with Synovial Sarcoma in July 2015.
The rare strain is most commonly found in teenagers and young adults.
The disease has left her with “at least ten” tumours in her lungs, despite only just recovering from her first round of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
“It was in March 2015 that I noticed a pain in my leg, and within weeks it had turned into a lump the size of a pea,” Brooke said. “I’d had it for six months before I had surgery to remove it, and that was even after I had been to A&E because of the pain.
“Then after the surgery it came back six months later, and had spread to my lungs.
“I struggle to breathe. I notice it so much more if I walk very far, or on stairs or slopes.”
Brooke’s mum Carole Gregory, and aunt Gaynor Dowsett-Roberts, contacted the News after learning that her only hope may be to stump up a fortune to fly to Texas for specialist immunotherapy treatment – which isn’t available on the NHS.
So last week the family began reaching out to the wider community to help fundraise, fearing that “time is of the essence”.
Visit Brooke’s fundraising page here: www.gofundme.com/Brooke-rose-Gregory
A consultation at MD Anderson Cancer Centre in Houston would first cost her $30,500 (£23,600).
Followed by stage-one of the treatment: at least $83,000 (£64,200). That’s before they think about financing the flights and the cost of living there for a least five months.
Another possibility is that a private doctor may be able to offer her the same trial treatment in London, an option that would still at the cost of tens of thousands of pounds.
But they fear that even the private doctor may not be able to offer the treatment due to regulations under EU law.
Their third option is to try yet another round of chemotherapy offered to her on the NHS, having only just recovered and started to see her hair grow back strongly.
Carole said: “The doctors on the NHS didn’t tell us about any of these other options. Brooke has had to do all the research on her own. We’re trying to get on with life.
“You go to hospital and they give you a bit of good news, then it comes with a load of bad news and it knocks you back.”
From her own research, Brooke read that her type of Sarcoma can in some cases be caused by repeated injuries to limbs, and can lie dormant for years.
It made her wonder if her years of dedicated karate practice could have contributed to her developing the cancer in her leg.
Brooke said: “It was after the first round of chemo and they told me it was growing back, that’s when I started looking for alternatives.
“When I came across it in my research that I could do this in Texas, it was like a life line. It gave me hope. I have found so many success stories for this treatment. But they are all people in America.”
She also noted that some of the successful cases she had read about related to athletes who had gone onto become Paralympians.
Before the age of sixteen, Brooke had been British Champion in karate. She was a regular at the Tokei Martial Arts Centre near Tower Bridge, and the club has recently made a donation to help her.
As well as call on the community for help, Brooke is keen to spread awareness of her type of cancer. “Out of every person I have spoken to, no one had even known that Sarcoma existed.
“Everyone knows cancer and they think of the brain or breasts, not something that can start in your leg. A lot of people see a lump and they are told it’s a cyst. I was first told that my lump was ‘nothing sinister’.”
Only a few days before Brooke spoke to the News, she had just returned from her holiday in Tenerife with her fiancé, who proposed whilst the couple were away.
The former St Saviour’s and St Olave’s School pupil hopes to enter the civil service, though her prolonged treatment has delayed her completion of a law degree from Kingston University.
“I’m in my third year, and all I have left to do is my final exams. I hope I’ll be able to finish them at the end of the year,” Brooke said.