A mum from Sheffield is in a battle against time to raise
£100,000 for cancer treatment she hopes will save her life. Catherine Scott reports.
Charley Ashton hugs her daughter Aurelia tight.
Every moment she spends with the 18 month old is precious even changing her nappy has become something to savour.
Charley, 35, was diagnosed with terminal cancer in January and told she just has months to live. Her only hope is immunotherapy, a new treatment which is already seeing success in lung cancer and skin cancer. But no research has been done into its effect on very rare cancers like Charley’s. Because of this the NHS won’t fund the treatment which costs £100,000.
A fund launched by her friends and family Cure4Charley launched just last month has already reached £93,000 which means that hopefully Charley could have treatment in the next few weeks.
“Getting the money is only one of the hurdles, because no one really knows what my cancer is they don’t know what will happen to me if I have the treatment. We are in discussion with a doctor in London at the moment and are hopeful that he will agree to give me the therapy.”
Immunotherapy is seen as the next treatment in the fight against cancer. Unlike chemo and radiotherapies, immunotherapy teaches the bodies immune cells to attack the cancer cells.
Charley has been overwhelmed by the support from family and friends both in her home city of Sheffield and her adopted city of Brighton.
“They call themselves Charley’s Angels and I their kindness has really made me feel positive for the first time in a long time.”
Charley grew up in Sheffield with parents Julia, 59, and David, 61, younger brother Olly, 32, and sister Harriet, 23.
She was a keen water skier when she was younger and represented Great Britain. In 2002 Charley took on a job as water-skiing instructor at Mark Warner holiday company, and worked in Greece and Turkey.
It was at the company where she met future partner Jess.
The pair moved to Sussex in 2007 where Charley originally worked as an event manager before setting up her own beauty salon. After the arrival of Aurelia, the couple were enjoying the perfect life but then last year things began to go wrong.
Charley began to suffer severe stomach cramps and her GP referred her for scans which showed a large tumour in her stomach. She had an operation to remove the lump but medics struggled to work out what it was and it ended up being sent to Harvard Medical School in the US for tests.
When the results eventually came back they said there was nothing to worry about.
“So we carried on with our normal life but then three or four months later I started to get really sick,” says Charley.
“I was in and out of six different types of hospital and had so many tests and checks.”
In January she was due to have another operation to remove a tumour but because it had wrapped itself around a major artery they felt it was too dangerous.
Jess and Charley and her family were then told the news they dreaded, the cancer had spread and there was nothing more they could do for her as they did not think chemotherapy would work and that it was unlikely she would make it home
“I was devastated and just not ready to die. My little girl needed me and the thought of not seeing her grow up was too much. I spent two months in hospital and the doctors tried to remove the main tumour, however, due to its size and location they were unable to do so. This is when I was told I would be lucky to make it home and would be dead by March,” recalls Charley.
“By this point I had started to get stronger and rally and I was desperate to go home. I was determined to make it home for my little girl’s first birthday and I did, by one day,
“I knew I did not have very long left and I wanted to spend time with my family.
“But then I started to think about treatment that would give me longer, if nothing else.”
Doctors were persuaded to give Charley six rounds of chemotherapy to see if it could make a difference.
“ Although the odds were against me, I wanted a chance. To date I have endured six rounds of chemotherapy.”
The chemotherapy did initially shrink the tumour by 30 per cent, but Charley has been told the chemo has stopped working, meaning immunotherapy is her only chance.
“I am desperate to try immunotherapy, this, I know, is my last chance.
“It is a weird state of mind I’m in because I am feeling so positive and strong and yet I have this thing inside of me.
“We are just an ordinary family, We don’t have that type of money around. I told my family about this and the immediate response was “We’ll get it. No questions. If that’s what you need.
“It has completely restored my faith in human kindness and I truly hope that I get the opportunity in the future to help others fight battles that they feel they cannot do alone.”
Charley hopes the immunotherapy research won’t just help her but other people suffering from very rare cancers which do not attract funding from the pharmaceutical companies.
In the meantime she is trying to enjoy as much time with her family.
“We came back to Sheffield recently and had a big party with 40 friends and family - it is those things that are important as well as spending as much time with Jess and Aurelia. It is the ordinary things that have become so important to me.”