Wife of former Doncaster Rovers star diagnosed with terminal cancer given hope by trial drug
The terminally ill wife of a former Doncaster Rovers star has been given hope by a trial drug after being given 12 months to live.
Mum of two Gemma Lee, wife of former Rovers’ skipper Graeme, was given the devastating news a year ago that her days were numbered after she was diagnosed with brain cancer.
But the couple have spoken of their hope after a trial drug which has helped to prolong her life.
In an interview with the Daily Mail, Graeme, 42, now a coach at Middlesbrough, said that his wife’s brain tumour was now ‘stable’ after using a drug from Germany.
He said: “I had one consultation then went to the chemist and stuffed my suitcase full of these drugs - I was like Pablo Escobar.
'It was a three-day round trip via trains and planes all for a couple of hours in Germany - but what a couple of hours it has proven to be.”
Gemma, 40, has been taking a drug called ONC201 which costs £5,000 per month and which Graeme’s former clubs – including Rovers – have helped contribute towards.
She said: 'I'm still terminally ill, no one has told me otherwise. But after the most recent scans I've been classed as 'stable', meaning the cancer hasn't got any worse. We're living between scans, every three months. But, for me, stable is progress. It has pressed pause, given us more time.”
Graeme counters: 'It has pressed play, you mean'.
The couple have two children, Grayson, eight, and Hadley, five
She said: 'I had to try that for my kids and husband, I wanted to live as long as possible. I knew I was going to die, but after a while I thought the chemo was killing me faster than the actual tumour. It wasn't working. There was a moment when I thought, "This is it, I won't survive this".
'It's hard, everyone around you wants you to do the chemo, wants you to live. But I didn't want the children to have a lasting memory of me being ill. I thought, "If I come off it, I can have a good few months and make some happy memories". Then, whatever happens, it happens.
'Going through chemo was making it agonising for everyone. In the end, my decision was easy.'
Graeme was given permanent leave by Middlesbrough. The 42-year-old spent every spare minute researching alternative treatments.
He said: 'I don't think Gemma would be here now if we'd stuck to the chemo. It works for some people, of course, but it didn't for us. We got a second opinion from a doctor in London a year ago. The first thing he said was to get off the drugs that were making her so ill. That's all we needed, someone to tell us that was okay.
'He'd also heard good things about the trial drug we were researching. It made our mind up - we were going for it. It felt like our only hope.'
She added: “For my children, I will try everything to think myself better. I might sound nuts, deluded, but I really believe I will survive this.
'We've been told the tumour will never go away. But, you know what, it appeared out of nowhere, so it can disappear too. I've got to think like that, it's the only way.'
Graeme’s former team-mate and Doncaster legend James Coppinger has helped with fundraising after having the idea that £10 from every home shirt sold should ne donated towards Gemma's treatment - and the club agreed.
'I was lost for words,' said Graeme. 'We've been so lucky with the support we've had.
Lee joined Rovers from Sheffield Wednesday in 2006 and scored one of the most fondly remembered goals in the club’s history, grabbing the winning goal in a 3–2 win over Bristol Rovers in the 2007 Football League Trophy final at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.