A widow's plea: '˜We must find a way to beat this horrible disease'

The widow of a man who died of blood cancer is adding her backing to Yorkshire research to find a cure for the disease. Catherine Scott reports.

Just days before he died Anne Dawson’s husband Stephen made a video to help researchers trying to find a cure for the cancer that was killing him.

“He was a remarkable man and I think he knew then he hadn’t long left, but he wanted to do anything he could to help the research that his consultant Dr Andrew Chantry was doing into myeloma,” says Anne.

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“I know that he would want me to carry on the work he did in raising awareness of this devastating disease.”

Anne bought her husband Stephen a ride in a Maserati for his birthday

Stephen Dawson, from Chapeltown in Sheffield, was diagnosed with the incurable blood cancer myeloma in 2009, but, looking back, Anne thinks he may have shown symptoms of the disease earlier.

“As with most myeloma cases, Stephen’s symptoms were quite tenuous. From 1998 he experienced years of sporadic unexplained symptoms, including DVTs (Deep Vein Thrombosis), feeling constantly tired and lethargic, an underactive thyroid and dizziness,” recalls Anne.

But, in July 2009, an eye test picked up a problem and Stephen was sent to the hospital the same day. The pressure at the back of his eye was pushing on his optic nerve which was causing the dizziness. He was admitted to hospital on the neurology ward and had an 
MRI and CT scan, both of which came back clear.

“After weeks of further tests including a lumbar puncture, a consultant haematologist confirmed that Stephen had myeloma. I think like anyone, you have your suspicions that it is something serious but hope beyond hope that it isn’t,” says Anne. “We had never heard of myeloma, so we were confused and very worried. Once we learned it was treatable but not curable, we were both devastated.”

Anne Dawson with her husband Stephen who wanted to raise awareness of myeloma before he died

At the time their son, who is now 11, was just four and they took the difficult decision not to tell him about his dad’s illness straight away.

“When he was older and able to understand more, we told him that Daddy had an illness which affected his immune system but didn’t tell him anything in any great detail until towards the end of Stephen’s illness,” says Anne, who is a company PA.

“Stephen started treatment, which included chemotherapy and medication, some of which made him quite aggressive and unable to sleep. We knew to avoid him on those days. Some days he was taking around 60 tablets. 

“In the background his myeloma cell count was continuing to rise. After several rounds of a new treatment, to which he did respond, he was given a stem cell transplant, which put the myeloma in remission for fifteen months. 

Anne bought her husband Stephen a ride in a Maserati for his birthday

“Stephen had a particularly aggressive form of myeloma. More treatments were tried, one put the myeloma into remission and meant we were able to enjoy a family holiday to Lanzarote, which we never thought would happen.

“We celebrated his 50th birthday in August 2014 which he entitled ‘50 not out’ with a big family celebration. He never expected to reach 50.

“For his 51st birthday, I arranged for him to drive his dream car, a Maserati, followed by a gourmet nine course meal with friends which was incredibly special, especially looking back now.”

Then, in early 2015, Stephen experienced some unusual symptoms which the family was warned could indicate that he was in the final stages of myeloma.

Anne Dawson with her husband Stephen who wanted to raise awareness of myeloma before he died

“ We were given the news that he would probably have less than a year to live. It was at this point that we told our son, which was so hard. He didn’t take the news well and was quite angry at first.

“We informed school and they were very supportive to both our son and us. Unbeknown to us they have a grief counsellor at the school and our son found that very helpful.”

In mid-October 2015, Stephen was drifting in and out of consciousness and Anne was told that Stephen might not make it through the weekend.

“Going home that night and giving the news to our son that Daddy wasn’t coming home was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I feel that part of my grieving was done during the last few months with Stephen and I guess a small part of me was relieved that his suffering was at an end. He left a huge hole in our lives, but keeping going for our son has been and still is my primary concern.

“Stephen was incredibly passionate about ‘paying it forward’ and wanted to do whatever he could to raise awareness so that this horrible disease was beaten once and for all. We don’t even know if it is genetic and so it is even more important that Dr Chantry’s research is supported.”

Anne has made friends with myeloma sufferer, Jaqui Copley, who has raised a lot of money for Dr Chantry’s ‘anti-myeloma virus project’ appeal.”

Dr Chantry, haematology consultant at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, and his team of researchers have been working on the ‘anti-myeloma virus project’, which has the potential to completely eliminate myeloma – finally leading to a cure. A total of £90,000 is needed to allow this research project to continue for the next three years.

“The project is using a genetically engineered virus to target and kill the cancerous myeloma cells without affecting healthy cells,” he explains.

“The results so far have been promising. After just two days of being introduced to the virus, myeloma cells were reduced by half and after four days, they had gone. By raising £90,000, we can ensure that the potentially life-saving work can go ahead.”

www.sheffieldhospitals charity.org.uk /curemyeloma

Nearly 5,000 people are diagnosed with myeloma every year in the UK.

Myeloma affects plasma cells, a type of white blood cell which helps fight infection.

It is the second most common form of bone marrow cancer, but only represents two per cent of all cancers.

Symptoms include bone pain, fractures, fatigue, anaemia, kidney damage, infections, 
and hypercalcaemia.

Myeloma is not curable although there are treatments to extend and improve quality of life.

Sheffield researchers have raised £70,000 of the £90,000 needed to continue their research into a possible cure. 

Myeloma Awareness Week runs until June 27.