Doctors in Leeds are offering the chance of a lifeline to a woman suffering from colon cancer. A fund to pay for her treatment has hit £50,000. Catherine Scott reports.
Amy Watts, 37, is hoping to undergo potentially life-saving treatment in Leeds next month after doctors in America were unable to help her.
The journalist, who moved to Los Angeles from the UK recently, is hoping to have two complicated operations to remove tumours from her liver and bowel at the Spire Leeds Hospital after cancer from her colon spread.
Amy has been able to travel to Leeds and hopefully undergo the complex surgery thanks to friends and celebrity supporters who have raised an amazing £50,000 in a week to help her.
They launched an appeal, Hold Amy’s Hand, to raise £100,000 to pay for the treatment, which costs around £70,000, her travel from America and living costs while she is unable to work.
Within a week they have raised half their total, including more than £5,000 raised by a gig in Amy’s honour by pop star Matt Goss at the Dorchester Hotel on Tuesday. A social media campaign has seen support from a host of celebrities including Simon Cowell, Susan Boyle and Patsy Palmer.
Simon Cowell tweeted about Amy – calling on his 11 million followers to #holdamyshand
He was retweeted more than 500 times and ‘favourited’ more than 1000 times. The TV mogul has donated personally to the Hold Amy’s Hand Appeal.
Amy’s former boss, Richard Desmond, also stepped in as soon as he heard the news about Amy’s plight. He quickly pledged a generous amount to the fighting fund.
Matt Goss, who was part of eighties’ pop sensation Bros, knows how devastating the disease can be after losing his mother – his “best friend” – to cancer.
“Amy has a family and I know how that feels – very, very frightening,” he said. “This won’t ease any of my pain, I’ve got my own demons….(but) if I can be of some help just by doing what I do then I’m here.”
Amy’s friend Tina Campanella, who has helped set up the appeal and website, said: “Amy is a showbiz journalist and know lots of people but we have all been overwhelmed by the support from people both famous and not famous who have given their support to this.
“Every time someone tweets, it really helps Amy and the campaign is really giving her something positive to focus on although she does have some dark days.”
Amy started to feel unwell last summer, although she didn’t have any particular symptoms, but after she went to the doctor she was eventually diagnosed with stage four colon cancer which had spread to her liver.
“Amy’s been having regular chemotherapy to try and shrink the tumours and she had been responding well but then suddenly it seemed to stop working,” says Tina.
“She was hoping to have an operation to cut out the cancer in December, but at the last minute her US doctors said they felt this was no longer an option.”
Her devastated family in the UK then started to search for a doctor who would give Amy a chance. “They were desperate for a second opinion and then they found the doctor at the Spire Leeds Hospital who said he would be willing to operate on Amy. He wants to perform two operations, the first one in February and a second a few months afterwards when she has recovered enough to have it.”
Peter Lodge, professor of surgery and liver specialist at the Spire Leeds Hospital said cases like Amy’s were very complex, but liver surgery in Europe has developed in recent years.
“Back in the eighties there wouldn’t have been much we could do for cases like Amy’s but now there are specialists who, in the right circumstances, can do these complex operations and the outcome can be as good as someone who just has one operation.”
Prof Lodge said that because the liver is a unique organ as it is able to regenerate, it was possible to do the procedure over two operations allowing time in between for the liver to regenerate.
“The reason we do two operations is that it is actually less dangerous for the patient.”
Amy and her friends and supporters are unclear what the future holds for her but they are determined to give her every chance of life.
Comedian Ian Royce hosted the Dorchester gig and did a 24-hour sponsored walk in aid of Hold Amy’s Hand.
Amy, who attended the fund-raising event at London’s Dorchester, is physically quite frail but her will is strong.
She told the audience of around 300 people: “The support I’ve had from my friends, family, the public and in particular Matt tonight for putting on this gig, has been amazing. We’ve managed to raise enough money for the first operation but I still need to raise more for the second one. If you can keep donating, no matter how small the donation, it all helps. And thanks to everyone who has supported me with tweets about Hold Amy’s Hand and donations so far.”
The name for Hold Amy’s Hand came from the journalist’s love of Doctor Who, Tina said.
“Amy is mad on Doctor Who and there is quote from one of the episodes which says: ‘There’s a lot of things you need to get across this universe. Warp drive… wormhole refractors. You know the thing you need most of all? You need a hand to hold.’ And that was where the name for the appeal came from.”
Amy is expected to stay in the Leeds hospital after surgery until she is well enough to travel to Bury to be with her family until she is well enough for the second operation to her colon.
“She is an amazing girl and we, her friends, aren’t really surprised that she has touched so many people with what she is going through,” added Tina.
“We just want to help her in any way we can.”