39-year-old Helen Munro lives in Leyton in east London with her husband, Finch, and their two children, 5-year-old Lola and 3-year-old Lupe. The couple runs Finch London, a design firm that creates custom furniture, and they’ll be celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary this year. It might sound like a great life, but there’s one very large wrench in the machinery. Helen has terminal cancer.
She was first diagnosed with breast cancer in August of 2017 after finding a lump in her breast. She was sure it wasn’t anything serious but went to see her doctor and had an ultrasound, followed by a mammogram and a biopsy. She learned a few days later that she had breast cancer and that it had spread to her lymph nodes. More follow-up tests and scans soon also revealed that the cancer had metastasized to her bones as well and was therefore incurable.
Helen, however, has continued searching for other treatment options. She did a massive overhaul of her diet and lifestyle and enrolled in a trial at St. Bart’s Hospital, where she received a combination of injections and oral chemotherapy that she was told was “the closest thing to a cure.” Unfortunately, the treatment which had initially been so promising stopped working within a year.
Next, Helen tried alternative therapies before getting back on chemotherapy. She’s almost entirely out of options, but nothing seems to be helping, and she isn’t responding well to her current treatment. Doctors also found cancerous cells in Helen’s liver, further threatening her diminishing hopes of survival. But she’s not about to give up.
Recently, Helen’s family found a center that does highly specialized treatments based on each individual patient’s DNA. Even though Helen’s cancer is now stage IV, there’s still a chance she could survive with this private treatment, which involves “highly-targeted” immunotherapy vaccines that are meant to stop the cancer in its tracks. But she’ll have to travel out of the country for treatment, which is not guaranteed to work, and it will cost the family well over £100,000, because it’s not covered under the NHS’s free health care plan.
Since learning this, the Munro family has set up a fundraising page on Crowdfunder explaining their dilemma and asking for donations to help them afford the expensive treatment before it’s too late to save Helen’s life. They have been able to cover their initial costs with the help of family and friends, but they need more to have a real shot at saving Helen’s life.
“I’m desperate to try and improve my quality of life, extend my life, or even find a cure. I want to be around to see my children grow up, to create memories for them, and to grow old with my amazing husband,” Helen writes on the donation page. “So if you can, please make a donation, for me and my family. It would mean the world to us.”
The family was hoping donations would come from acquaintances and strangers alike, but what they weren’t expecting was the massive outpouring of support and money that came as soon as her story was covered by a news site and reached social media. Just a week later, they’d raised over half of their goal. Now, about a month later, they’ve got more than £82,000 from more than 2,000 supporters.
Along with the donations, the family has also received countless calls and messages from strangers in far-flung places. “Now we are getting people from all over the world,” says Helen. “We got a call from one woman in South Africa.”
“We’ve had anecdotal evidence from other people who have been through similar treatment,” adds Finch. “Someone made a donation saying their wife was still alive and well. So with that vaccine, there have been quite remarkable turnarounds from people in Helen’s situation.”
For those who cannot donate, the Munro family appreciates a social media share to help spread the word and get them the donations they need to be able to prolong or even save Helen’s life.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?