Brave Wigan woman on a mission to help others after devastating incurable cancer diagnosis
Polly Withington-Bamber knows she hasn’t got long left to live but in the time she has left she is determined to make a difference.
She was given the devastating news that she has incurable brain cancer earlier this year.
While she is undergoing treatment to prolong her life, patients like Polly with glioblastoma multiforme grade four typically have 12 to 18 months to live and it is already more than a year since Polly became poorly.
But the 40-year-old is determined to make the most of life - she tied the knot to her partner Janine, is ticking off items on her “bucket list” and is now looking to raise money to help other people with the condition.
Polly, who lives in Appley Bridge, first became unwell in August last year.
She said: “I was having stroke-like symptoms as well as a headache. I am a support worker and was at work at the time. The left side of my body went numb.
“I rang my boss and said I needed to go to hospital, so I went to Leigh and they thought I had had a stroke and they sent me to Wigan and it went from there.”
Tests found a shadow on her brain and swelling, but doctors did not know the cause, leading to Polly spending two months as an inpatient at Wigan Infirmary.
She describes it as “very, very frustrating”, with her partner having to take time off work to see her and continue running their home.
But it was only when she asked to be referred to Salford Royal Hospital that she finally received a diagnosis in March.
A biopsy revealed she had glioblastoma multiforme, a rare form of brain cancer, which was incurable.
Describing her diagnosis, she said: “Everything goes like a blur. It’s like you are under water. You know somebody is talking to you, but you can’t really hear what they are saying.
“You have to push it to the back of your mind. You have to be strong for your kids.”
Since becoming unwell, Polly has had two operations to remove tumours, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and other treatments.
But the tumours continue to grow and she now has four. She resumed chemotherapy a few days ago in a bid to fight the disease.
Before the chemotherapy restarted, Polly said: “I’m not looking forward to that because I know how ill it makes you, but you have to stay positive, keep fighting and fighting."
“It’s that big C word - everyone is afraid of it but I think you have to stay positive. It’s that positive drive that keeps you going.”
Cancer has had a big impact on Polly, affecting her mobility, causing facial seizures and leaving her feeling agitated about test results.
She has not been able to work since becoming ill last year - though praises her colleagues and employer for their support.
Polly and Janine got married in the lodge at Mesnes Park in August, with their children Andrew, 20, and Abi, 14, at their side. It took just a month and a half for them to plan their perfect day, including making their own invitations and Janine putting together the bouquets.
“Me and Janine have known each other from being five and were inseparable then and we are inseparable now,” Polly said.
They had actually been hoping to tie the knot for some time and this time they were determined to make it happen.
Polly said: “We wanted to do it before, but after this it was one of the things off the bucket list. That the other reason why we did it.”
She has ticked other items off her list already.
She said: “I want to swim with dolphins and get married, which I have done. Also singing in a karaoke competition, which I did last Friday, but I didn’t win. I used to be able to sing but because of the treatment, the radiotherapy has affected my throat.”
Polly now wants to raise money for charity to help other people affected by brain tumours.
She is organising a fund-raising event which will include singers, music and raffles, though a venue and date have not yet been secured.
Proceeds will go to Salford Neuro-Oncology Fund, an appeal chosen specifically by Polly for the treatment she has received.
As well as collecting money, she wants to raise awareness of brain tumours, as she believes this type of cancer is not as well known as other forms of the disease.
She said: “People need to know about brain cancer and brain tumours. Some people could be living with them and don’t even know. It’s not something we need to forget about because we can’t.”
It is not the only way that Polly has been inspired by her illness to help others.
She said: “I have said at least it’s me and not a child or a baby. But I have put myself on the donor list and said they can have anything, apart from my eyes. Even my valves can help babies in hospital. They are short of people donating when they pass.”
Venues able to host Polly’s fund-raising event, or anyone wishing to get involved, can contact her by emailing [email protected]