I didn’t tell my wife about her cancer death sentence – and she lived another 21 years

Rosie Gamp was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 1999 but survived after an innovative new treatment


The couple at home (Photo: Melvin Gamp)

When Melvin Gamp was told by a doctor that his wife, Rosie, had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, he nearly collapsed.

“I couldn't believe what I was hearing,” he said, remembering the 1999 phone call. “It was a death sentence.”

With Rosie already left bereft by the death of four of her sisters from the same disease, Melvin made the audacious decision to hide her prognosis from her.

The Jewish grandmother would not die for over two decades, however, after a drug-trial for a miraculous new therapy stopped her cancer in its tracks.

Speaking to the Mail, Melvin said he had only revealed the cancer diagnosis to his family at his wife’s funeral.

“She cheated death by 21 years, during which time she was able to celebrate,” he said.

“At the eulogy when I said she lived another 21 years, everyone naturally was extremely surprised. They didn't know she was supposed to have died 21 years earlier. I think I did the right thing. I don't know if my children think I did the right thing, but I saved everyone a lot of hassle.”

Rosie initially went to the hospital after she discovered a lump under her armpit while on holiday in Portugal.

When her doctor called the house to tell her that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, Melvin answered the phone.

“I was in the kitchen when the phone rang. It was the surgeon with the devastating news that, although the op was successful, nine out of the 12 sample lymph nodes [glands close to the breast that can become riddled with cancer] were affected,” he said.

Though the doctor ought not to have shared Rosie’s medical details without her consent, he told Melvin that his wife would have to begin palliative care.

Melvin told the Mail: “There was nothing else he could do. My head was spinning, but somehow or other, I tried to act as normally as possible. She had so much suffering around her with her sisters and I think it was the right decision.”

Melvin whispered, “thank you”, to the doctor, before hanging up and telling Rosie that her results had not yet come back.

“Because of what happened with her sisters she was so relieved,” Melvin said.

“They had their breasts removed and all these horrible things and Rosie thought they were going to operate on her breasts. She was so happy they didn’t remove her breasts, but she didn’t want to know much else.

“As far as she knew it just never came back, she was taking these tablets, and everything was fine. But she didn’t know that everything at one stage wasn’t fine at all.”

While Rosie did undergo radiotherapy for her cancer, she refused an offer of chemotherapy because she did not want to lose her hair before her grandson’s bar mitzvah.

The new treatment that may have saved her life was on offer at a hospital just 30 minutes’ drive from their Edgeware home.

A clinical trial at Middlesex Hospital offered Anastrozole, branded as Arimidex, to women diagnosed with early breast cancer. It works by lowering the level of oestrogen, which feeds some tumours.

The trial was led by Dr Jeffrey Tobias, a leading Jewish oncologist, who was, according to Melvin, “respected like a god by his colleagues”.

“Arimidex started a whole chain of futuristic drugs that have saved millions of lives, including our Rosie’s,” he said.

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