A mother-of-three is racing against time to raise money to fund life-saving treatment after her itchy hands are found to be a rare and deadly form of cancer.
Maria Barry, 58, who lives in Harrow, north-west London, with her children, Nico, 32, Luca, 30 and Nadia, 27, started suffering from itchy and cracking hands during the first Covid lockdown in March 2020.
At first Maria thought it was a reaction to a new cleaning product she was using, but in April 2022 she was diagnosed with bile duct cancer – which is rare with around 1,000 new cases a year in the world. UK according to the NHS – and, without treatment, he has just three to six months left to live.
The nursery manager said: ‘The gene therapy treatment I need is not available on the NHS and costs £16,500 a month privately so we are desperately trying to raise funds using a GoFundMe page .
“Anything we can get will help save my life. My children all live at home with me and I don’t have any grandchildren yet. I’m not ready to die, I’m fighting to live.
For Maria, her problems started when her hands began to itch relentlessly.
She said: ‘I had had gallstones a few years before and eventually had my gallbladder removed but other than that I had never had any health issues.
“During lockdown I developed a condition where my hands cracked and I had to wear gloves. I had originally thought it was a reaction to a new cleaner I had purchased to clean the stove.
“They were so itchy and I had pain in my elbows, joints, everywhere, and I was constantly on the phone with the doctor.”
Due to the lockdown, Maria was unable to get an in-person appointment so had to send her GP pictures of her red, sore palms.
Over the next year, she was prescribed various creams, gels and steroid UV treatments, but to no avail.
She said: “Nothing seemed to work and I was eventually referred to a dermatologist.”
She added: “It took a while to see them and even then they were suggesting new drugs to try.”
But Maria says her intuition was screaming at her, telling her it was more than just itchy skin.
She said: “I just knew something was wrong. I had been trying different solutions for months and nothing had worked. There had to be something seriously wrong, so I asked for a scanner.
On Christmas Eve 2021, Maria was asked to go to Northwick Park Hospital for her results and – fearing the worst – she took her adult children Nico, who is not working, Luca, a salesman, and Nadia, a football center manager, for support.
She said: “I was completely shocked by the news. Doctors suspected I had a rare cancer and would need a biopsy.
“I was devastated and it completely ruined our Christmas. The whole time I kept worrying about what was to come.
After the New Year, Maria underwent three biopsies, all of which were inconclusive.
But she said: “After the fourth biopsy, they confirmed they had found something malignant.
“It was so rare that the doctors said they needed to do more tests to find out what type of cancer it was.”
In April 2022, Maria was officially diagnosed with bile duct cancer. It starts in the bile duct and, in her case, after lying dormant for years, has now spread to her liver.
She said: “Doctors confirmed I had a 9cm mass known as intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma and I was offered chemotherapy which started in May.”
Unfortunately, Maria struggled to cope with the treatment.
She said: “I was so tired and sick that the doctors decided to put me on chemo, which I’m still on right now, because I was getting to the point where I thought the chemo was going to kill me.”
But, no longer on treatment, Maria’s prognosis was grim as doctors only gave her three to six months to live.
Desperate to find an alternative, her daughter Nadia began looking for other options.
Maria said: “Nadia found a gene therapy trial that had recently been carried out at University College London Hospital.
“We inquired about it but, unfortunately, it was too late to participate.”
Unlike chemotherapy, gene therapy only targets the cancer during treatment, which may mean there are fewer side effects for the patient, and Maria thinks she would stand to benefit.
She said: ‘The treatment is not available on the NHS but, at the moment, it is my only chance of surviving or prolonging my life.
“It costs around £16,500 a month, which we have raised funds for.”
After raising enough money for a month’s worth of treatment, Maria last week started the drug, which consists of two pills taken daily.
She said: “I was in constant pain and felt sick after having chemo.
“I have recently started taking medication and although it is still too early to tell, I hope it will improve my quality of life.
“Each month on this treatment costs £16,500. It’s such a big request.
She added: “I wish there were other options but this is the only chance I have of living so we are fundraising at the moment.
“We have managed to raise enough money for the drugs for July and we have almost reached our target for next month, but what are we going to do after that?”
“If we don’t have enough money, am I supposed to die?”
She added: “It’s so unfair and I find it hard to accept that, how much money stands between me and the treatment I need to live.
“I don’t want to leave my children, I’m not ready to leave.”
Nadia Barry, Maria’s daughter, is determined to fight for her mom.
She said: ‘Whenever I tell people my mum has bile duct cancer they always say they’ve never heard of it and that’s how we felt when we found out. for the first time.
“We want to raise awareness so that more people know about it and know the signs to look out for.
“My mother is young, her children are all still living at home and she is not ready to die yet.”
She added: ‘She dedicated her life to caring for children working in social services and later as a nursery manager, and helped anyone who needed help and never judged anyone. She is the hero of the neighborhood and is loved by everyone in the community. We cannot imagine our lives without it.
“I will do everything in my power to save her but as a working class family we cannot afford to foot the £16,500 bill every month. which will be around £170,000 for the year.
“We know times are tough and we appreciate any help we receive.
“I will fight for my mother.”
To donate to Maria’s cause, visit: www.gofundme.com/f/pv22et-help-save-our-mum
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