The shows will provide vital funds for Laura – who tells me she is “so completely honoured” – to continue receiving her treatment. She was just weeks into her first term at King’s College London in 2018 when her tumours were discovered. She had been hoping to join the Royal Navy at university – the physical included an eye test, during which a Boots optician detected swelling behind her eyes.
“Laura phoned me and said, ‘I don’t really know what it is but they’ve told me to go to Moorfields Hospital now,” says Nicola. “When I look back, there were other symptoms we hadn’t picked up on. She would make strange decisions that were out of character.”
Laura was referred to a neurologist, but by the following day something felt wrong. “She phoned me and said I feel really bad, I can’t get out of bed.”
Nicola and her younger daughter, Gracie, hotfooted it down to London. Hours later, they were told Laura had two brain tumours. The following day, an MRI scan revealed it was more like eight. “It was the most unimaginable thing. It just didn’t make any sense. She’d just been to Chicago. She’d done a marathon in May. How could she have a brain tumour?”
Nicola packed up Laura’s university bedroom – “we’d only unpacked six weeks earlier” – and brought her home. Surgery followed two weeks later. Nicola will never forget the moment a doctor told them that Laura’s cancer was an invasive form called glioblastoma. “That was the number one thing from my research that I didn’t want it to be.
“We were all crammed in this tiny room, and Laura said ‘so, can I go back to university this year or will it be next year now?’
“He looked horrified and said ‘Laura, you won’t ever be going back to university’.”
Given a prognosis of 12 months, she was told to go away and make memories. A year of gruelling chemotherapy and radiotherapy followed, and Laura began working through a bucket list which saw her flown to South Africa by British Airways to go on safari, and visit New York to see Saturday Night Live being filmed. “She met Michelle Obama,” says Nicola. “We went fishing with Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer. We went to a film première. She spent a day with the police.”
Meanwhile, Nicola was desperately researching cures. “To start with you just want to curl up in a ball and cry,” she says. When she realised the NHS’s limitations, she sprang into action and found the groundbreaking treatment in Germany that Laura has been receiving for the past year. “That’s what you do when a doctor has just told you your daughter has roughly a year to live.”
Laura, now 21 and going into her third year at Manchester University (she defied doctors, determined to keep studying), has travelled to Cologne every six weeks throughout the pandemic to receive immunotherapy and dendritic cell vaccines, which educate the body to attack cancer cells and cost nearly £30,000 every time.
“We’ve had massive challenges getting in and out of Germany,” says Nicola, who accompanies her daughter, unless they can’t get a flight, in which case Mark, 58, drives all the way from Manchester. “There have been many times when we’ve been with the police thinking ‘please just let us through’.”
The couple run a play centre which has been out of action through lockdown, and wouldn’t have had the funds to pay for Laura’s treatment. The cost of Covid tests alone are substantial. “When we went out in March we spent £1,600. And it cost £5,000 to send the tumour [for testing] because it has to stay frozen.”
Nicola has become an expert in glioblastoma. “You have to. There’s nothing you won’t do for your children. If it meant we had to sell the house and sleep in a tent, that’s what we’d do.”
They were devastated in March when a scan showed a tumour had grown back and would require a second surgery. But despite constantly being “one scan away from bad news”, the family – and Laura in particular – refuse to live in fear. “There could be something just around the corner. You’ve got to keep hoping.”
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