When Kenneth Warden was diagnosed with terminal bladder cancer, his hospital consultant sent him home to die, ruling that at 78 he was too old to treat.
Even the palliative surgery or chemotherapy that could have eased his distressing symptoms were declared off-limits because of his age.
His distraught daughter Michele Halligan accepted the sad prognosis but was determined her father would spend his last months in comfort. So she paid for him to seen privately by a second doctor to discover what could be done to ease his symptoms.
Michele’s fight began in September 2008, when her father noticed blood in his urine. His GP sent him to a consultant urologist at a hospital in the north-west of England and a large tumour was found in his bladder.
An MRI scan showed that the tumour was advanced and went through his bladder wall and muscle.
A minor operation enabled Kenneth to pass urine, but left him needing to do so every 20 minutes, day and night.
‘He was exhausted by lack of sleep,’ says Michele. ‘It was making him more ill than the tumour was. The pain was like having permanent cystitis.
‘But when I asked for Dad to be given help for this, the consultant said there was no treatment available.’
Michele, who lives in Chester and is married with two children, was not satisfied. As a former midwife, she was more confident than most about attempting her own medical research on the internet.
She read on one site that radiotherapy could shrink the tumour and give her father relief from his terrible symptoms. Further surgery on the bladder might help even more.
‘I was not looking for a cure, just a way to give my father some quality of life for the time he had remaining,’ she says.
‘We went back to the urologist and asked about radiotherapy. I also wanted to know why my father could not have an operation to relieve his urinary symptoms.
‘The doctor said that as my father was 78, these treatments would not be appropriate because he was “too old”.
‘But my father was very fit and muscular. He regularly went running and worked out at the gym. He was also a lifelong rower who held competition records. But all the consultant would say was: “You have to accept that your father is dying.”
This is what the British National Health service does to people every day. Don Berwick, who President Obama put in charge of some of Medicare program, made speeches about how wonderful the British system is.
In desperation, the family found nearly £3,000 to pay for private tests and a second opinion from a consultant in Birmingham.
‘The private consultant agreed with me that Dad should be given chemotherapy to shrink the tumour prior to a radical cystectomy.’
After being told there was nothing anyone can do Kenneth Warden was sent to The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham and is now cancer free
This operation involves removing the bladder, surrounding lymph nodes and the prostate gland. Though neither Michele nor her father had private medical insurance, the new consultant arranged for Kenneth to have the operation on the NHS at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham.
‘The treatment there was superb,’ says Michele. ‘Dad went for chemotherapy every week for nine weeks, followed by one month off. Then he went back in March 2009 and had the radical cystectomy.
‘The operation went well. We felt it would relieve so much of Dad’s anguish during the time he had left.’But as it turned out, the chemotherapy and surgery did not just relieve his symptoms: they also banished his cancer. Now, four years after the operation, a total body scan shows Kenneth to be completely free of the disease.
Michele says: ‘He is back rowing and working out at the gym. He has enjoyed seven holidays abroad and bought himself a sports car.’