Adam Shaw spoke to man whose parish has lost six people to brain cancer, including his own daughter
A London Irish man is seeking to raise awareness of the deadly disease which killed his 42-year old daughter and five other members of his Palmer’s Green Parish.
Sue Blasotta was diagnosed with lesions on the brain in November 2010 and passed away just six weeks later, leaving behind two young children. Following her death, her father, David Taylor, launched the charity In Sue’s Name.
“It kills more people under 40 than any other cancer and about 16,000 people [in the UK] get it each year,” he said. In his Palmer’s Green parish, St Monica’s, brain cancer has claimed three young adults and three seniors.
“It’s desperately underfunded because it’s a hidden cancer and not a lot of people talk about it. Just one per cent of the national spend on cancer research has been allocated to it.
“Breast cancer and prostate cancer are considered ‘sexy’ cancers and the money there is working, it’s fantastic. But we need to start thinking about all cancers in the same way.”
David, 75, has three aims for the charity and ultimately wants to raise £1 million for the cause. As well as generating awareness and collecting funds for the Blizard Institute in Whitechapel, he wants to bring together those who have lost loved ones to brain cancer and turn their grief into something positive.
This final goal was partly inspired by a number of brain-related illnesses which claimed the lives of several members of his local parish in Palmer’s Green.
“There were three young people from St Monica’s, all with Irish roots, who were being treated for brain tumours – Sue, Jackie McGovern and Anthony Bourke,” he said. “Three older parishioners – Patrick Ruane, Vittorio Collette and Lina Ferraro – also had similar conditions and we want to commemorate all these people.”
Their lives have been honoured with tiles of remembrance on Queen Mary University London’s ‘Wall of Hope’ and David explained how Sue lives on through her children, Sasha and Daniel, and other family members. He believes the charity will not only be a way of reversing the trend when it comes to talking about brain cancer but will also provide a fitting tribute to his daughter.
“I want people to know how wonderful she was and how much people thought of her,” he said. “Sue only cared for others, she’d always be there if there was someone in need and she never thought of herself.
“There’s no easy way to cope and I miss her dreadfully but I want her to have this legacy.”
Sue told David on 26 November 2010 – a “date [he] will never forget” – that doctors had found lesions on her brain. Two weeks later, she was diagnosed with grade 4 glioblastoma multiforme (GBM4) – the most aggressive and incurable type of brain tumour. She was told she had just six months to a year to live. David explained how she faced the news with such courage and how she did her best to ensure that her family would be able to carry on once she died.
“Her most worrying thought was about how her family would cope,” he said. “She sat us down and said ‘I’ve got the easy job, I’m going to die. You have the harder job of carrying on without me’.”
Chemotherapy Sue was admitted to Royal Free Hospital but delays meant she was unable to fully undergo a chemotherapy programme. After a fall, she slipped into a coma and passed away just six weeks after the original prognosis. Her funeral was attended by more than 800 people and the family received more than 400 cards and letters of condolence.
“There was a lot of emotion in my heart and in my mind. It was beautiful to see how many lives she had touched and how many people wanted to pay their respects,” David said. “When someone you love so much has sat down, held your hand and told you they are going to die, it’s heartbreaking.” One way in which he tried to cope was through his faith and he said his trust in God has helped him through times of pain and suffering.
“Father asked me whether I was angry with God after Sue died. But how could I be angry?” he said. “I got to spend 42 wonderful years with my daughter, I got to hold her in my arms and see her on her wedding day.
“There are lots of people who don’t get that. God blesses us all in different ways; it’s how you live your life that’s important, which is something Sue understood.”
David, who has roots in Co. Carlow and Co. Kilkenny and whose wife hails from Co. Galway, is now appealing to the Irish community to help raise awareness. He noted how Sue had always loved visiting Galway and how her links with first and second generation Irish at St Monica’s had always been strong.
“I want to get the Irish community behind me; I’ve got green blood and it’s where our family’s heart is,” he said. “It’s such a caring community and you know that people will do all they can to get the word out in the hope of changing things.”
• For more information on the charity, visit www.insuesname.org