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Newry woman with incurable cancer turns to alternative therapies for best quality of life

'What I have just can't be cured, it's fatal. I'm just trying whatever I can now to give myself the best quality of life for as long as I possibly can without starting to take morphine and be bound to my bed'

Niki (left) with best friend and constant support, Mary (right)

A Newry woman with a rare, life-limiting complication of cancer has turned to alternative therapies and medicinal cannabis to provide herself with the best quality of life – for as long as she can.

Niki Matthews (48), first began her battle with cancer in March 2022 when a routine self-check revealed a lump on her breast.

Speaking to Armagh I, Niki explained: “It started with breast cancer and it just all spiralled from there. I found a lump on my breast but the treatment started quickly, within ten days, and they gave me results from my biopsy on the same day. Within a few weeks the chemo started.”

Since receiving her initial diagnosis, of stage three breast and lymphnode cancer, Niki has undergone six gruelling rounds of chemotherapy, a lumpectomy and 15 sessions of radiotherapy.

Sadly, rather than getting the all clear she had anticipated, Niki was then further informed that she had developed secondary tumours in her brain.

And, just like her initial breast cancer treatment, Niki’s brain cancer treatment proved successful.

However, in a cruel twist of fate she was dealt yet another heartbreaking blow when the news came, in August 2023 following a routine scan, that she had developed Leptomeningeal Disease (LMD) – a rare complication of cancer in which the disease spreads from the original tumour site to the meninges surrounding the brain and spinal cord.

Said Niki: “I was having pains in my chest and episodes of lightheadedness and they did CT of brain and they weren’t expecting – just as much as I wasn’t expecting – to find what they found.

“They asked me how long I had had the cancer in my brain and I said, “I don’t have a brain for a start, you must be looking at someone else’s papers! I had breast cancer but I beat it” but he said, “I’m really sorry you do have a tumour on your brain and it has come from your breast.”

“It’s a very rare complication of cancer. Only around 5% of people survive six months of treatment with it.

“If I hadn’t taken the immediate radiotherapy I would have been dead within the month. My consultant, who has been very kind to me, said if you don’t take this radiotherapy you will be dead within two to four weeks. You cannot fix this, you cannot cure this. We can only help it.”

From left to right: Georgina Hutchinson, GoFundMe page organiser and carer, Niki Matthews and friend and carer Nikki Hutchinson

The prognosis for someone living with LMD is estimated in months, typically between four to six. For Niki, she thinks on the higher end of that scale and takes each day as it comes.

Having watched her own mother pass away with cancer in 2023, Niki became determined to make the most of her time, to stay as mobile as possible and turned to alternative therapies, saying “what have I got to lose?”

“It’s very overwhelming. I just journal every day. I write stuff down like what I’m doing with my day and how I’m feeling. I feel like the next time I close my eyes is this going to be the last time because it could very well be,” added Niki.

“There’s a company called Curaleaf Laboratories and they prescribe medical cannabis. I don’t smoke it or anything like that but you get it in different forms like oils and pastilles.

“They have accepted me onto their programme and I only paid £50 for the consultation but the wee bottles of oil start off at £100 each for the lower strength and the higher the strength goes the dearer they will be. It could cost up to £700 maybe a month for six weeks of two bottles of oil.

“I have told my consultant that I don’t want to take anymore chemo. It’s left me so sick. I had chemo two weeks ago and I’ve been in bed sick since. Chemo at this point is not going to cure me. It’s only going to stop the cancer from spreading to other parts of my body.

“What I have just can’t be cured, it’s fatal. I’m just trying whatever I can now to give myself the best quality of life for as long as I possibly can without starting to take morphine and be bound to my bed.”

Alongside her prescribed cannabis oils, Niki takes a host of natural supplements including Sea Moss, Turkey’s Tail Mushroom, Lion’s Mane Mushroom, Vitamin C and additional CBD oils.

Said Niki: “I’m also on a 90-day vegetable diet. It’s just my oil, vegetables and supplements for 90 days. Apparently it’s a natural cure for cancer and what have I got to lose?”

During a six week period where Niki was unable to get oils she noticed her heath deteriorate considerably. She’s now convinced that her best chance at prolonging her life and independence lays within these little glass bottles.

She said: “They are only giving me three to six months and I will keep taking whatever they are giving me and the pain meds. But if I’m sore I would sooner reach for a wee capsule of my oil rather than an actual tablet. I think because my mum died so dependent on prescription drugs I keep saying ‘it’s not for me’.

“The doctors say to me that a person at my stage in life should be in absolute agony but I’m not in agony because I’m taking oil. It’s keeping me functioning. I’m like to two totally different people when I’m on it and not on it.

When out of hospital Niki has a full time care plan at home. Carers visit four times a day and she receives help from close friends, including best friend Mary, and a nurse who visits twice a week. She also receives palliative care twice a week, physio and occupational therapy twice a week with Marie Curie booked for night sits.

Niki genuinely believes continued use of alternative therapies is saving her life. She enjoys “pottering about the house” getting odd jobs done, having the energy to go for a spin in the car and over the last week has been well enough to meet her fourth grandchild. Things that many of us are guilty of taking for granted.

A close friend, Georgina and her mother, also called Nikki have been considerate carers for Niki over the last two years. The pair, eager to help, have since started a GoFundMe page to help ensure their dear friend is able to purchase oils and additional therapies for the foreseeable future.

At the time of writing the page has accrued £2,060 of a £3,000 total which should be enough to keep Niki in treatment for the next three to four months.

If you wish to contribute to Niki’s GoFundMe page and help her continue with alternative therapies you can do so here.

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