Grandmother lived with ‘terminal cancer’ for 21 years after husband kept diagnosis secret

Rosie Gamp had been diagnosed with breast cancer in November 1999 after finding a lump under her right armpit
Rosie Gamp had been diagnosed with breast cancer in November 1999 after finding a lump under her right armpit - PRAETORIAN/E+

A grandmother lived with terminal breast cancer for 21 years after her husband kept the prognosis secret from her.

Rosie Gamp, from Edgware in north London, died aged 90 in April 2021 – more than two decades after her doctor had told Melvin Gamp, her husband, that the disease would kill her.

Mr Gamp, now 95, did not pass the news onto her and instead researched experimental treatment using a now-proven drug that ended up saving her life.

“I think I did the right thing,” he told MailOnline. “I don’t know if my children think I did the right thing, but I saved everyone a lot of hassle.”

“She had so much suffering around her with her sisters and I think it was the right decision.”

Cancer spread to lymph nodes

Mrs Gamp, a shorthand typist, had been diagnosed with breast cancer in November 1999 after finding a lump under her right armpit.

She had successful surgery on the lump but doctors found the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes and rang the landline to recommend she start palliative care.

“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” Mr Gamp said as he recalled picking up the phone. “It was a death sentence. I nearly collapsed.”

When his wife asked who had called, he admitted it was the surgeon but said they did not yet have the results.

“My head was spinning, but somehow or other, I tried to act as normally as possible,” Mr Gamp said.

Turned down chemo

Mrs Gamp, whose four sisters all died from cancer, eventually underwent surgery to remove the affected lymph nodes and was then offered radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

But unaware that her cancer was terminal, she turned down chemo because she did not want to lose her hair before her grandson’s bar mitzvah.

A worried Mr Gamp then started to research experimental drug trials and found one at Middlesex Hospital offering anastrozole, a hormone therapy drug which has since been proven to reduce the risk of breast cancer developing and returning.

The drug, now branded as Arimidex, is now available on the NHS and was taken by Mrs Gamp for the rest of her life.

Lived to age 91

Mr Gamp said: “The only problem was that yes, it worked, but for how long? A week, month, year? Was it a cure or only for a short-term delay?

“Every day after commencement of the new tablets was a hurdle.”

Mrs Gamp would go on to reach 91 and the couple’s 50th, 60th and finally 67th wedding anniversaries before dying of kidney failure three years ago.

Yet the entire family was unaware of how remarkable those milestones were until Mr Gamp confessed to it all during her eulogy.

“At the eulogy when I said she lived another 21 years, everyone naturally was extremely surprised,” Mr Gamp recalled. “They didn’t know she was supposed to have died 21 years earlier.”

‘Unbelievable love he had’

Oli Gamp, their grandson, added: “Many of us didn’t know how to react or feel.

“I think what he did – while incredibly risky – spoke to the unbelievable love he had for my grandma because he would have done anything to protect her and keep her safe. This was his way of doing that and it paid off.”

Mr Gamp, who met his future wife in 1951 when he was 22 and she was 21, married in 1953 and enjoyed 67 years as husband and wife.

“She cheated death by 21 years, during which time she was able to celebrate,” he said.