BY TOBY PORTER
Andrea Robson didn’t make much of a living as a dancer – the wages were terrible, even though she was in videos for songs by Scouting for Girls and Giggs.
Those songs were hits – but the 38-year-old had to find another career when the jobs dried up.
She worked her way up from a receptionist to being a PA for the Tom Roberts, the chief executive in advertising agency, Tribal Worldwide – who created John Lewis’ Christmas advert.
Then a year ago, Andrea, who suffers from a painful bowel condition, colitis, suffered a devastating setback – she was diagnosed with cancer.
The resident of Sellincourt Road, Tooting, has to go 16 miles across London for specialist treatment at the hospital which has treated her colitis for several years – Northwick Park, in Harrow.
Every trip was costing her £41 by taxi in rush hour – so £82 in total – for her chemotherapy sessions. But she was given a cash lifeline when cancer charity Macmillan offered her a grant to pay for the travel. She is now urging readers to donate to the charity to enable other cancer patients to pay for essentials like travel and accommodation – if they live too far from specialist treatment – so they can also be saved from
the poverty trap sometimes sparked by treatment.
“I was getting very worried about money,” she said. “Just paying the bills in London, the cost is crazy.
“My uncle gave me money. Work have carried on paying me. But you just never know what might happen. And how would I afford the rent with no income?
“I could not walk very well, so I needed a taxi. I have taken public transport – and I have a badge that says Cancer on Board and Please offer me your seat.
“One time I had to take a black cab one way – it cost £85. He felt sorry for me and took £15 off.
“There was talk of moving my treatment down to St George’s Hospital in Tooting but I had been having treatment in Harrow for years – and the Northwick Park unit is at the cutting edge of new surgeries.
“I had to buy maternity jeans because none of my old ones fit – I lost more than three stone and went down to six stone after the chemo. I could hardly eat because everything tasted like cardboard.
“I don’t think I will earn a living as a dancer again.
“Work have been very supportive, especially my boss Tom Roberts. He let me and my boyfriend Allan stay in his villa in Spain. It was exactly the break I needed.
“I didn’t think I would be eligible for expenses money from any charity – I am not on benefit.
“But I applied and it took only two weeks to come through. It was also a huge relief – a respite from the worry.
“I know there are a lot of people in London who are worse off – some can’t pay for their heating or clothes. But I am very grateful.”
She was diagnosed on November 30 last year. “I had been poorly for 12 months with flare-ups,” she said.
“Colitis and bowel cancer have very similar symptoms. Me and my gastro consultant just thought I was having a bad year of ups and downs.
“Usually, they put you on a drip and you are sorted and sent home. But none of the different drugs worked. I look dreadful in photos. I did not realise how ill I was.
“Then I had two colonoscopies and a week later, the doctor came in and shut the door. I thought ‘What have I done?’ I was told it was cancer.
“That was the only word I heard. I was with a Macmillan nurse for half an hour but don’t remember what she said.”
Andrea had a string of tests around Christmas and seven hours of surgery to remove her large colon in January and was in hospital for two weeks. She now has a bag, called a STOMA, instead of a bowel. “It’s my little alien,” she said.
Her mother came down from Leeds to look after her – there was no room for her father. Then she had eight months of oral chemotherapy, finishing in September. A mass was discovered two weeks ago, but it was found to be benign. But she will need more surgery.
“I am more nervous about that than the previous operation,” she said. “My family come to see me regularly and my boyfriend has taken a lot of time off to come to appointments.
“I was bombarded with messages and cards – my tiny flat looked like a florists. It is hard to see their upset. But I have a good group of friends who have been brilliant – Allan calls them my Cancer Cronies.”
She will begin a phased return to work soon. “It will be a shock to the system,” she said. “The thought of going on the Tube petrifies me. I still have to sit down regularly, like a grandma. Having my travel paid for takes the pressure off.
“I have been living on an overdraft, even before the diagnosis. My savings have all gone.
“You don’t realise, until you are in my situation, how much things cost – and how long you will not be off work.
“I am being positive and looking on the bright side. By speaking out about this, I hope it helps someone like me. Just to help one person would be nice.”