Helen Fitzsimmons
Helen Fitzsimmons gave her father her breast milk in a bid to help treat his cancer.Helen Fitzsimmons

It began six-and-a-half years ago at a family get together. My parents broke the devastating news that dad had been diagnosed with myeloma – a type of cancer none of us had heard of – and that it was terminal.

My mum explained that although it was impossible to cure, treatment was often very successful and could slow the growth of the disease. He had to have a pin put in his arm to strengthen an area where the cancer cells had started to damage and weaken his bone. The surgery went smoothly and was a success; my dad was very strong and recovered quickly.

Life went back to normal, or as normal as possible with a terminal diagnosis hanging over your head. Struggling with coming to terms with this was probably the hardest part for my dad, for a long time he was quiet and subdued. But after 18 months or so passed, Dad slowly started to realise that he was living with cancer not dying from it, and we saw the father that we love emerge once again.

The cancer was caught early so the consultant said the best approach was 'watchful waiting'. This meant no drugs - just monitoring his protein levels so that as they started to increase, they could decide when best to start treatment (protein increases as myeloma becomes more advanced).

After around two years, when his protein levels reached the late 30's, his consultant decided it was time to start treatment. The first medication chosen was Cyclophosphamide, a chemotherapy drug, which my Dad coped with very well, not suffering any major side effects.

Helen Fitzsimmons
Fitzsimmons said she strongly believes breast milk has helped with lowering her father's protein levels.Helen Fitzsimmons

This drug slowly brought the protein levels down again to single figures and as they slowed and showed evidence of a plateau, it was stopped.

From then on, his protein levels were monitored and when they rose another drug would be chosen.

This cycle continued with each drug lowering his levels effectively for anywhere between eight and 18 months. Towards the end of 2013 he had been taking the last drug available for myeloma.

That October, my dad was also diagnosed with prostate cancer and his treatment for myeloma had to be stopped so his immune system could recover to prevent complications. He started treatment for this immediately.

It was a huge blow and very scary - as if one cancer isn't enough to deal with, he now has two - but we all tried to be calm and as relaxed as possible about this new and distressing news.

Over the next week, while I was thinking about my Dads' situation and researching treatment, I remembered that several years earlier I had watched a documentary about people drinking breast milk to treat cancer.

I couldn't believe that it had taken me so long to recall something that I had found so interesting. I was also devastated that I hadn't remembered it earlier as I had given birth to my first child in June 2009 and had breast fed her for three years, while Dad was receiving treatment for his myeloma - I could have been giving my Dad breast milk!

Fortunately, I had my second child in November 2012, so as he was at this point only a year old I still had breast milk and that's where it all started.

It has been and will continue to be a privilege to be able to offer my Dad some hope and will continue to express for as long as possible. It feels very natural to me and not at all odd, why would it, he is my father and I want to help in any way possible.

I researched as much as I could before suggesting it to my parents, as I wanted to make sure it was safe, as well as there being plenty of evidence already supporting the idea that it had helped numerous people. I found plenty, certainly enough for me to make it very worthwhile.

After presenting my evidence and making suggesting using breast milk to my parents, they agreed it was a fantastic idea. It seemed to offer my Dad some much needed hope - something that we all needed. I was over the moon. There was finally something I could do. At first I was living four hours' drive from my parents and now just two but this meant fresh milk daily was not an option so I froze it and took it to them once a month.

I started expressing daily, managing to get about 2fl. oz. I did exactly what I would do for a baby to ensure there was no chance of contamination, sterilised all equipment and used pre-sterilised bags to freeze it. On Christmas Eve 2013 I visited my parents and took 2 months' worth of expressed frozen milk down with me.

Although the battle with Prostate cancer seemed to be a tough one, the myeloma surprised us all. When he re-started the myeloma treatment that had previously stopped working effectively, something amazing started to happen. In January 2014, my Dad started drinking 2fl. oz of breast milk a day, his protein levels stopped increasing.

My sister-in-law kindly donated some breast milk too so my Dad was able to increase what he was drinking to 3fl. oz a day, and in the same month his protein levels started to drop. Some months they dropped by 0.5 and sometimes by 1.0 or a little more, but they were falling. Now they are at an all-time low. We all believe the milk has played a huge part in this drop.

breastfeeding
Breast milk is known to boost a baby's immune system and scientists are currently looking at a substance in it that could kill cancer cells.Reuters

When my Dad was asked of his feelings towards drinking my milk he said he did not think it was strange at all, and knowing that there were no side effects was a bonus. He is very grateful to have his daughter and daughter-in-law's milk and hopes that by sharing these findings it may benefit others. The haematology doctors were quite dismissive of alternative therapies saying there was no proof, but said it would do no harm.

He has now dropped to having only half an ounce of breast milk per day and his protein levels have increased slightly, but a kind friend of mine who is expecting her third baby very soon has kindly offered to supply breast milk to my Dad, so perhaps very soon he will be drinking 2fl. oz again.

It has been and will continue to be a privilege to be able to offer my Dad some hope and I will continue to express for as long as possible. It feels very natural to me and not at all odd. Why would it? He is my father and I want to help in any way possible.

I too hope that one day doctors embrace alternative therapies and treat them with the legitimacy that they are beginning to earn. I truly hope that we find a cure for cancer and the ongoing trials in to breast milk prove that we have the answers closer than we think.

Helen Fitzsimmons is a married 39-year-old mother of two from Cheltenham.