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Monday, October 26, 1998 Published at 20:38 GMT


Sports presenter in fight for life

Helen Rollason has continued to work while receiving treatment

Helen Rollason, the former presenter of the BBC Sport's Grandstand, has told of the heartache she feels in her courageous fight against cancer.

The 42-year-old sports journalist movingly tells a BBC QED special programme, Hope for Helen, of the devastating impact she fears her death could have on her 14-year-old daughter.

In March this year she was told she had only six months to live after doctors diagnosed inoperable liver and colon cancer.

Helen, who has lost her hair twice during 27 sessions of chemotherapy, tries to remain optimistic about her chances.

"I don't fear death - I fear the carnage I'll leave behind in the sense of an emotionally-stunned child," she told the Radio Times.

"Nothing could prepare Nikki for something so awful. It seems desperately unfair to have a mum you've been incredibly close to - and suddenly you haven't got her.

"We discuss exactly what's happening. We're not morbid - just very matter-of-fact and realistic. Nikki says 'Don't talk like that - you're not going anywhere.'

"You shouldn't say it about your own daughter but I'm proud of her. It's sad she's had this responsibility but thankfully I've rarely been poorly at home."

Facing GCSEs together

Ms Rollason, who was the first female presenter of Grandstand and was back on television reading the sports roundup over the weekend, says of her daughter: "She talks only about the past and the present, not the future. She takes her GCSEs next year and I wish with all my heart I can see her through. I don't dare think beyond that."

"I'm terminally ill and probably won't make it, but I'm going to enjoy every second I have left. I love life and have no intention of leaving without a very good fight."

Helen says the illness has been almost unbearable, recalling a time when she curled up on her sofa and cried: "I thought 'Oh my God, I've had enough'. Images come into your mind of beyond your death and you wish they didn't. I imagine how life will be for Nikki, someone sorting through my clothes - the funeral. You have to give yourself a hell of a strict talking to and say 'It's not going to happen so stuff it.'"

Always lived for the day

"Certain music always does me in, like Perfect Day, because when I first heard it I thought I'd never have another perfect day. But since then I've had lots of blissful ones which I appreciate."

Ms Rollason says she has "always lived for the day" and so she knows what a difference it could have made if her GP had diagnosed the cancer earlier. When the cancer was diagnosed it was too late to operate on the tumours.

"I'm disappointed - that's an understatement - because it would have given me more of a chance," she said.

"My doctor saw me on telly, tanned and smiling, and couldn't understand I wasn't right.

"She explained later I didn't look like a cancer patient and I still don't. I had digestion problems, anaemia and fevers for a year."

Hair loss humiliation

Ms Rollason, who takes 45 tablets a day, says the side effects of chemotherapy have been difficult to deal with.

"Hair loss is the most visible sign you're ill. You lose your dignity as a woman and don't feel very feminine. It's humiliating but it's minor and you put it in perspective.

"Chemo' is tough and exhausting. I used to go at 100 miles per hour and now it's ten miles an hour with two flat tyres."

The former national netball player hopes that when her tumour levels stabilise she will have injections of new antibodies.

"If they work, it could be miraculous. I won't be cured, just kept steady.

"I can't say how soon I will be able to have them, but we're heading in the right direction. The tumour levels are down. I have a sneaking hope that if I just cling on there will be a cure round the corner.

"I've beaten several deadlines and that gives me a hell of a lot of satisfaction."

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