Presenter with brain tumour prepares loving legacy for young daughter

Helen Legh
Helen Legh

Even though BBC 3CR presenter Helen Legh has terminal brain cancer, she considers herself lucky.

“I don’t have any pain,” she explained, curled up on a leather settee in her comfortable home.

“We’re all going to die and even if I might not be around as long as I’d hoped, I’m lucky being able to prepare for my own death.”

She’s facing the future with remarkable equanimity and said: “I’m not angry, it’s just something that’s happened. I don’t think ‘Why me?’”

But when she talks about her five-year-old daughter Matilda, that mellifluous voice that listeners have come to know and love on the Sunday Breakfast Show breaks and quivers. “The only down side is leaving her, my husband Paul and Mum and Dad,” she said, eyes welling.

Matilda is the much-wanted child she and Paul had five years ago after three gruelling rounds of IVF. She was born 15 weeks premature and the couple were warned she might not survive.

But the tiny tot lived up to her name – it means warrior – and has just started primary school.

Helen, who grew up in Bedfordshire, said: “After all she’s been through, it’s hard. She means everything to me. She knows I’ve got cancer and she doesn’t shy away from the word. We’ve explained that ‘Mummy has a big germ in her head’ and she knows I get tired. But she doesn’t know I’m going to die.”

Helen’s voice wobbles again: “I want to minimise the impact of this on her. I don’t want her to forget me, but I don’t want her to be so sad that she doesn’t get over it.

“I’m putting together a collection of postcards of my favourite places for special occasions.

“I’ve always loved fashion and there are three suitcases of my clothes in the loft.

“She’s also had an email address since she was born and I write her little notes on that now and again.”

Helen was diagnosed with Glioblastoma multiforme 4 last year and was given just 14 months to live. She had a seven hour operation to remove the tumour, followed by radiation and chemotherapy.

She first realised something was wrong when she started having mini seizures in her hands. She went to the GP who told her she was suffering from cramps.

“But it was happening up to 13 times a day and it was really frightening me,” she said. “There was a lot of anxiety. I thought I might have Parkinson’s or MND.”

Then she had what she thought was a stroke: “I was in my car and it was absolutely horrifying. I had to surrender my driving licence.”

A neurologist subsequently confirmed she had a brain tumour. She had just turned 40 – and more people under 40 die from a brain tumour than any other form of cancer.

“At the moment I’m stable,” she said. “I’m taking part in a clinical trial with re-purpose drugs which are usually used for other illnesses. But they appear to kill cancer cells when used in combination with each other.”

She believes finding some form of faith might sustain her on the journey ahead and has enrolled on an Alpha course. But it’s soon obvious that the real reason behind this quest has more to do with reassuring Matilda. “When I die I want to say to her that I’m going to heaven,” she confessed.

Helen is keen to raise awareness of the charity Brain Tumour Research, which is dedicated to finding a cure.

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