When Belfast artist Patricia Locker joined fellow artists from around the world for a week of painting in Turkey last summer it should have been one of the best experiences of her life.
Instead, Patricia spent much of her time in the idyllic surroundings feeling ill.
Weeks later the mum-of-one was admitted to hospital where she was given the devastating news that she was suffering from terminal cancer.
Medics told Patricia she had only 17 months to live — but instead of accepting their prognosis she began to search for a treatment.
Her quest was successful — and she is now raising funds so she can travel to England for potentially life-saving treatment which will allow her to see her 13-year-old son Jacob grow up.
Patricia recalled: “I was in an intercultural art bridge in Karabuk University in Turkey last year where various artists from all over met up.
“We were painting all week, standing outside with easels under the blue skies looking at beautiful, stunning scenery.
“But while I was there I began to feel unwell and very tired and on returning home, after a couple of visits to the GP, I was sent to hospital for a scan and I was kept in for seven weeks.”
It was during those seven weeks that Patricia was told she had thoracic cancer.
Incredibly, the shocking news was delivered on her birthday.
“I wasn’t prepared for the news at all,” she said.
“One of the reasons I was being kept in so long was because I had a blood clot and obviously that was dangerous because it could travel and kill me.
“After the diagnosis they just sent me home and said they would organise palliative care which made me realise there wasn’t a cure.
“I had radiotherapy and that was quite successful and shrank the tumour, but that can only be done once because it damages healthy cells.”
Patricia was also offered chemotherapy but was told it wouldn’t get rid of the cancer.
“I would have had it if there was a chance of it curing me, but there wasn’t,” she said.
“I thought I was better to have quality of life than to have the chemo as it wasn’t going to do what it was supposed to.”
Once Patricia was discharged from hospital she began scouring the internet for potential treatments. She said:
“Eventually I came across a website of a young boy who had been given six months to live and five and half years later he is still alive and is out riding his bike and playing football.
“Before, he was completely lethargic and very sick. He had a treatment called Sono-photo Dynamic Therapy but because he was a child he had to go to Mexico for it.
“The treatment eats an algae which stays in the cancer cells and it is treated with light therapy which destroys cancer cells. I found out I could have it for half the price in the UK but nonetheless still very expensive.”
The treatment, which is not available on the NHS, is delivered at the Dove Clinic in Hampshire, England and Patricia needs £12,000 to pay for her treatment and cover expenses.
Time is crucial — because the cancer has spread, doctors at the Dove Clinic have told her that she needs to be treated immediately.
Fundraising began in May when Patricia took part in the Belfast City Marathon’s Nine Mile Walk. But her biggest fundraising event so far is an evening of live music, comedy, poetry and food which has been planned for next month.
The Benefit Gig on the Belfast Barge at Lanyon Place takes place on Wednesday, August 8 and tickets include food from the upstairs Galley Restaurant and Bar and a complimentary drink downstairs in the performance area.
Performing on the night will be the Hard Chargers, The Half Stoned Cowboys, DJ Ghost, comedian Shane
Horan and local poets Seamus Fox, Colin Hassard and Peter Francis Fahy.
Patricia said: “I wanted to organise quite a cultured sort of evening and I’m also hoping to have some fire spinners outside.
“I think the gig is so good and is well worth the money just to have that quality of entertainment plus food and drink in a beautiful location.”
She also explained why she’s refusing to give up and accept the prognosis.
“I read a book by an American oncologist, Dr Bernie Siegel, who after working with cancer patients for nearly 20 years discovered there was group which he called ‘exceptional patients’ who seemed to live longer than other people,” Patricia said.
“In his book Love, Medicine and Miracles he said he tried to discover what it was that made them live longer and there is a whole list of qualities.
“They are people like me who won’t leave a stone unturned in terms of trying to find an alternative treatment and he even suggests getting a pet.” In fact, Patricia has just got a new kitten, Lou Reed, in addition to her pet cat Bob Marley.
“But I haven’t made memory boxes or started planning my own funeral because I find that quite a negative process,” she said.
Her biggest motivation to keep going however, is her son Jacob.
“He is the number one drive,” she said. “There is no way I want to miss him getting his GCSEs and doing whatever he wants to do in the future. I want to see it.
“As soon as the target is reached, then I’m off for the treatment. I have to sell these tickets because if I don’t a lot of time has been wasted.
“Organising this event has taken such a lot of time and if you are going to die why would you want to spend your son’s summer holidays doing that?
“I would rather get on a train and go to Naples and sit with my son and eat pizza in the sunshine.
“I have to sell these tickets — it is a matter of life and death.”
Tickets, which cost £30, are available from www.lockerappeal.com.