A woman who once made headlines for delaying cancer treatments while she was pregnant with her daughter, has died.
Gemma Nuttall, of the United Kingdom, was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2013. She was 16 weeks pregnant at the time, and doctors encouraged the young mother to terminate the pregnancy and begin cancer treatments. Gemma refused in order to save the life of her unborn baby.
As her daughter grew throughout the pregnancy, so did her tumor. By 36 weeks, doctors decided the safest option was to perform a caesarean section and cut out the tumor all at once.
“They kept her awake so she could see her own beautiful but small, daughter, Penelope, arrive into the world,” Gemma’s mother, Helen Sproates wrote on a GoFundMe page set up for her daughter. “Only to be put to sleep and have the cancer removed.”
Penelope spent several weeks in the Intensive Care Unit, while Gemma recovered from surgery and began chemotherapy and radiation. In putting off the original cancer treatments while she was pregnant, another scan confirmed she had developed cervical cancer. Doctors performed surgery to remove the tumor, and Gemma remained cancer free-for nearly two years.
In April 2016, Gemma was in for the fight of her life. The young mother was diagnosed with brain cancer and lung cancer.
That’s when the family launched their GoFundMe campaign, in an effort to raise money for experimental cancer treatments that could save Gemma’s life.
Actress Kate Winslet joined the fight, providing funds and rallying behind Gemma.
“Let’s truly do our best to keep her alive for her 3-year-old daughter Penelope, who loves and needs her Mummy so much,” wrote Winslet — whose own mother was diagnosed with cancer — in a message that was included on the campaign’s page. “We might be able to save her life with these desperately needed funds for this essential treatment. So spread the word out there! Let’s all tell as many people as we know, and please keep the words of support coming and the incredibly generous donations coming.”
She then recruited her Titanic co-star Leonardo DiCaprio to help raise support. The long-time friends auctioned off three dinners with “Jack and Rose,” which raised over $1.35 million by early 2018.
After undergoing immunotherapy, Gemma was a walking, talking miracle. 29 years old and cancer free, she had won the fight — for now.
In mid-2018, Gemma was admitted to the hospital, where doctors discovered the cancer had come back, and had rapidly progressed to her spine. It would later spread again to her brain and lungs.
Sproates announced her daughter’s death in a Facebook post on October 14.
“It is with an utterly broken heart that I have to tell you all that my beautiful warrior lost her battle early this morning,” she wrote on the GoFundMe page. “We fought so hard but we just couldn’t do it anymore — I am one very proud but devastated mum right now — Sleep tight Gemma — My world will never be the same again.”
In a statement to the Rossendale Free Press, Kate Winslet expressed her heartbreak.
“My heart is solely with Helen, Penelope and all of the family at this tragically sad time. Gemma was such a beacon of strength and fought this battle so incredibly hard, with grace and dignity throughout,” she said. “My heart breaks for her mum Helen and her daughter Penelope. They have lost a wonderful mother and daughter.”
Gemma’s decision to risk her own life for that of her daughter, is nothing short of heroic. It’s a true testament to what it means to be a mother. Her strength and determination will carry on through Penelope, who is now 4.
The family will continue to honor Gemma’s legacy through the Gemma Rose Foundation — the “Rose” in tribute to Winslet’s character in Titanic.