When the fatigue set in and the sensation in parts of her left side started flickering away, Faye Fantarrow thought she knew what was coming. At 20, the leukaemia she had survived twice as a child had returned for a third time, she feared.
“Just” the leukaemia, she says, knowing cancer is never a “just”. But having survived it twice before, at least she knew what to expect. Or thought she did.
Blood tests, however, came back normal, she says. No leukaemia. It was not until she had scans and eventually a biopsy that doctors were able to give her a diagnosis: an aggressive glioma brain tumour, believed to be an incredibly rare consequence of previous radiotherapy she had undergone as a teenager.
This was back in August. Since then Faye, from Sunderland, has had further radiotherapy to try and shrink several growths. But there is no cure in the UK.
An up-and-coming singer and musician, spotted on social media and subsequently signed by Eurythmics star Dave Stewart earlier in 2022, she was made aware of a lifeline – a trial at the City of Hope hospital in the city of Duarte in Los Angeles County, California; a complex treatment, at a total cost of £450,000.
Now, her friends and family, as well as other musicians, are doing everything possible to try to raise the money. Three-and-a-half weeks since a fundraising page was set up, donations have reached just over £121,000. A huge amount, but there is still a way to go.
“We cannot let Faye’s life end here,” her sister Abigail says on the fundraising webpage. “She is the brightest star you could ever find on the darkest night, she is strong, independent and talented… please donate… please help to help Faye fight.”
“It’s daunting but the security blanket I have around me because of the people who are putting money in and just not giving up on me – it doesn’t seem as daunting,” says Faye.
The fight is now on to raise the money for treatment in California.
Faye was just eight when she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, a form of blood cancer, for the first time. She underwent two-and-a-half years of chemotherapy that took away her hair and mobility, but as a child, she says a lack of proper awareness cushioned her from the situation, making her illness in some ways harder for her family.
And in a strange way, her cancer led to her life changing in a positive way; given a Brave Heart award for children facing illness or adversity, she chose an acoustic guitar, paving the way for her career as a singer-songwriter.
The leukaemia returned when she was 13 and this time, she would have to have a bone marrow transplant – a long, difficult process, but one she came through once again.
‘And then Mr Dave Stewart got in touch…’
Aged 15, Faye started playing the guitar seriously and began writing her own songs the following year. Aged 17, her music was played by BBC Introducing for the first time. And in 2021, she was named the winner of the Alan Hull award for songwriting – a prize given annually in the North East in memory of the Lindisfarne founder.
After years of cancer dominating her life, Faye was well and her music career was taking off. “And then Mr Dave Stewart got in touch,” she says.
Having first followed her on Instagram, Stewart later messaged the singer and began mentoring her, at first adding some production work to her demos remotely, then inviting her to record with him in London. Then they went to the Bahamas to record an EP.
“Things were going so well… and then I decided to mess everything up,” Faye jokes, referring to the tumour. But this is the hardest thing about being diagnosed now, she says. “I’m more aware of it now and obviously it’s affected my career as well. I don’t want this to undermine my career and everything I’ve worked to build.”
‘She’s a national treasure already’
Stewart, also from Sunderland, has shared Faye’s story, calling her “an amazing young artist”. He has donated £50,000, and his Eurythmics bandmate Annie Lennox has also donated £10,000.
“Faye is a brilliant young artist, a singer-songwriter in a class of her own,” Stewart told Sky News. “Unique writers like Faye come few and far between and I knew the minute I heard her voice she was extraordinary.
“We spent an amazing time together recording her new EP this summer only to be hit with this devastating news no more than a few weeks after we finished recording.
“I cannot express enough how much I believe in Faye and her talents as a singer and performer, but it’s her astute observations of the world around her put in the words that makes me believe she deserves to be heard for a long, long time.
“At only 20 years old she’s a national treasure in my mind already and hopefully she will become one in yours, too.”
‘I can look towards a future’
Faye now suffers from seizures as a result of her tumours. She says she has good days and bad days. But she remains upbeat, saying she feels “euphoric” thinking about performing again following treatment in California; she is not thinking of it as a case of if, but when.
The treatment she needs is called CAR T-cell therapy, which is a type of immunotherapy – a “complex and specialist treatment”, according to Cancer Research UK. T cells are a type of white blood cell.
“With this treatment, a specialist collects and makes a small change to your T cells. After a few weeks, you have a drip containing these cells back into your bloodstream. The CAR T-cells then recognise and attack the cancer cells,” the charity says on its website.
“It is available as a possible treatment for some children with leukaemia and some adults with lymphoma. People with other types of cancer might have it as part of a clinical trial.”
Faye says the NHS has been “amazing” so far, but now she needs to get to the US.
“If anybody can give whatever they can, I’m eternally grateful for that,” she says. “I’m aware of the current climate… so even if it’s just sharing the story, talking about it. I’m fortunate enough that I have this option and people are getting behind me, that I can look towards a future. Even if it’s just talking about it, I can’t express the gratitude for that alone.”
But Faye’s mum puts it simply. “£450,000 seemed an insurmountable amount. But then I thought, well, if we can reach 450,000 people and they all just give a pound, then we can do it. And that’s all we ask. If someone can give a pound, then we can do it.”
You can donate to the Fight For Faye fundraiser here.