When fatigue set in and sensation in parts of her left side began to waver, Faye Fantarrow thought she knew what was coming. By age 20, the leukemia she had survived twice as a child had returned for the third time, she feared.
“Just” leukemia, she says, knowing that cancer is never a “just.” But having survived it twice before, she at least knew what to expect. Or thought she had.
Blood tests, however, came back normal, she said. No leukemia. It wasn’t until she underwent 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 radiation therapy she had undergone at the hospital. ‘adolescence.
It was in August. Since then, Faye, from Sunderland, has undergone additional radiotherapy to try to shrink several growths. But there is no cure in the UK.
A rising singer and musician, spotted on social media and then signed by Eurythmics star Dave Stewart earlier in 2022, she was tipped off to a lifeline – a trial at the city’s City of Hope Hospital of Duarte in Los Angeles County, California; complex treatment, at a total cost of £450,000.
Today, his friends and family, along with other musicians, are doing all they can to try to raise the funds. Three and a half weeks since setting up a fundraising page, donations have reached just over £121,000. A huge sum, but there is still a long way to go.
“We can’t let Faye’s life end here,” her sister Abigail told the fundraising webpage. “She’s the brightest star you can find in the darkest night, she’s strong, independent and talented…please donate…please help Faye fight .”
“It’s intimidating, but the security blanket I have around me from people investing money and just not giving up on me — it doesn’t seem as intimidating,” Faye says.
The fight is now on to raise money for treatment in California.
Faye was only eight years old when she was first diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a form of blood cancer. She underwent two and a half years of chemotherapy which took away her hair and mobility, but as a child she says a lack of proper awareness shielded her from the situation, making her illness more difficult for some respect for his family.
And in a strange way, his cancer led his life to change for the better; Awarded 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 leukemia returned when she was 13 and this time she had to undergo a bone marrow transplant – a long and difficult process, but one she went through once again.
“And then Mr. Dave Stewart got in touch…”
At age 15, Faye began to play the guitar seriously and began writing her own songs the following year. At 17, his music was first performed by BBC Introducing. And in 2021 she was named the winner of the Alan Hull Award for Songwriting – an award given annually in the North East in memory of the founder of Lindisfarne.
After years of cancer dominating her life, Faye was doing well and her music career was taking off. “And then Mr. Dave Stewart got in touch,” she says.
After initially following her on Instagram, Stewart then messaged the singer and began mentoring her, first adding production work to her demos remotely, then inviting her to record with him at London. Then they went to the Bahamas to record an EP.
“Things were going so well…and then I decided to screw it up,” Faye jokes, referring to the tumor. But that’s the hardest thing about the diagnosis now, she said. “I’m more aware of it now and obviously it’s affected my career as well. I don’t want it to undermine my career and everything I’ve worked to build.”
“She is already a national treasure”
Stewart, also from Sunderland, shared Faye’s story, calling her an “incredible young artist”. He donated £50,000 and fellow Eurythmics teammate Annie Lennox 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 are rare and I knew the minute I heard her voice that she was extraordinary.
“We had an amazing time together recording his new EP this summer, but were hit with this devastating news just weeks after we finished recording.
“I can’t 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 into words that make me believe she deserves be heard for a very, very long time.
“At only 20 years old, she is already a national treasure in my mind and I hope she becomes one in yours too.”
“I can look to a future”
Faye is now suffering from seizures as a result of her tumours. She says she has good days and bad days. But she remains optimistic, saying she feels ‘euphoric’ about playing again after treatment in California; she doesn’t think about it as 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 cells.
“With this treatment, a specialist collects and slightly modifies your T-cells. After a few weeks, you have a drip containing these cells in your bloodstream. The CAR-T cells then recognize and attack the cancer cells,” explains the charity says on its website.
“It’s available as a possible treatment for some children with leukemia and some adults with lymphoma. People with other types of cancer could have it in a clinical trial.”
Faye says the NHS has been “amazing” so far, but now she has to go to the United States.
“If anyone can give their all, I’ll be forever grateful,” she says. “I’m aware of the current climate…so even if it’s just about sharing the story, talking about it. I’m lucky to have that option and people are supporting me, that I can looking to the future. Even if it’s just talking about it, I can’t express my gratitude for that alone.”
But Faye’s mother simply says so. “£450,000 seemed like an insurmountable amount. But then I thought, well, if we can reach 450,000 people and they all donate just a pound, then we can do it. And that’s all we ask. If anyone can donate a pound, then we can.”
You can donate to Fight For Faye fundraiser here.