Celebrating 51 years of friendship born from our Trust

Last month we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the National Gestational Trophoblastic Centre. Today, we are celebrating the extraordinary story of three friends who met at our National Gestational Trophoblastic Centre in 1971 and have remained friends for 51 years.

The National Gestational Trophoblastic Centre was opened by Professor Ken Bagshawe in 1973 and is a highly specialist service providing comprehensive screening and clinical management for diseases known as gestational trophoblast disease (GTD) that occur during or following pregnancy. The centre, based in Charing Cross, is internationally renowned and the largest centre in the world for these forms of diseases. The staff at the centre have monitored more than 60,000 cases and treated over 5000 patients for resulting cancer to date.

Lorna Branczik, Lorna Gale and Liz Fox were among the first treated patients with cancer. They met at the Centre in 1971 and have remained friends ever since. Over the years they have kept in touch – with a river cruise to mark their 30-year anniversary as friends, and most recently, in 2021, they enjoyed lunch in Covent Garden to celebrate 50 years of friendship. In their own words, each woman shares their experiences of disease and treatment at the Centre – a place that has bonded them for life.

Lorna Branczik told us, “After two years of marriage, I embarked on my first pregnancy. From around about 14 weeks I experienced unusual symptoms and was sent to Epping hospital in Essex where an ultrasound scan confirmed hydatidiform mole – a precursor to choriocarcinoma.*

"Having spent four years in nursing training myself, I had not come across choriocarcinoma and thought that it affected women 40 years plus, rather than young women of child-bearing age – not surprising really considering the incidence at that time was quoted as 1:120,000!

“I was admitted to Fulham Hospital (now Charing Cross Hospital) where I was met by Peter Golding, a delightful senior registrar, who greeted me by my first name. This was my first introduction to the wonderful happy ‘family’ that made up the team that cared for we ‘chorios’. After several weeks in Alice ward I was moved up to D3; an open Nightingale ward and we ‘chorios’ had the first few beds at the end and were rather spoiled with free access to the kitchen.

"I was particularly grateful for early diagnosis as I escaped the need for hysterectomy and was able to give birth to my two wonderful children, now in their forties, each with two of their own."

*A hydatidiform mole, also known as a molar pregnancy, is an abnormal form of pregnancy in which a non-viable fertilised egg implants in the uterus.

Lorna Gale told us, “Throughout my lifetime I was admitted to the Centre three times. I am so thankful for all who pioneered the treatment that I received – without it, I wouldn’t be here, and I wouldn’t have been able to go on to adopt. I am now also eagerly awaiting the arrival of my great granddaughter which I never thought possible!

“Lorna, Liz and I were bonded by our shared experiences. We were able to share our worries and support each other through the sickness, tears and gruelling treatment – especially during the week when we were unable to see our families. I fondly remember getting up to a reasonable degree of mischief when the opportunity arose, such as drinking a cheeky glass of champagne every now and then! Our friendship also extended to our husbands who bonded of a weekend when they came to visit us.”

Liz Fox told us, “I had an induced abortion followed by one or two dilation and curettage procedures, before an on-the-ball consultant realised that things were still not right. I was then sent to Fulham Hospital (now Charing Cross hospital), where I found another girl whom I had previously met in Epping. Quite a small world!

"Both Lornas and I started off in Alice Ward at the Centre together and stayed for varying lengths of time. I stayed on Alice Ward for a very short time – five days – as I had a massive haemmorrhage and was rushed to West London Hospital for an emergency hysterectomy. I then returned to the Centre and D3 ward and was reunited with both Lornas.

“The care we received all those years ago was excellent and I remain grateful to this day for all the staff involved in our respective journeys and that the Centre brought us together.”