Myeloma activist tells survival story
JUDY DEWINTER was a high-flying City businesswoman, heading the European product division for a major broker, Instinet. Trusted to sign off major deals, she travelled the world, ending up in America with her husband and two young children, where she worked at the company’s New York office.
Then in 1998, at the age of 33, she was diagnosed with myeloma, an incurable bone marrow cancer, and told she had three years to live. Yet she is very much still alive, chairing the Myeloma UK charity.
She has raised its profile, helping to double its annual income to £3.5 million, and has called on the government to do more to address the high cost of myeloma drugs. Partly because of the charity’s efforts, survival rates for myeloma patients have doubled.
On Wednesday, Jewish Care recognised Mrs Dewinter’s achievements by presenting her with the Topland Award at its annual business lunch in central London, attended by 650 supporters and raising £275,000.
Speaking ahead of the lunch, Ms Dewinter, 50, recalled that the diagnosis had been a huge shock.
She had seen a specialist after feeling fatigued. Referred to a haematologist, she was then asked to give a bone marrow sample.
Two hours later, the specialist gave her the news. “The doctor had tears in his eyes. He said: ‘You’ve got two or three years to live’. I can’t describe what impact that had.
“Outside the office, I walked out into bright sunshine on Madison Avenue and saw a Baby Gap shop. I thought: ‘I’m not going to get to see my kids go to primary school — I don’t want anyone else to choose their clothes’. When we got into the car, I just sunk down, hysterical.”
That year, her family moved back to London. She quit her job in 2003, having continued working through the five years before her first major treatment, keeping her diagnosis a secret.
“I didn’t talk about it. I had hundreds of men working for me and did not want to make excuses — being a woman or being ill. I didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for me.”
Now based in West Hampstead, she has been a constant supporter of MyelomaUKandisalsoagovernorof theRoyal Free London NHS Foundation Trust.
“I never thought I would have been useful to a charity,” she confessed. “It is more important than anything I have ever done. I can see the impact.”
Raised in Chigwell, where her parents were key figures in the local United synagogue, she has undergone two bone marrow transplants and chemotherapy and is still being treated on a maintenance drug. The Topland Award has resonance as her family have been strong Jewish Care supporters.
“A a bit of a rebel” in her youth, she did not go to university. “My parents did not know what to do with me. So I
‘I thought I’m not going to see my kids go to school’
went to St Godric’s Secretarial College in Hampstead.” It led to a position as executive secretary at a company that was later taken over by Instinet.
“It just opened my eyes. I was making PowerPoint presentations and I thought: ‘This is not rocket science — I understand it’.” She passed her broking exams at 21 and pushed for, and got, a position on a trading desk. “I heard through doors that the boss from the States really liked me because I was this feisty young Jewish girl. I had to push myself for them to take a bet on me.”
Judy Dewinter addresses the Topland lunch