THE diagnosis of cancer is devastating, but for one Andover family they were given a shock when a little-known consequence of chemotherapy is suspected to have led to the death of their loved one.

On September 16, Christine McLevy was happily playing with her granddaughter, cooking a roast and seeing friends.

In July, she had undergone a major operation to a remove a tumour from her bowel, the operation was a success and scans showed she was cancer-free.

The 69-year-old continued to be her “extremely fit and healthy” self, to the delight of her friends and family.

But on September 17, Mrs McLevy was dead – not because of the tumour, but from a heart attack caused by the suspected side effects of the chemotherapy tablets she was given to catch any escaped cells.

Mrs McLevy’s family and friends believe that she may have been among the five to eight per cent of the population with a genetic condition meants her liver did not produce an enzyme called dihydropyrimidine dehydrogenase – or DPD – and so cannot process the chemotherapy drug - capecitabine. This has led to heart attacks in other cases.

Although it could not be confirmed whether Mrs McLevy had the deficiency, a post-mortem revealed she suffered a heart attack as a result of the chemotherapy.

But the former polling station volunteer could have been tested for the condition with a simple blood test, which Mrs McLevy and her husband Mike say they were never told about.

And now Mrs McLevy’s family and friends are calling for more awareness of DPD and routine testing to prevent other families going through the same agony.

Grandmother-of-one Mrs McLevy started taking capecitabine on September 12 and over the next five days she continued to live her life as normal.

Friend of 20 years Julia Eagen said: “I was surprised at about how well she looked, I thought she would be in bed, but she was watching the television and was preparing a Sunday roast.

“All she had was a little bit of nausea which is to be expected and a little bit of pins and needles.”

And in the afternoon, she played with her five-year-old granddaughter and went to bingo with her friends.

Mike, who would have been married to Mrs McLevy for 50 years today, said: “Off she went to bingo, her friends all said what a good laugh they had – that was the last time they saw her.

“She came home and said she felt tired, but she always does when we have our granddaughter.”

On September 17, Mrs McLevy, who was a member of the Peter Pan Badminton Club, woke with her “heart beating and thumping” and Mike was told to take her to Basingstoke and North Hampshire Hospital.

But before the couple could get to Basingstoke, Mrs McLevy suffered a heart attack on the driveway of their home.

“There was this thump and she had gone down and smacked her head and was lying face down. Her eyes were bulging, and she was gurgling,” Mike said.

Emergency services were called and managed to resuscitate Mrs McLevy before transferring her to hospital but just two hours later, on September 17, Mike had to make the most difficult decision.

“The doctors said to me that she had been without oxygen and without blood flow for so long that they wanted to turn the machine off. I went and sat with her and held her hand as they turned the machine off.”

Mike said that he was only told about the possibility that his wife could have had DPD deficiency after her death, but only from friends, and was never informed of a blood test.

“I feel bloody devastated about life without Christine. I feel angry that they [the hospital] has not given us the information to make an informed choice.”

In Dorset, DPD testing is offered as a routine thanks to charitable funding, but it is not offered in the West Hampshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) area.

“It is a postcode lottery, if we were one county over, Christine would have been tested,” Mike added.

The CCG said that the decision to offer the test would not be made as a routine by the group, but on a case-by-case basis evaluation by a clinician, despite Dorset offering the test as standard.

Hampshire Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs Basingstoke hospital, said it could not discuss Mrs McLevy’s treatment.

But trust chief executive Alex Whitfield said: “Our thoughts and deepest sympathies are with Mr McLevy and his family at this difficult time. We are very sorry to hear about the concerns that Mr McLevy has raised with us as a complaint.

“We are undertaking an investigation and hope to be able to meet with Mr McLevy to discuss his concerns in more detail as part of the investigation.”

Mr McLevy will meet his wife’s consultant oncologist next week to discuss the treatment she received.

According to an article in the Daily Mail, since 2000, under the official Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency ‘Yellow Card’ monitoring system, doctors have filed reports of 871 cases of ‘serious adverse drug reactions’ and 233 fatalities, all caused solely by capecitabine.

Doctors say these figures are likely to be a fraction of the true total.