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In 2006 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My feelings were, I think, typical of most people in that situation; complete horror, panic and fear. Why me? My parents were both in their nineties and there was no history of cancer in my family. I had lived a very normal life, had always kept fit and had rarely had a day off work. What had had caused it? How would it affect my husband and my teenage children? However, one thing I have learnt is that this horrible disease is quite indiscriminate in who gets hit. I subsequently underwent a lumpectomy, followed by 6 months chemotherapy and five weeks radiotherapy. Thankfully, I recovered well and in January 2007 I went back my job as a secondary school teacher. Life returned to normal and we all moved on. Then in October 2009 I had another horrible shock when I was diagnosed with bowel cancer. I had been having difficulty sleeping, which with hindsight I should have discussed with the GP sooner. However, when I started having strange food cravings for watercress and radishes my family urged me to see the doctor. My daughter, who by now was a medical student, told me she thought I might be anaemic. I was at this time still swimming 40 lengths 2 or 3 times a week, running up two flights of stairs to my classroom several times a day and didn’t have any of the symptoms I had always associated with anaemia of being weak or breathless. However, I duly went off for a blood test and I was contacted the same day by my GP who informed me that I was indeed severely anaemic. Investigations in to the cause of it were then instigated. When we were told, following a colonoscopy, that there was something very suspicious in my colon, I just could not believe it. I was even more stunned this time than with the breast cancer. How on earth could I have cancer twice? I had always eaten a healthy diet with loads of fruit and vegetables and I had experienced no bowel symptoms. My consultant later explained that this was because the tumour was very high up in the colon and would not have caused a change in bowel habit.
I was referred to Mr Nicholls who was very encouraging and he explained he could carry out an operation laparascopically to remove the affected part of the bowel. The operation went very well and I made a very fast recovery. However, during the follow up consultation he told me that as well as the tumour in my bowel he had also discovered a carcinoid. I have to admit I had never heard of this type of tumour. Mr Nicholls explained that this is how many are found, during surgery for other things, so I considered myself fortunate to have had this removed before it started causing me problems. The follow up treatment involved 6 months chemotherapy under the very thorough care of Dr Iveson. I did not find this regime as gruelling as the one for breast cancer but it has left me with peripheral neuropathy. This affects my feet and is difficult to describe but is as if your feet have been in a fire and then had needles poked in them!! However, in the overall scheme of things it is a minor complaint and while annoying does not prevent me from doing things. I returned to school in 2010 and I had my life back again.
By this time I had had three different cancers and I was concerned that my children might be at increased risk. I had some genetic tests and it was a great relief to find that there was no more significant likelihood of them having cancer than the rest of the population. I was now obviously being carefully watched by the medics and having regular blood tests and scans. In May 2011 I went for my tumour marker bloods. I absolutely hate
going for these tests as it brings back all the horrible memories of being ill and the reasons why I am being monitored so closely. However, I was feeling fine and felt totally well so was in a positive state of mind. We were therefore devastated when we received a phone call from Dr Iveson giving us the bad news that the markers were up. He arranged a CT scan for me which did indeed show 3 tumours in my liver. We were totally
shattered this time and we absolutely feared the worst. I always thought once cancer spread to your liver that was it. However, Dr Iveson told us it was potentially operable but I needed 2 more scans to ascertain whether surgery would be possible. When Dr Iveson called to say that they could go ahead I was so thankful to hear that I would be having an operation. He arranged for me to see Mr Pearce and from our first meeting we have had total confidence in him and his team. He told us that owing to the position of the tumours he would have to remove a large portion of my liver but he would be able to do this laparascopically. We could hardly believe it. How could he get something the size of my liver out through such a small incision? He took time to explain everything to us and was so reassuring and insisted that I would be well enough to go on the holiday we had already booked for six weeks later. He said that the liver would quickly regenerate itself and I would not be restricted in anything I ate or drank.
The operation lasted about 6 hours and it was successful. Again I recovered quickly and just as Mr Pearce had said we were able to go on holiday. I had only just had two thirds of my liver removed and I was swimming in the sea with scars that were hardly visible. In fact I was so proud of my scars that I offered to show them to a young policeman who stopped me in Southampton for driving in a bus lane as proof that I had recently been in hospital and this might explain my mistake. I have never seen anyone shut their note book so quickly!!
I am now scanned every 3 months. I have just had my 6 months post op scan and blood tests which, thank heavens, were clear. I realise that the cancer could recur and I still dread going for my scans and blood tests, or rather receiving the results. I am often asked whether these experiences have made me want to change my life and in most respects the answer is no. I was happy with my life before and all I have craved each time I have been ill has been a return to health and normality. I am pleased to say that in between check-ups my life has returned to normal. I had been contemplating giving up teaching and the last bout of surgery made me think this would be a good timeto do so and to try something new. I now intend to get involved in some voluntary work.
I just feel so fortunate to have been treated by Mr Pearce and his team. The work they do is truly amazing and we are so lucky to have a world leader in this field right here in Southampton. When he suggested I put my story on the new website I was pleased to feel that I might in a tiny way help other people who may be in the same position as I have been. He and his team have done so much for me and their work is so skilful and
clever I want to tell every one about it.
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