Cheryle’s story – Oesophageal cancer
Tell us a little bit about you
“I’m Cheryle, I live in Surrey and I am 51 years old. I’m a criminal law advisor, and in my free time I love to attend raves! When I’m able to, I love to go sailing too.”
When did your symptoms begin?
“My symptoms started in April 2022. I started experiencing reflux and indigestion and when I told my doctor, they gave me omeprazole to reduce the amount of acid my stomach made. They considered sending me for an endoscopy, a camera to look down my throat, but after a short course of omeprazole, my symptoms went away.
Around six months later in October, I started to get pain when swallowing and a general chest pain. I had a cold at the time with a sore throat and chest infection though, so I wasn’t too worried. But by November, it became very difficult for me to swallow meats (red meat in particular). I subconsciously started to eat softer foods because of the pain, as I still thought it was my sore throat playing up again.”
When did you seek further help for your symptoms?
“It wasn’t long until I started choking on all the food I’d eat. I quickly booked in an appointment with my doctor who referred me for an endoscopy on the cancer pathway. By now, I was just about surviving on wheat bisks, ice-cream and yoghurts.
My endoscopy was booked on the 19th November. I was on my own, and after the endoscopy they told me they were 90% sure I had cancer. I was sent for bloods and CT scans straight away.”
When did you receive your official diagnosis?
“The endoscopy started a rollercoaster of appointments, which led to my diagnosis of oesophageal cancer on 6th December 2022.
I had expected to hear the diagnosis, and although it was bad news and surreal, it was a relief to know what it was so I could prepare to fight. Thankfully, my mum and good friend were with me at hospital. The worst part for me was the waiting for the official diagnosis. By now, there were ‘shadows’ on my liver, lungs and they believed the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes. All our conversations felt like they were preparing me for the worst-case scenario.”
Talk us through the treatment you were talked through
“I named my 6cm tumour Geraldine. It helped me deal with the prognosis, and I’d love people’s reactions when I told them. She was my squatter and naming her made it more personal to fight.
I met my oncologist who told me I needed chemotherapy and maybe radiotherapy. They said I had a chance, but we later learnt that Geraldine was inoperable. She was too close to my heart. I was told I was stage 3-4 cancer. The cancer had not spread but she was at a late stage, much harder to treat.
Though I was told I wouldn’t lose my hair, I decided to donate my hair to The Princess Trust. It was shaved off at a party where I was surrounded by people I loved in late January. My younger sister who lives in Australia even surprised me on the day! It was beautiful.”
When did your treatment begin?
“On 1st February 2023 I started chemotherapy. I would sleep 20-22 hours per day, and was desperate to feel normal again. Just as I started feeling better, I was due back in hospital for more chemotherapy. I struggled with neuropathy in my legs, feet and hands – to the point where I couldn’t bear people touching me.
Miraculously, after my first infusion I ate something other than wheat bisks for the first time in such a long time. I was overjoyed, and slowly reintroduced more food back into my life, until I started radiotherapy.
Radiotherapy came later, on the 15th March and continued until 18th April. I felt the effects immediately and was in so much pain. My throat was swollen, I was dehydrated and could barely walk due to leg pain.
On the day I was allowed to ring the hospital bell to go home, I wasn’t sure I had the energy in me to do it. But I did, and as I rang the bell I burst into tears at the sheer relief of it being over.”
When did you next hear from your doctor?
“It was in June, after many other complications, that I finally heard the words, “You’re cancer free”. I was shocked, and even dubious. I told nobody because I didn’t believe it was true, and I hadn’t had all my scans yet!”
How has your life changed since this experience?
“Not once did I become angry, or think “why me?” I put my big girl pants on and I dealt with it. Even in the face of death, I looked back over my life and realised I have done things no normal person would do. I was accepting, and I am honestly shocked that I even made it to 50 years old with the lifestyle I have lived, let alone without having cancer! Cancer has taught me to be more humble and appreciative of life.”
Why are you supporting Guts UK for your birthday this year?
“When I received my diagnosis, my friends’ neighbour received their oesophageal cancer diagnosis too. We were comrades on our journeys, each asking after the other even though we never met. On the day I got the all clear, he was given a terminal diagnosis. Sadly, he passed away recently. Survivors’ guilt is real, and it hit me hard. I want to do something to help others.
Before I was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer, I’d never heard of it. When I looked online, it seems like it is an “old man’s disease”, but it’s important that younger people and women are aware of the symptoms too. Guts UK is personal and one of the first I’ve found that is directly linked to oesophageal cancer. I can’t think of a reason not to support Guts UK’s work. More research and more awareness raised.”
Guts UK is funding research into the deadliest digestive cancers to diagnose these cancers earlier, and save lives. Oesophageal cancer is one of the six less survivable cancers. The others are stomach, pancreatic, liver, brain & lung cancer, with an average five-year survival rate of just 16%.
We have joined forces with other charities to make up the Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce (LSCT). With the aim of increasing these survival rates to 28% by 2029. But we can’t do it without you.