Fiona’s Story – Stomach Cancer

Every year about 6,700 people in the UK are diagnosed with stomach cancer. This is a rate of approximately 1 person in every 10,000 people. Sadly, stomach cancer is often diagnosed late, when the cancer is advanced and treatment options are limited. Thankfully, Fiona’s stomach cancer was found in the early stages. This is her story.

Tell us a little bit about yourself

I’m a music teacher! Music has always been a huge part of my life. I have played in orchestras, sung in choirs, and organised classical concerts too.

I’m an active person and love the outdoors. Until 2016, I was healthy and never really had any health scares.

What were your first symptoms of stomach cancer?

In 2016 I went to the doctor with what I thought was gallbladder pain. I was given antibiotics, but then had stomach ulcer symptoms. The doctor did a helicobacter pylori test (a bacteria that can cause stomach ulcers and stomach cancer), but it came back negative. It may have shown a negative result because unfortunately I’d just had antibiotics. My symptoms settled and I felt fine until 2019.

What happened in 2019?

I went back to work after the school holidays, and I generally just felt unwell with severe indigestion. Over the counter medication wouldn’t touch the indigestion, and neither would prescription omeprazole. I was breathless walking up the stairs.

I made a doctor’s appointment and ended up crying on the doctor, which isn’t like me. They were concerned as the medication wasn’t helping my indigestion. They booked me in for an endoscopy in a few weeks’ time.

I was watching the screen when I had the endoscopy (camera down my oesophagus). When they reached the stomach, they could see a small red patch of inflammation that looked like a mouth ulcer. They took biopsies of my stomach and the endoscopist said it looked like gastritis. It was so small, less than 1cm big.

What happened next?

The biopsy came back positive for Hereditary Diffuse Gastric Cancer (signet ring cell stomach cancer). It was a huge shock. I was 48 years old at the time. I broke down into tears, thinking of my husband, Pete and my daughter Alex who was only 16 years old at the time, just about to take on her GCSEs. The team were incredible. After numerous scans and a laparoscopy, they explained the cancer was caught early and that I would not require the planned course of chemotherapy.

How did you find treatment?

Surgery was tough. I wasn’t used to being in hospital at all, but I trusted the team whose care I was under. I had a total gastrectomy (my whole stomach removed).

Getting used to life without a stomach was hard. I felt sick and lived off pureed food for a long time. My mum was amazing, she came to nurse me and feed me chicken soup for weeks! The weight did just drop off – I ended up losing 2.5st. It was strange, I’d spent my whole life being careful to keep the weight off, and suddenly I was trying to keep it on!

How are you now?

Thankfully, my cancer was caught early enough to be treatable and hadn’t travelled.
It hasn’t limited my life, but it has altered it. It has been an odd two years, but I am well and most importantly, cancer-free.

My family feel it’s incredibly important to support awareness, information and research into this neglected cancer for other families. My brother Rob is running the Edinburgh marathon for Guts UK and I am so proud of him for taking on such a huge challenge – I’ll be eternally grateful.

Guts UK can only continue helping and reaching people like Fiona and her family with your support. Please support Guts UK today.

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