Jennie’s Story – Oesophageal Cancer
Tell us a little bit about you
“I’m a keen, competitive sailor. Overall I’d say I’m a sporty, active, pretty healthy and slim person. Until retiring recently, I was also an NHS research nurse, which I really enjoyed.
At the time this story takes place, I had just moved to a new area to start a new job and life.
I do have a history with cancer too. Aged 22 I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease (a type of lymphoma/cancer). This also came back around 10 years later, as I gave birth to my daughter.
What were your symptoms, before you knew you had oesophageal cancer?
I was 57 years old at the time and I started with indigestion, which I’d never had before. I strangely had a premonition that something was going on. The indigestion continued for a few weeks, so I made an appointment to see my GP.
At the time I was going through a lot of stress: a new job, divorce and a big house move. My GP decided to prescribe me one month’s supply of PPI (proton pump inhibitors, reducing stomach acid production). I finished the course, but as soon as I did, I had to go straight to my local pharmacy to buy something off the shelf, as the pain was back with a vengeance.
I went to see my GP again who sent me for an ultrasound of where I was feeling pain (around my stomach). The ultrasound showed nothing, and I could sense my GP was running out of ideas.
How did your symptoms change over the coming months?
I continued with the PPIs but as soon as I’d eat lunch at work, I was grasping at my stomach in pain, every single day. I knew something was wrong.
By Christmas time I started having difficulty swallowing food such as meat. This time I went to see my GP and told her I needed to have a gastroscopy (a camera down my throat to look at my stomach and oesophagus). She agreed and marked the request as urgent.
When were you diagnosed with oesophageal cancer?
Sadly, despite an urgent referral, I didn’t have the gastroscopy until mid-January. The person who performed the gastroscopy told me straight away they could see a large tumour.
Even though I had suspected this, I still felt utter shock at being told. Fortunately though, I was diagnosed while the oesophageal cancer was at an early stage.
Talk us through your treatment plan
My plan wasn’t straightforward due to previous cancer treatment. Doctors were unsure about whether I could have more radiotherapy, but amazingly they managed to retrieve my early records from decades ago. In the end, it was decided they would do chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Radiotherapy was the most challenging. By the final sessions I was suffering with a lot of pain and so much difficulty eating or swallowing practically anything. The fact that I couldn’t tolerate morphine made matters worse. I was in so much pain, losing a lot of weight and becoming dehydrated.
When did your treatment finish?
After four months of chemo and radiotherapy, I finished the course of treatment, as they had been partly combined. Although I did have a final hospital admission in July to combat the dehydration and the narrowed oesophagus and needed a feeding tube at one point, to stop me losing any further weight.
Almost a decade on from having oesophageal cancer, I’m still here. I hope this helps to give other people and their families some hope.
How are you doing now?
Swallowing and eating remained a problem for a long time, in fact I still get caught out with food becoming jammed in my oesophagus from time to time. At one point, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to eat out again, but over the years I have learnt that I can manage most softer foods.
Generally, I feel fine. I haven’t sailed much recently due to Covid, but I hope to very soon! I continued to work (part time) until recently, retiring when my project was completed.
Why have you chosen to share your story today?
I’d like to help Guts UK. I feel that my background as a nurse really helped me getting myself diagnosed early on, but I worry for the many others who don’t have the background I did.
My GP is fantastic, but she looked at me, saw a fit, active, slim non-smoker and didn’t immediately recognise the symptoms. I didn’t fit the usual profile.
Awareness of these symptoms is very important. I tell everyone I can to be aware of how they feel normally and if they get a new symptom, to monitor it and see their GP. Don’t be fobbed off, it might be too late.
I want to help people understand more about getting the devastating news of a cancer diagnosis in the digestive system. I was so pleased to learn that Guts UK has been undertaking the challenge of delivering awareness to both patients and healthcare workers about these difficult to spot & treat cancers. As someone who has overcome this awful disease, and has resumed a pretty normal life, I hope that my story can give you hope.
It’s therefore important to me to do my bit and raise as much money as possible for this great cause, to show my support for all patients and families affected by cancer. Your contribution will make an impact, whether you donate £5 or £500. Every little bit helps.”
Only 15 out of 100 people diagnosed with oesophageal cancer will live for longer than 5 years, yet 59% of oesophageal cancer cases are preventable. Guts UK’s research can change these facts, diagnosing people with the deadliest digestive cancers while they still have a fighting chance. Guts UK’s research saves lives. Join us, as we get to grips with guts.
Please give £3 a month to Guts UK. Together, we will get to grips with guts.