Rachael’s Story – Oesophageal Cancer
When Rachael could no longer swallow food and water, she went to A&E and on her third visit, was kept in for investigations. This is Rachael's story.
Tell us a little bit about yourself
“I’m Rachael, I’m 43 years old and I live in Manchester. I’m a creative person with a design background, so outside of work I enjoy writing and recording for my website and￼ podcast, Call on Courage. I’m also an active member of my Church, and have found this steadfast in my mental health and wellbeing.
Can you remember what your first symptoms of oesophageal cancer were?
Around three years ago, I was a workaholic. I swung precariously high on the career ladder, until the upper rungs didn’t bear my weight so well anymore and I fell. I fell hard and experienced burnout. I was physically and emotionally exhausted and left the business for my own wellbeing.
In 2021, when I felt ready to work again, out of nowhere I started experiencing acid reflux. Even the simplest foods, like porridge or mashed potatoes would be an issue to digest and I wasn’t able to tolerate them. Within weeks, I couldn’t even swallow water.
When were you diagnosed with oesophageal cancer?
The receptionist at my GP was very helpful, but wasn’t able to refer me for an endoscopy at the speed that I needed one. As I could no longer swallow liquid and was becoming dehydrated, I had to go into A&E. On my third walk-in to A&E, they admitted me in as a patient.
I remained on the general ward, while they gave me fluids and fitted me with a feeding tube. Around a week later, I was told I had a rare form of oesophageal cancer in the lower part of my oesophagus. They told me it was advanced and had been there for quite some time.
How did you feel?
I wasn’t angry or scared. I was just confused. It didn’t make sense to me, given my age and my lifestyle. I’d just recovered from burnout, and the life-changes that came alongside that. So at the time, oesophageal cancer didn’t seem like it was going to be as big as the storms I’d just weathered.
Thankfully, my cancer hadn’t spread and I already had a wonderful support network in place.
Talk us through your treatments
I had chemotherapy, followed by an oesophagectomy (surgically removing some or most of the oesophagus) and further chemotherapy. The chemotherapy was challenging, as I experienced an awful lot of nausea, vomiting and dry retching.
What did you find most difficult, and how did you get through this period?
My oesophagectomy affected me more than I could’ve known. Before my operation, food was a big part of my life. The old version of me would gallivant through Manchester, discovering new places to eat and socialise. I had an emotional connection with food, so switching to a liquid diet was incredibly hard. The food and textures that I crave and miss the most can become stuck in my oesophagus. Eating them isn’t worth the risk, particularly when in public.
I wanted to talk about where God fit into this mess, so I would speak with members of my church. I’d speak with Christians who had a long history with the Lord and had experienced difficult periods themselves. This was a form of talking therapy to me. I could process my anger, confusion and ultimately my grief. I healed during this process, gaining so much wisdom. I know that God meets us in messy circumstances, and that there’s a hope in what He offers. If my faith hadn’t been with me on this journey, I don’t know where I’d be.
How are you now?
I’m currently in remission from cancer, and settling into my new normal. As a recovering workaholic, embracing simplicity was always going to be an inevitability for me. What’s important to me now is getting out of bed each morning, putting my best foot forward and saying ‘I’m here to serve’.
Serving well looks like, ‘how do I unlock someone else’s talents and ideas?’ And ‘how do I enable them to dream bigger and go for more out of life?’ If anything, cancer has taught me life is fleeting and shorter than we anticipate. I don’t want to wait around for my purpose and passions to unfold passively. I have to seize what’s in front of me and encourage others to grow and run on the journey with me. That’s the definition of good leadership. This is part of the reason I’m sharing my story today.”
How can you help?
Guts UK is funding research (Dr Katja Christodoulou) that aims to diagnose oesophageal cancer sooner, going people a fighting chance. Our research has the capacity to save lives, and your kindness and donations make it possible. Please donate today. Thank you.