In October 2017, Big C service user Debra was diagnosed with endometrial cancer, a type of cancer of the womb which affects the female reproductive system.
Prior to her diagnosis, Debra did not experience any symptoms or notice anything unusual for her body. In fact, she was diagnosed after a routine GP appointment.
This is her story…
In October 2017, Debra attended a routine GP appointment and had blood taken for a cancer antigen 125 (CA 125) test, which is often used to identify early signs of ovarian cancer. The results of her test came back with a slightly above normal result, so her GP then referred her for a scan at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn (QEH).
After her scan and further tests, she was then told she had stage 4b endometrial cancer and that she had approximately twelve months left to live.
The news of Debra’s diagnosis jarred both her and her husband Scott. She said: “We were both left absolutely shocked. I thought if I were going to receive a cancer diagnosis, it would be early-stage, especially since I had shown no symptoms. So, to be given a palliative diagnosis was a real shock.”
Due to the advanced stage of her cancer, Debra underwent a surgical cancer treatment called interval debulking surgery (IDS). She initially received six rounds of chemotherapy and six sessions of a targeted therapy called Avastin (bevacizumab), which is commonly used for treating advanced and recurrent gynecological cancers.
As a form of targeted therapy, Avastin targets a biological process known as angiogenesis, a process where new blood vessels are formed to provide oxygen and nutrients and the removal of waste products. Although this a natural process in the body, it also plays a critical role in several diseases such as cancer.
Unfortunately, angiogenesis does allow an increase and spread of cancer cells because cancer cells also depend on the supply of oxygen and nutrients and the removal of waste products. Avastin specifically targets this process, resulting in a reduction in tumor size and growth of new and recurrent cancer cell growth.
Both Debra’s chemotherapy and Avastin treatment were successful in shrinking Debra’s tumour, and in March 2018, she had surgery at Addenbrookes hospital in Cambridge to remove her ovaries, fallopian tubes, womb and cervix.
The surgery was followed by another three rounds of chemotherapy and 12 sessions of Bevacizumab on a tri-weekly basis.
After she completed her treatment, Debra continued to be monitored by the hospital and in March 2019, during a routine exam, it was discovered that two more tumours had grown in Debra’s lower abdomen. Then in December 2019, a third tumour was discovered.
Starting New Year’s Eve 2019, Debra received another six sessions of chemotherapy at four weekly intervals and finished her treatment earlier this year. She now is on medicine to help prolong her life and has regular appointments with her specialist team at the QEH to monitor the tumours.
Before lockdown, Debra and her husband Scott regularly visited the Big C Centre in King’s Lynn where they both accessed Big C’s support services, such as Reflexology.
Debra said: “The team at the King’s Lynn Centre are fantastic. They have helped to support me not just with my diagnosis, but also with practical things in life.
For instance, last year, my partner and I were planning a cruise, but I couldn’t find travel insurance which didn’t cost a fortune. Big C gave us information for travel insurance companies that provide specialist cover for people with diagnosis’ such as mine, one of which gave me a cheaper, but generous policy, and I was able to go on holiday last year.”
During lockdown, both Debra and Scott have continued to access Big C’s support services.
Debra said: “Due to my diagnosis, Scott and I had to shield for nearly five months. During this time, it was challenging to get hold of some essential items. So, we were so grateful to receive a welfare package from Big C, which included hand sanitizer and toilet paper.
Both Debra and Scott have also started to attend Big C’s online support group meetings; Debra now attends the Women’s Support Group and Scott attends the Carer’s Support Group.
Before lockdown, Debra and Scott enjoyed travelling and going on cruises. During lockdown, the pair had to shield for much of the time, but are now enjoying being able to go out more and recently enjoyed a weekend in Norwich.
“Just knowing Big C is there is wonderful. It’s remarkable all the support you receive, and they’re always here to help you with no matter what issues you’ve got – whether it’s diagnosis-related or just more practical things.”
Big C is still here if you need support. Our services are available for those diagnosed with cancer and those close to them, with many of these services now available over the phone and online. For more information, call us at 0800 092 7640 (free to call Monday to Friday 9am-5pm) or visit support.big-c.co.uk