• Mon. Jun 17th, 2024

North East Connected

Hopping Across The North East From Hub To Hub


A Newcastle mum who was diagnosed with skin cancer at 37 weeks pregnant is urging men, women and children to enter the city’s Race for Life to help fight the disease.

With less than two weeks to go, over 2600 have already signed up to take part in Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life on Sunday 14 July at the Town Moor.

Zoe Shepherd, 29, will be guest of honour at the 5k event. As well as ringing the bell to signal the start of the Race, Zoe will be taking part in the Pretty Muddy event on Saturday 13 July.

600 children are set to take part in the Pretty Muddy kids event and 1880 adults will be completing the Pretty Muddy event.

Zoe knows too well what a difference research can make. She was diagnosed with stage 2 melanoma (a form of skin cancer) in November 2018, just weeks before she was due to give birth to her first child.

She had surgery to remove the cancer and is now receiving medication to prevent it from returning.

Zoe explained:I was about 26 weeks pregnant and in the shower when I spotted what I thought was a skin tag on the left side of my abdomen. It started to bleed when I knocked it, but I didn’t think anything more of it. However, a week or two later I noticed it had come back.

“I mentioned it to my GP when I went in for some heartburn tablets, and he encouraged me to get it checked out. By the time I went for an appointment two weeks later it had grown even more.

“The doctor removed it, and I got a phone call five days later to come in for my results. By this time, I was 37 weeks pregnant. They said I had stage 2 melanoma, which came as a complete shock – It was the last thing I expected to hear.

“Because the cancer was quite aggressive, the doctors wanted to induce the baby. The very next day, November 25, Jacob was born. He was a perfectly healthy little boy. It was such a relief, because I’d been hoping and praying he was alright.

“On the day Jacob was born, I had mixed feelings. I was excited to finally meet my baby, but apprehensive about what would happen after his birth. I didn’t allow this to overwhelm me, though, because I’d already started to fight and was determined that I would beat this cancer.

“I had my first CT scan that day, and to my relief it came back clear.

“On December 20, I was booked in for surgery to reopen the original site where the growth had been removed. The plan was to take a margin of tissue around the cancerous cells and remove one of my lymph nodes. The surgery was standard procedure to make sure nothing had spread and that nothing was still there.

“However, by then two small lumps could be felt beneath the skin, and several more were found during the surgery itself. The doctors had to go in much deeper – instead of a one-inch scar, mine was around six inches. Because they removed lymph nodes on my left-hand side, where the melanoma had been found, I also had a four-inch scar beneath my left armpit.

“After the surgery my consultant told me he was really shocked and upset at what they found. I had to stay in hospital after the surgery, but I was determined to get out for Christmas. I couldn’t bear the idea of my fiancé, Jake, sleeping on his own on Christmas Eve and waking up without me.

“I’d been looking forward to Christmas almost all year, knowing it would be our first as a family. But I had mixed emotions when it arrived. I was happy and looking forward to the day itself, but exhausted after the surgery. Luckily, we’d already arranged to go to my parents for Christmas dinner. We had a lovely day and I didn’t let my diagnosis spoil it.

“In the following days it was great to be home with Jacob, but I felt sad that I couldn’t pick him up – I couldn’t lift my left arm for weeks. I couldn’t even feed him unless he was placed into my arms.

“On January 4, my next CT scan showed both good and bad news. The surgery site was clear of cancer, but a fleck had shown up on my lung. The melanoma also  tested positive for a mutation of the BRAF gene, which was responsible for the cancer growing so fast. I was prescribed a combination of drugs – Mekinist and Tafinlar – one to switch off the mutant gene and the other to keep cancer at bay.

“Because of what the surgeons found, I’ll be taking these drugs for the next two years. I’ll also need regular blood tests and a heart scan every three months, because side effects can include an irregular heart rate.

“My last scan in April was clear and shows that the treatment is working – it has stopped the mutant BRAF gene from producing cancer cells and the fleck on my lung has disappeared.

“My left arm still needs physiotherapy and I may never fully recover from the numbness, pins and needles or twinges. However, I wear the scars on my abdomen with pride; they are a reminder of when cancer tried to break me but failed.

“I have good days and bad days, but I can usually tell when I’m going to be poorly and need to lie down. My mother has been my full-time carer, looking after me during the week until Jake takes over at the weekend.

“Before I became pregnant, I was always fit and healthy. I used to do yoga and Pilates and, although I’m taking it easy at the moment, I’m determined to complete the Pretty Muddy in Newcastle. There will be a group of 15 of us, including my mother and sister, and we’ve already raised £1300. Apart from raising money for Cancer Research UK, we want to put out the message that cancer will NEVER win.”

Zoe is determined to help bring forward the day when all cancers are cured and wants other families to join her, no matter what their age or ability. Every participant can help make a real difference.

Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life, in partnership with Tesco, is an inspiring series of 5k, 10k, Pretty Muddy and Pretty Muddy Kids events which raise millions of pounds every year to fund vital research and help beat cancer.

There’s still time to enter the Race for Life in Newcastle and organisers are encouraging people committed to the cause to sign up at raceforlife.org.

Jaelithe Leigh-Brown, Cancer Research UK’s Spokesperson for the North East, said: “We’re very grateful to Zoe for her fantastic support and know that others will be inspired by her amazing story.

“By joining the Race for Life events in the North East, people can make a real difference in the fight against cancer. The Race for Life events are fun, colourful, emotional and uplifting. You don’t need to be sporty to take part. You don’t have to train, and you certainly don’t need to compete against anyone else.”

Every hour, 2 people are diagnosed with cancer in the North East*. Cancer survival in the UK has doubled since the early 1970s and Cancer Research UK’s work has been at the heart of that progress.

Jaelithe continued: “To continue to make a significant difference in the fight against cancer we need to harness as much energy and commitment as possible – and we know the North East has bucket loads! We hope everyone in the region is inspired by Zoe to join an event.

“We’re urging mams, dads, nans, grandpas, brothers, sisters, friends and workmates to show their support by joining the Race for Life. It’s a perfect example of everyday people doing an extraordinary thing – uniting to beat cancer.

“We encourage our participants to help raise money however they can – there are lots of ideas on the Race for Life website – because this allows Cancer Research UK to fund vital, life-saving research. This includes clinical trials which give patients in the region access to the latest treatments.”

Cancer Research UK’s life-saving work relies on the public’s support. Thanks to the generosity of its supporters, the charity was able to spend over £5 million last year in the North East on some of the UK’s leading scientific and clinical research.

To enter Race for Life today visit raceforelife.org or call 0300 123 0770.