Two years after undergoing surgery to remove half of her stomach and gullet as part of her treatment for oesophageal cancer, Gloria Brown, 68, is savouring the little things this year, as well as planning a trip to Venice.
Gloria was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer on 30 December 2016. She had nine hours of surgery where half of her stomach and gullet were removed and the stomach she had left was stretched up into her chest to give her a new gullet. Gloria also had chemotherapy.
When Gloria had received her diagnosis, she had only just bought herself a new sewing machine and never got a chance to use it.
Now her treatment is over, she is excited about spending time on her hobby and has been making crafts to raise money for charity. She’s also planning a trip to Venice and is focusing on her experience to highlight Cancer Research UK’s ‘Right Now’ campaign.
The charity’s powerful and emotive ‘Right Now’ TV ads show real patients who have had cancer treatment within the last few years, followed up by current home video showing how research has helped them get back to enjoying life with their loved ones.
In sharing stories of these individuals who are facing their own cancer journeys, the campaign aims to show how actions taken right now can make a real tangible difference in helping more people survive.
In a similar move, by reflecting on how she felt during treatment, Gloria hopes to draw attention to the impact cancer research has had on her life.
Gloria had been feeling unwell in November 2016, as if she had indigestion and complained that her food wasn’t going down very well. After visiting the GP a few times, she was referred for further tests.
Her symptoms got worse that Christmas and she couldn’t enjoy the festivities. On 30 December 2016, she was given the life-changing diagnosis, that she had oesophageal cancer.
Oesophageal cancer is when abnormal cells in the food pipe (oesophagus) grow in an uncontrolled way. The oesophagus is the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach.
Gloria said: “Doctors told me that they’d found an advanced tumour and it was cancerous. It was such a shock.
“I was really ill and couldn’t eat much at all, but I just knew that I had to be fit and go on. I had my surgery and wanted to carry on with life as best I could. I had chemotherapy once every three weeks for eight hours. I was so ill after the second session, they cancelled the third session.
“I stayed in bed for about a month and had to use a wheelchair. I didn’t recognise myself in the mirror.”
Gloria was invited to go on neo-AEGIS, a clinical trial supported by Cancer Research UK. The trial is comparing chemotherapy before and after surgery, with chemotherapy alongside radiotherapy before surgery for oesophageal and gastro oesophageal cancer. Doctors are trying to find out if one treatment is better than the other, or if there is no difference between the two types of treatment.
The trial is open to people who have oesophageal cancer or some patients who have cancer where the food pipe joins the stomach (gastro oesophageal cancer). It’s taking place at several locations across the UK, including Newcastle.
As part of the trial, Gloria was going to have three lots of chemotherapy, every 3 weeks, before her surgery, followed by three cycles of treatment afterwards. (However, the decision was taken not to give Gloria the chemotherapy after her surgery, because of the effect it had had on her before the surgery.)
Today, coming up to the two-year anniversary of her surgery, she is sharing her story to let others know that there is life after cancer.
Gloria continued: “The ‘Right Now’ campaign captures the experience of so many families like mine. Cancer affects us all – not just the person diagnosed, but also their loved ones. My husband John and my family helped me through my cancer journey. Their support was vital in helping me go through my treatment and get back to the person I am today. I hope people in the region are motivated to show their support to this campaign and help even more people survive.
“I’m so grateful that I’m here today to share my story. I was lucky. Having cancer has changed me as a person and I appreciate every moment I have. I’m making time to do what makes me happy. I’m also planning a trip to Venice at some point with John. I’m living my life and I want to make the most of it.
“My experience means I understand all too clearly why Cancer Research UK’s work is so important, so now I want to do everything I can to raise awareness of the power of research in beating the disease. That’s why I’m urging people across the North East to take action, right now, and help support the charity’s vital research.”
Scientists, funded by Cancer Research UK, are working to improve the early detection of oesophageal cancer. Results from a trial we funded showed that a ‘sponge on a string’ (Cytosponge) can diagnose Barrett’s oesophagus, a condition that increases the risk of developing oesophageal cancer. The Cytosponge test is now being rolled out for larger trials in GP surgeries across the UK, to test it as a more convenient and comfortable diagnostic test compared to endoscopies.
Jaelithe Leigh-Brown, Cancer Research UK spokesperson for the North East said: “Our ‘Right Now’ campaign aims to show both the realities of the disease and the positive impact research and improved treatments can have on a cancer patient’s journey. Gloria’s story shows the realities of the disease and how important our work is. She is an inspirational woman and will help so many people going through their own cancer journey.
“Every hour, around 2 people are diagnosed with cancer in the North East.* But thanks to research, more people are surviving the disease than ever before. Survival has doubled in the last 40 years in the UK and Cancer Research UK’s work has been at the heart of that progress.
“Our campaign shows that we are working to beat cancer right now. But we can’t do it alone. With the help of our supporters, Cancer Research UK scientists can find new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat the disease.
Jaelithe added: “There are so many ways for people to show their support here in the North East – from joining a Race for Life event, to volunteering in our shops or simply wearing a Unity Band for World Cancer Day on 4 February. We’re calling on people in the region to take action right now and make a real difference in the fight against the disease.”