Stand­ing strong

Af­ter doc­tors re­moved a cyst from her ovary, Lau­ren Den­nis, 23, from Lon­don, thought she was out of the woods. But the worst was yet to come…

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Wip­ing my face clean, I took a deep breath and looked in the mir­ror. I’d been vom­it­ing all night and I was ex­hausted.

As I looked at my tired re­flec­tion, I re­alised just how much weight I’d re­cently lost.

It was March 2017, and de­spite feel­ing so bloated for the past few weeks, I’d com­pletely lost my ap­petite, and my weight had plum­meted.

I’d been to my GP, but I was told that I prob­a­bly just had gall stones or IBS.

‘I’ll book you in for a scan, just to be safe,’ he’d said.

At Chelsea and West­min­ster Hospi­tal, I was given bad news.

‘You have a large cyst on your left ovary,’ the doc­tor said.

I was told it was the size of a grape­fruit, and that it had en­gulfed my en­tire ovary.

I was told I would need surgery to re­move it. But I’m only 21, I thought. I went home to process the news, and did my best to con­tinue with my univer­sity chem­istry course. But, just a few days later, I was vom­it­ing up litres of bile.

‘We need to get you to hospi­tal right now,’ my mum, Lor­raine, said.

So she and my dad ,Tim, took me back to A&E.

Back at hospi­tal, I was taken in for an emer­gency MRI scan.

From there, I was trans­ferred to the Royal Mars­den Hospi­tal, a world-lead­ing can­cer cen­tre in Lon­don.

There, I had to un­dergo emer­gency surgery to re­move the cyst. Doc­tors had to re­move my en­tire ovary, too.

Com­ing round a few hours later, I felt so re­lieved.

‘At least it’s all over now,’ I smiled to Mum.

But it was far from it. I was

dis­charged on 25 May – my 22nd birth­day – but a few weeks later, I was called back to the hospi­tal for an en­doscopy.

Doc­tors had some wor­ry­ing news.

They’d taken a biopsy from the cyst in my ovary and found that it was can­cer­ous. It got worse… ‘We’ve found that it was ac­tu­ally can­cer from your bowel that had spread to your ovary,’ a doc­tor ex­plained to me. Bowel can­cer. I was dev­as­tated, and so ter­ri­fied. ‘What hap­pens next?’ I stam­mered, clutch­ing Mum’s hand.

‘We’ll need to oper­ate at some point, but first you’ll need to un­dergo a course of chemo­ther­apy,’ he ex­plained. I was so scared, but soon enough, I’d started the gru­elling 12-week course. The side

ef­fects were strange.

While I didn’t lose my hair like I thought I would, my hands would of­ten go numb and I strug­gled to breathe at times.

But af­ter com­plet­ing the course, I felt so much bet­ter and was back to my usual en­er­getic self.

I went back to uni and started play­ing net­ball. I even com­pleted a 6k run. Later, a scan showed that the tu­mour on my bowel had shrunk, but doc­tors wanted to put me on a sec­ond round of chemo to shrink it even more be­fore op­er­at­ing.

An­other painful 12 weeks passed, and, by that De­cem­ber, I was ex­pect­ing good news. Only… ‘I’m sorry, but the tu­mour has grown,’ the doc­tor said. I was so de­spon­dent. ‘I thought the chemo would fix

It was the size of a grape­fruit

this,’ I said, dis­ap­pointed.

I spent that Christ­mas vom­it­ing and feel­ing lethar­gic – it was as if I was back to square one.

A few weeks later, I hadn’t stopped vom­it­ing, and come Jan­uary, I went back to the hospi­tal, where it was dis­cov­ered I had a bowel ob­struc­tion.

I couldn’t eat any­thing, and any­thing I did eat, I just couldn’t keep down.

I was put on a feed­ing tube, and worse, a third course of chemo.

Two months later, in March, I was still in the hospi­tal, and was be­com­ing so de­pressed.

‘I just want to go home now,’ I cried to Mum.

So, in April, Mum booked a trip for me and her to go to Am­s­ter­dam. ‘We’ll go and see the tulips,’ she smiled.

Thank­fully, doc­tors gave me the OK to travel, so long as I was back in time for my next chemo round.

It was in­cred­i­ble to be out in the open again, in­stead of be­ing con­fined to a hospi­tal bed.

Mum and I were hav­ing a won­der­ful time, but, two days into our hol­i­day, I started vom­it­ing again.

‘Maybe it’s just the side ef­fects of the chemo,’ I rea­soned.

But it kept on com­ing, and even­tu­ally, Mum took

me to a lo­cal hospi­tal. At the Onze Lieve Vrouwe Gasthuis, doc­tors did a scan which showed the tu­mour on my bowel had grown and had spread to my liver. I held Mum’s hand in shock as I heard the news.

‘We’ll need to oper­ate now,’ I was told.

Be­fore I knew it, I was be­ing wheeled down into the­atre, where my tu­mour was re­moved. Back in the ward, I felt so scared be­ing in a for­eign hospi­tal, sur­rounded by doc­tors and nurses speak­ing in a lan­guage I couldn’t un­der­stand.

‘We man­aged to get the tu­mour on your bowel,’ a sur­geon ex­plained. ‘But we found two more

tu­mours on your liver.’ I burst into tears. ‘This is never go­ing to end,’ I

cried to Mum.

Af­ter a month re­cov­er­ing in Am­s­ter­dam, doc­tors there agreed to let me go back to Lon­don and con­tinue my treat­ment at the Royal Mars­den. But, while my surgery had been

paid for with my EU Health In­sur­ance card, I was told I had to pay for my own med­i­cal trans­port back to the UK. Re­search­ing on­line, I dis­cov­ered

that air am­bu­lances were charg­ing close to £11,000 for the trip. This is hope­less, I thought. But Mum helped me get the word out, and soon, my best mate back home, Daniella, set up a crowd­fund­ing page.

In­cred­i­bly, she man­aged to raise £12,000 in just 14 hours! I was so grate­ful. Soon, Mum and I were safely strapped into a pri­vate am­bu­lance and were on our way back to the Royal Mars­den.

Ten days later, I cel­e­brated my 23rd birth­day – in hospi­tal.

Now, I’m out of hospi­tal and await­ing more treat­ment.

I never thought this would hap­pen to me.

I thought I would be grad­u­at­ing this year, but in­stead, I missed out on a whole year of uni, wad­ing my way through end­less surg­eries and chemo­ther­apy ses­sions. But I am hope­ful for the fu­ture. I’m set up to do an in­tern­ship this sum­mer, and I plan on go­ing back to uni in Septem­ber.

I just want a bit of nor­mal­ity back in my life.

In a way, I’m also very lucky – I only went to my doc­tor be­cause I was frus­trated with feel­ing nau­seous all the time.

But if I hadn’t gone, doc­tors wouldn’t have found my can­cer and I’d prob­a­bly be dead by now.

I know I’ll soon have to face more chemo, but I also plan on get­ting on with my life.

I’m ready to face what­ever life has to of­fer.

Strangers paid for us to get home

I was de­ter­mined my life would go on

The tu­mour kept grow­ing

Mum and I stay pos­i­tive

Best mate Daniella saved me

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