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…
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