Exceptional care: a cervical cancer patient story
At 28, Laura was enjoying life with her husband in Gibraltar, where she was working in customer service after moving there from Edinburgh. In March 2019 they’d travelled home to China for a holiday, and so she took the opportunity to have a health check.
Unfortunately the test revealed bad news. The nurse reported that she had severe cervical ectopy – where soft cells that line the inside of the cervical canal spread to the outer surface of the cervix – along with heavy bleeding and fragile tissue that would fall when hit by the cotton swab.
An immediate cervical biopsy showed evidence of cancer, which was confirmed with an MRI and blood tests.
“I could never have dreamed that such a routine test would reveal such a devastating result,” Laura said.
“In hindsight, I realised that over the past year I had experience symptoms like yellow and heavy vaginal discharge, bursts of pain in the lower right half of my stomach, especially during exercise. My right hip bone would also experience pain. At the time I thought these might have been caused by over-exercise or sitting in the wrong position.”
Laura’s doctors recommended she start treatment immediately at her hospital in Beijing, so she was booked in for routine blood, urine, renal blood flow tests, an ECG and PET CT scan. A biopsy came back suggesting it was adenocarcinoma; possibly cervical mucinous adenocarcinoma. Her consultant was not positive about the diagnosis, and suggested chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Unsatisfied with her care in the Beijing hospital, Laura began to think about other options she might have.
“My hospital in Beijing looks after too many patients to be able to give individuals a good level of care and attention; they were unable to discuss my condition in much detail and on top of that the consultant suggested that there might be a long wait for a bed to become available,” she explained.
“Having studied in the UK we knew the country, and one of my friends’ mothers had come to The Royal Marsden from Gibraltar for treatment.”
After getting in touch, Laura was transferred to The Royal Marsden, a world-leading cancer centre in London.
Arriving at the beginning of April, she was shown around the hospital by the International Patient team, who could speak Mandarin.
“My first impression was immediate surprise at how different the atmosphere is compared to China,” Laura said. “It does not feel like a hospital. There are many patients but everyone has a smile and an ease about them that you could not have told what their situation was. Families from other countries would often speak to me whilst we were waiting for appointments and offer their encouragements and best wishes.”
A cervical biopsy was arranged immediately, with a pre-assessment carried out to understand her full history and allergies.
Every member of The Royal Marsden has displayed an impressive level of patience and empathy, which is the biggest help for patients like me.
“I was impressed with how the process is done in The Royal Marsden. In my hospital at home the same procedure was done with much less privacy and less communication, because of the sheer volume of patients who are being treated. I felt nervous and helpless before, but at The Royal Marsden I could have my family beside me for support, along with the consultant and nurse who went through every detail with me.”
“At the end of that first day, I felt that I had passed the first challenge on my journey to defeating cancer.”
Dr Alexandra Taylor, Consultant Clinical Oncologist, saw Laura in outpatient clinic and set out a treatment plan consisting of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. She explained that a CT planning session would be carried out before treatment at the beginning of May, and that Carboplatin would be used for intraperiotneal chemotherapy, a technique that delivers chemotherapy drugs directly into the abdominal cavity.
Laura was impressed by Dr Taylor’s approach: “She had read my files, and said I had a positive prognosis. She made sure I understand my treatment plan and answered all my questions. She met every worry with a friendly response and was so empathetic and assiduous in her approach.”
During her treatment, had access to a 24 hour hotline where she could reach medical staff if any issues arose, which Laura found particularly helpful when she was experiencing some of the side effects of treatment.
“Dr Taylor had prepared me to expect some side effects. I had some abnormal bowel movements, a change in my skin and fatigue, but they were manageable. I was glad to have the 24 hour support there, and they always responded with positivity and meticulous feedback to help ease my concerns and issues. When I was in hospital the nurses could also give me medication that would help with my nausea.”
Laura responded well to treatment, finishing in the beginning of July. She has hormone replacement therapy and regular check-ups every three months. Dr Taylor referred her to Mr Thomas Ind, Consultant Gynaecological Surgeon at The Royal Marsden who discussed the possibility of surgery in future, and connected Laura with a gynaecology team in Gibraltar.
“I am in debt for the kindness and care The Royal Marsden has so generously bestowed. I particularly want to thank the International Patient Team, who interpreted for me at every appointment and answered all of my questions. They always took care of contacting the relevant departments and offered all the information that I needed. Throughout the process I felt deeply how much they cared.
“Every member of The Royal Marsden has displayed an impressive level of patience and empathy, which is the biggest help for patients like me.”