Cancer survivor shares her story to raise awareness

Gemma Wood
Gemma Wood
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A young woman who underwent a year of treatment for cancer is urging others in the same situation to get checked.

Gemma Wood was diagnosed with cancer of the rectum in November 2011, aged just 26.

She first saw her GP in January 2011, saying that she was bleeding every time she went to the toilet, and was suffering with indigestion. At the first appointment, Gemma said she thought she might have cancer but the doctor said it rarely affected young people.

At three further appoint-ments, she says she was diagnosed with piles and was eventually referred to Peterborough City Hospital for tests after a course of antibiotics didn’t help.

Following MRI tests, a CT scan, a biopsy and a flexi sigmoidoscopy, a polyp was found on Gemma’s rectum and she was told on November 15 that it was cancerous.

Doctors were concerned the grape-sized tumour was starting to grow into her bowel.

That day, she saw an oncologist and was given the opportunity to have her eggs harvested as she was told she could be left infertile. She declined as she didn’t want to delay the cancer treatment.

Gemma, now 27, said: “The day before I was due to get the results I was a nervous wreck and when they told me, it was the worst day of my life. I started shaking and then I got really angry.”

Gemma, a catering manager at Rutland Water Golf Course, underwent four cycles of chemotherapy over three months. Side effects included including pins and needles, weight loss and feeling tired and cold.

She then had a five-week course of radiotherapy and by the time she had an operation to remove the tumour on July 19, it had shrunk to the size of a mouth ulcer.

Gemma had two further courses of chemotherapy before being given the all clear on December 20. She will have tests every six months for two years and will be monitored for the rest of her life.

Throughout it all, she has been supported by her parents Debbie and Andy Wood and younger brother Ryan, 24.

Despite the treatment having left her infertile and needing an ileostomy bag, Gemma said she felt lucky.

She said: “Getting the all clear was a really weird feeling and I still feel emotional whenever I think about it and wonder why it happened to me.

“It was like I was removed from my life for a whole year and it is taking me a bit of time to get used to not having hospital appointments all the time. But I’ve got a different perspective on life now.

“I used to worry about little things and now I know how important friends and family are. The things that really matter are being happy and healthy.”

Gemma, of Pinfold Close, South Luffenham, has shared her story to raise awareness that cancer can strike anyone.

A new report by Bowel Cancer UK found 42 per cent of women saw their GP more than five times before being referred to a specialist or were diagnosed as an emergency before being referred. The report also found 25 per cent of people waited more than six months before going to see their GP.

The report was released ahead of Bowel Cancer Awareness Month in April.

Gemma urged people with any concerns to visit their GP and press them for tests.

She said: “It was a bit embarrassing to go to the doctors but if I hadn’t done anything about it, I wouldn’t be here now.”

Gemma has been supported on Twitter and welcomes anyone going through the same thing to follow 

She took part in Race for Life in Stamford last year, having just finished radiotherapy and raised £2,500. She will take part in this year’s event on June 2.

Gemma is also planning to hold a charity ball in the summer at Rutland Water Golf Course to raise funds for Peterborough City Hospital, where she was treated.

She said her team at the hospital were “amazing”.

Her father Andy is also hosting a charity dinner at North Luffenham Golf Club on June 8, when the meal will be cooked by 2012 MasterChef The Professionals winner Keri Moss. Tickets are £60 each and can be booked by calling 01780 721960. Proceeds will go to Bowel Cancer UK.