Stevenage nurse turned Hatfield academic on how she survived womb cancer
- Credit: Archant
In a bid to help save lives, a nurse who has survived womb cancer is keen to tell her story during Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month this September.
Laura Davidson-Dean has a strong medical background, employed first as a nurse at Stevenage's Lister Hospital and now currently working as a principal lecturer in the School of Health and Social Work at the University of Hertfordshire in Hatfield. But when she suddenly started bleeding, with no other symptoms whatsoever, she was puzzled.
A trip to her GP and Laura, who was 54 at the time, was reassured it was something to do with the menopause.
But persistent bleeding and a niggling doubt led to Laura, who lives in Stevenage, paying to go private, resulting in a shocking diagnosis.
She said: "For about six months before I got the diagnosis I was bleeding. The bleeding didn't go away, so I went private and had an ultrasound. By that evening I had a diagnosis of womb cancer."
Laura went on to have a hysterectomy and her fallopian tubes removed, followed by a course of radiotherapy at Mount Vernon Cancer Centre in Middlesex.
When she was diagnosed the cancer was at stage 1b, which means it had grown halfway or more into the muscle wall of the womb.
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The cancer was also grade 3, which means it was fast-growing.
Laura said: "The cancer was very busy, but it was contained.
"If I hadn't gone private it could have been a very different story to this one.
"It was very difficult to get diagnosed. Apart from the bleeding, I had no symptoms - I didn't feel ill or tired - and when you are in your 50s a lot is put down to the menopause.
"I fell through the net."
Laura was diagnosed in June 2016 and is now in remission. She must see her oncologist regularly for five years before she is given the all-clear.
And now Laura, feeling incredibly lucky to have survived, is keen to tell her story in a bid to raise awareness and potentially save lives.
She said: "It's the fourth most common cancer in women, but it seems to be taboo to talk about it.
"My advice is to know your own body and, if you feel something is wrong, be persistent with your doctor."
Laura, now 57, is also keen to emphasise the link between cancer and obesity, and has worked hard to lose more than three stone since joining Slimming World in January last year.
She said: "We know the strong correlation between obesity and cancer and I wanted to take back control of my life.
"I now have lots more energy and feel better than ever. I feel in control now."
Cancer Research UK says being overweight or obese is the second biggest preventable cause of cancer in the UK - the first being smoking.
The charity says more than one in 20 cancer cases are caused by excess weight, with the risks higher the more weight a person gains and the longer they are overweight for.
A spokesman said: "Consistent results from decades of research involving millions of people show the link between overweight and obesity and cancer and means we can confidently rule out other explanations, such as chance or other lifestyle factors.
"People keeping a healthy weight could prevent around 22,800 cases of cancer every year in the UK."
He continued: "Extra fat in the body doesn't just sit there, it's active, sending out signals to the rest of your body. These signals can tell cells in our body to divide more often, which can lead to cancer.
"When too much fat is carried around the belly, it can do even more damage. So-called 'apple' shapes are linked to bowel, kidney, oesophageal, pancreatic and breast cancers.
"It isn't clear exactly why this is, but it could be to do with how quickly certain chemicals from fat can get into the blood."
The types of cancer caused by excess weight include breast and bowel cancers - which are the UK's two most common - and pancreatic, oesophageal and gallbladder cancers, which are three of the hardest to treat. Cancer Research UK says the link between being overweight or obese and cancer is only in adulthood, but research shows children who are obese are around five times more likely to grow into adults who are obese.
For more about Cancer Research UK and the charity's work, you can visit cancerresearchuk.org.