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7 July 2020

Young mum with rare tumour affecting one in 50,000 pregnancies praises Weston Park Cancer Centre on 50th anniversary


A young cancer survivor who suffered with a rare tumour that developed during pregnancy and that would eventually leave her without the ability to use her legs has spoken in praise of the phenomenal support and care she received at Weston Park Cancer Centre.

At first Lucy Gray, then 29, of Newark thought she was having a miscarriage after experiencing persistent pain and bleeding following the birth of her healthy baby girl, Ellena in November 2016. But six weeks later, in February 2017, a scan revealed Lucy had developed choriocarinoma, a very rare cancer of the womb that affects one in every 50,000 pregnancies.

What followed next was, as Lucy, now 33, describes it “one hell of a journey” which would leave her without the use of her legs as the cancer spread to her spine and months of treatment and specialist nursing care and treatment at Weston Park’s Teenage Cancer Trust Unit away from her young daughter and family.

Now Lucy is sharing her story to raise awareness of the huge effect gestational trophoblastic tumours can have on people’s lives and to inspire others as Weston Park celebrates its 50th year.

The Sheffield Gestational Trophoblastic Disease Centre, which is based at Weston Park Cancer Centre, is one of two specialist national centres in the UK treating gestational trophoblastic tumours, a rare group of tumours that grow inside the womb after conception.

“I loved every minute of being pregnant and I had no problems with my birth whatsoever,” said Lucy whose strength and determination to keep going during her darkest times came from her daughter, “But when I was told I had cancer I thought I was going to die. I had the most amazing emotions. I’d just had a baby but it was like I’d slapped in the face as I had this diagnosis. I kept thinking why bring this little person into the world and then take me away?”

The next few weeks would be gruelling for Lucy. The scans and x-rays showed there were tumours in her womb, lung, and brain, so she was given a course of stereotactic radiotherapy to target the tumours in her brain followed by further chemotherapy. However, this initial course of treatment failed to continue to reduce the size of the tumours and Lucy had another five rounds of chemotherapy, followed by a hysterectomy before being discharged home in December 2017 with a course of immunotherapy drugs which aimed to suppress the cancer by targeting certain cells in the immune system.

Sadly, it wasn’t long before the cancer came back with a vengeance and on New Year’s Eve 2017 Lucy collapsed on the floor, suffering with bad back pains and unable to move. On New Year’s Day 2018 she was confirmed as being paraplegic. She underwent spinal surgery to remove the tumour from around her spinal cord and was readmitted to the Teenage Cancer Trust Unit at Weston Park, where she would spend the best part of five months receiving further intensive chemotherapy and specialist medical and nursing care.

“I never thought it was just a job to them. It was such a horrendous time but the staff made it as bearable as it could be. I was able to take my daughter to the playroom and feed her. The staff would literally sit with me until I understood what was happening to me. I’d be googling things, but they’d tell me everyone’s experiences are so different, it’s a really individual thing. I really was in the best hands.”

Lucy was eventually transferred to the Princess Anne Spinal Cord Injuries Centre in May 2018 and then was transferred from there to the STEPS rehabilitation unit in Sheffield in June 2018 where she was until December 2018.

“I was told it was unlikely that I would ever walk again. I was in a wheelchair, but I worked hard and I can walk with two sticks now,” said Lucy whose daughter is three and a half now and is hoping to get married in October 2021.

“People say you must hate coming back to Weston Park, but to me that feels like a weird thing to say because they saved my life. It’s truly an amazing place. All the good they have done over the past 50 years, it’s phenomenal.”

Weston Park Cancer Hospital, as it then known, was officially opened by HRH Princess Anne on 1 July 1970.

ENDS

Photo: Lucy with her daughter, Ellena in May 2020

 



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