Kat’s cancer story – “I felt like I had a team on my side.”

Kat's story

After receiving an unexpected cervical cancer diagnosis, 42-year-old Kat has been treated for cancer twice and overcome cardiac surgery. No stranger to endurance Kat has now broken a world record rowing across the Atlantic.

Here she shares her inspiring story.

An unexpected diagnosis

At 39 years old, Kat decided she wanted to freeze her eggs in the hope of having children. She chose the Lister Fertility Clinic part of HCA Healthcare UK and embarked on the process of fertility treatment. On the day of her egg collection, her fertility doctor told her they had found an abnormality during the procedure, which they thought was likely to be fibroids. A biopsy was taken and shortly after Kat was given the unexpected news that she had stage 1 cervical cancer.

"It was a complete shock, I had begun the process of freezing my eggs, in the hope that I would be able to have children. I didn’t imagine that during this process I would be diagnosed with cancer. I didn’t have any symptoms so it was completely unexpected, I was in shock not just at the fact I had cancer, but that I would not be able to carry a child, I would say that this is what really upset me the most." Says Kat.

Specialist surgery

Kat was referred to Mr J Richard Smith, Consultant Gynaecologist at The Lister Hospital, who reviewed her diagnosis along with some of his colleagues at HCA Healthcare UK. Kat’s treatment plan included significant surgery at The Lister Hospital. In April 2019, under the care of Mr J Richard Smith, Kat had a hysterectomy to remove her cervix and womb.

After this surgery, Kat was able to have a couple more rounds of egg freezing in the hope that, although she would be unable to carry a child, she may be able to have children in the future. In August 2019 Kat had an oophorectomy, which is surgery to remove the ovaries, and in October 2019 she was given the ‘all clear’.

A second diagnosis

In June 2020, Kat started to feel as though something wasn’t right, and contacted her GP, “I immediately spoke to my GP who thought my symptoms were down to a urinary tract infection, but I was adamant it wasn’t. I was experiencing pain in my lower back and stomach and these symptoms prompted me to push for further testing.”

After further testing Kat was given the devastating news that her cancer had returned, the pain she had been experiencing was down to tumours pressing her urethra and causing pressure on her kidneys, the cancer had spread to the muscle in her abdomen.

Expert care from Dr Mary McCormack and the team

Kat came back to HCA Healthcare UK in July (2020), this time for chemotherapy treatment at LOC.  it was here that she met Dr Mary McCormack. "When I met Mary, she was incredible. She had already reviewed my history, where I had been, biopsies etc. She arranged for me to have a PET CT scan and had discussed this and my history with her colleagues at a multidisciplinary team (MDT) meeting. This meant that by the time I had an appointment with her she already had a plan – which is all I wanted.

At the appointment I felt reassured by her whole approach, she had a great manner, she was thoughtful and empathetic, and it was a breath of fresh air. My friend who came with me said ‘this is the person you want on your side’."

Mary shared her recommended treatment plan with Kat, which was daily radiotherapy for 6 weeks, "Mary was always clear on what we were going to do and why, she was honest and understanding and everything was turned around very quickly. I began my radiotherapy treatment in November (2020) and it was completed in January 2021."

An unanticipated complication

Between treatments Kat had a routine scan, during this test the team discovered a left atrial myxoma, a benign cardiac tumour. Despite this Kat was able to go ahead with her radiotherapy treatment as planned, the team explained that cardiac surgery would be needed once her radiotherapy was complete.

"Having radiotherapy is intense. I saw the team every day for 6 weeks and they really got to know me and understood when I wasn’t in a good mood. They developed a system, where they would ask if I was OK and if I just give a thumbs up, they knew this meant I was having a bad day and I didn’t really want to talk.

I also found having the support of a dietician during my radiotherapy really helpful. As someone who enjoys exercising, I had exercised throughout my chemo, and I felt like this had really helped me get through treatment. But once they found the heart tumour, I had to give this up. Having the dietician to give me advice and come up with a diet plan really helped me manage this phase of my treatment and reduce the side effects."

Cardiac expertise

After her radiotherapy treatment Kat needed to have a heart operation to remove the benign cardiac tumour that had been found earlier.

At HCA Healthcare UK our consultants work together in multidisciplinary teams (MDTs), this means they work closely with colleagues from other medical disciplines, with the expertise to treat even the most complex conditions. In Kat’s case this was Mr Toufan Bahrami, Consultant Cardiac Surgeon at The Harley Street Clinic, part of HCA Healthcare UK.

"The hospital stay after my heart operation was a week. I had just had surgery and the same day the physio came in to see me, they said I needed to get out of bed, I was surprised, but it’s important as it can prevent you from getting pneumonia. They did this every day until I came out of the Intensive Care Unit, making sure I was getting up and moving. Looking back, I think the physio team really helped speed up my recovery, I was even able to walk home. I only live a short walk from Harley Street, I can remember the hospital porter helping me, he had all my bags in a wheelchair and I was just walking slowly – it was incredible really."

Breaking a world record

Throughout the challenges of her diagnosis and treatment there was one thing keeping Kat motivated – getting to the start line of a 3,000 mile nautical race, rowing from the Canary Islands to Antigua.

In December 2021, just 10 months after her cardiac surgery, Kat embarked on the Atlantic Endeavour, the world’s toughest rowing race.

"The row was my main focus throughout the whole of treatment, I just wanted to get to the start line. We did it as a female trio and we broke the world record. The race is rowing unsupported and non-stop, so it would be 2 hours on and 2 hours off, on rotation. It is physically gruelling, mainly from the lack of sleep.

A big challenge was that I had ureteric stents fitted preventatively to protect my kidneys when the cancer returned, these had to be changed just before I went, so I was on antibiotics in the run-up to the row. But I was able to get through it, I think because it was just so breath-taking, I rowed alongside whales and dolphins and the sky was magnificent. I know many rowers find it mentally tough, but after the two years I had been through some of the tougher days didn’t feel as bad as when I was having treatment; I was just so glad to be on that boat."

Moving forward

Kat is currently in remission, she still sees her team regularly for a follow up consultation and scan every four months to look out for any changes.

On her treatment at HCA Healthcare UK Kat says "I felt like I had a team on my side. The team I had for both rounds of treatment were incredible. I continue to spend lots of time at The LOC, as I have scans every 4 months. My Clinical Nurse Specialist Johanna Bowie was THE best nurse ever. She was always there for a quick call, checking in on me but never in an interfering way. I just knew I could run anything past her, and she would give me advice, or speak to Mary on my behalf and let me know what to do. I cannot say enough good things about Johanna or Mary."

This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.
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