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Overcoming ovarian cancer at just 13
WHEN she was rushed to hospital suffering from acute stomach pains when she was 13, Naomi James and her family assumed she had appendicitis.
But the teenager from the New Forest had a rare and life threatening cancerous tumour on an ovary which had to be removed with emergency surgery that night.
She went on to spend a year as an in and out patient at the Piam Brown Ward at Southampton General Hospital.
Luckily the cancer went into remission and she was given the all clear.
And now her sister is marking another 13 years since Naomi’s cancer was discovered by signing up for a fundraising trek to Machu Picchu.
“It was a matter of life or death” says Naomi, 26, from Landford.
“I had surgery at about 2pm that night. The next day I asked a junior doctor outright if I had cancer and he said ‘yes’.
I’d heard people talking but no one had told me.
“It’s very rare for someone of my age to have what I did.
“It normally happens when you go through the menopause.
“They think the tumour was there from birth and the hormones from going through puberty made it become aggressive.
“But I never once thought I wasn’t going to get through it.
“I asked my mum if I was going to die and she said ‘no’ straight away. I knew I had to be strong and get on with it. Although it was me going through it, I never cried. It was when I was older, looking back, that it hit me a lot harder.”
Naomi and Sophie have nothing but praise for the Piam Brown Ward, a specialist children’s cancer unit.
“It was a home from home,” she says.
“All your family can go there – everyone’s welcome. There’s a massive playroom and a schoolroom, and they keep your mind off your treatment.
“Karen, who was the play leader when I was there, is still there and she still recognises me. It’s not just a job for them. They make it a nice place for children, because for some of them, it will be the last place they go. It’s really important to make everyone feel as safe and looked after as possible.”
Sophie shares Naomi’s fond memories of the Piam Brown Ward and says she made a number of friends there herself.
It is difficult for her to find words to explain what it was like for her, five years younger, watching her big sister go through such an ordeal.
But the sisters agree that it has made them and their brother Nathan much closer.
Naomi had to take a year off school and missed year eight but managed not to fall behind with her studies and went on to do A-levels and go to university.
She had assumed that because of the chemotherapy drugs and having an ovary removed it would be hard for her to have children but she unexpectedly fell pregnant at university and had her daughter, Ruby, in her third year – only taking two weeks off before returning to her studies to write her dissertation!
“She definitely wasn’t planned but it was such a miracle,” says Naomi of Ruby, who is now four.
“We didn’t think it would ever happen so it makes me treasure her.
“She’s so precious.”
Sophie has now launched a fundraising campaign to raise money for the Piam Brown Ward.
The 21-year-old who works in Elegance hairdressers in Totton, was morbidly obese at 17 stone before she managed to lose seven stone.
Sophie before her weight loss
She took up running and has begun to win races, such as the Salisbury half-marathon.
She says that what happened to her sister inspired her weight loss.
“You want to be as fit and healthy as you can, especially when you’ve had things like that in your family,” says the 21-year-old.
To help her to stay fit and to raise money for a worthy causes she sets herself challenges – the latest being to trek to Machu Picchu in Peru next year and raise £4000 for the Piam Brown Ward.
Sophie out training
For her it is important to do something to say thank you to the hospital that helped her sister so much.
“With the great care that Naomi had there, we’ve always tried to give something back,”
Naomi adds: “I count myself lucky that I had the treatment and it worked and I’ve been able to go on and have a perfectly normal life and do everything I want to do.”
- To make a donation to Sophie’s fundraising trek, text PERU 87 to 70070 to donate £1 or visit justgiving.com/sophie-james3
- The Piam Brown unit is the regional children’s cancer ward, based at Southampton General Hospital. Their aim is to care and support the child and the whole family. The ten bed inpatient ward provides 24 hour care for children and their families.
- For more information, visit suht.nhs.uk/piambrown
Sophie outside the salon in Totton where she works with her fundraising sweatshirt
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