A SOUTHAMPTON research nurse who had to fight for her life during cancer treatment is urging people not to delay getting unusual symptoms checked out.
Maggie Fay believes seeing her doctor promptly helped them to catch her cancer at an early stage and treat her successfully after she was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer.
New statistics show the number of people dying from this type of cancer has risen by almost 50 per cent in the last 40 years.
Maggie, 65, hopes her story will help to highlight symptoms that shouldn’t be ignored.
Now almost six years on, as well as raising awareness, Maggie is urging mums, daughters, sisters and friends to join a growing army taking on cancer by entering Race for Life.
Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life, in partnership with Tesco, is an inspiring womenonly series of events which raises millions of pounds every year to help beat cancer sooner.
Maggie, who has two children and seven grandchildren, was due to celebrate her 60th birthday in Australia with her daughter, Jackie, her husband and their four children when she suffered her first symptoms.
She felt a severe pain in her chest while eating a sandwich on the run. She blamed heartburn, rushing around while eating and not chewing her food more thoroughly.
But it recurred when she was in Australia and her daughter noticed she was in pain and also appeared tired.
The pain struck a third time before Maggie left and she fulfilled a promise to her daughter to see her GP quickly by making the appointment before she flew home.
The GP immediately referred Maggie for tests which revealed a tumour in her oesophagus.
Following more tests, doctors recommended a three-month course of chemotherapy followed by surgery.
“It was quite strange to attend the same chemotherapy unit I worked in and be treated by the colleagues I knew so well,” says Maggie.
“They were so kind, caring and professional, I felt totally safe in their hands”.
But the mother of four nearly lost her life due to complications which required her to stay in hospital for three months rather than the normal seven to ten days.
“The staff were amazing,” she says.
“It’s thanks to their wonderful care and hard work I’m here to tell the tale five-and-a-half years later”.
In 2012 Maggie’s daughter, Jackie, was diagnosed with leukaemia and Maggie returned to Australia for two months to support her through treatment. She is currently doing well.
A member of Cancer Research UK’s unique team of research nurses in Southampton for the past fourteen years, Maggie believes part of her recovery was helped by going back to work and to feel she was leading a normal life.
Maggie, who lives in Sholing with her husband, Chris, adds: “As a research nurse working with cancer patients I was always very busy and although my working day was extremely long, I loved it. The patients make the job so rewarding.
“I’ve been working in cancer care for many years. And I’ve seen great changes in attitudes, treatment and expectations for cancer patients and their survival.
“Following treatment I became really aware of the new ways that some cancers were being targeted.
“Instead of a one size fits all type of treatment we are moving towards a system where each patient will get treatment tailored to their type of cancer.
“New trials, greater public awareness of signs and symptoms and the need to go to the GP as soon as possible will increase the number of cancers found at an earlier stage – especially oesophageal cancer”.
But Maggie knows more needs to be done which is why she is supporting Race for Life.
Money raised helps to fund research like that of leading Southampton cancer surgeon Tim Underwood who specialises in oesophageal and gastric disease.
Mr Underwood and a team in Southampton are currently working with UK scientists and other cancer experts world-wide as part of the International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC) – Cancer Research UK is leading the ICGC’s research into oesophageal cancer.
Mr Underwood, a consultant oesophageal surgeon at Southampton General Hospital, says: “Maggie is an example of a patient who saw her doctor early and could be offered a cure for her cancer.
“Unfortunately the majority of people with cancer of the oesophagus are not that lucky. The research that CRUK is funding will lead to earlier diagnosis and better treatments for the 8,500 people who are diagnosed with oesophageal and stomach cancer every year.”
Liz Frisby, Cancer Research UK’s Southampton Events Manager, says: “It is because of inspiring people like Maggie we are issuing the rallying cry ‘cancer, we’re coming to get you’ and urging women to Race for Life.”
This year Race for Life is at Winchester on Sunday, June 8, and Southampton on Sunday, July 6.
For more information about Race for Life and to register for an event, visit: raceforlife.cancerresearchuk.org