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Breast cancer survivor praises UHCW for saving her life

Laura Quirke, who works for Coventry and Warwickshire Clinical Commissioning Group, was cured of breast cancer in 2016 following treatment and surgery at UHCW.

The discovery of a lump in her breast came during a tough few years for Laura, who lost both her parents to cancer in 2011 and 2014. The Population Health Management Programme Coordinator was not overly worried, after experiencing benign cysts in the past, but was encouraged to see her GP by a friend.

She said: “I laughed at the time and was messaging my friend, not taking it seriously. I was completely relaxed about it when I went to my GP; and even when I was referred to UHCW I was not too concerned.

“While I was there I had an ultrasound-guided cyst aspiration, but it didn’t work, so they took a biopsy - it was like being stapled with a gun. Following that I had a nice chat with the nurse, still totally unconcerned, and off I went.”

Two weeks later Laura was back at UHCW, to see a consultant and nurse on a Friday afternoon, where she was diagnosed with a metaplastic breast cancer in the left breast, a rare and aggressive cancer.

Laura messaged her friends on the way home from the hospital, still not accepting what was happening, but over the weekend had no-one to talk to so did some internet research.

She added: “I found out that the survival rate for my cancer was 30% after three years, which I thought was not bad, really. I started to think about selling my house and going travelling to enjoy the time I would have left.

“I had a meeting with the surgeon a couple of weeks later to discuss my mastectomy. It was a fairly quick and tense meeting. I wanted a double mastectomy and reconstruction at the same time – in my head I wanted everything over and done with as quickly as possible, but the surgeon said no, it would just be the left breast.

“He said ‘A double mastectomy won’t save your life,’ and also explained that the nature of the cancer meant it could come back behind any implants, making it harder to discover, and so I would be sensible to wait at least a year to have reconstruction.

Following a successful operation Laura had chemotherapy every three weeks for six months, an experience she found extremely challenging.

“I really didn’t know what to expect from chemotherapy. When I had my first chemo session, I could feel the chemicals moving around the inside of my skull - it was so strange. I imagined it was an army marching around my head, sent in to sort out the invader!

“It really was not pleasant, especially from a mental health perspective. I went into a real slump and despondency a few days after each session. I describe it as being the nearest I can get to understanding why some people decide life isn’t worth living - and after my third round said I couldn’t carry on with it. And just to be clear – the ‘slump’ would always pass, after about a week; anyone going through the same must hang on to that reality.

“My oncologist, Dr Penny Kehagioglou is my hero; she encouraged me to continue, changed my dose and got me through it.”

Throughout her treatment Laura was impressed with the amount of support she had from UHCW and the referrals to other cancer charities and support groups.

Two years later Laura returned to UHCW, cancer free, to have a ‘tummy tuck’ breast reconstruction - when fat and skin is taken from the tummy area to recreate the breast shape.

She said: “The reconstruction was quite an invasive operation, I was in hospital for six days, but my surgeon, Mrs Skillman, did an amazing job.

“I am so grateful to everyone at UHCW who helped me to get cancer free. And I’m grateful that they still keep a check on me. I have my annual bone scan coming up later this month. It’s a real source of comfort that I know there are people at UHCW who have still got my back.”

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