Woman, 38, told she is terminally ill weeks after being given cancer all-clear
A gym addict has been told she is terminally ill, just one month after she says NHS doctors told her she was cancer free.
Gemma Sisson, 38, says medics missed the secondary tumours in three scans in the months after being given the all-clear.
It was only when she had a private MRI scan that the tumours were found.
Her last NHS scan, which revealed no cancer, was taken just a month before her private one.
Now Gemma is calling for better NHS screening for all cancer sufferers.
In the summer of 2017 she discovered a lump in her groin which was diagnosed in March the following year as pelvic cancer.
After chemotherapy sessions at the Leeds Cancer Centre, she was given the all-clear in January this year.
A final series of scans were taken and in July it was confirmed she was cancer-free.
But shockingly, after complaining to a physiotherapist about pain in her neck and back she had suffered since March this year she was advised to pay £330 for a private MRI scan.
To her horror it revealed that she had secondary tumours in her neck, back, liver and stomach.
Gemma said: "Obviously I wasn't all-clear.
"I had a final, bigger CT scan from the NHS in July to check the cancer had gone.
"They missed small tumours that had developed in my stomach and they did not scan far up enough to spot the cancer at the top of my spine – they missed it by millimetres."
Gemma has now started a petition calling for thorough checks for the life-threatening illness before patients are told they are cancer-free.
It has so far attracted almost 60,000 signatures with many contributors telling their own horror stories of how they did not find other cancers until it was too late.
Gemma, who now has a collapsed spine, feels lucky to have at least found her secondary cancer before she became completely paralysed, but feels it could have been detected earlier.
Her diagnosis came after a private physiotherapist she was seeing for chronic back and neck pain told her she ought to have a scan as what she was suffering was not normal.
The scan she paid £330 for in August – just one month after her last NHS scan – revealed cancer in her spine had eaten away at two and a half vertebrae.
The scan showed the tumours growing on her spine, liver and her stomach, and Gemma was dealt the heartbreaking blow that they were secondary cancer and incurable.
Project manager Gemma said: "I was given the all-clear in January and was having three monthly scans after that.
"At my last scan in July they decided I could now switch to yearly scans.
"I dread to think how bad I would have become waiting another year for a scan."
About her neck and back pain, Gemma said: "I never connected the two.
"I was going to my GP and was getting very strong pain killers but it did not enter my head that it could be anything to do with cancer.
"Unfortunately, nobody else – including a chiropractor and medics at Leeds General Infirmary (LGI) A&E – made the connection either or even looked any further to investigate my back pain.
"When I went for private physio care, the pyshiotherapist told me straight away that I ought to go for a scan on my neck to see what was going on – the pain was so severe I had to pick my own head up to get up in the morning.
"He had worked at the LGI in the spinal injuries unit for several years, and he literally saved my life and stopped me being paralysed."
Gemma underwent major surgery at the LGI on her spine, which took seven hours, during which they removed the tumours and collapsed vertebrae and relieved pressure on her spinal cord.
At this stage doctors are unable to give Gemma a prognosis, but it is uncurable.
Gemma will undergo chemotherapy every three weeks from now until the cancer ultimately takes her life.
So far the pain has improved but she has good and bad days.
At the moment her only form of exercise is to go out for walks.
Gemma said: "I am very fit and healthy, I eat well and exercise, I've never smoked and don't drink to excess, sadly I think this possibly went against me as I was ill.
"Even I didn't think this could happen to me."
Gemma, who lives in Leeds, but comes from Bridlington, East Yorks, is now hoping to make a difference to others and show how important it is to have better investigation – and possibly full-body scans – before giving the all-clear.
While she campaigns she is also trying to make the most of her life.
She has got back together with her ex, gym owner Ricky Moore, 39, who she dated for 14 years before breaking up in December 2017.
Gemma's friends Rachael Harrison and Sarah Brown started up a GoFundMe page to raise funds for her to cover rent and day-to-day expenses – and tick off some activities on her bucket list – now she is no longer able to work, which has already raised almost £15,000.
To donate to Gemma's page, visit https://www.gofundme.com/f/fundraising-for-gemma .
To sign Gemma's petition go to: Change.org/fullbodycheck
Dr Yvette Oade, Chief Medical Officer at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust said: "Full body scans are offered to cancer patients where it is appropriate and there is clinical evidence to support this, in order to assess the patient's response to treatment.
"Unfortunately there is never a guarantee, even if there is no evidence of active disease after treatment, that the cancer will not recur in another area of the body."
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