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Meet Christine.

Christine was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in 2018 and given two years to live. Five years later, and lucky to be alive, she’s urging everyone to be aware of the symptoms, and not to delay seeing the doctor.

It was Friday March 2nd, 2018, when Christine wrote in her diary: “It’s cancer! Two years! Everyone has called – knot in tum - can’t eat. Heartbroken!!!

The retired publican from Llanelli was in pieces. That day, a consultant had told her she had stage 4 oesophagael cancer, and two years to live.

Being here five years later to tell the tale is, in Christine’s words, “lucky” but she says she was never one to give up.

Recalling the day, her “world fell apart,” Christine said:

I went to the hospital on my own, me being a “toughie.” The consultant took an age to come out with it, and then told me straight…. It’s cancer.”

I said, “don’t be silly, it’s an ulcer, and he said, “it’s really not”.  “Give me a clue then,” I asked, and he replied “about two years - oesophagael cancer is deadly!”

I walked out of that consultant’s room in a daze - I don’t think I even said goodbye. I somehow made it to my car, placed my head on the steering wheel, and told myself it was okay and drove home.

As soon as got inside the house, I collapsed. I just thought “Oh, dear God, I’m going to die in two years, and there was no shoulder to cry on – not one!”

This July, on her 73rd birthday, Christine was remarkably, and against all the odds, given the all-clear by her medical team.

It was a massive relief for Christine as oesophagael cancer is often caught too late for treatment. But the trauma of receiving a terminal diagnosis had taken its toll, and Christine admits there are days where “she doesn’t want to be here anymore.”

Keeping a diary has been cathartic for Christine, and she has documented her journey over the past five years, when she feels the need.

“I kept on having this problem, where I couldn’t swallow my food. I knew it wasn’t a case of rushing my food, it just wasn’t shifting into my throat”, said Christine.

“I kept saying to my friend that I really must go to the doctors.

By then, it was hurting to swallow anything, including hot and cold drinks. I was also suffering with heartburn and increasing fatigue.”

It took Christine a year to act on her symptoms and make an appointment with her GP who immediately referred her for exploratory tests.

The tests revealed a 5cm cancerous tumour inside Christine’s oesophagus, the reason swallowing had become increasingly difficult and painful.

“I was angry with myself”, said Christine. “I was a smoker, and thought I’d probably caused it. I stopped smoking there and then, and I haven’t had a cigarette since that day. It was easier to give up than I thought.”

Christine started a course of life-extending chemotherapy and radiotherapy. One of her most harrowing side effects was losing her hair.

“It came out in clumps”, said Christine. “It started falling out on May 20th, 2018, and I was so distraught, I hacked it off myself by May 22nd!

I had to have a wig, so I bought one privately. It is a red head, and cost me a fortune, but was worth it. I look at the wig now, stuffed in a bedroom drawer, and it still brings back painful memories. That was one of the hardest things for me – losing my hair.”

Another “side-effect” of cancer for Christine was losing her friends.

 “I lost a close friend who passed away a few years back, and that was heartbreak on top of heartbreak. But I lost other friends too because they couldn’t handle my terminal cancer diagnosis.

I call it the loneliness of the cancer patient, but I am so much more than my cancer. I was a carer, I bought my own pub, and went line dancing for 21 years. That’s me - not the cancer!”

Christine moved to Llanelli from London in 1988 to follow her dreams of owning and running her own pub. She bought The Vine Inn in Llanelli’s Station Road and has many happy memories behind the bar.

Now retired, with her family miles away, she can feel isolated.

“Don’t get me wrong, most of the time I don’t mind being alone at all, but there are times in your life when you just need a shoulder to cry on.

“I’m a determined person, and I never gave up, and I think that’s what saw me through the cancer, saying that it’s been an awful five years, what with the Covid-19 pandemic on top as well.”

Against all the odds, consultants told Christine she was clear of cancer in September 2018.

“From being told I only had two years to live, it was a massive relief. I wanted to ring that bell you see on TV, but they didn’t have one at the hospital!

I no longer have cancer, but there is always a lingering fear it will come back. If I have a problem with my digestion, I think OMG the cancer is back!”

Christine now wants to raise awareness of the cancer that nearly killed her.

Nurses at Prince Phillip Hospital in Llanelli told her about a Tenovus Cancer Care event at the Senedd in Cardiff last summer and suggested she went along.

Politicians and the public assembled for the launch of Tea for Ten, a fundraising initiative to raise money through tea parties.

Christine had jumped on a train to Cardiff, alone, eager to attend so she could say “thank you” for the support she had already received in the community.

At the Senedd, Christine met with Maddy from our Insight and Policy team.

After hearing Christine’s story, Maddy referred her to our professional Counselling service.

She also encouraged her to sign up to our All-Wales Cancer Community, a platform giving a voice to all people affected by cancer.

Tenovus Cancer Care have been with me every step of the way, said Christine. “The counselling support I’ve received has been a blessing.

What happened to me was trauma, and I have more healing to do physically and mentally. Tenovus Cancer Care has been helping me do that.

Now, I just want to raise awareness, so other people know what to look out for.”

Christine has a special diet now, and a croaky voice at times, but is recovering well,

Unfortunately, she also has other medical conditions to contend with, including Crohn’s Disease. However, she tries hard to live her best life.

“I am learning how to use crystals for healing, and I find that relaxing. I also like spending time in my garden, feeding the birds, and pottering about.

Okay, I need to chew my food more completely now, but I am alive!”

According to a survey conducted on behalf of the Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce, only 1% of people in Wales surveyed in 2022 could name the symptoms of oesophagael cancer.  

Symptoms typically include difficulty swallowing, indigestion or heartburn, loss of appetite, vomiting, stomach, chest, or back pain, a persistent cough, hoarseness, tiredness, and shortness of breath.

Around half of all cancers in Wales are diagnosed at stages 3 or 4 where treatment options become limited.

If you or someone you love has been affected by cancer, our free Support Line is there for you. Just call 0808 808 1010