A routine smear test forced Claire Bowker to re-evaluate her whole life after being diagnosed with a non-curable cancer.
Claire was told the devastating news that she had follicular non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a condition she is now learning to live with having been given a prognosis of 10 years.
Claire’s diagnosis came last October, after initially being told she had cervical cancer.
“I went for a routine smear scan and when it came back I was told I had cervical cancer,” she said. “I then went for an MRI scan and from the results of that they said that they thought I had lymphoma as well.
“I had a biopsy to determine what type I had. Some types are curable and some, including mine, are treatable but not curable. I have been given 10 years but I am determined to beat that.”
Claire underwent four months of chemotherapy, followed by a hysterectomy to treat the cervical cancer.
She has now begun two years of maintenance therapy in a bid to keep the lymphoma at bay.
She said: “The team at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary oncology unit have been brilliant. I have had a CT scan and all seems good at the moment. I am hopefully in remission.”
However, Claire, 40, has had to come to terms with the fact that her lymphoma could strike again at any time.
She said: “It’s like a ticking time bomb. You just don’t really know when it will come back. I don’t know what will trigger it and I just have to learn to live with it.
“For me now it’s more the psychological part of it, getting over what has happened and coming to terms with it.
“I was determined that it wasn’t going to take over my life – but in the end it does.
“But I have had amazing support from my friends and family, and from a support group on Facebook.
“It’s really good to focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t. I am normally very active so it was hard, but I got to know when I could do things.
“It has been tough and I have had my down days where I have struggled but I have taken every day as it comes.”
Claire, who lives in Caton and went to school in Hornby, recently undertook a 26-mile bike ride with friends and family, raising £500 for the Lymphoma Association – which marks its annual Lymphatic Cancer Awareness Week from September 14 to 20 – in the process.
And she is hoping to return to her work as a community occupational therapist soon.
“Just getting back to normal life is helpful,” she said. “That was the hardest thing for me; just being able to go out with my friends or for a walk, things that you take for granted so much.
“I know I have got more to come and I haven’t won the war but I have won this battle.”
Claire is now urging other women to make sure they attend their smear tests.
She said: “It’s been good for other people because some of my friends have said that because of me they have gone to their GP about a lump or something else they were worried about.
“I have been telling all my female friends that they have to keep their smear test appointments.”