A mum given three months to live in January 2020 is now cancer free – and has returned to the Nottingham hospital to thank the medical team for saving her life.
Caroline Guy, 56, was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer, which had spread to her ovaries and her liver. After extensive surgery at the Queen’s Medical Centre six weeks ago, she is cancer free and living life to the full.
And she said she can never thank Nottingham’s hospitals or the NHS enough.
She met Acting Chief Executive Rupert Egginton, Chair Nick Carver, and surgeons Alastair Simpson and David Humes, to thank them for saving her life – and to tell them how amazing their Nottingham staff are.
“What you’ve got here is the best of the best,” she told them.
In June 2019, a GP in Spain dismissed her symptoms as the menopause. “I felt sluggish, I just didn’t feel right,” said Caroline. “My stomach was swollen – I’d googled my symptoms and I actually asked him outright if I had bowel cancer, and he said no.”
In January 2020, Caroline visited her husband Adam in Saudi Arabia.
“I was in pain walking, I looked seven months pregnant, and I woke up one night and was violently sick. I just felt horrendous.”
Caroline was rushed into hospital. Within four days she’d had x-rays, scans, MRI, blood tests.
A consultant brought her husband and youngest daughter Gabrielle into see her.
“When I saw their faces I thought this is not good. My daughter couldn’t look at me. I couldn’t take it in. I just said ‘How long have I had it? And ‘am I going to die?’”
The surgeon told her husband it was very bad, adding: “You’re looking at three to four months.”
“They didn’t tell me that at the time. He was still picking our daughter up off the floor – they had to give her oxygen. I can laugh now but it must’ve been like something from a Carry On film.”
At the end of January, Caroline was referred to the head of oncology who told her to stay positive and to steer clear of Google. She was classed as inoperable and incurable, and started a course of chemotherapy and a targeted drug, Cituximae. By now, Covid-19 was in the news, and Caroline was desperate to see her daughters and family again.
In September, Caroline joined daughter, Hollie, in Nottingham – and immediately caught Covid and had to isolate.
“It was scary, the thought of coming back to England, worrying would I still get my treatment, because I’d done so well in Saudi, but I had to come back. I had to see my family”
Caroline registered at City Hospital, where scans showed the tumour had reduced in size, and she was told she had two years to live.
“I was heartbroken, I didn’t want to hear a timescale, I was doing really well. I continued with the fortnightly chemotherapy and Cituximae. I had a pump fitted and I’d go away and have chemotherapy for 48 hours at home.”
And, despite the NHS and the UK being in the grip of Covid-19, Caroline didn’t miss a single appointment.
“It’s been a long hard process, but I have never had my treatment stopped. And the staff were absolutely marvellous – they were under tremendous pressure. Nurses that should’ve finished were still there hours after their shift had ended, because they can’t just walk away when machines are bleeping and patients need attention.”
Scans revealed that the chemotherapy had helped shrink all the tumours – she could have surgery, but it would be a huge operation.
“I said yes please. The only way you can beat bowel cancer is with surgery, to remove the primary cause. I knew that if I did that, the cancer might come back but if it did come back I would deal with it.”
Caroline was transferred to the Queen’s Medical Centre and met Alastair and David, who she nicknamed Ant and Dec. They removed part of her bowel, and performed a full hysterectomy. They decided against a liver resection as the liver specialists said it was benign.
“The first person I saw when I woke up was the surgeon who said it had been a really successful operation. He rang my husband himself and spoke to him.”
Caroline had histology and other tests. She returned to the hospital for her results, which were clear.
“The surgeon looked at me and said you’ve got no cancer. I said ‘are you sure? I just couldn’t believe it. It’s a miracle.”
“It cost £110,000 for my treatment in Saudi – my husband’s retirement fund – because I didn’t have insurance – I got all my documents through a week after I was diagnosed with cancer.
“The money it cost for private care – even though it was amazing – it doesn’t touch what I’ve had done here with the NHS, and the NHS gets such a bashing.
“I’ve been treated with so much compassion. I’m in awe of these people, and the colorectal nurse Kimberley was fantastic.”
“For the surgeons to say ‘we’ve got it all, you’re cancer free’ – how can I thank them? How can I thank the NHS? Some of the staff are like family. The amount of people who have been involved with my care, and they have all been wonderful.
Caroline is now in remission for 5 years. She’ll be monitored every three months by her oncologist, Dr Chadwick. “If there is anything that is going to ‘wake up again’, he’ll be right on it,” said Caroline.
“The surgeons, Dr Chadwick, Kimberley – they link up weekly to discuss patients’ treatment, including mine, so I feel really secure, like I’ve got a safety net.”
Caroline told Rupert and Nick: “I want everyone to know – the people in chemo, the porters, those in Lister, everywhere I’ve been – I need them to know that they are appreciated.
“I’ve got a life, hopefully for quite a few years – and it’s down to you lot.”
Rupert Egginton said: “This is incredible to hear – it’s great for our staff to realise that small acts of kindness really make a difference. If we understand things from a patient’s perspective, that’s where we do our best work.”
“It’s been incredibly motivating to hear your story,” Chair Nick Carver told Caroline. “We need to make sure we share this with the whole team. They’ve gone through a lot of tough stuff, but the performance of some of our people during Covid was just remarkable.”
“It is really important that your story is heard to help take some of the fear away from others who may be in the same situation and may be fearful that they are not going to get their treatment.”
Caroline said: “I’ve met the Crown Prince of Bahrain, I’ve met Professor Stephen Hawkings before he died, and I’ve met David Jason… and I’ve met Alastair and David – and they are part of my VIP list.”
Alastair, who is also Clinical Director of Cancer Alliance, said: “Caroline had extensive chemotherapy and surgical resection of multiple organs, which is physically demanding but also presents a significant psychological burden and carries the potential for serious complications.
“Nottingham has an Advanced Cancer Service which is able to coordinate this care and support her through the process.
“However I must emphasise how important Caroline’s positive outlook and bravery has contributed to the successful outcome in her case.
“There were a lot of people involved in Caroline’s care, and how well they worked together is really important. It has been a pleasure to be part of the team to manage her from a life-threatening cancer diagnosis into her current state of remission and surveillance.
“The NHS is an amazing organisation and hearing some positive stories from someone who has had really positive experiences in many areas of the NHS is really great.”
Meanwhile, husband Adam is returning to England at the end of the year and the couple plan to buy a house in Nottingham to be near daughters Hollie and Gabrielle.
“The last two and a half years has been the strangest time, a time to re-evaluate. It’s made me a stronger person, stronger than I thought I could be.
“I’ve had dark thoughts, but I’ve always felt the brighter thoughts have overshadowed them. I have a permanent smile on my face.”
“I don’t fear anything any more, because nothing can be as bad as being told you have a cancer that is incurable and terminal.
“I’m a positive person but of course I had those thoughts, so when a surgeon says they are going to operate – and not with a view to extending your life, but to go in determined to cure you – it means everything – I owe them everything.”