Young mum thought symptoms were ‘anxiety’ but actually they were sign of cancer

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A young mum who started to feel like her heart was ‘missing a beat’ was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer at the age of 34.

Leanne Molloy from Castlewellan in Northern Ireland has shared her story to urge others not to ignore symptoms and to highlight the importance of an early diagnosis.

When Leanne found that she had to stand up and ‘jiggle’ her body to get food to go down, she knew she had a problem, Belfast Live reports.

Suffering from anxiety in her day to day life, Leanne said when she started to feel like her heart was missing a beat she had an ECG, but because of lockdown results were delayed.

In November, at a small birthday party for her daughter, Leanne said when she ate a few chips she felt something catch in her throat, something that would then happen on a regular basis.

“Sometimes I’d eat and be fine, but one evening I was eating soup and bread and I knew there was something wrong,” she said.

“I increasingly had to stand up and ‘jiggle’ my body until I felt the food passing. Sometimes I had to make myself sick just to get it up.

“There were things that I could eat with no difficulty, but other things would stick. I learnt to jiggle my hands up and got my husband to look after our daughter so I could go out of the room and jiggle.

“I was always a fast eater but I didn’t chew properly, so I began to eat more slowly and not at my husband’s pace.

“Put simply, I was changing my habits to suit the symptoms, rather than getting the symptoms sorted.

“Over time I spoke to the GP and told him there was pain going into my shoulder blade. I’d also started to lose weight but that’s because I wasn’t eating properly.

“The GP gave me more tests and then arranged for me to go to the hospital on a Sunday morning for a test. There were so many there I nearly walked out.”

Leanne, who works in a local pharmacy, said she was aware of what was going on as nurses took notes during her scope examination.

When the medics asked her where her husband was before calling them both into another room, Leanne was soon told she had oesophageal cancer.

She added: “My husband came in and we looked at each other. When they told me they’d found something, I was so relieved cos I knew there was something.

“The consultant said they’d found something at the bottom of my oesophagus. I said ‘cancer’? I just came out with it. The consultant said, ‘Yes, it’s looking very like it’. I was just numb.”

Despite the fact that she’d just received earth-shattering news, she says the consultant advised her to continue working as it would take a week for the results to come through.

“People were coming into the pharmacy and I was walking round in a daze,’ she said.

“Then, one day I got a phone call to go home as it had been confirmed that I had oesophageal cancer.

“After that, life was just a whirlwind of tests, scans and waiting on results. Waiting for the results was actually the worst thing.

“We decided not to tell our daughter because we were in the middle of the pandemic and I wasn’t going to put an eight-year-old through any more.

“I had to have chemotherapy to reduce the size of the tumour and I was immediately concerned that everything would be thrown up into the air with the pandemic.

“Fortunately, I was able to get four cycles of chemotherapy, then had my surgery and then another four cycles: a sort of ‘mop-up’.

“I had the four slots in March and April, and then in May I had to build myself back up for surgery on 16 June.

“They told me I’d be in ICU for three days, but I was in overnight and back onto the ward the following day.

“I remember joking with the doctor about making history for getting out faster than anyone. I was in and out in the week and I was back out walking six weeks after the surgery.

“I think that, when it comes to cancer treatment, you have to push your limits to get on with it. I always knew the second cycle of chemotherapy would be bad; the first one nearly killed me and I nearly gave up.

“There was also the possibility of spread to the lymph nodes, so, instead of giving me false hope, the doctors said they thought it had.

“But after surgery they tested all the lymph nodes – about 17 of them – and not one of them was cancerous. I was overwhelmed by that.

“I heard that I had to do another four but it was entirely up to myself. I’m glad I did the whole range because now I know that I can look back and say, I did everything I could

“When I heard that my tumour was only one millimetre away from the cavity wall, I knew that someone had been looking down on me.

“One millimetre is a wee dot. If it had got in there, I wouldn’t have been eligible for surgery.”

Following her surgery and chemotherapy, Leanne’s family and friends rallied around to help her.

She has hailed that support as “incredible” and says the pandemic worked in her favour because the chances of people carrying germs to her were limited with lockdown.

Leanne says her line of work has convinced her that pharmacists and their teams have a role to play in spotting the signs of potential oesophageal cancer.

“My support has been incredible,” she said.

“My husband, Brian, took time off work and my mum took ten months off. Our daughter has been home the whole time and the school worked with me to help her.

“I think the pandemic worked in my favour because no one could carry germs to me and it also brought mental benefits in that I didn’t have to keep having the ‘cancer conversation’ with everyone.

“We all notice people coming in and buying reflux and heartburn remedies on a regular basis, so it may be an idea for pharmacists advising someone who repeat buys to ensure they have a diagnosis from their GP rather than self medicating and ignoring symptoms.

“Cancer is a scary word to hear, but if it’s caught early, there are a lot of treatment options available now.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s all about getting it early and knowing your body.”

“I’m so thankful for being given a second chance. It’s been a hell of a roller coaster, but I’ve had more good days than bad days.”