In January this year, Gemma began experiencing irregularities in her monthly cycle. Bleeding and spotting occurred with worrying frequency, accompanied by cramps and lower back pain. Concerned, she visited her GP in January, February, and March. However, each time she would be sent away with the all-clear.
By March the bleeding had become so prevalent, that there were only four days of the month without it. By April, the bleeding was an everyday occurrence.
In May/June, intense pain and unimaginable anxiety had kicked in. Gemma called the GP again to tell him the symptoms were worsening and ask if he had contacted her colposcopy team at the Royal London Hospital. Disappointingly, he said no, to which Gemma urged him to write and make them aware of the situation.
By July, the pain was unbearable, and the bleeding constant. Gemma was chronically tired and plagued with worry. Desperate, she once again reached out to her GP, to which he responded, "I've done your referrals, I don't know what else to do with you."
At this point, terrified, frustrated and exhausted, Gemma called the Royal London Hospital to speak to the nurse who had carried out her earlier smear test. The nurse instructed Gemma to get to A&E ASAP. However, unbelievably, the hospital 'patched her up' and sent her home without her having a scan. Now frantic, Gemma again contacted her nurse; who told her to call the GP and tell him she needed an immediate scan. He booked in an emergency, for the following week.
On the day of the scan, Gemma's acute pain made it impossible for her to walk. With tears rolling down her face, she met the nurses who immediately suggested that in her state, she should be in a hospital. When Gemma explained the hospital had discharged her; they then advised her to go private.
Unable to afford private healthcare - and feeling once again at a frustrating dead-end - Gemma called the number on her discharge letter for the Gynaecology ward she was on. She was immediately re-directed to A&E. As you can imagine, this kind of chaos would be tiring and upsetting for even the healthiest person - but in the face of acute pain, this was a living nightmare.
This time in A&E, Gemma waited for 2 hours without pain relief, with the consultants repeatedly asking if her Crohn's was under control. Eventually, she was passed back onto the same Gynaecology ward. Here she finally received pain relief and was given antibiotics to treat for Pelvic Inflammatory Disease. Speaking with the same consultant, he refused a scan for her; stating that because someone had already scanned her in May, nothing would have changed.
For almost a year, Gemma has battled through episodes of severe bleeding and acute pain, confusion, frustration and desperation. In a dizzyingly confusing few months, she was handed from GP to A&E, to fertility clinics and home again - before finally receiving a scan. The results showed nothing. As the months rolled on and the pain increased in severity Gemma reached out to the hospital where she had previously received treatment for unusual smear test results, 2hrs from home. Knowing her own body - this act was one of desperation and panic - she instinctually knew something was seriously wrong.
After a consultation, finally, following months of debilitating pain, she received another scan. Due to extreme pain, an internal examination wasn't possible, so an operation immediately followed.
The biopsy procedure uncovered a large mass in her cervix. Following on, a further biopsy revealed that she has Stage 3 cervical cancer. Gemma is now waiting for a PET scan to see if her cancer has spread anywhere else before starting an imminent and aggressive course of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Sadly, despite many trips to the doctors, while displaying symptoms, her diagnosis has remained undetected for the past year - allowing her cancer to reach this late stage. Gemma is 38.
Throughout her life, Gemma has faced some tough challenges; but each time she met them with dignity and courage. At the tender age of 15, her dad tragically and unexpectedly died on Christmas Day. During her early 30's she was diagnosed with Crohn's disease.
Gemma is selfless. She is one of those friends who always surprises you. The one who treks across London carrying armfuls of dry-cleaned dresses, on a day with torrential rain because you mentioned in passing that you were attending a wedding and had nothing to wear. She is always putting others before herself.
Following her Crohn's diagnosis, she transformed her lifestyle and career, opting to study medicine and bioscience to help others living with the disease. Abandoning her then dream job in fashion & retail management to face the financial struggle of studenthood. And, after five years of hard graft, she secured a role as a Type 2 Diabetes Educator. Just five months ago, having relocated, she started a new role as a Social Prescriber empowering people to take control of their own health and wellbeing.
And now she faces her greatest challenge yet. Not only is Gemma preparing for a course of aggressive chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment, but she is also coming to terms with the news that she's highly unlikely to have children. Having been approved for IVF treatment this October, after three years of trying to conceive.
Her new employers are being fantastic at supporting her, and she has a squadron of fiercely loving friends and family. However, as she is still in her probation period, she is only receiving statutory sick pay. Moreover, her supportive partner, who works as a freelancer, is having to stop work to be her full-time carer. Gemma will have to travel to the Royal London Hospital (where a doctor finally diagnosed her), which will be a 4-hour round trip each day, for five days a week for radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
Gemma is going to need to summon everything she's got and more to fight this. We all understand the power of positivity and calm to aid in healing. And with this in mind, we firmly believe that being mentally focused and stress-free will help towards her recovery. To do this, we hope to minimise her financial worry.
Please help us in supporting this creative, compassionate, and unbelievably wondrous woman. She is all kinds of awesome, and we want to share her story. Gemma means the world to so many people - and we are united in our efforts to give back to our best friend (and cousin) who has given so much to help others.
To ensure Gemma continues to receive everyone's donations during her treatment her cousin Natalie Morrison will manage the campaign funds and make regular payments directly to Gemma. Natalie and Gemma are practically sisters and they are in regular close contact with one another.
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