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Cancer survivor Susan Oliver beacon of hope for all sufferers

By Victoria O'Hara

Published 11/06/2015

Susan Oliver with her daughter Imogen
Susan Oliver with her daughter Imogen
Susan Oliver at the global cancer conference in Belfast

A woman diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and given only 18 months to live has spoken of how she wants to give hope to others by surviving against the odds.

Susan Oliver (43) had been diagnosed in 2003. She had initially been treated for a gynecological condition but specialists only discovered her true diagnosis when her appendix burst.

They then discovered she had in fact pseudomyxoma peritonei (PMP), a rare, slow-growing cancer of the appendix. It's the same cancer that claimed the life of Hollywood legend Audrey Hepburn (below).

During her cancer battle Susan was also undergoing IVF treatment to have her first baby. In the final cycle, using her own eggs, Susan and her husband Russell were told the wonderful news it had been a success. But after Imogen was born a routine scan detected the cancer had returned.

She underwent what is dubbed the "mother of all surgeries", which lasted up to 12 hours and involved having organs removed including her ovaries and bellybutton, and left her with a scar running down the centre of her body.

Within months of having the drastic surgery Susan was told the devastating news in 2011 she had little more than a year-and-a-half left to live. After surviving for 12 years Susan, who lives in England, was one of the hundreds who travelled to Belfast for the global cancer conference that ended yesterday.

Speaking in the Europa Hotel, where the conference was held, she spoke of the importance of giving hope to other people left frightened when hearing the words: "You have cancer."

"There are no textbooks that tell you how you are supposed to behave," she said.

"In the beginning I was definitely shocked to hear it, and as a mother trying to plan for me not being here. When Imogen was a baby I would wear the same perfume all the time as I wanted her to have associations with a particular smell and me."

She said it was important at the time to create memories with her husband, a banker, and her daughter, who is now six.

"It is just being with your partner and creating happy memories. Now that time has gone on and I'm still here, I am getting back some sort of sense of normal. Part of you is thinking this is pretty amazing, and maybe you are here to help."

Susan, who is orginally from Scotland, is involved in the Pseudomyxoma Survivor supporters group and is determined to help others afflicted by the disease.

"We need to let people know that our cancer is different and there is a different path and to make people aware of us," she said.

"I met the first person with the same cancer as me six months ago - after 12 years. That is why it was great to be in Belfast for the conference. To meet other survivors and raise awareness about PMP. That has to change and for people to know that there is help out there, there is hope."

Background

In the past fewer than 30% of people diagnosed with PMP, which affects only one or two people per million, would survive for more than five years, now up to 85% of people having treatment can be long-term survivors.

International conference in Belfast ‘brilliant success’

A major conference attended by some of the world’s leading cancer experts has been heralded a “brilliant success”.

The three-day National Cancer Intelligence Network Cancer Outcomes Conference, hosted in Northern Ireland for the first time, ended yesterday.

Organised by Queen’s University, more than 500 delegates, some from as far away as New Zealand, America and Germany, attended the international event.

Dr Anna Gavin, director of Queen’s Northern Ireland Cancer Registry, said it discussed the latest findings in treatment, outcomes and prevention of the disease.

Among data presented was that which showed women are more likely to have their cancer diagnosed later — and often as an emergency.

The conference was also told  bladder cancer is being missed in women because the symptoms are so similar to a urine infection,

And it discussed rarer cancers including those in children, and the role GPs can play in spotting cancer earlier in patients.

“It brought together hundreds of experts, policy makers and patients that will hopefully make a difference,” Dr Gavin said.

“The number of people diagnosed with the disease will increase so we will have to be smarter with the resources that we have.

“It was also brilliant for the city as delegates visited the City Hall and the Titanic building.”

The conference theme was ‘United Against Cancer — locally, nationally and internationally’ and will build on the theme of the 2014 conference, ‘The Power of Information’.

That gathering highlighted how cancer intelligence based on high quality data is improving  prevention, diagnosis, treatment and outcomes in the UK and beyond.

 

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