A snow-boarding adventure is an exciting holiday for most people, but for mum-of-two Sarah Colledge the dream trip will be even more significant.
Sarah – who is battling cancer – is in so much pain in her hips she sometimes struggles to walk, but when she is snow-boarding the pain is relieved and she feels like her old self again.
Her experience is the reason she is backing Cancer Research UK’s Right Now campaign, which launched with a series of adverts last week.
The highly charged and emotional TV, poster and radio campaign shows the reality of cancer for patients like Sarah, their friends and family.
The powerful films – which show real patients in real-life moments – aim to call people to take action right now in the battle against cancer.
For 38-year-old Sarah, the reality of the disease hit home when she was diagnosed with cancer in 2013.
Sarah – who lives with partner Kenny and their two children, 15-year-old William and Eve, 12 – was fit and active prior to her diagnosis and ran a successful cleaning business.
But she discovered a lump in her lower left stomach, following a routine operation. Tests revealed it was a fluid-filled ovarian cyst, which was removed during further surgery at Blackpool Victoria Hospital.
Despite being assured everything had gone well with the operation, Sarah started to suffer excruciating pain and told doctors she could feel a rapidly-growing lump in her stomach.
The pain became so bad Sarah had to give up work and could barely move. She underwent a biopsy and while she was waiting for the results, she was admitted to hospital after a serious episode of bleeding, vomiting and stomach cramps.
Doctors initially thought she could have ovarian cancer, but following a number of CT, MRI scans and X Rays, Sarah was told she had an unknown primary cancer.
Sarah was told most of the cancer was in her bowel and if she didn’t undergo major surgery, her prognosis stood at around six months.
Two weeks later, she underwent an 11-hour operation involving a hysterectomy, lower left stomach muscles being removed, major reconstruction of the abdomen, partial removal of the bowel, a colostomy and stents in the bladder.
The surgeon also had to shave some of Sarah’s hip bone off, as the cancer had started to grow there. She now has permanent numbness in the top of her leg and has to use strong painkillers.
Sarah remained in intensive care for three days and on the ward for a further two weeks. Just weeks after surgery, Sarah began 12 sessions of chemotherapy which lasted for six months. All her scans came back clear and she was feeling confident about the future.
But sadly 12 months later, Sarah was told the cancer had returned. She has been receiving further chemotherapy treatment.
While CT scans earlier this year showed the treatment was going well and had visibly shrunk the tumour, Sarah was shocked to be told recently the cancer is now growing in the hip joint tissue – causing excruciating pain.
She is currently receiving radiotherapy treatment in Preston and will undergo a further scan this month, to see if the cancerous tissue has shrunk. If the radiotherapy has been unsuccessful, Sarah could face yet more chemotherapy. But she remains determined to go snow-boarding in France in March.
She said: “I was absolutely devastated when I heard the words ‘you have cancer’. My first thought was for my two children. But I’ve had incredible support and this helps to keep me going.
“Now, I appreciate time with my loved ones so much more and it has made me realise you can’t take anything for granted. I can’t wait to go snow-boarding as it’s my absolute passion in life and is so exhilarating.
“My experience means I understand all too clearly why Cancer Research UK’s work is so important.
“That’s why I’m backing the Right Now campaign and I’m urging people across Blackpool and the Fylde Coast to get involved in whatever way they can, to help fund Cancer Research UK’s crucial work.”
Sarah was guest of honour at Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life in Blackpool, in July and also took part in a skydive to raise cash for the charity.
Sarah recently set up her own charity called Positive Peers which provides support, help and friendship to cancer patients.
Jane Bullock, Cancer Research UK spokesman for the North West, said: “We are grateful to Sarah for her support.
“Our new campaign highlights the reality of cancer. Every hour, around four people are diagnosed with the disease in the North West. It is life-changing for them, their family and friends and everyone who cares about them.
“Our campaign shows research is working – people like Sarah are able to celebrate special moments with their loved ones. But sadly, for some, time is so much shorter than it should be.
“That’s why our doctors, nurses and scientists are striving every day to find better, more effective and kinder ways to treat this devastating disease. We want people to watch the adverts and feel compelled to act – right now.
“There are so many ways to get involved. From taking part in Dryathlon in January, signing up for Race for Life in Blackpool in the summer, or giving time to volunteer in our shops.”