Cancer survivor becomes breast cancer nurse to help others with the condition

A single mum who got cancer while she was pregnant has dedicated her life to helping others with the disease, after becoming a breast cancer nurse.

Charlotte Ward’s life almost fell apart nine years ago when an abnormality was picked up on a routine pregnancy scan, just months before she was due to give birth.

Because of the baby, doctors weren’t able to probe any further, and it wasn’t until six weeks after having her daughter, Isabella, that Charlotte, now 38, was diagnosed with cancer.

In the decade since, the mum-of-one has had four surgeries, including a hysterectomy, and spent months on end having chemotherapy, often leaving her unable to care for Isabella.

Following a run of clear scans, earlier this year the former gynaecology nurse jumped at the ‘opportunity of a lifetime’ to work for Macmillan Cancer Support.

For the past six months she has worked for the charity as a breast cancer nurse, helping women cope with the devastating disease that she spent many years battling.

Charlotte, from Halifax, West Yorks, said: ‘I have been through so much over the past ten years.

‘Some things can’t be taught, sometimes you have to go through something to fully understand it.

‘Most cancer-sufferers go through a similar kind of journey, one that I have obviously been on myself.

‘I feel like now I’m in a really good position to help people suffering from the same disease I have battled.’

Charlotte was in the second year of her nursing degree, after spending eight years working as an air hostess, when she fell pregnant.

She said: ‘I went for a routine pregnancy scan at seven weeks and the sonographer said, “did anyone ever say anything to you about your ovary?”‘

Charlotte went to see her gynaecologist and was told there was probably nothing wrong and that the mass, measuring 6cm, was likely benign.

However, when she went for her 20 week scan the mass had doubled in size and just two weeks later Charlotte underwent surgery to have her right ovary removed.

Six weeks after Isabella was born in March 2010, Charlotte had a CT scan and two weeks later she went to receive the results alongside her newborn and her mum.

She said: ‘I went in and sat down and the consultant just would not make eye contact with me.

‘He was asking me about my appetite and my weight, I knew something was wrong.

‘Then he said, “I’m really sorry, I wasn’t expecting this”. I had cancer.’

In the days, weeks and months that followed, Charlotte was overwhelmed with a feeling of guilt because of her daughter.

She said: ‘I felt like I was abandoning her straight after bringing her into the world. I thought I was going to die.’

Charlotte went on to have a hysterectomy in May 2010.

She was diagnosed with a rare type of appendix cancer called pseudomyxoma peritonei, which effects fewer than one in a million people.

She describes the aftermath of that surgery as ‘horrendous’, because her body was still recovering from childbirth.

‘I just wanted to be a mum but I was dealing with such unbelievable pain,’ Charlotte said.

‘It was such a low point in my life.’

After being on a ‘watch and wait’ list for two years a check up scan revealed another tumour in her abdomen and Charlotte had cytoreductive surgery.

In October 2013 she had to undergo the same surgery again after another mass was found.

Charlotte had her third and final cytoreductive surgery in January 2016 and since then her scans have come back clear.

She is currently having annual checks.

Georgina Wiley, Treatment and Recovery Advisor at Macmillan, said: ‘We’re so grateful to Charlotte for sharing her experience of cancer and her decision to become a Macmillan nurse.

‘Receiving a cancer diagnosis can turn your life upside down and affect much more than just your physical health.

‘Thanks to the generosity of the UK public, Macmillan professionals like Charlotte are able to support people living with cancer.’

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