Healthcare worker from Northampton backs national campaign on cancer awareness

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A Northampton woman found to have two tumours in her breast after noticing that something was wrong with its shape while lifting her arm up to brush her hair has backed a new awareness campaign.

Karen Timson, 54, who works in the healthcare sector, had been aware of a lump, but both she and her GP initially thought it was a repeat of the cysts she had previously been diagnosed with.

But when her continued concerns led her to go back to her GP she was “fast-tracked” to hospital where she was found to have breast cancer.

Now, having been successfully treated, she is backing a new awareness campaign from Cancer Research UK highlighting the power of legacy giving in saving lives.

Karen, who is operations manager in Specialist Children’s Services at Northamptonshire Healthcare Foundation Trust, is urging people in Northamptonshire to leave a lasting gift for future generations by including a donation to Cancer Research UK in their Will.

Gifts in Wills fund over a third of Cancer Research UK’s life-saving work. Last year, around 60 people in Northamptonshire helped to write an end to cancer by leaving legacy gifts to the charity which raised over £1.2 million for vital research.

Karen, who was divorced at the time of her diagnosis but is now back together with the father of their two daughters, said: “Being diagnosed with cancer turned my life upside down. It was a terrible shock, but thanks to research I’m still here.”

She recalled: “I was just brushing my hair one day in October 2008 when I noticed a change of shape and puckering in my breast.

“I could feel a lump which I thought was a cyst because I had previously been diagnosed with cystic breast disease in both breasts about three years earlier.

“My GP initially thought it was also a cyst too, which tend to be fluid-filled, but it didn’t appear to be going away so I went back to the doctors.

“The GP was still thinking it was cystic but said he wanted to be sure, and that’s why he fast-tracked me to Northampton General Hospital.”

Karen, who previously worked as a public health practitioner for Northamptonshire Primary Care Trust and then briefly for the local county council, was immediately sent for a mammogram.

She added: “I was still reasonably ok with this, but as everyone else came and went in the waiting room and I was still there I was getting increasingly concerned.”

Karen, who has a background as a nurse, was called back in to be given an ultrasound scan.

“The specialist put the scanner over my nipple area and, after studying the screen, turned to me and said ‘I’m very sorry, but this does look like you will need to have a mastectomy very soon’.

“I replied that wasn’t where the lump was. So, he then moved the scanner to the left side of my breast where I was pointing and confirmed that I had in fact two tumours in my breast.

“I felt as though my world had been completely blown out of the water. There was no breast cancer history in my family in living memory and there was no reason to suspect I had it.

“Fortunately my manager at work, who luckily was also my best friend, and some of my dearest friends and family wrapped me up with their love and concern and together these ‘angels’ saw me through some very tough times.”

She added: “Once I was diagnosed with cancer everyone moved heaven and earth to help me. I will always praise Northampton General Hospital for the professional, timely and empathetic manner in which they cared for me and, due to their expert care and treatment, I ended up with a good outcome.”

Karen had a mastectomy followed by chemotherapy, during which she needed injections to stimulate her bone marrow to produce sufficient white and red blood cells.

She then had a course of radiotherapy and was also given tamoxifen which is considered to be one of the most important drugs in the history of breast cancer treatment and has saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

Her first lymph node was removed after it was found to be affected by cancer, but the rest were all clear.

Karen, who has supported Cancer Research UK by regularly taking part in the charity’s Race for Life events, said: “Cancer Research UK’s groundbreaking work relies on everyone who donates much needed funds. That’s why I’m supporting this vitally important campaign.

“By leaving a gift in their Will – no matter how big or small the donation – people in Northamptonshire can give families the incredible gift of hope.

“I can’t think of anything better than by helping to raise funds for research that will create a brighter future for generations to come.”

Thanks to the generosity of its supporters, Cancer Research UK spent over £10 million in the Midlands last year on some of the UK’s leading scientific and clinical research.

This work is wide-ranging, from understanding the causes of cancer and investigating new ways to prevent it, to detecting it earlier and developing better treatments.

Danielle Glavin, Cancer Research UK spokesperson for the East of England, said: “Survival rates have doubled in the past 40 years and today half of those diagnosed with cancer will survive. But half is not enough. There are over 200 types of cancer and we won’t stop until we find cures for them all.

“The more research we are able to do the sooner that day will come and that’s why we urgently need support. So we’re calling on people across the East to consider including a legacy gift for Cancer Research UK in their Will and help us write an end to cancer.”

For more information about leaving a gift to Cancer Research UK in your Will, visit cruk.org/WriteAnEnd or call 0800 077 66 44 for an information pack.

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