Laura was diagnosed with bowel cancer just nine days before she was due to travel across the USA on her honeymoon.
A flight attendant who celebrated the “all clear” with a second wedding after bowel cancer forced her to cancel her honeymoon, has praised Emmerdale for “giving the silent killer a voice” in a gripping storyline.
Doctors discovered a 5cm cancerous tumour in Laura Harvey’s bowel in February 2018, just nine days before she was due to travel across the USA on a delayed honeymoon with her builder husband Rob, 42, who she had married six months earlier.
But the trip was cancelled on her surgeon’s advice and, instead, Laura, 40 – who fears that bowel cancer is often diagnosed late as people are embarrassed to talk about their symptoms – was admitted to the Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospital for a life-saving 10-hour operation.
Delighted to see ITV soap Emmerdale focussing on the disease by revealing that vet Vanessa Woodfield (Michelle Hardwick) – who is being held hostage by evil Pierce Harris (Jonathan Wrather) – has it, Laura, of Poole, Dorset, said: “This disease is a silent killer. Stories like this one in Emmerdale are giving this silent killer a voice.
“But we need more people to be doing the same. Everybody should be playing their part.
“I sing it from the rooftops, I’m so proud of my body for getting me through bowel cancer.”
Laura, who has three children from a previous relationship – Cameron, 19, and twins, Darcy and James, five, – and a stepson, Oliver, five, first noticed splashes of blood in the toilet basin just weeks before her wedding on August 29, 2017, at Poole Yacht Club.
Recalling the incident, she said: “I was going to the toilet and I noticed a significant amount of blood.
“It wasn’t just spotting, it was almost like I’d had a period.”
She continued: “I didn’t really want to deal with it at the time. My wedding was just around the corner, so I buried my head in the sand.”
Going through the same uncomfortable experience “two or three times” before walking down the aisle, she felt relieved to get through her wedding with nothing more than “a little bloating.”
Soon after tying the knot, she found the courage to tell Rob what was going on, saying: “We’d had a few glasses of wine and I ended up telling him about it.”
“I could tell straight away he was worried. He told me that it didn’t sound right and that I had to let him see next time it happened,” she continued.
“So, as horrible as it sounds, I did and, while I won’t go into detail, he said I needed to see a doctor straight away.”
Booked in to see her GP in October 2017, Laura was told she most likely had haemorrhoids, or ‘piles,’ when blood vessels in and around the bottom become swollen, and to return if the symptoms persisted.
Less than two weeks later Laura bled profusely when she went to the toilet and returned to the doctor, where she had a physical examination.
Finding no sign of piles, her GP referred her for blood tests and a colonoscopy – an examination to detect changes or abnormalities in the large intestine and rectum.
“The bloods came back clear and the doctor told me he was sure the colonoscopy would be clear too,” she said.
Told she had to fast for 24 hours prior to the procedure, by 5pm the day before, Laura was ready to crack.
“I just thought, ‘Sod it,'” she said. “Everybody was eating pizza and it’s just one of those smells. Even if you’re stuffed, it makes you feel hungry.
“I was ready to cancel the colonoscopy there and then, as the doctor sounded pretty sure it was nothing serious.”
She continued: “But Rob wasn’t having any of it. He put his foot down and said I’d be an absolute idiot to miss it.
“It’s scary to think just how different the outcome could have been if I hadn’t listened to him. He saved my life in the end.”
Arriving at The Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospital on February 15, 2018, Laura was shocked to hear that the medical team would be performing 12 biopsies – samples of tissue taken for further testing – during the colonoscopy.
Finally realising this could be serious, she said: “They stopped the procedure and told me it wasn’t good news. The consultant was 99 per cent sure it was cancer.
“I just remember saying, ‘OK. You have to fix me. I have three kids and at no point can I not be here for them.'”
Five days later – just nine days before her scheduled honeymoon – following a CT scan and blood tests, doctors confirmed that Laura had a 5cm cancerous tumour in her bowel.
Hoping she could have surgery after the trip, Laura pleaded with her doctor to postpone the operation.
“I was so gutted I asked if we could go on our honeymoon first, but doctors told me time was of the essence,” she said.
“We’d put a lot of planning and money into the trip, about £3,000, and we hadn’t taken out any insurance, so we couldn’t get any of it back.”
“It was just another lesson learnt though, I guess,” she said.
On March 5, she had a 10-hour operation at The Royal Bournemouth to remove the tumour, during which surgeons performed an ileostomy, where the small bowel is diverted through an opening in the tummy, and lymph nodes were removed to test for traces of cancer.
Told the procedure was a success, Laura was fitted with a stoma bag, to collect waste from the ileostomy.
“The first thing that struck me after the procedure was how amazing my body is,” she recalled.
“I guess you just go into survival mode, even with things like my stoma, it was a means to an end.”
Two weeks later, doctors confirmed that the cancer had not spread to the lymph nodes, meaning Laura did not need chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
While she was relieved, recovering from the treatment and dealing with a stoma was still “no easy ride.”
“I didn’t want the kids to see me poorly,” she said. “You want to be the perfect mum – which no one is, let alone if you have cancer.
“The Easter holidays were the toughest time. I made myself go to Legoland Windsor Resort in Berkshire, despite knowing I shouldn’t, because my stoma was playing up.”
“I basically spent the whole day in the public toilets with my stoma pouring into the toilet,” she continued.
Still, Laura got through it and on May 24, 2018, she went back to hospital to have her ileostomy reversed.
Laura said: “The recovery from the stoma reversal was really tough. I had to learn how to poo again and I always had Imodium tablets for diarrhoea with me and spare clothes, just in case of any accidents.”
But the big news came in February 2019, when doctors confirmed the cancer had not returned.
She said: ““The first thing I did when I got the all clear was share the news with everyone on Facebook. I didn’t do it for pity or sympathy – I wanted other people to know what I’d been through and that I’d made it to the other side.
“But, most importantly, it felt like I could finally get on with my life and being a mum.”
To celebrate the good news, Rob and Laura rescheduled their honeymoon – jetting to Las Vegas, USA, the same month – and even having a second “wedding” in the gambling mecca’s White Chapel, where she was “married” by an Elvis lookalike.
She said: “It was awesome. It felt like an anniversary as well as a honeymoon.
“It was just a ceremony – a bit of tacky fun – but it felt like something I should do as a cancer free bride.”
She added: “Now I’m better, I realise how lucky I was that I found the courage to discuss my symptoms with Rob, meaning that I went to the doctor and my bowel cancer was caught when it was.
“Breast cancer gets so much coverage – and rightly so – but bowel cancer is still the third most common cause of cancer death in men and women in the UK, yet, because it involves people talking about poo, we’ve all gone quiet.
“That’s got to change, and that’s why I’m putting my voice to the cause and working with the charity Bowel Cancer UK.”
For more information visit bowelcanceruk.org.uk
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