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Young Survivors Week: A mother's story

My name is Lesley Shannon. This blog is about my daughter Laura Lesley Shannon.

I wish Laura was here to write this herself but she can’t be. She died from bowel cancer on the 30 March 2013, aged 31. Nine months after her diagnosis and four weeks after her wedding to her childhood sweetheart of 18 years.

I cannot believe I am writing this blog four years on from our beautiful daughter’s unnecessary death from bowel cancer. Laura was undiagnosed for too long as she was told she was ‘too young to have bowel cancer or anything seriously wrong with her’. Laura died such a cruel, painful death.

Laura was a very, very kind girl, always putting others before herself. We say girl, because she will always be our girl, but she was a beautiful young woman. She was so truly stunningly beautiful inside and outside; her smile would light up a room. She was funny – a dry sense of humour, intelligent, and every trait she possessed was a positive one. Laura never ever complained about anything, she thanked people all the time and worried about her younger brother who has had type 1 insulin dependent diabetes since 18 months old. She always made sure he had his insulin, made sure he had eaten, and was always worrying about her wee brother. They were so close. We were such a close little family. It is heartbreaking.

History and Diagnosis

Laura had been to her GP on numerous occasions complaining of stomach aches and blood in her stools. This was put down to period pains and other ailments. More sinister reasons for the pain went unexplored for 2 years. No-one listened to her and she was told “It’s not as if you have bowel cancer or anything serious wrong with you” – “you are a worrier like your Mum”.

Eventually our GP organised a scan.

Two days before the proposed Dr’s strike in 2012 we received a call offering Laura a colonoscopy. The appointment wasn’t at our local hospital but as Laura had been complaining of problems for years we jumped at the chance. Her dad took a day off work, and he and I went with Laura. Our appointment was at 9am and we intended on going out for lunch and shopping afterwards.

Although we were first in – people came and went. Laura seemed to be in for a long time. Eventually the doctor came and asked me to come in with her. The news was dire. The scan had shown a massive growth in the bowel.

Her diagnosis of cancer was on 3/7/12 and when her consultant called the family in to break the news, he was shaking as he spoke. Laura didn’t seem to grasp just how bad the news was – although she knew it was very bad news.  Laura was diagnosed at stage four bowel cancer, which had spread all over her liver. Nothing prepared us for that. We knew, although we didn’t want to admit it to ourselves, at the time that it was too late to save her precious young life.

Our world collapsed.

We asked if a transplant or surgery was an option and we were told that there was no chance of either surgery or a transplant. Chemotherapy was arranged within days.

Laura endured nine months of hell and chemotherapy and blood transfusions sickness and nose-bleeds. The very first chemotherapy session left her paralysed down one side for a time; we thought she had suffered a stroke. 

Laura had chemotherapy as an outpatient – she was first patient in of a morning and the last patient to leave at night with chemotherapy delivered over a six hour period.

Laura had chemotherapy as an outpatient – she was first patient in of a morning and the last patient to leave at night with chemotherapy delivered over a six hour period. It was such an aggressive chemo regime I wonder looking back now should we have put Laura through what she went through.

Laura had put on 3 stone in weight from the tumours & the medications and steroid treatment; some people must have looked at Laura and thought she does not have cancer but they did not and could not see what Laura’s close family saw the real side of cancer and chemotherapy and how it ravaged her beautiful body.

Throughout her treatment she always tried to remain positive and never gave up right to the end. The final day at the Beatson Hospital as she was being discharged, because they could do no more for her, her oncologist asked her if she would rather be at home or stay in the hospital, Laura not realising the gravity of her situation asked the oncologist if she could go home and have a wee break from chemotherapy. The oncologist said ‘of course you can have a wee break’ and she turned and walked out of the room with tears streaming down her face. Laura passed away two days later.

Wedding

Laura was so ill just the week before her wedding that during a treat organised for her by the Willow Foundation (an overnight stay with her bridesmaids at Stobo Castle) she was bedridden from arrival to departure. However she was not going to miss her own wedding.

Laura got married on 1/3/13 just four short weeks before she passed away. She had a fairytale wedding in the Scottish Castle that she wanted; with her London designer dress and her Louboutin shoes that she worked so hard to achieve.

A lasting memory of her dad Ewan’s is Coldplay’s ‘Fix You’ being played and of Laura asking her new husband Alan ‘I wish you could fix me’. The room was filled with tears.

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Laura (left) and her friend Gillian, 2012