“The word ‘cancer’ was just such a big word to take on,” admits Laura Moses, who was stunned to discover she had been diagnosed with Stage 3 ovarian cancer. But the shock was all the more apparent given Laura’s relatively young age: she was 27.
Now approaching two years of being cancer-free, Laura has decided to give back to the Royal Marsden, where she received a relentless regime of chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy in her battle against the disease, and has spearheaded a series of short films aimed at raising awareness among young women.
In the straight-talking films, released to coincide with Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month, the former Immanuel College student appears alongside cervical cancer survivors Jen Bunn, 34, and Isabel Soldevilla, 30, who were also diagnosed at the age of 27.
“I found I was always the youngest woman in the waiting room, and all the information I so desperately needed was aimed at older women,” reveals the bubbly primary school teacher from Mill Hill, who has helped raise £18,000 for the Royal Marsden through a personal blog charting her own journey with cancer.
Laura, Jen and Isabel are just a handful of the 10,000 new cases of gynaecological cancers diagnosed each year in the UK.
There are five cancers affecting women: ovarian, cervical, womb, vaginal and vulval.
Common symptoms include irregular vaginal bleeding, pelvic discomfort, pain during sex, unusual discharge, bloated abdomen, unexplained weight loss or gain, tiredness or weakness, passing urine more often than usual, constipation and nausea.
Cancer was something Laura had already been acutely aware of, having been told she was a BRCA1 gene carrier, but admits she was more focused on recognising the symptoms of breast cancer, for which she has a 60 to 90 percent greater risk of developing in her lifetime.
Unfortunately, the BRCA mutation, which is more common among Ashkenazi Jewish women, also heightens the risk of ovarian cancer.
Laura first began developing period-style cramps, a loss of appetite and bloatedness, but doctors dismissed her symptoms as constipation. However, she then experienced extreme pelvic pain.
She recalls: “I couldn’t sit longer than two or three minutes before getting up. I just didn’t think it could happen – BRCA or no BRCA – to somebody in their 20s. That all changed when I was transferred to the Royal Marsden.”
After discovering a growth on her ovary, Laura was given the devastating news by doctors.
“I just went into survival mode and the severity of it didn’t register with me until way down the line. You do all you can to survive and fight and get to that end goal of hearing those words, ‘you are ok’.”
Speaking candidly about her treatment, Laura reveals she had nine sessions of chemotherapy on a weekly basis, followed by surgery and then further
Despite fearing she would lose her hair, the side effects of her treatment were not as severe as Laura had anticipated.
But she admits grappling with having a hysterectomy and effectively losing her fertility at the age of just 27. That said, she remains resolutely optimistic about the future.
“The fertility side of things is so hard,” she reveals. “I look at myself and think it’s sad I won’t get to have that experience, I won’t get to carry a baby of my own.
“But I also know I don’t need to give birth to a child to be their mum. Adoption is something that is open to me.
“It’s weird to be 29 and thinking about this, because I never did – it was the last thing on my radar. But that’s what cancer brings to you.”
In the two years since Laura was given the all-clear, she has focused on rebuilding her life, returning to work as a primary school teacher and graduating with a master’s degree.
For that, she is thankful to the Royal Marsden for “saving my life and giving me the chance to be me again”.
Offering hope to other young women with cancer, Laura concludes: “It might not always be plain sailing, but there is light at the end of that tunnel.
“You have to hold onto that and try and see that light, even when it’s pretty hard to do.”
To view the videos, visit royalmarsden.nhs.uk/your-care/cancer-types/gynaecological/gynaecological-cancer-awareness.
Laura’s blog is available at findingcyril.com