Claire Wilkinson's Story
In 2008 Claire Wilkinson was living the dream - a healthy and happy life in Australia, having moved to Sydney from England in 2006. She could not have imagined that a year later she would have beaten two cancers, undergone IVF and been through hell and back.
The nightmare began in July 2008 when, during a routine pap smear, she discovered she had cervical cancer.
Claire’s GP referred her to Lifehouse at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, where she had further tests with Gynaecological surgeon Dr Selvan Pather who advised her to undergo a hysterectomy to remove the tumour. During the surgery it was discovered that the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes and the hysterectomy could not proceed.
A team of RPA specialists including Prof Chris Milross and Dr Philip Beale then reassessed Claire’s cancer and a course of chemotherapy and radiotherapy was advised. This treatment would destroy her ovaries so Claire went to see an IVF specialist to harvest some of her eggs before treatment.
“I had always wanted children so preserving my fertility was important to me. I had one attempt at IVF as I could not delay the start of the chemo. IVF was successful and I had seven eggs harvested which are now chilling in the deep freeze storage until I’m ready. I will need a surrogate in the future to carry a baby for me but at least having these eggs has given me hope of having children in the future. It was a ray of sunshine during the darkest days,” Claire said.
Claire had chemotherapy for six weeks at the Lifehouse at RPA’s Gloucester House chemotherapy suites. At the same time she had radiotherapy every day for seven weeks. Following her chemotherapy treatment, Claire then had brachytherapy, radiotherapy specifically targeting the tumour on the cervix, once a week for the following four weeks. Despite being a gruelling treatment regimen it was effective and by the end of October, the tumour had disappeared and she was in complete remission.
Claire remained strong and positive throughout everything and had her family and friends by her side at every step of the journey, especially her Mum who flew over from England the day she was diagnosed. Also, having the support of such a fantastic medical team, especially nurse Kath Nattress, was a huge help.
“Kath kept me informed of the progress and results, good or bad. She was there whenever I needed her and answered all my questions. She was and still is my rock. I cannot thank Kath and the medical team enough, they saved my life. It’s that simple!”
When she was told the cancer was in remission, Claire said she celebrated with a big party and went back to work thinking the worst was over. However, in December a routine PET scan discovered an unrelated slow growing thyroid cancer, totally unrelated to the cervical cancer.
“One cancer diagnosis at 29 was bad enough but two was totally incomprehensible,” Claire said.
Claire enjoyed Christmas in England before returning for surgery to remove her thyroid in January 2009. This was followed by radioactive iodine treatment which involved Claire spending five days alone in a special room whilst she was radioactive.
“Finally in February 2009 I was in double remission after eight months of hell,” Claire said.
Claire ironically works in cancer research for a pharmaceutical company and returned to work as soon as she finished treatment. She hopes that by talking about her diagnosis and treatment, others will be more vigilant in cancer screening tests to catch any cancer early so that it can be successfully treated.
Claire is well on the road back to full health and celebrated her 30th birthday in May followed by a trip to Canada and America for a family wedding. She has just leda team of 12 people in the City to Surf and they raised over $3,000 for children’s cancer research. She continues to get stronger and is thankful that she can enjoy ‘normal’ life now.
“The fear of the cancers returning will never go away but having had the cancer has made me the person I am today. I am so lucky: I have the special gift of life and will live this life to the fullest in memory of the people who have been touched by this awful disease.”