A mom who had pain in her back cheek was told she had terminal cancer — just six years after getting the “all-clear.”
Gemma Denham, 29, from Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, had already been treated for cervical cancer after being diagnosed in March this year.
The mother-of-two underwent 11 rounds of chemotherapy and 28 sessions of radiotherapy among other invasive treatments.
Treatment went well and by October 5 her MRI results were cancer-free, leaving Gemma and her partner Elliot, 31, “over the moon.”
But in the weeks that followed, she developed pain in her buttocks, cheek and leg, causing her to limp.
Knowing something wasn’t right, Gemma called the hospital and got an MRI of her cervix.
In a cruel twist of fate, the results showed that the cancer had spread across her pelvis and lower back — with doctors unsure if anything had been missed in the earlier scan, or if it had come back quickly in the weeks that followed.
Fortunately, the cancer has not spread to organs.
But Gemma was still told she only had a few years, possibly months left on November 7th.
Gemma said: “When they told me the news they said there is nothing to offer me in the future – not even chemo because it wouldn’t work.
“My whole body felt like it was on fire when the counselor told me the cancer was back.
“I had a panic attack during the surgery and just couldn’t understand why this was the outcome.
“They told me I had months to early years to live – devastated was an understatement.
“I wouldn’t be there for my babies anyway. We had so many plans for our future and I was so afraid that I would miss their lives – they are still babies.”
Gemma has not shared the news of her terminal diagnosis with her older child, Faith, seven.
She said: “I hope to be around for my children for a very long time – and I will stay as positive as possible to fight this with all my being.”
STAIN TEST DIAGNOSIS
Gemma, a dental assistant, went for a routine Pap smear in August 2020.
She had persistent pain in her legs, pelvis and back, which could be symptoms of cancer.
Gemma, the mother of Faith, seven, and one-year-old Ellison, had been prescribed painkillers and her symptoms were believed to be due to postpartum depression.
During the smear, the nurse noticed a tumor and Gemma was referred to her GP.
Gemma Denham had been prescribed painkillers and her symptoms are believed to have been due to postpartum depression.Jam Press
They reportedly said she had a “healthy cervix” but had cervical ectropion — which occurs when cells lining the inside of your cervix grow on the outside.
A Pap smear looks for the presence of HPV or abnormal cells — not a diagnosis of cervical cancer, but markers that a woman should be monitored.
My biggest concern was that I wouldn’t be there for my children – they are my absolute world and everything I do is for them.
Gemma’s results for HPV were positive, which isn’t uncommon, but means a woman will need another Pap smear soon.
She was told to wait another three months for a repeat Pap smear because there weren’t enough cells on the Pap to detect abnormalities.
In November 2020, three months after Gemma’s original Pap smear, doctors found high-quality cells.
An ultrasound showed a mass in her cervix and she was diagnosed with cervical cancer in early March 2021.
Gemma claims she had previously asked doctors if she had the disease, but that she was “sure she was too young.”
Cervical cancer is most often diagnosed in people between the ages of 30 and 34, and Gemma was just below this category.
Gemma Denham started chemotherapy, radiotherapy, brachytherapy (internal radiation therapy), blood transfusions and platelet transfusions.Jam Press
After her diagnosis, Gemma said: “Part of me felt relieved, as crazy as that sounds – I knew I wasn’t going to go crazy.
“I definitely knew my own body and knew something more serious was going on.
“My biggest concern was that I wouldn’t be there for my children – they are my absolute world and everything I do is for them.”
Gemma immediately started treatments to fight the cancer, including chemotherapy, radiotherapy, brachytherapy (internal radiotherapy), blood transfusions and platelet transfusions.
She also had a nephrostomy bag to drain blocked urine while being treated at University College London Hospital.
The brave mother said, “I ended up losing more than five stones in weight and rapid weight loss gave me gallstones.”
ROLLERCOASTER OF RESULTS
Gemma was delighted to find that her cancer had cleared up in October, saying: “I was over the moon.
“I couldn’t quite believe it, but felt a sudden dose of courage – I would finally be okay for my kids.
“The results came back from the PET scan and they confirmed that the cervical cancer was gone, but I had a slight glow on my right pelvic lymph node.
“My consultant had reassured me that she was pretty sure it was the radiotherapy that was still working in my body, so the PET scan will be repeated in six weeks.”
But during that wait, the pain in her buttocks, cheek and leg indicated that something was wrong — later confirmed with tests.
Gemma Denham has not passed the news of her terminal diagnosis to her older child, Faith.Jam Press
Gemma said: “Since they got the bad news, they think there may be a clinical trial available to me, which is immunotherapy.
“I will undergo tests to find out if I am a good candidate to participate.”
Now the mom is focused on making memories with her kids and hopes to take them to Disneyland, with a GoFundMe page raising more than £17,000 to support the special trip.
She said: “[My biggest worry] is not being the best mother I can be to my beautiful babies, and not being able to accompany them on the most important journeys in life.
“My children grow up without the one person who loves them most, more than anything in the world – their mother.”
“[Going forward] my life will be very different, but I will not let cancer define me.
“I have to face the odds and not be labeled ‘terminal’.”