A young mum who was told she was dying after being diagnosed with cervical cancer which later spread to her bones is calling on the women of Oxfordshire to help people like her by signing up to Race for Life.
Charlotte Allen was pregnant with her first child when she became seriously ill and had to give birth to daughter Freya ten weeks early.
Ten days later the former police officer was given the devastating news she had cervical cancer.
Charlotte underwent months of treatment involving radiotherapy, chemotherapy and brachytherapy and was so ill she spent most of the time in bed or in hospital, barely able to care for her little girl.
When it was over, she and partner Chris decided to bring forward the wedding they were planning and they tied the knot in October 2015.
But within a month they were given the devastating news the cancer was back and had spread to her bones – and Charlotte was told she had between one and two years to live.
She said: “From the moment I gave birth it all went wrong. Everything I pictured about becoming a mum for the first time didn’t happen.
“I had to wait 12 hours to give my little girl a cuddle, and she was wrapped in wires and tubes. Just ten days after giving birth I was being told I had cancer.
“In the months that followed, all I remember is being in bed or in hospital. Freya was born weighing 3lb and was in the John Radcliffe while I was being treated in the Churchill. Chris took nearly five months off work to look after us both.”
Charlotte, who is now 36 years old, underwent seven weeks of radiotherapy combined with five weeks of chemotherapy and then brachytherapy. She also underwent surgery to remove her fallopian tubes.
She added: “I didn’t really know much about cervical cancer other than Jade Goody had died from it and I remembered all the hype around smear tests. I was always careful to keep up
to date with mine and there was never a problem, so I didn’t think I could be at risk.
“I’m quite good at being able to bury my head in the sand and deal with what is happening here and now. Visiting Freya every day in hospital gave me something to focus on.”
She added: “They gave me between one and two years to live. Freya was just six months old and I was being told I had terminal cancer. My world just came crashing down at that point.
“It was like I had an out of body experience as I sat in the room with the doctor and Chris. I remember crying – and then I just got up and walked out of there. I had to go and see my
Charlotte says her father-in-law helped her find an orthopaedic oncologist at Oxford’s Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre who agreed to carry out an operation they had never tried before to remove her ischium bone, which forms the lower and back part of the hip bone, as well as almost half of her hip.
Charlotte said: “They told me I would be a guinea pig but they thought it might work. I had nothing to lose. On May 23, 2016 I became cancer free and I have been in remission ever since. I feel so lucky.”
There have been side effects from the operation, including bladder and bowel incontinence that have forced her to be medically retired from the job she loved.
Charlotte said: “There are lots of physical side effects I have to live with daily. I can’t run or walk for long distances at a time, I was forced into early menopause and I no longer live an active lifestyle like I once did. But it’s a small price to pay because it’s either that or not be here.
“Both Chris and I have also suffered with depression but we have come out the other side and I’m thankful for that.
“I cannot fault the NHS for all they have done for me. It makes you realise just how incredibly lucky we are – especially to have all of this here on my doorstep in Oxford.”
She added: “I am also very passionate about encouraging women to make sure they have regular smear tests. I always ensure mine were up to date. Nobody would ever want to go
through what I have for the sake of five uncomfortable minutes.””
Charlotte previously took part in the Race for Life in the summer of 2016, just months after undergoing her surgery.
Just a few months earlier she was unable to walk without crutches or a walking frame. But she was joined by five friends and together they raised more than £1,500 for Cancer Research UK.
Charlotte said: “People say life is short and just live it. I certainly don’t worry about things like I used to – I just enjoy it for what it is. I know better than ever now how vital research is to finding kinder treatments and ultimately beating cancer and I hope people sign up to Race for Life or support it in whatever way they can.”