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 colorectal cancer on the 30 March 2013; aged 31, 9 months after diagnosis, and 4 weeks after her wedding to her childhood sweetheart of 18 years.
I could finish my blog now, after all what more is there to say? Actually quite a lot!
I cannot believe I am writing this blog four years on from our beautiful daughter’s unnecessary death from colorectal 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.
I hope this blog will help GP’s & health professionals ‘listen’ to younger people when they present with symptoms and that the symptoms are taken seriously & the appropriate tests are done timeously, to hopefully rule out cancer or diagnose it at an early stage. If bowel cancer is caught early it is treatable, meaning people won’t have to go through the hell Laura and our family did.
Laura had dreams and unfulfilled aspirations. She had her own personal fashion blog paperdollybird.blogspot.co.uk, it was her passion with over 300,000 hits. Shortly after Laura passed away a large well known London company contacted me to ask if Laura would write their blog for them; Laura would have been famous by now.
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.
Laura was so organised and helpful and she knew what she wanted from life – to be married, raise a family and start her own fashion business. She was married for only 29 days before her passing, and she had her blog; but she never had the chance to start her family. She would have made a great mum.
Laura was a hard worker and was much loved by many of her co-workers – and this has been most evident by the letters, emails, cards, flowers and requests to meet her family for coffee or a meal and a catch up. People want to stay in touch with us because they thought so much of Laura – and we want to stay in touch with those who knew her best.
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 and the doctor was so alarmed that she arranged for details of the scan to be emailed to the consultant straight away.
Laura returned to work that next morning! Typical of Laura.
The next night Laura’s consultant phoned at 6pm asking for Laura to be brought in at 8am the following morning.
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 as Stage IV colon 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 realised that she was unlikely to be able to have a family following her diagnosis. She immediately settled for a rescue dog – a big scruffy dog she re-named Beau from Dogs Trust.
For the 9 short months she had from that moment on Laura fought her cancer undergoing various types of chemotherapy. Initially and for the first few months of treatment her chemotherapy completely debilitated her making her bedridden through sickness, but when she was fitted with a PICC line, which ran from her arm through a vein to near her heart she was able to cope with the chemotherapy a bit better.
Laura endured 9 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 6+ hour period. It was such an aggressive chemo regime I wonder looking back now should we have put Laura through what she went through.
My wee Dad Billy passed away in January weeks before Laura. At the funeral Laura was in wheelchair as the cancer had spread to both lungs and into her bones, resulting in a broken pelvis. Despite this, she walked determinedly down the aisle of the Church and back to the car with the aid of a walking stick. She should have been in her wheelchair and she was in so much pain, but Laura had such bravery and possessed such determination she did not give in to the Cancer that killed her.
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 2 days later.
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 4 short weeks before she passed away. She had a fairtytale Wedding in the Scottish Castle that she wanted; with her London Designer Dress and her Louboutin shoes that she worked so hard to achieve.
The family were so concerned about how ill she was that arrangements were in place to get her down the isle in her wheelchair if necessary – then back to bed. But on the day, and what a wonderful day it was, the sun brought a beautiful warm day and Laura summoned strength from goodness knows where and we all had a fantastic day. Midway through the meal Laura had to go for a lie down for an hour or two; then she was back down to party.
Laura was in such terrible unimaginable pain yet she walked down the aisle. Many of the guests at the wedding had no idea she was as ill as she was, and for that one magical day we had our daughter back.
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.
Questions and Persistence
Laura questioned her illness. The day before she passed away she said to her Dad ‘Dad, I’ve still got a chance don’t I?’. Dad said ‘of course you have’. It breaks his heart to think of that conversation now. Should we have told Laura early on that her diagnosis was terminal? I would have but was out voted. Looking back now I do not know what was the right answer was. If we had told Laura might she have given up her fight against the cancer because she did fight the cancer as Laura would say ‘fight the fight’ ‘never give up hope’.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing they say – and we knew Laura was struggling on many days, complaining of stomach pains, generally feeling unwell – but she got on with things, went to the doctors, went to work and planned for her future. With the benefit of hindsight we should have pushed for further medical examination – but we were completely unaware of any prospect that Laura had cancer. We did not consider this at all.
We want to ensure people DO NOT TAKE NO FOR AN ANSWER. You know your own body. Demand tests to be carried out to rule things out not be fobbed off and told you are too young. Get the proper checks done and put your mind at rest. If only Laura had been listened to, and early detection had happened our Laura would still be with us today. That thought makes it all the harder to get through the days and nights without Laura in our lives. Laura was the most precious thing in our lives, as is her wee brother Christopher. We are such a close family and it makes it all the harder that Laura is not going to walk through the door of an evening with her Dad.
We are totally lost without our beautiful daughter Laura. To never be able to hear my daughter’s voice again; to never feel her touch on my arm, never hear her laughter or to share her sense of humour and fun. Laura didn’t get the chance to be a Mummy other than to Beau the dog. Laura would have been the best Mum ever. We were not just robbed of our daughter we were robbed of becoming grandparents we were robbed of the rest of our own lives. Every day I cry and I always will. Whoever said time is a great healer didn’t lose what we did the day we lost Laura.
What’s so painful about this; is that bowel cancer can be treated if diagnosed, and Laura was not diagnosed in time. Laura should be here with us today.
Laura would not want any other person, young or old, to needlessly go through what she went through. Laura would want her passing to be a warning to the medical profession – not to look at the likelihood that the person before them would not have cancer and dismiss the prospect because it is a young person was sitting in from of them. Not to think it’s an old persons disease and therefore not worth considering. She would want the person, irrespective of age, to be properly examined, and follow up examinations until the cause of the pain has been established and appropriate treatment commenced. Tests should have been carried out on Laura when she initially complained. If that had happened Laura’s cancer could have been caught early; and detected early bowel cancer is treatable. Laura would want her story to save the lives of others and it has done already.
Every year 2,500 younger people are diagnosed with bowel cancer in the UK. While this is only around five per cent of those diagnosed, this number is slowly increasing.
I have thrown myself into finding ways of making as many people as possible aware of what happened to my beautiful daughter. Raising awareness to children, parents, teachers, the medical profession and as many people as possible. Laura’s death was unnecessary; it could and should have been avoided. It mustn’t happen again. We will never ever forget our wonderful daughter; all the little things she did or said that made us laugh or cry. Just thinking about her now as I write this the tears are streaming down my face. Maybe someday I’ll come to terms with our loss – but it won’t be soon.
I also do as much fundraising as I can for the #never2young campaign for Bowel Cancer UK and at the moment we have raised just over £12,000 on Laura’s Just Giving Page. I will keep fundraising for as long as we can to help raise awareness and get the message out there to try and prevent other young people like Laura dying from such a cruel cancer and to save any other families having to go through the hell we are going through day and night. We know that Laura’s story has saved lives already and our family will continue to do everything possible to keep Laura’s memory alive.
Help for GPs
I am pleased to note that Bowel Cancer UK have just announced a New Risk Tool to help GP’s decide if patients under 50 have serious bowel condition – Find it here
Can I say a big thank you to everyone involved in implementing this new risk tool and I hope that it will save many young lives.
I am also very passionate about Early Detection. Information is available from the Bowel Cancer UK Website: click here
I would like to say thank you to the CEO of Bowel Cancer UK Deborah Alsina OBE who has become a personal friend & came from London to meet Laura in the Beatson when she was fighting cancer. Deborah remains an amazing support to me to this day and always will.
I would also like to thank staff at the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute – they are truly amazing and do such wonderful research. I cannot thank them enough for what they do. I was lucky enough to be invited to an open day there by Kirsteen at CRUK; thank you. And thank you to everyone who works for CRUK it means more than words can say.
A special thanks goes to the Beatson Charity; David Welsh (Chief Executive), Marie Newcombe (Legacy officer) and Debbie Jennings (Head of PR); they all do a wonderful job and it is more than a job to all of them. They are inspirational.
Thank you to Dr Ashita Waterston, Laura’s Oncologist at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre for all that you did for Laura and to all the other Beatson staff for the time they spent caring for her.
Twitter: @BEAUTIFULMUMSIE. I am happy to help anyone I can in any way
Please also look at Laura’s blog if you love fashion: Paperdollybird.blogspot.co.uk