A woman has spoken of her horror after she was told she had a ‘baby-sized’ 7.5lbs tumour in her leg, just days before a dream trip to Thailand.
Emma McCloskey, was completely unaware of the huge cancerous tumour – which doctors believe could have been growing in her right leg for her whole life.
The loyalty fund department manager, 33, decided to try on holiday clothes four days before she was due to fly to Thailand for the holiday of a lifetime in September 2012.
But when she attempted to pull on a pair of baggy shorts she had worn just two months earlier, she was surprised to discover they would no longer fit over her right thigh.
It was only then that Emma, from Warrington, Cheshire, noticed her right leg was considerably larger than her left.
Within days she was diagnosed with an aggressive type of cancer.
“I had only worn the shorts a couple of months ago at a Stone Roses concert. They were quite baggy, but when I tried to pull them up they just wouldn’t go past my right leg,” Emma recalled.
“I thought ‘what’s going on here?’. It was like a swelling. I was nervous about going on a plane with it like that, so I went to my GP.
“The doctor took one look at it and said she was sending me straight to the hospital and told me to cancel the holiday.
“When I asked her if she knew what it was, she told me she thought it was a tumour.”
She continued: “Looking back at a picture of me at the Stone Roses gig, the shorts fitted fine and my leg looked fine. I had no idea.
“I could have had the tumour for a few months, ten years, my whole life, they don’t know.”
After visiting her doctor, Emma searched for information online and was stunned to read about sarcoma – a rare soft tissue cancer known for being particularly aggressive.
Within days she had seen specialists at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital and soon afterwards was told she had this type of cancer.
In October 2012, just four weeks after she had first noticed her swollen leg, she had surgery to have the sarcoma removed.
WHAT IS SARCOMA?
- A soft tissue sarcoma is a form of cancer that affects muscles, skins tissues, blood vessels tendons and ligaments.
- They typically do not have any symptoms in the early stages.
- They are more commonly found in children, but can occur at any age.
Emma said even the surgeons who spent a gruelling six-and-a-half hours operating on her were unprepared for the size of the tumour and she lost two muscles from her legs as medics worked to ensure they had removed every last trace of the enormous growth.
The 33-year-old was left with a ‘deformed’ leg after the operation but did not need chemotherapy and was able to return to work just five months after the op.
Emma said: “Doctors took a biopsy the day I went in and when I returned the next day they had tissues ready – that was how I knew it was going to be bad.
“They told me it was sarcoma, and it was an aggressive cancer. It was just surreal, it was like it wasn’t really happening. Instead of being on holiday I was off work, going for biopsies and being poked and prodded.
“I don’t think any of us could believe the size of it. They showed me pictures of it after the operation, it was enormous.
“They knew the size of it before they operated, but it had grown more even in those few weeks.
“At 29, thinking I might not be here for my 30th birthday was terrifying. It was really intense, I’d never had major surgery before.”
She added: “Now I’ll still go on the beach wearing a bikini. People do stare and sometimes people will come over and ask what happened. I just laugh then and tell them.
“It makes some things hard to do now. I walk with a limp and sometimes older people with walking sticks can overtake me, which can be frustrating at times.”
Just twelve months later, after Emma’s sarcoma diagnosis, she experienced yet another devastating blow when she was told the cancer had spread to her lungs.
A sharp back pain and trouble breathing at work led to the diagnosis of three more tumours in her lungs – and this time chemotherapy was necessary.
Emma, who was still in the early stages of her relationship with husband John at the time, said that she luckily responded well to chemotherapy.
Now, despite the recurrence of another lung tumour in April 2015 which was removed in surgery, Emma is currently fighting fit, and eloped to Antigua in 2015 to marry John.
She said: “The first time with my leg I didn’t even feel like I had had cancer.
“I hadn’t had chemotherapy so I wasn’t really sick, and I didn’t lose my hair. I thought that’s what cancer was. But it’s the chemo that makes you so ill.
“I’d been so used to being positive about it. It was then I thought. ‘It’s serious now. I’m going to be sick and lose my hair’.
“But I feel absolutely fine now. I have told I had an 80% chance of cancer recurring, but I have regular scans, and I’ve gotten used to how my leg looks.”