I Found A Lump On My Leg In The Bath. It Was Terminal Cancer

Geeta Patel was 25 and newly married when she discovered she had cancer – and that chemo wasn't an option.
Geeta Patel was diagnosed with incurable cancer aged 25.
Geeta Patel
Geeta Patel was diagnosed with incurable cancer aged 25.

In My Story, readers share their unique, life-changing experiences. Today, we hear from Geeta Patel, 27, from Teesside.

How do you tell your closest friends that you have incurable cancer?

It was August 2020 when I felt a lump on the back of my leg while I sat in the bath. It was so big – the size of my hand – and it was really, really hard.

I remember thinking: What is that! I’ve not hurt my leg and that is not the shape a leg is meant to be. I pressed the lump and it wasn’t hurting or moving, so I knew it wasn’t in the skin.

I picked my phone up and Googled it straight away. Sarcoma – a type of cancer that starts in the soft tissue – came up. I saw a horrible image of these red cells that looked so scary. I quickly locked my phone screen and told myself ‘It can’t be that.’

I had no other symptoms at this point. I was coughing a bit after exercise, but I just thought I’d done too much, that was it.

The next day I showed my colleagues my leg at work. I remember they were like: “That lump is so big. How have you not noticed that?” and I said “I don’t know, I just haven’t!” We’d recently got married and moved house, so it had been busy.

I called the doctors and because it was Covid, I showed them my leg from a Zoom call in the work bathroom. The doctor said they’d book an ultrasound straight away.

Geeta and her husband Ankush, had just got married and bought a house when she was diagnosed.
Geeta Patel
Geeta and her husband Ankush, had just got married and bought a house when she was diagnosed.

Even at this point, alarm bells didn’t go off. I thought ‘It can’t be that bad’.

I still didn’t think anything of it when the GP called and said: “You need to come in and bring somebody with you.” My husband said he’d come, but I told him not to bother.

When I got there and looked at everyone’s faces, I realised it was bad. I called my husband and said: “Please come, now.”

Waiting in the GP reception, I remember crying even before the news. They were giving me water.

When I walked into the room, the first thing that I said to the doctor was: “It’s not cancer, is it?” She said: “We can’t rule it out.”

I got referred to specialists at Manchester hospital. They did an MRI and a biopsy, and confirmed it was sarcoma. They told me I’d need major surgery to get it removed.

While I was waiting for the operation, they sent me in for a full body CT scan and that’s when they found multiple lesions.

The cancer had spread. I was told it was stage four – incurable – and that chemotherapy wouldn’t work. I was only 25.

My husband was speechless, his face just dropped, it was such a heartbreaking moment. My mum was downstairs in the hospital and I ran down to her, screaming. We cried so much.

At first, I didn’t really believe I it. I was just so shocked. I just thought ‘how can this happen?’

And I remember thinking it was so unfair, because other people my age were enjoying life, starting their careers, without these worries. I kept thinking how I should be excited to start my life with my husband. I’d hoped that maybe in two years we’d have children. I was thinking I just don’t want to die. I’m not ready to.

We’ve never asked doctors how long I’ll live, because we don’t want to know.

Geeta Patel

Telling people was really hard. Initially, I just told one friend and asked her to tell my other best friends. I didn’t want to put it in the group chat and face a load of messages.

For a while I didn’t tell anyone else, I thought, No one needs to know. I was a bit embarrassed, to be honest, and I thought, I’ll try to get better. But when I came to terms with it being incurable, we told my husband’s family and my wider family and just asked for prayers. It was really hard.

I started having immunotherapy to try and prolong my life, but at Christmas time last year I got told that it wasn’t working, and that the illness was progressing to my lungs.

I kind of knew already, because I couldn’t function properly. I remember I was stood trying to cook Christmas dinner and my lungs felt horrible. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and I remember holding onto the kitchen counter and thinking, What if I’m not here next Christmas?

We were told there was nothing else the NHS could do, and there were no private options, so they put me on palliative care. Oh my god, it was awful, I was on oxygen 24/7, there was pain in my lungs and my back, I was taking morphine.

You don’t think about writing a will at 27, but in February I thought it was time to get things in order. Nobody told me to do it, but I think I’d seen some posters in the hospital.

When I went to see the solicitor I couldn’t even speak, because I was so breathless. The lady was so lovely, though. Talking about me not being there, it made it all so real. It made me think about my family living without me, and I never want that.

January to March was the worst time. I thought I was going to die.

But everything changed when the Royal Marsden in London called me and said I was eligible to take part in a trial, receiving a type of chemotherapy in tablet form. I felt so much joy that I possibly had another chance. I can’t even explain the intense emotions. The trial has literally changed my life. I can walk without oxygen now, I’m so grateful and touch wood, it’ll continue like this.

I want to share my story, because no one really expects something like this to happen at this age. I think for women in particular, we’re told to look out for breast cancer and we hear about cervical cancer, but we don’t necessarily know to notice other changes in our bodies.

I also think people associate cancer with chemotherapy, but I didn’t get that opportunity – regular chemo wouldn’t work for me. I want people to know that cancer can be incurable and there’s still not enough research out there to help everyone. If you can donate, it can fund research into new drugs and potentially save people’s lives.

As for right now, I don’t know what my future looks like. It’s taken a while to get there, but I’m at peace with not having children. I’m trying to live in the moment and take every day as it comes.

A diagnosis like this makes you appreciate the little things. It sounds really strange, but I go outside and I feel the air and I’m so grateful. When it’s raining, I love to feel the raindrops on my skin. When it’s sunny, I like to feel the warmth on my bones. The world, the sky, it’s all beautiful. I just love being with my family and the people I love, I cherish every conversation.

Geeta is supporting Stand Up To Cancer, a joint fundraising campaign from Cancer Research UK and Channel 4 bringing the UK together to accelerate life-saving cancer research. Get involved and donate at SU2C.org.uk.

She was interviewed by Rachel Moss and her answers were edited for length and clarity. To take part in HuffPost UK’s My Story series, email uklife@huffpost.com.