A woman from Devon who was diagnosed with terminal cancer in March 2021 shared her remarkable story of recovery.
Georgina Johns is 48 years old and lives in Bideford.
One day Georgina went to the supermarket and bought a sandwich, but then had unexpected problems trying to eat it.
“I was like, ‘Oh, it’s just stuck, it’s weird and I feel a little sick,” she said.
Georgina called her doctor who sent her for an endoscopy. The procedure involved inserting a tiny camera down Georgina’s throat to help her examine the inside of her body.
Unfortunately, as Georgina returned from the procedure, she realized that it had led to an extremely disturbing discovery.
“I heard the nurses talking saying, ‘We need to get the cancer nurse down’ and I thought, ‘Well, I’m the only person here in this ward’, so I thought: “It must be for me,” Georgina said.
She was told that her husband had been called to the hospital and Georgina waited for the result of his endoscopy.
Georgina – who said she had never smoked and only drank socially – learned she had stomach cancer.
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A nurse told her that not only was stomach cancer very rare in women, but it was especially rare in younger women like her.
Georgina was sent to Plymouth Hospital to have the cancer removed, but another scan showed it was more serious than initially thought.
The cancer had spread to Georgina’s aortic valve which controls blood flow from the heart to the rest of the body. It had also spread to one of her lymph nodes – so Georgina received another devastating blow.
She said: “They actually called me while I was shopping and said, ‘Go home, we’ve got some bad news for you and they said,’ Sorry, you have 12 left to go. 18 months to live. “
“I was like, ‘Well, that’s ridiculous. I’m forty-eight, I have three children – my youngest was fifteen at the time, she just turned sixteen – and I I also have two older children and grandchildren.
“I thought, ‘There’s no way I’m going to die from this – it’s just a disease like anything else. There must be things I can do.
Georgina said she started her own cancer research, looking for anything that could help her cope with the disease.
“So I read books. I found out all the vitamins and things I could take that could help me,” she said.
“And then they said I could have palliative chemotherapy. I said, ‘I don’t want palliative chemotherapy, I want it to cure me.’ “
“I went to the Macmillan site and found a lady whose father had the same [cancer] and he was alive three years later, and had had an operation to take out his stomach.
Georgina found the name of the surgeon who performed the operation and contacted him.
“His name is Professor Hanna and he is based at Imperial College London,” she said.
“He trained in Japan – Japan has a brilliant survival rate for stomach cancer.
“So I had a private consultation with him and he said he was ready to do the operation on the NHS for me,” Georgina said.
“I went to London, I met him and he said, ‘You are so fit and well, this is ridiculous.’
“There was a 1% chance of dying during the operation and the operation was horrible.
“I had surgery in August, my stomach was removed, most of my esophagus, my spleen and he also removed 123 lymph nodes which was amazing.
“And he got rid of all the cancer – everything.
“So I’m in remission now and have to go back in January for more blood and they will obviously be watching me for the next five years, but yeah, that’s pretty good news,” Georgina said.
“I feel amazing. Obviously I’m still recovering – it takes a whole year to get over the operation, but obviously he’s an amazing surgeon – and he sewn everything by hand.
“I was home within two weeks of the operation, although I have sepsis, I had a collapsed lung. It was quite traumatic.
“I was supposed to have more chemotherapy after the operation, but I had another cycle but I couldn’t tolerate it because without a stomach it’s very difficult to tolerate anything. I still didn’t feel like I had recovered enough either.
“I don’t know if I’m going to have more treatment or not,” she said.
Because she no longer has a stomach, Georgina of course had to change the way she ate every day, but stated that she considered it a sacrifice worth it to be still alive.
She said, “I can eat most things, things that I can’t tolerate – like bread or beef. So anything you can chew in your mouth and turn it into pulp, that will work.
“So my esophagus now joins my small intestine, so it [food] just go straight on. So I have to take enzymes to help transform the food every time I eat, but I can eat most things. Two tablespoons of food at a time and I eat six times a day.
“It’s a huge adjustment but I’m alive so I don’t mind. I think it’s worth doing and it will be for the rest of my life and who knows how long we have to live – like everything the world, you know? “
Georgina said she felt lucky to have found Professor Hanna because her cancer was so rare.
“There’s usually no one who takes care of stomach cancer at Barnstaple because it’s a rare cancer, it’s mostly breast cancer, unfortunately,” she said.
“That’s why I thought if I could get my story out there, people could contact me.
“A lot of people lose all hope and I think we have to run towards life.
“Every day I wake up and I’m like, ‘I’m alive and I’m happy, I believe in myself, I’m going to be strong. I’m going to have a great life and I’m going to help as many people as I can.
Georgina said she was happy people with cancer email her at [email protected]