Woman told she was ‘too young for cancer’ diagnosed with two forms three months apart

Gemma is also experiencing a surgically induced menopause which has left her infertile (PA Real Life/Collect)
Gemma is also experiencing a surgically induced menopause which has left her infertile (PA Real Life/Collect)

A woman who went to her GP about changes in her period and backache was diagnosed with womb and ovarian cancer within three months of each other, leaving her “completely shocked” as doctors previously reassured her she was “too young” for cancer.

Gemma Coleman, 34, who lives in Bolton with her husband of two years, Jack, 36, was “absolutely devastated” with her double cancer diagnoses, and urges women, during Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, to “trust your gut” when it comes to changes in your periods, and to “not be afraid to challenge doctors”.

Gemma, an executive complaint specialist at the Co-op, always had periods like “clockwork” up until the beginning of 2020, when suddenly they began getting shorter than normal – little did she know, this was a warning sign for womb and ovarian cancer.

It took doctors two years to diagnose Gemma with ovarian cancer after her radiologist spotted a cyst on her ovary when retrieving her eggs, and she believes if she was listened to and given a CA-125 blood test, it could have been diagnosed “within a few hours”.

On top of chemotherapy, Gemma is also experiencing surgically induced menopause, which has left her infertile, something she and her husband are “still getting used to”.

“I was absolutely devastated by the news, but it shows the importance of going to the doctor when something isn’t right with your periods,” Gemma said.

“I’m just so thankful to be alive.”

At the beginning of 2020, Gemma’s periods started to change, and little did she know, it was the first warning sign of womb cancer and ovarian cancer.

She explained: “I always had regular, clockwork periods – I’ve had the same date my whole life.

“But I noticed that they were just getting shorter and shorter and shorter, to the point where I had none at all.”

 (PA Real Life)
(PA Real Life)

On top of this, Gemma had pain in her side, but she did not think much of it.

She said: “I had a nagging pain on my left side, but it was Covid at the time, so I was working from home – I thought it was just from poor posture because I was sitting on the sofa with my laptop all day.

“I didn’t really think much of it – there was nothing really that was screaming to me like this is cancer, but I was quite concerned about my periods.”

Gemma decided to call her GP straight away, because of her periods, and she was urgently referred for a scan, in September 2020, where it was discovered that she had a three millimetre polyp in her womb.

In March 2021, she had a hysteroscopy to try to remove it, which failed, and another in June 2022 where it fell out.

At that point, doctors told Gemma that they did not think it was cancer.

Gemma said: “They said I was too young for cancer, and it wasn’t a concern for them.

 (PA Real Life)
(PA Real Life)

“But my periods hadn’t come back, and I was still worried that it could be cancer.”

Gemma began to get frustrated and continued emailing and phoning her doctors to see if there were any signs of cancer.

After almost two years of scans and tests, she was diagnosed with womb cancer at the end of June 2022.

She said: “I was absolutely devastated, and so was my husband.”

Gemma decided to freeze her eggs as she was still open to the idea of having children, but, when having her eggs retrieved, two weeks after her diagnosis, Gemma’s radiologist noticed something was not quite right with her ovaries.

Gemma explained: “My radiologist said I cannot take eggs out of this ovary because she thought the cancer had spread further than my womb.

“There was a cyst that looked suspicious as it was bleeding.”

In 2020 Gemma’s periods got shorter and shorter by the month so she decided to go to her GP.

 (PA Real Life)
(PA Real Life)

After having a CA-125 blood test, in September 2022, just three months after her womb cancer diagnosis, it was confirmed that Gemma had both ovarian cancer and womb cancer.

She said: “I was just devastated all over again, and completely shocked.”

“Jack, my husband, was at work at the time, and to be honest, he was absolutely floored by it because I’d been reassured so many times by the hospital that there was nothing wrong with me.

“I literally came out of the hospital, and I rang Jack, and he had to pull over his van on the side of the road while he was working because it shocked him that much.

“Because just neither of us was prepared for that.

“My family and Jack were so supportive.”

 (PA Real Life)
(PA Real Life)

On top of the devastating news, Gemma was frustrated because she felt she could have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer sooner.

She said: “I felt like the consultants didn’t really listen to me.

“Like, if I had the blood test straight away, I could have known about ovarian cancer within a few hours.

“I try not to get cross, and I want to remain positive, but I felt like they were following the narrative of I was this hysterical woman, and I caused my periods to stop through stress when it was actually ovarian cancer.”

Since Gemma’s diagnosis, she has undergone two major surgeries removing her womb, fallopian tubes, cervix and ovaries and is currently receiving chemotherapy.

She said: “I have since been receiving treatment at Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester, and they have been absolutely amazing.

“I started chemo in January this year, and I’ve had really bad bruising, terrible headaches – I knew chemo wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. I can’t say it’s been easy.”

 (PA Real Life)
(PA Real Life)

Gemma also has surgically induced menopause, explaining:  “I can no longer have children – Jack and I are still getting used to the idea that we can’t.

“The other real challenge of the menopause has been the sheer brain fog  – it can be so difficult to concentrate and focus.

“I would say that probably the worst thing about it is the hot flushes – you get boiling hot, as if someone has just turned a radiator on inside you, feelings of anxiety, rapid heartbeat.

“Sometimes it’s even hard to know what symptoms are caused by the menopause, and which are from chemotherapy.”

This Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, together with the charity Target Ovarian Cancer, Gemma is urging everyone to learn more about the warning signs of ovarian cancer.

She said: “It’s just so important to educate yourself about the warning signs – I was so lucky that I went to the doctor immediately.

Gemma says to anyone experiencing changes in their periods: “Just trust your gut, and don’t be afraid to challenge doctors.”