Poplar cancer survivor highlights work of charity in TV campaign

EMMA Rae was just 15 when she was given the devastating news: “You’ve got cancer.”

She was still at school studying for her GCSEs. It didn’t help her education or the chance of a decent career.

Emma spent that Christmas in hospital—not knowing how long she had to live.

Now, seven years on, she has survived three rounds of chemotherapy treatment and hopefully has a future.

But the 24-year-old from Poplar hasn’t let things end there.

She has bravely taken part in a national TV ad campaign, telling her story to millions of viewers around Britain, with the doctor who got her through the treatment.

It is part of the charity Cancer Research UK’s thought-provoking awareness campaign.

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“I was eager to be involved because of what I went through,” Emma says. “I have benefited from the work of Cancer Research UK scientists, doctors and nurses.

“So I wanted to help encourage public support so they can continue their work to beat cancer.”

Emma was treated at Bart’s in the City by John Gribben, Professor of Experimental Cancer Medicine at Bart’s and The London NHS Trust.

Her TV ad focuses on the emotions and stark realities of hearing Prof Gribben tell her she has cancer.

The ad campaign uses real patients talking directly to camera, like Emma, rather than actors.

It also highlights the fact that more and more people are beating cancer, thanks to treatments Cancer Research UK has helped develop.

The percentage of women likely to survive breast cancer for at least 10 years has jumped, for example, from less than 40 per cent in the last 40 years to 77 per cent today, while the proportion of people likely to survive bowel cancer has risen from 23 to 50 per cent, according to the charity.

Twice as many patients are surviving for at least 10 years with ovarian cancer, from 18 to 35 per cent, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, from one-in-five to more than half.

Leukaemia patients are four times as likely to survive for 10 years compared with the early 1970s.

Emma has beaten cancer three times after first being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia in 2001 when she was 15 and doing her GCSEs.

She remembers being “very, very scared” and spending Christmas in hospital undergoing treatment.

She underwent chemotherapy and missed her GCSEs, but the treatment was successful.

However, the cancer returned when she was 19.

“This was worse because I knew what I was in for,” Emma recalls. “I didn’t want to go through it all again.”

She spent another Christmas in hospital undergoing chemo and a bone marrow transplant.

But six months later, the cancer returned a third time.

“This time I was angry about it,” Emma admits. “When Professor Gribben told me about it, I was quite rude and just barked, ‘What are you doing to do about it then!’

“Thankfully, he just told me about a new transplant he was going to do and did it. And it worked.

“I have now been clear for four years and I’m so thankful for the treatment I’ve had.

“A cancer diagnosis does not necessarily equal a death sentence—I am living proof of that.”

Viewers see a patient at the end of the ad whose outcome is less certain, showing there is still much to be done in the fight against the disease.

Prof Gribben, who joined the Bart’s Cancer Centre in 2004, said: “Having to tell a patient they have cancer is always incredibly difficult. It’s the hardest part of the job and it never seems to get any easier.

“But was a real pleasure to be able to help Emma, because a few years ago she would not have been alive by now after her leukaemia came back the second time.”

Cancer Research UK’s research is in the biology and causes of cancer and how to develop new ways of preventing, diagnosing and treating the disease. It is funded entirely by public donations. Website: www.cancerresearchuk.org