A brave new mum diagnosed with cancer when her son was just eight months old has been chosen as the face of a campaign across Scotland to save lives.
Shiela Laramore is determined to prove she’s a rebel with a cause with a defiant message to cancer written all over her face. She’s urging Scots to unite with some of the brightest stars from TV, film and radio and Stand Up to Cancer this autumn. Celebrities including Davina McCall, Alan Carr, Bill Bailey, Edith Bowman and Kirstie Allsopp are backing Stand Up To Cancer, a joint fundraising campaign from Cancer Research UK and Channel 4. Stand Up To Cancer aims to speed up the translation of brilliant scientific discoveries to help get new, better, kinder tests and treatments to cancer patients, faster.
And Shiela who is today cancer free and a proud mum to Harry, one, will mark the first anniversary of being told she had the disease by sharing her story for the first time to highlight the impact of research.
Shiela, 33, of Dunbar, East Lothian said: “Nobody should have to worry about not seeing their children grow up.
“When I first learnt I had cancer I just sat there thinking, ‘that’s it. I’m going to die.’ It was very hard to take in and a big shock. I kept thinking, ‘Am I going to live to see my baby become a little boy and grow up? But I got through cancer and I know research saves lives. That’s why I’m giving my heartfelt support to join the rebellion. Stand Up To Cancer raises money to speed up more effective treatments for people who really need it. Harry is my gorgeous, precious little boy and I’ll do everything I can to be the best possible mum for him. If I can make a difference and help others along the way then I’ll do it.”
But Shiela who is an RAF Association welfare officer recalls vividly September 23 last year after tests on a lump on her neck revealed she was fighting Hodgkin Lymphoma, a cancer of the white blood cells. With baby Harry back home with his grandma, Shiela and her ambulance paramedic husband Gabriel, 31, struggled to take in what the consultant at St John’s hospital, Livingston was telling them. Shiela had first mentioned the lump at a routine baby check up appointment at her GP surgery only weeks earlier. More tests showed that
Shiela also had other lumps around her neck and chest area which she had not noticed.
Determined to do everything she could to fight the disease, Shiela also felt heartened when doctors told her that although her cancer was aggressive, it was also very treatable. Referred to the care of a haematologist at Edinburgh’s Western General Hospital, Shiela was advised that chemotherapy would be the most suitable treatment. She was warned however that it could affect her fertility.
Shiela said: “I was offered a round of IVF to freeze eggs or embryos but I declined. I felt truly lucky to have my little boy. He’s perfect. I had to put him first and felt that to give myself the best possible chance of being around to be his mum, I had to start treatment immediately.”
She endured chemotherapy from last October until December before starting three weeks of radiotherapy in January this year. Although difficult, she felt the treatment wasn’t as bad as she had feared.
Shiela said: “The development of drugs that help make chemotherapy side effects more bearable was vitally important to me.
Photo: Shiela with son Harry. Photo Credit: Lesley Martin
“It meant I could still have days where the treatment effects were manageable and I could enjoy time with my little boy. Don’t get me wrong, there were days when I couldn’t get out of bed and that was tough, but the medication I was given to manage the sickness and fatigue really helped.
“It also helped me to keep working. I’d returned to work from maternity leave in July last year, two months before I was diagnosed. I found that keeping going with work and maintaining some degree of normality was good as it gave me something to focus on.”
Shiela was thankful not to lose all her hair during treatment. She had her long hair cut shorter and lost some thickness but her hair is starting to grow back well now. And through all the treatment, Shiela made the most of Harry’s milestones- his first Christmas and first birthday in January this year.
Shiela said: “I felt really lucky that Harry’s first Christmas fell during a break from treatment.
“I was starting to recover a bit from the chemotherapy and had a few weeks off before the radiotherapy started. At Christmas and for Harry’s birthday we had a small, family gathering. It was lovely. I think I appreciated it all the more because of everything that was going on.”
In March this year, Shiela helped build her strength back up by taking on the Walk All Over Cancer challenge, raising more than £1,000 for Cancer Research UK by completing 10,000 steps every day for a month. And 12 weeks after treatment came to an end, the results of a scan showed what the whole family had been hoping for- that she was cancer free.
Shiela said: “I know it may sound strange but I feel incredibly lucky that I wasn’t diagnosed with cancer before Harry was born because I’d have been worried for the entire pregnancy.
“Instead I got to focus on enjoying being pregnant with my little boy and then having those wonderful first few months with him before I got the awful news about cancer. Those early days with your baby are precious. I tried to make the most of every moment. I try very hard to be positive because children are very perceptive and they pick up on slight changes in your mood or emotions. I don’t want my son to have anything to worry about. He’s exactly as he should be, smiling, laughing, chatting all the time and climbing on anything he can reach. I’m loving being a mum and couldn’t be prouder of Harry.
“My cancer was caught in the early stages which means it was easier to treat. But I’d urge anyone who notices anything out of the ordinary or different about their body that is worrying them to go along to the doctor and get it checked out.”
Since it was launched in the UK in 2012, Stand Up To Cancer has raised more than £38 million to fund more than 40 clinical trials and research projects.
These include the development of the ‘chemo package’ to deliver treatment at the best time for the patient; testing arsenic as a weapon to make cancer implode and using viruses to seek and destroy cancer cells.
Lisa Adams, Cancer Research UK spokeswoman for Scotland, said: “We’re really grateful to Shiela for her determination to help others.
“Every hour, four people are diagnosed with cancer in Scotland.* And day after day, dedicated doctors, nurses and scientists work tirelessly to beat the disease. We’re on the brink of a revolution in cancer research but we can’t afford to stand still. It’s time to rebel against cancer, raise cash and save lives.
“By raising money for game-changing research, Stand Up To Cancer will support this progress and help change the outlook for more people with the disease.”
“There are lots of fun ways to join the rebellion against cancer. You can get creative in the kitchen, get sponsored to stand out in orange at work or school, do a sponsored wax or head shave or get sponsored to take part in ‘Game On’, Stand Up To Cancer’s gaming marathon. A free fundraising pack is available, full of fun and creative ways to conjure up cash.”
Stand Up To Cancer is supported by a host of celebrities from TV, film and radio including Davina McCall, Alan Carr, Bill Bailey, Edith Bowman and Kirstie Allsopp.
This autumn Channel 4 will once again bring the brightest stars from show business together in a dedicated season of Stand Up To Cancer programming.
For more information, go to www.standuptocancer.org.uk