A mum has been left devastated after finding out the 'bloating' she was suffering with was actually an 8kg cancerous tumour.
Stephanie Coles, 39, from Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, initially thought the lump in her abdomen was due to bloating. The idea of cancer never entered her head. She dismissed other symptoms she'd been experiencing such as diarrhoea and back pain as being a result of weight lifting and protein shakes.
But after visiting her doctors the mum-of-three went on to be diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer and is now awaiting surgery to remover the 8kg tumour.
"At first, I noticed I'd put on weight and couldn't understand why my stomach looked so big," Coles, a prison officer, explains.
"I'm a very fit, active person and own a private gym so the weight gain made no sense to me."
Then back in December Coles' fiancé, Philip Grey, 43, spotted a lump in her abdomen and encouraged her to visit the doctors.
"After my fiancé noticed the lump, I called the doctors the next day and they initially thought it was an enlarged spleen so I was sent for an emergency ultrasound," Coles continues
But instead of an enlarged spleen, Coles was told she had an 8kg cancerous tumour.
"The only option is complex surgery," she says of the diagnosis. "I've had my pre-op and am having surgery on March 2 to remove the tumour.
"If all goes well, I'll be in the hospital for a week following the surgery and then will have seven months of recovery.
"Luckily, the cancer hasn't spread so the prognosis is good as surgery should completely remove the tumour.
"There's no known cause as to why I have this cancer but after the surgery, I'll be under review monthly to make sure it doesn't come back."
The mum-of-two is now keen to increase awareness of the symptoms of the rare cancer and is fundraising with her daughters, Kayley Yates and Courtney Coles.
"We're trying to raise awareness because no one has heard of this type of cancer," Coles continues.
"When I received the diagnosis, I had never heard of this type of cancer before as many other people hadn't.
"All I heard was cancer and tumour," she adds.
"Once I've recovered, I'm hoping to set up my own charity specifically for this type of cancer and am currently holding fundraising events for Sarcoma UK.
"We've raised just over £3,000 so far but are hoping to continue fundraising."
To follow Stephanie's journey, visit her Facebook page
What is leiomyosarcoma?
According to the NHS, Leiomyosarcoma (LMS) is a type of soft tissue sarcoma that grows in the smooth muscles that line organs like the stomach, bladder, and intestines.
Soft tissue sarcomas are rare. Only about 3,300 new cases are diagnosed each year in the UK.
While there are several different types of soft tissue sarcoma, leiomyosarcomas are one of the more common types of sarcoma to develop in adults.
They start from cells in a type of muscle tissue called smooth muscle. These are involuntary muscles that we have no control over. They are found in the walls of muscular organs like the heart and stomach, as well as in the walls of blood vessels throughout the body.
This means that leiomyosarcomas can start anywhere in the body. Common places are the walls of the womb (uterus), the trunk of the body, and the arms and legs.
Signs and symptoms of leiomyosarcoma
While many people with early leiomyosarcoma often remain symptom-free, some leiomyosarcomas are diagnosed after a person develops symptoms.
These may include: a lump or swelling, abdominal discomfort or bloating, swelling or pain in any area of the body, bleeding from the vagina in women who have had the menopause, or a change in periods for women who have not yet had the menopause.
If you notice any of these symptoms, you should contact your GP, but it is worth remembering that these symptoms can also be caused by many different conditions other than cancer, so try not to worry.
Treatment of leiomyosarcoma
In many cases the cancer can be cured when detected and treated early on.
While treatment for leiomyosarcoma depends on a number of things, including your general health and the size and position of the tumour in the body, the main treatment is surgery, wherever possible, to remove the tumour.
This may be followed by radiotherapy to reduce the chance of the cancer coming back.
Chemotherapy is also used for some leiomyosarcomas. The most important thing is not to ignore any of the symptoms listed above. The earlier you seek help, the better.
Additional reporting Caters.