Woman’s ‘menopause symptoms’ turned out to be signs of cancer

A grandmother thought she was experiencing symptoms due to the menopause but was diagnosed with cancer. (Carol Kernaghan/SWNS)
A grandmother thought she was experiencing symptoms due to the menopause but was diagnosed with cancer. (Carol Kernaghan/SWNS)

A woman who thought she was experiencing symptoms of the menopause, went on to be diagnosed with terminal cancer and was told she may need to start planning her funeral.

Thankfully, however, Carol Kernaghan, 63, from Frome, Somerset, has defied the odds and is currently living cancer-free.

Kernaghan initially dismissed her symptoms - blood spotting in her pants and a pain in her hip - as the menopause.

But after experiencing a haemorrhage and undergoing a biopsy, in January 2021 she was diagnosed with endometrial cancer and offered a hysterectomy.

A further MRI and PET scan showed the cancer had spread to the bowel, bladder, cervix, pelvic wall and sacral nerves.

To doctors' amazement, the treatments Kernaghan underwent worked so much better than expected and she has now been cancer-free since October 2021.

Speaking about her diagnosis Kernaghan, a former dementia carer, explains: "Once they went inside they realised things were a heck of a lot worse than what they thought.

"I had an MRI scan and they found it [the cancer] was in my bladder, my cervix, my bowel, my pelvic wall - it was everywhere.

"I was told I was palliative - there was nothing they could do, it was inoperable."

Kernaghan initially noticed a pain in her hip in October 2020 but put it down to a slip she'd had. Around the same time she also noticed some spotting which she assumed was due to the menopause because of her age.

"I was so busy because I was working 12 hours a day and it wasn’t bothersome or causing me any issues," she explains.

"So I just carried on as normal."

But Kernaghan was later rushed to A&E after suddenly suffering a huge haemorrhage.

Doctors found the endometrial cancer, which had caused the bleed, and she was offered a hysterectomy to treat it.

Kernaghan went through immunotherapy for treatment for the endometrial cancer. (Carol Kernaghan/SWNS)
Kernaghan went through immunotherapy for treatment for the endometrial cancer. (Carol Kernaghan/SWNS)

But before she could have the procedure her bowel ruptured - resulting in being fitted with a stoma bag leading to her experiencing a severe bout of sepsis.

Further tests uncovered a large tumour had spread from her womb and infiltrated other organs including her bowel, with doctors revealing the cancer was terminal.

"It was like my brain couldn't take it in," she says of the moment she learned. "In that situation, you can't process what's going on.

"It was just about getting through every day."

Following her initial terminal diagnosis Kernaghan says found it hard to accept and didn't want to think about planning her funeral.

"I didn’t want to know how long I had left either," she adds.

Doctors did keep Kernaghan's daughter, Jennifer, 35, informed and she took her mother home to look after her there.

"That day was the same day she learned she was pregnant with my grandson," Kernaghan recalls. "I remember thinking I'd never live to see him born.

"My little grandson is two now, and he's just gorgeous. I'm so glad I could meet him."

Kernaghan underwent immunotherapy - a treatment which stimulates the body's own immune system to fight cancer cells - in February 2021 in the hope it would give her a better quality of life.

"I was so ill and so weak, I only weighed about 40 kilos," she says. "I was like a skeleton."

Despite the side effects, the immunotherapy shrunk Kernaghan's tumours.

"Luckily for me the treatment did more than give me a quality of life - it gave me back my life," she says.

Following treatment, Kernaghan had an operation to remove the rest of the tumour and was declared cancer free in October 2021.

"I just cried," she says of the moment. "I couldn't believe it was over.

"I just rang the bell and cried."

Carol Kernaghan is now cancer-free. (Carol Kernaghan/SWNS)
Carol Kernaghan is now cancer-free. (Carol Kernaghan/SWNS)

During treatment, doctors discovered Kernaghan has a genetic condition called Lynch syndrome - a genetic variant which makes her predisposed to having colorectal cancer.

While she is in recovery at the moment, doctors can not give her any guarantees she will not develop cancer again because of her advancing age and Lynch syndrome.

Kernaghan's children - Jennifer Brown, 35, Samuel Kernaghan, 33, and Chloe Kernaghan, 32 - have found out they all have the same genetic condition.

"The good thing is it means they get early screening so that if there is a problem it gets picked up early," Kernaghan explains.

Both of her daughters have been offered prophylactic hysterectomies and they are considering it.

"I think every woman of menopausal age should be screened for endometrial cancer because it is so silent," she continues.

"Endometrial cancer slips under the radar somehow.

"It’s very important that people are aware of it."

Looking back at her experience Kernaghan describes it as feeling "amazing" to have beaten a terminal diagnosis.

"Nobody can guarantee the cancer won't come back but I'm cancer free right now, and every day is a blessing," she adds.

Endometrial cancer

Cancer Research UK explains that womb cancer is sometimes called uterine cancer by doctors, but it is also referred to as endometrial cancer.

Endometrial cancer is the most common type of womb cancer.

Most people who develop womb cancer are older women. It's much less common in those younger than 40.

Womb cancer is most common in women who've been through menopause, but it can affect anyone with a womb.

You cannot get womb cancer if you've had surgery to remove your womb (hysterectomy).

Risk factors of womb cancer

Having a high level of a hormone called oestrogen is one of the main things that can increase your chance of getting womb cancer, the NHS says.

You may have high levels of oestrogen if you:

  • are overweight

  • take some types of hormone replacement therapy (HRT)

  • have never given birth

  • have polycystic ovary syndrome

  • went through the menopause after the age of 55

You might also be more likely to get womb cancer if you have:

  • diabetes

  • a family history of bowel, ovarian or womb cancer

  • inherited a rare gene that causes Lynch syndrome

  • taken medicines like Tamoxifen (used to treat breast cancer)

  • had radiotherapy on your pelvis

Symptoms of endometrial cancer

According to the NHS the main symptoms of womb cancer can include:

  • bleeding or spotting from the vagina after the menopause

  • heavy periods from your vagina that is unusual for you

  • vaginal bleeding between your periods

  • a change to your vaginal discharge

Other symptoms of womb cancer can include:

  • a lump or swelling in your tummy or between your hip bones (pelvis)

  • pain in your lower back or between your hip bones (pelvis)

  • pain during sex

  • blood in your pee

If you have any of these symptoms, you must get them checked by your GP. But remember, they can all be caused by other conditions. Most people with these symptoms don’t have womb cancer.

Additional reporting SWNS.

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