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  • Nikki’s Story

    March 18, 2024

    Nikki Keeley, 51, is a woman who’s not afraid to tell her story. In fact she wants everyone to know about anal cancer, the cancer no one wants to talk about.

    Nikki, who is a mum of two boys, first had symptoms of what she assumed were haemorrhoids in December 2020. She tried over-the-counter treatments, which didn’t have any effect, so she visited her GP. After an examination her GP was concerned and referred her to the hospital for further tests.

    “I knew it wasn’t good from the GP’s reaction when she examined me,” said Nikki. “At the hospital I had a biopsy, CT scan and PET scan in quick succession and then on 27 January 2021 I received the news I had been dreading. It was stage three anal cancer and it was present in nine lymph nodes.

    Obviously, I was shocked, devastated, scared – all the usual things that anyone getting a cancer diagnosis feels. I knew nothing about anal cancer and as a rare cancer no one in treatment had this type of cancer. I was the only one with this cancer that I knew. The good news was there is a clear treatment pathway, the bad news is that the treatment for anal cancer is pretty brutal.”

    The standard treatment for anal cancer involves chemoradiation – a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy – given daily for 28 days. Nikki’s treatment started 3 weeks after her diagnosis. During this time Nikki had to be isolated from her children, pets and family members due to the radiation used in her treatment. Nikki’s partner, Steve, was her only support and he also had to isolate to reduce the chance of Nikki catching Covid. The UK was back in a Covid-19 lockdown adding extra challenges to an already incredibly difficult time for Nikki.

    Nikki continues; “My mental health was rock bottom at this time. The treatment was indescribably painful, and I was on a lot of painkillers. You can imagine daily, high doses of radiation to that area aren’t comfortable and I experienced burns and scarring.  I was barely eating and lost 3 stone in a matter of weeks. My teenaged boys had to move out of our home, which as a mum makes you feel even worse. My partner Steve was an incredible support for me but he was trying to hold down his full-time job remotely as well as taking me to hospital every day and acting as my nurse at home. It was a very dark time indeed.”

    Once the treatment programme was complete, Nikki had to wait 3 months to find out if the treatment has been successful in eradicating the cancer and it was at this point that Nikki first came into contact with Cavendish Cancer Care.

    “It was actually my mum and dad who phoned Cavendish”, said Nikki. “Mum was so worried about my mental health. I’d developed OCD tendencies; my anxiety was through the roof. I was addicted to painkillers and I’d become obsessed with avoiding Covid. I was entirely not like myself. One of my neighbours is a social worker and she recognised the signs of mental breakdown in me and asked me to get to my GP, which I did. My GP prescribed me some antidepressants and I also accessed some weekly online sessions with a psychiatrist through my work’s private health insurance scheme.”

    Due to Covid-19 regulations Cavendish was not able to work face to face with patients during 2021 however Nikki did access some of our online resources including relaxation sessions, yoga and also was sent some of our Aromasticks – bespoke blends of aromatherapy oils in a stick – to help manage her anxiety.

    Luckily, Nikki did receive an all-clear in summer 2021 but by autumn of that year the longer-term effects of the treatment became clear, and Nikki was also still suffering with PTSD and anxiety.

    “Even now I continue to suffer with deep fatigue, internal effects from the radiation and incontinence – all things which have a profound effect on my quality of life. I’ve just had a further six sessions of Reiki with the wonderful Michelle at Cavendish Cancer Care to help with my hip mobility – another long-term issue following the radiation – which has helped.”

    Nikki is also still benefitting from the virtual support of Cavendish. She says, “I still put into practice the relaxation and sleep tips I learned from the online support and I really love my aromastick! It’s an essential part of my kit for scans and medical appointments, which obviously with my history can cause me a lot of anxiety.”

    Nikki has become a great supporter for Cavendish Cancer Care and an advocate for anal cancer sufferers. She encouraged her workplace, Spire Claremont Hospital, to become a charity partner with Cavendish in 2023 and they raised thousands of pounds for the charity last year. She has also sold some of her drawings to fundraise and continues to support the Cavendish Wellbeing arm of the charity by organising health talks for businesses, led by top consultant doctors from Spire Claremont.

    Whilst Nikki has certainly had a rough ride due to her cancer and its treatment, she continues to look for positives in her story and aims to raise awareness of anal cancer, especially amongst women and wants to remove the embarrassment associated with the cancer.

    “Anal cancer is quite a rare cancer compared to many others but it is on the increase, especially amongst women. If my story can help one other person catch this cancer early then it’s been worth it”, says Nikki.

    She also continues to positively promote Cavendish, saying, “When everything was going wrong, the support of Cavendish has kept me grounded. The virtual support was helpful at the time and it’s been brilliant that I’ve been able to dip back in recently for some one-on-one support. It formed a vital part of my treatment programme and that’s why I give back by doing what I can to support fundraising efforts now.”