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Erith mum beats 'taboo' cancer through sheer determination

PUBLISHED: 07:00 17 September 2019

Clare says there is nothing to be ashamed about when it comes to cancer. Picture: Clare Baumhauer

Clare says there is nothing to be ashamed about when it comes to cancer. Picture: Clare Baumhauer

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It's Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month and a mother from Erith has spoken about her battle with doctors to identify her "taboo cancer".

Clare's determination to beat the ‘taboo’ vulva cancer saved her life. Picture: Clare BaumhauerClare's determination to beat the ‘taboo’ vulva cancer saved her life. Picture: Clare Baumhauer

Mother-of-two Clare Baumhauer, 46, went to GPs more than 30 times saying she was sure something significant was wrong.

But she says she struggled for decades to obtain an accurate diagnosis, and is now working with Macmillan.

She is sharing her harrowing struggle to be correctly diagnosed with vulva cancer.

Clare said it is important all women know about cancers of the vulva, cervix, vagina, ovaries and womb. Being aware of the symptoms can help women know when they should see their GP.

She said: "Many male doctors are too embarrassed and uncomfortable to properly investigate the female body. And a lot of medical diagrams don't even feature the vulva, so it's no wonder that women don't know about this form of cancer."

She said: "I want to spread the word about not flinching from speaking about a subject and/or body part that can be taboo.

"Because if you have symptoms but are too embarrassed, then you're going to ignore it and it's not going to be diagnosed."

Clare had worrying symptoms from an early age, and added: "As a young child and then a teenager, I often experienced itching and soreness around my vulva, but every GP I went to see would tell me that it was cystitis and not even examine me.

"I stopped trying to get to the bottom of the problem. I decided that perhaps every woman feels these symptoms.

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"In my 30s, it got worse and I saw a female GP who at least examined me but again I was fobbed off, with a diagnosis of thrush.

"I then experienced a tear in my vulva, similar to what a woman might experience in childbirth.

"I ignored it, thinking that it would heal itself, but it only worsened.

"The tear had changed and become an ulcer that grew to about the size of a 50p - it was an open ulcer and sore, so I had to go back. I could no longer ignore the symptoms.

"Initially another female GP said it was herpes, but my shocked expression made her have a second look. I had been with my husband for 25 years and she subsequently decided that it might be vulva cancer and referred me.

"It was only then that I was finally diagnosed with stage 1 vulva cancer. Unfortunately, six months after radical, life-changing surgery and 25 sessions of radiotherapy, the cancer was found to have spread and I was subsequently diagnosed with stage 3 vulva cancer. If I hadn't been persistent and gone back to the GP, I would be dead.

"I must have gone to numerous GPs at least 30 times over the years. I had also been seen by various other medical professionals - gynaecological nurses, practice nurses and midwives, but no one had spotted that there was something wrong, despite my vulva displaying classic symptoms. I'd had eight smear tests and had two children during that time, but no one picked up on it or referred me for further investigation.

"I have also found out that I had been affected by lichen sclerosus in childhood, which wasn't diagnosed for 30 years. If left untreated, lichen sclerosus can lead to vulva cancer in five per cent of women."

Sue Green, senior information development nurse at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: "The earlier gynaecological cancers are found, the more likely it is that treatment will be successful. You are not wasting your doctor's time by getting your symptoms checked."

To help the fight against all cancers, host a World's Biggest Coffee Morning for Macmillan on September 27 by signing up at coffeeregister.macmillan.org.uk

And for more general information, call Macmillan free on 0808 808 00 00, (7 days a week 8am - 8pm) or visit www.macmillan.org.uk

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