JUST four months ago doctors told mum-of-two Nicola Hitchen there was nothing they could do to treat her stage four cervical cancer.
She was faced with a stark choice – accept her fate and sort out her affairs, or look into other ways of continuing the fight.
The 41-year-old from Great Boughton chose the latter, and after five 10-day sessions at a pioneering chemotherapy centre in Turkey her aggressive tumour has all but disappeared.
The process has set Nicola and her family back £80,000 and with funds dwindling they are now appealing for help to raise the final £50,000 so she can complete her treatment.
The fundraising bid has been led by Clare Hitchen, the wife of Nicola’s ex-husband Andy, who said: “Money is running out and Niki may not be able to continue with her life-saving treatment.
“This is not an option – the boys need their mum and she deserves the chance to watch them grow into men and have their own families.”
A JustGiving page has already raised more than £6,000 towards the target and a number of events are being planned to help raise cash.
Nicola, who works as an administrator at Oldfield Primary School in Vicars Cross, said: “I’m completely overwhelmed – everyone has been amazing. I didn’t think people liked me that much!”
She told the Standard she was admitted to hospital in March after suffering with abdominal pains for several months.
She was found to have a pelvic abscess and sepsis. But later tests also revealed something more sinister – a tumour in her cervix.
Doctors were unable to treat the cancer until the infection had cleared, which allowed the disease to leap from a treatable stage two to a supposedly untreatable stage four in just seven weeks.
“I was very scared when they told me,” said Nicola.
“It was such a shock. It proved really difficult to get rid of the abscess and, by the time the infection had gone, I was told it was too late to treat the cancer.”
She added: “Getting a diagnosis like that you can respond in one of two ways. Either you accept this is what’s happening and sort your affairs out – or you start looking at other options. The first wasn’t an option for me.”
Nicola and her family began by trying alternative medicines and supplements before spotting an oncology centre in Istanbul called ChemoThermia which offers a pioneering combination of treatments.
By this time the large tumour in Nicola's abdomen was causing her excruciating pain and she was heavily reliant on painkillers.
“The pain was unbelievable – like chronic labour pains but worse,” she said.
“I was either in agony or like a zombie on the painkillers.”
She booked into the centre in Istanbul on July 23 and began her first 10-day intensive treatment programme, which involved chemotherapy and heat treatments designed to break down the tumour.
She was also placed on a special diet and spent time in an oxygen chamber to help her body heal and recover.
“In 10 days, I went from being on six or seven different painkillers a day to not needing any,” said Nicola. “It was amazing.”
She’s now had five sessions since July and finished the last one on Thursday last week.
The main tumour in her abdomen is almost gone and others in her liver and spine have shrunk considerably.
A secondary tumour in her lungs has also completely disappeared.
Nicola said she needs another four bouts of treatment, which will cost around £50,000.
“It's going really well so far and I'm feeling optimistic about it,” she said. “I've spoken to other patients at the centre and it's worked for them so I have every reason to stay positive.”
She said she has been touched by the support from her parents and sons, Joseph, 14, and Jacob, 12, as well as her ex-husband Andy, who recovered from Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, and his wife Clare.
“It's brought us all even closer together,” said Nicola. “The support I've been given has been phenomenal, not just from my family but from complete strangers too.”
To help Nicola pay for her treatment, visit www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/nicola-hitchen
For information on fundraising events and to follow her story, visit ‘Nicola Hitchen’s Lifesaving Cancer Treatment’ page on Facebook.