‘She had to grow up before her time’

Portsmouth & Southsea railway station by Andy Cooper

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  • Mum suffered stomach pain for years
  • Doctors could not find cause
  • Chance trip to GP for daughter led to ovarian cancer diagnosis
  • Mum at first refused treatment
  • But now cancer-free
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Schoolgirl Isabella Alderton is a life-saver to her mum – in more ways than one.

When she was taken to see a doctor to check out a dog bite it led to mum, Claire, being diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

Claire Alderton with daughter Isabella. ''Picture: Sarah Standing (151188-1342)

Claire Alderton with daughter Isabella. ''Picture: Sarah Standing (151188-1342)

More than two years on, Claire also credits her young daughter with giving her the will to fight after doctors said she had only months to live if the treatment failed.

The 37-year-old had been suffering from severe abdominal pain for years but visits to doctors and the hospital were unable to identify the cause.

Claire, 37, of Shadwell Road, Portsmouth, says: ‘We just couldn’t get to the bottom of what it was.

‘We thought it might have been Irritable Bowel Syndrome, stress or an intolerance.

Isabella took a lot of responsibility on her young shoulders. She is so thoughtful. I am incredibly proud of her

Claire Alderton

‘I changed my diet but nothing worked.’

Two years ago Isabella, now nine, suffered a minor dog bite and her mum took her to her GP to be on the safe side.

‘When we arrived the nurse could see I was in pain’, says Claire.

‘She asked what I thought it could be and suggested taking some bloods.

Claire and her partner Ben Bunting with Isabella

Claire and her partner Ben Bunting with Isabella

‘The tests came back showing up the CA125 marker, which alerted them to the fact I may have ovarian cancer.

‘I was sent off for an ultrasound and a probe and a tumour was discovered on my right ovary.’

Claire, a charity manager, was told she would need extensive treatment.

She says: ‘I had quite a candid conversation with my consultant. I thought it was really important as the mother of a small child.

‘We did not know if the cancer had originated in my cervix or had spread there.

‘I asked him how much time I’d have if I didn’t have treatment.

‘My concern was that I’d seen people undergo treatment but have no quality of life.

‘They gave me a worst-case scenario of six to eight months.

‘I made the decision there and then not to have any treatment because I wanted to enjoy the time I had left.’

But when Claire broke the news to her partner Ben Bunting, 38, who is in the RAF, and daughter Isabella, they had other ideas.

They encouraged her to be positive and Isabella challenged her mum to be brave and face the potentially gruelling treatment.

She says: ‘Ben was actually quite strict with me.

‘He said, “How the hell can you not give it a chance? Yes, you’re not going to feel very good but you’ve got to at least give it a chance”.

‘He was quite angry with me and ultimately I did choose to have the treatment.’

Claire says it was nowhere near as bad as she thought it was going to be.

She underwent two years of operations, radiotherapy and chemotherapy which ended in February.

A recent check-up confirmed she was doing well. Although the experience left Claire battered, but not beaten, she has some debilitating side-effects which include seizures.

Every now and then she will begin to shake and will shiver from head to toe.

She says: ‘It normally starts off with my right hand and my legs and lasts for two or three minutes.

‘Doctors think it’s either related to the drugs I had to take or stress. It could be my body’s way of getting rid of the stress it’s been under.’

Despite being relieved that she went for the treatment and has come out the other side, she is keenly aware of the impact cancer has had on her family.

‘Isabella had to grow up before her time,’ says Claire.

‘We were always up front with her about what was wrong with me and I don’t know how I would have got through it without her.’

Claire feels her daughter’s childhood was put on hold as she took on the role of carer, dealing with anything from emergency help calls to preparing meals because Ben is often away for months at a time with the RAF.

She also had to go without cuddles when physical contact caused her mum pain.

Claire adds: ‘I have never once heard Isabella complain, although my treatment stopped her enjoying things most children her age take for granted.

‘Isabella took a lot of responsibility on her young shoulders. She is so thoughtful. I am incredibly proud of her.

‘People often don’t realise when cancer patients finish treatment they are not yet out of the woods. I didn’t feel elation, just relief that the treatment was successful’.

Now Claire and her family are taking part in BBQ For Cancer Research UK (CRUK) this weekend.

BBQ hosts are encouraged to invite friends and family to make a donation to attend, to raise money to help beat cancer sooner.

Helen Johnstone, from CRUK, says: ‘Our aim is that one day everyone will beat this devastating disease – and the more research we can fund, the sooner that day will come.

‘That’s why we’re calling on our BBQ heroes to step up to the grill and get fired up in the fight against cancer.

‘Every pound donated will help us to fund life-saving research to help beat 200 types of cancer.’

To find out more go to cruk.org/BBQ.

The impact on families

Here, Claire’s partner Ben explains the impact cancer can have on sufferers’ families.

‘Claire’s been facing cancer for a number of years now. We’ve been told that everything’s fine a few times now, only to face the crushing news that she required more treatment on several occasions.

‘Through it all I can’t help but marvel at the resilience and fortitude that she displays every time she gets news that would floor me in an instant.

‘I’ve seen people I think of as strong and well-adjusted crumble in the face of far less, so I suppose one part of how cancer makes me feel is humble when I see how someone I love defies it and refuses to quit.

‘Claire is independent and resilient almost to a fault and she’s very protective of me, so will often crack on and not tell me how bad things have been because she doesn’t want to worry me, even in the face of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery.

‘We have a wonderful daughter called Isabella who’s just coming up to a very precocious 10. She’s aware of Claire’s condition, but again Claire, being the person she is, shields her from as much of the whole experience as she can.

‘When she is exposed to the stark reality that her mum isn’t well, I couldn’t be more proud of her.

‘As a side-effect of her treatment, Claire occasionally has seizures. They scare the hell out of me when they happen, but Izzy takes things like this in her stride and is an absolute trooper.’