SURVIVING cancer twice has given Catherine Pointer the drive to continue fighting the condition – by working as a researcher at the hospital where she was treated.
The 26-year-old was diagnosed with leukaemia when she was 14 and then again three years later.
The budding scientist was also recently diagnosed with a mild skin cancer but is not letting her illnesses get in the way of helping others.
Catherine, from Fareham, is a researcher at the Cancer Research UK centre in Southampton and is determined to devote her career to finding better treatments and, she hopes, a cure for the disease.
She is also backing Stand Up To Cancer’s campaign while planning a wedding to her fiance Ash next year.
Catherine, a former Havant College A-level student, said: ‘Being back in Southampton but now as a cancer researcher rather than a cancer patient feels like the exact right place for me to be, like it’s gone full circle.
‘Once, when my parents dropped me off at the hospital, they said how they hated being back at the place where I was ill.
‘But I don’t see Southampton General as the place where I was ill – it’s the place that made me better.
‘I’m no longer the sick young girl on a ward, now I walk around with a Cancer Research UK lanyard around my neck knowing that what we do every day is going to help people with cancer in generations to come.’
Catherine was on holiday aged 14 when she became sick. Within two weeks she had lost a lot of weight and could barely stand without passing out.
She was admitted to Queen Alexandra Hospital, in Portsmouth, before being transferred to Southampton where it was confirmed she had leukaemia.
Six months of intensive chemotherapy treatment started straight away.
Catherine added: ‘There were a few scary moments with infections but overall I coped pretty well.
‘Even before I became ill I liked the idea of being a scientist but without doubt my own experience convinced me.
‘I may have been young when I was diagnosed but I still had so many questions – I remember my consultant taking me into the labs to help me understand what was wrong with me and how they were trying to make me better.’
Catherine went into remission after four cycles of treatment and left Henry Cort Community College with nine GCSEs.
She had just started her A-levels when her cancer returned.
‘I was in denial right up until the moment they told me it was leukaemia again,’ she said.
‘This time I would have to go for a bone marrow transplant. I was terrified.’
After eight weeks on the transplant register, while having further chemo, a match was found and Catherine was transferred to Bristol for the procedure.
She was able to finish at college and went on to do a biomedical degree at the University of Sussex.
Catherine said: ‘Cancer had already dominated my life so much but it came to be the thing that interested me most and the only thing I wanted to choose as a career.
‘I did work experience at Southampton and really liked what they are doing there – it feels like it is really going to make a difference.
‘I started my PhD in cancer research wanting answers about what had happened to me.
‘I don’t want the next 14-year-old girl to go through what I’ve had. All I want is to grow old with my soon-to-be husband and be able to raise a family.
‘I now know I can’t stop myself getting cancer again, but by working at Cancer Research UK Southampton I can make sure I’ll be ready for it next time.
‘That’ll help a lot of other people along the way too.’