When Catherine Cook began suffering chest pains, she instinctively knew something was wrong.
But her GP didn’t. Cook had to visit the surgery 20 times in six months before threatening to go to the Crown Prosecution Service if she wasn’t referred to hospital.
There, a scan confirmed her worst fears. Lung cancer had eaten away at her ribs ‘like a caterpillar’, and doctors said it was terminal.
But the mother-of-two refused to give in to the disease and made an appointment with a renowned thoracic surgeon.
Consultant Tom Routledge operated to cut away the rare tumour, which was dangerously close to her spine, and – after several rounds of radiotherapy and chemotherapy – Cook is now in remission.
The 55-year-old, a student lettings manager, said last night: ‘I’d been back and forth to the doctor numerous times, but had not been referred to hospital. I was desperate.
‘I remember going into the surgery and yelling, “If you don’t refer me, I’ll call the CPS.”
‘When the scan came back, it looked like my ribs had been eaten away. It looked like they’d been chewed on by a caterpillar.’
Cook’s ordeal began in February 2012 when she began experiencing tight pains in her chest and shoulder. Her GP kept giving her painkillers, but by August, she was desperate for help and threatened to complain unless they referred her to hospital.
She was sent to Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, where a scan revealed a two-inch rare ‘pancoast’ tumour at the top of her right lung.
Doctors said she had grade three adenosquamous carcinoma lung cancer, a rare type of non-small cell lung cancer. They told Cook, of Beccles, Suffolk, that it was terminal. ‘Hearing that was devastating,’ she said. ‘Doctors suggested that surgery wouldn’t be an option because the tumour was too close to my spine. (But) I knew I needed the tumour to be cut out to give me a chance of survival.’
A relative, who worked as a doctor, had heard of lung cancer surgery specialist Routledge, who works at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital in London, and contacted him privately to see if he could help.
He agreed to treat Cook as an NHS patient and she underwent an operation to remove the plum-sized tumour, plus three of her ribs and half of her right lung, on February 15, 2013. The day before the surgery, Mrs Cook and her partner Ian Land, 44, a property maintenance manager, went out to celebrate St Valentine’s night.
‘Thankfully, it wasn’t our final meal, because Routledge – who is my hero – removed the entire tumour,’ she said.
Five years on, she remains cancer free.
Cook, who has five grandchildren, added: ‘I never thought I’d be here today. Amazingly and against all the odds, here I am. I’m back at work and busy helping to look after my wonderful grandchildren and my rescue dogs. My life is busy and full and I relish it all.’
Routledge said: ‘I remember Catherine very well, her surgery was quite complex.
‘She came through a difficult treatment with bravery and fortitude and it has been a pleasure for me and my team to care for her.’
A spokesman for Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital Trust urged Cook to get in touch with them if she had any issues or complaints about her care.
Cook is supporting Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life. To sign up, go to raceforlife.org