Teacher Christine Sterry's rare bowel cancer battle
A YOUNG mum from York has spoken of the devastating moment she was told she had terminal cancer – but has vowed to fight the disease for her three-year-old son, Alisdair.
Christine Sterry, 30, had been going back and forth to her GP with a persistent cough and had twice been taken to A&E at York Hospital because of severe pain and breathlessness.
She had been given cough medicine, inhalers, antibiotics and had electrocardiogram tests, X-rays and blood tests.
After a third visit to A&E, doctors carried out a colonoscopy and CT scan, and Christine and her fiancé, Nic Caldwell, assumed they would tell her she had an infection or gallstones.
But she said: “That evening the doctor asked if someone was coming in to visit and after I said Nic was coming with my little boy, he said not to bring Alisdair. I thought that was strange and, when Nic came in, the doctor and nurse asked us to go with them into a room.
“That was when they told me I had a tumour in my colon and it was very advanced.
“They said it had spread to my liver and there were lesions in my lungs, and that it was incurable and inoperable.
“I was absolutely devastated. I heard the word ‘cancer’ and just shut off. It was Nic who was asking the questions. I’d blanked out by that point. I wasn’t expecting that to be the reason I was so ill.”
Christine was 29 at the time and hospital doctors told her she is the youngest person they know to be diagnosed with bowel cancer. It was a stage four cancer, meaning it had spread to other organs.
She said her form of cancer was rarely found in people her age and was more usually limited to people over 50.She said: “My thoughts just turned to my little boy.
“They told me that with chemotherapy I’d have two years to live. I'm terrified because my little boy will only be six. I’m terrified with the thought of not being here for him.
“The nurse rang my mum and dad, who live near Leicester, and they came straight away and my sister came down from Edinburgh, and they were able to listen to Dr Woodcock and Jenny, the Macmillan Cancer Nurse nurse, explain everything. They were so upset.
“I was discharged in the early afternoon and went home. We’ve since moved in with Nic's parents, Lita and Colin, in Dringhouses as they wanted to help look after me.
“Alisdair starts at school next September. He knows I’m ill but he’s too young to know it’s cancer. He knows the doctors give me ‘mummy medicine’ to make me better. Sometimes he asks questions like ‘Why are you ill?’, and we answer him honestly – then he goes away and plays again. The people at his nursery school say he’s not changed – he still happily plays with everybody.
"Christine’s dream job ‘will always be there for her’
HEAD TEACHER Susan Bell said Christine’s cherished job at Carr Infant School in Acomb is there waiting for her.
Christine is from Wales but moved to York aged 18 in 2001 to do a four-year teaching degree at York St John University.
She worked at Nexus while a student and then for GNER and Yorkshire Housing before doing a Return To Teaching course and finally landing her dream job two years ago, taking the nursery class. She was to move into reception this term.
“She was so looking forward to taking on reception,” said Mrs Bell.
“Other people have got through things they haven’t been expected to. We’ve got a temporary teacher but the job is hers.
“She’s very much missed by everybody and the children. The staff are brilliant and she’s got a friend in all of us.”
Christine said: “I want to go in and help out but the chemo nurse said I can’t because of the risk of catching something.
“Everyone at the school has been so supportive and they keep me up to date.
“I spent the summer setting up the classroom even while I was ill, and then I found out I couldn’t go back. I’ve wanted to teach since I was little. One of the things I’ve found hardest is giving up my job. I tried so hard and finally got a job but I’ve only done it for two years. I’d love to go back.
”Friends and family boxing clever for fund
CHRISTINE faces a long battle but she’s prepared for a fight – as are her family and friends.
Since being diagnosed, she’s met Macmillan Cancer Support nurses and begun chemotherapy, and has nothing but the highest praise for staff at York Hospital.
Meanwhile, friends along with fiancé Nic Caldwell have set up the Boxing Bowel Cancer: Chris’ Wishes Fund, which will be split between Christine and her family and Bowel Cancer UK.
Fundraising events in the pipeline include a prizefighter boxing night involving two players from each of York’s four amateur rugby league clubs – and, if Christine allows it, a bout between brothers Nic and Danny Caldwell who usually line up together in York Acorn rugby colours. “I don’t want them hitting each other,” she laughed.
She admits to having “bad days and good days” but says she has too much to live for.
“I want to live for myself – there are so many things I want to do – and I’ve got my little boy, Alisdair. I don’t want him to grow up without a mum.
“Nic and I plan to get married next year. We were engaged anyway but it’s something we want to do.
“Chemo can be really hard and the side-effects are unpleasant but there’s no way I’m not doing it.
“The cancer is in so many places they can’t operate. They think the best thing is to try to shrink it. If they shrink it enough in the liver they can do something there. If it shrinks in the colon they can cut it out. They say it’s a very small possibility – but that means it’s a possibility.
“The nurses say they at least want to put the cancer to sleep so it stops growing. The hospital have been amazing. The level of care from the cancer unit is amazing.
“There are people who have beaten stage four colon cancer before and it’s good to read and hear about that.
“The bad days come with the chemo side-effects and sometimes when I wake up I feel really upset. I think things like, ‘What have I done in my life?’ and ‘Why me?’ “I can get quite upset about it, especially when I think about Alisdair, but I have to snap myself out of it. I’m so lucky I’ve got everyone here – my family, Nic and his family, my friends.
“They’re all so supportive and keep me upbeat."
Gate receipts to boost cancer fund
Nic Caldwell’s Acorn rugby team have a title decider today, at 2pm, at their Thanet Road ground, which is just round the corner from where Christine and Nic now live.
Acorn host Egremont Rangers in a National Conference League division one clash. All proceeds from the match will go to the Boxing Bowel Cancer fund.
For more on the fundraising, look up Boxing Bowel Cancer on Facebook and @BoxingCancer on Twitter.