TECH consultant Tanya Laird just assumed her bloating was due to her body reacting to different weight loss diets – but it turned out to be terminal colon cancer.
Here, Tanya reveals how she reacted to the completely unexpected diagnosis and how she's dealing with living on "borrowed time".
“Chatting with other tech experts at the conference I was attending for work, I suddenly realised that all eyes were on my swollen stomach.
‘Congratulations,’ one person said.
Another asked when I was due.
‘This is Bob – AKA Big Oncology Bump,’ I explained, as they apologised, mortified.
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The bloating started six weeks earlier, in April 2018.
Being single, I knew I wasn’t pregnant, and I assumed it was a reaction to trying different diets to lose a little weight.
At first, the bulge was the size of a bagel.
But within days, I blew out and people asked to touch my stomach and offered me their seat on the Tube.
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I’d tersely reply: ‘No thanks,’ and they’d get the message that I wasn’t pregnant.
Then, when I became unable to keep food or liquid down, I went to my GP, who told me she suspected ovarian cancer.
I was pragmatic about it and, at 40, thought that even if it was cancer, I could deal with it.
A fortnight later, I was admitted to hospital for tests – that same day, I was told it was colon cancer and rushed to the operating theatre to have tumours from my colon and ovaries removed.
Afterwards, the surgeon told me my cancer was stage 4, and there was no cure.
He couldn’t give me a time frame of how long I had left, but said treatment would be palliative.
Absorbing the news was difficult, because an allergy to post-surgery medication left me vomiting and hallucinating.
I cried hysterically to my friend Judith when she visited me in hospital, and she later told me she’d never seen anybody so physically and mentally weak who didn’t die soon afterwards.
Within 12 hours, my identical twin Kim flew from her home in Los Angeles to be by my bedside.
We were both in shock, especially as we have no history of cancer in our family.
She stayed with me for four weeks at a time, every other month, and Judith set up a WhatsApp group called Team Tanya, gathering 43 friends from my social media profiles to help look after me.
When I said I fancied something to drink because medication made everything taste odd, my hospital table soon looked like a cocktail bar.
Another time, during a heatwave, they brought me a fan.
Life as I knew it was completely different over the next year as repeated rounds of chemo wore me out.
I tried to live as much as I could and was still able to do bits of work, but exhaustion meant I couldn’t manage anywhere near as much as I’d have liked.
Looking back, I dealt with things my way.
When people assumed I was pregnant because of my swollen tummy, I made a ‘cancer on board’ badge to wear on the Tube.
People would glance at it, then stare at their shoes or blankly into the distance.
Then, in June 2019, I had emergency surgery for a perforated bowel. Doctors said, based on the growth of the tumour, they believed I had just two weeks left.
When I told Kim on the phone, we both broke down.
I was referred to St Joseph’s Hospice in East London, essentially to die.
I spent that fortnight saying my goodbyes, before the surgeon told me he’d got it wrong – the growth was a cyst.
All I felt was relief.
Since then, doctors never tell me how long they think I have left – and I don’t want to know.
I’ll continue to have chemo for the rest of my life, however long that might be.
I’m in a wheelchair and have wound down my company as my brain’s slower, but I still do business mentoring.
Marie Curie rapid response nurses come to my home every night to control my pain and boost my spirits.
It’s devastating to know you are living on borrowed time, but you just get on with it.
When I look at Kim, I think she’s what I’d look like if I was well, but it doesn’t make me sad or resentful.
I want Kim to live her life to the full, and I told her to visit my two favourite places, Zurich and Disneyland Paris, after I’ve gone.
She refused though, and instead booked for us to go together next month.
Before my diagnosis, I thought I was a tough cookie who didn’t need others, but Kim, Team Tanya and Marie Curie have been essential.
Now my daily aim is to feel content.
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I’m as happy as I can be for someone who knows they’re going to die.
But do I wish there was a miracle cure? Absolutely.”
There are 42,000 new cases of colon cancer each year in the UK.*
Marie Curie’s Great Daffodil Appeal is taking place throughout March to raise money to support people at the end of their life.
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