Meet the inspirational Sunderland friends who fought cancer together

These women have so much in common, they even fought cancer together - and both came through it.

Monday, 18th March 2019, 9:44 am
Updated Monday, 18th March 2019, 9:49 am
Cervical cancer survivors Annmarie Devlin (left) and Catherine Baker (right).

Annmarie Devlin, 44, and Catherine Baker, 35, from Sunderland, were both diagnosed with cervical cancer last year.

And both have just been told that they will be in the all-clear if they can keep a clean bill of health for the next fve years.

Cervical cancer survivor Annmarie Devlin.

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But behind the great news are remarkable stories of two women’s courage and determination.

Chris Cordner reports.

This is Annmarie’s story

Annmarie Devlin, 44, thought little of the day last August when a buffer machine banged into the shin on her right leg. But it became an accident which saved her life.

The charity funday to raise money and awareness of cervical cancer and Amber's Law.

Two weeks later, she was rushed into Sunderland Royal Hospital after she had a haemorrhage.

She said: “They asked me if I’d had any bumps or bruises. When I told them a buffer machine had banged into my leg, they took a look at it and said that is what caused me to haemorrhage.”

In an amazing development, it also led to Royal Hospital experts finding an eight-centimetre cancerous cervical tumour and Annmarie - a mother of two and ‘nana’ of one - told the Sunderland Echo: “That accident saved my life.”

Annmarie, from Town End Farm, was diagnosed with Stage 1 B2 cervical cancer.

Catherine Baker.

She needed a five-week course of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and brachytherapy which was a form of internal radiotherapy in her case.

“It was brutal,” she admitted, but she added: “I am lucky they found it when they did.”

After a week at Sunderland Royal, she needed further treatment at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle and the Queen Elizabeth in Gateshead.

On Tuesday last week, she got the tremendous news that the tumour had shrunk and, as long as she keeps up treatment and gets a clean bill of health for the next five years, she will be in remission.

Another view of the charity funday.

She is eternally grateful to all the health experts who helped her, but particularly oncologist Robyn Lynch from Sunderland Royal who has been there for her from the start.

Annmarie said: “She is more than just a consultant. She is more like a friend.”

“She phones me up to ask how things are going. She is on the same wavelength to me. I asked her to give it to me straight and she has been absolutely fantastic.”

Annmarie has nominated Robyn for a Best of Health award for her outstanding care.

Robyn said: “I am in a privileged position in that I am able to support patients through their diagnosis, treatment and well beyond. Quite often, it’s after treatment is finished that the support is mostly needed.

“If being able to offer advice, support or just an ear to listen makes the whole experience better for just one lady, then I know we are doing something right.”

Robyn Lynch who has been nominated for a Best of Health Award.

Robyn qualified in 2010 and worked as a staff nurse at a regional specialist centre caring for women before, during and after treatment for a number of cancers of the reproductive system.

She said: “My current role focuses very much on the diagnosis and support of patients whilst they are under investigations but also as they receive treatment and beyond.

“It sounds a cliché but if I was in their position I would want somebody to be there for me. I feel overwhelmed that anybody would consider what I do for them so highly but it has truly humbled me.

“It is nice to know that after what they have been through, they still have the kindness to think of others and make nominations such as this.”

And as a thank you for all the help they received, Annmarie and her friend Catherine Baker - who has also fought back from the same treatment - organised a charity fun day.

It was held yesterday (wed, feb 20) at St Bede’s Community Hall to raise funds and awareness for cervical cancer and for the Amber’s Law project.

Amber’s Law was launched in 2017 in memory of Amber Rose Cliff, who lost her fight with cervical cancer at the age of 25. Its aim is to get the Government to lower the screening age.

Amber attended multiple medical appointments over a number of years after feeling unwell, but was unable to get a smear test on the NHS due to her age. The current screening age in England is 25.

The funday included raffles, tomobolas, a bouncy castle, disco, dance performance, bingo and numerous stalls. Leaflets about Amber’s Law were also distributed.

Annmarie added: “I lost my mum to cancer and my first question when they gave me the news about my cancer was ‘Am I dying?’

“The medical people said ‘not if we can help it’. They were absolutely fabulous.”

She added: “When I found out the tumour had shrunk, I was numb. This funday is a thank you for what everyone has done for me.”

This is Catherine’s story

Determined mum-of-two Catherine Baker demanded an extra smear because she suspected she had cancer - and tests proved her absolutely right.

The Red House resident knew there was a problem with her health and persisted with her bid to get tested.

She said: “I was up to date with my smears but I knew something was wrong.”

The subsequent test, said Catherine, showed a ‘visible tumour’ and she needed a radical hysterectomy.

Catherine told the Echo: “Before the operation, we had a large family holiday booked and they told me to take it because there was going to be a rough ride ahead.”

The operation resulted in lymph nodes being removed and three of them had 3 millimetres of cancer in them.

Catherine had to face five gruelling courses of chemotherapy, 25 treatments of radiotherapy and brachytherapy.

And within weeks of finding out she had cancer, she learned that her friend Annmarie Devlin had been diagnosed with cervical cancer as well.

Catherine said: “It was shocking to find that someone else that I knew had it.”

But just like her pal, Catherine faced the fight with positivity.

“I got up every morning, put my make-up on and said to myself ‘I am not going to let this wipe the smile off my face’.”

Catherine’s treatment finished last September and she has now had the news that she needs follow-up appointments every eight to ten weeks for the next five years.

But if all goes well, she could be in remission after that.

Catherine said: “Every eight to ten weeks, I have to go to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead to get a check-up.”

She also had praise for the help she received from Robyn Lynch and said: “She has been amazing.”