Last updated at 12:32 AM on 28th September 2010
Like most women in their late 50s, when Gabrielle Neal started to feel the odd ache and pain, she blamed the menopause and her age.
‘I laughingly put my pelvic pain down to a sign I’d need an imminent hip replacement,’ she recalls. ‘The lower back pains I blamed on our having just moved house and lifting and lugging things that perhaps I shouldn’t.’
And she thought her chronic tiredness was understandable after the fairly torrid year her family had been through. Her husband James, an auctioneer and estate agent, had been ill with heart problems, and the eldest of their four daughters was going through a divorce.
By Christmas Eve, Gabrielle, of Woodbridge, Suffolk, felt totally shattered and took that ‘middle-aged’ body off to bed.
Although she felt slightly better the next morning, Gabrielle suffered heavy bleeding — despite being on HRT for the menopause. When the same thing happened a week later, on New Year’s Eve, she decided to see her GP.
‘After an internal examination, my GP thought I probably had fibroids.’ These are very common benign tumours in the womb which can cause heavy bleeding, and Gabrielle was referred to a gynaecologist at Ipswich hospital.
‘After an internal examination where they took a biopsy (a scraping of the cells lining my womb), life changed as I had known it.
‘The results showed I had womb cancer. And although I was subsequently told it had been caught early and was very treatable, I was numb. All I wanted to do was crawl into James’s pocket and stay there.’
Gabrielle is one of 7,500 women diagnosed each year with womb cancer — the most common gynaecological cancer in the UK. Also known as endometrial cancer, it affects the womb lining and, worryingly, the numbers affected are rapidly rising.
Indeed experts predict there will be between 33 and 53 per cent more cases within ten years, says Jane Lyons, chief executive of The Eve Appeal, a charity that funds research into gynaecological cancers.