'We don't know what the future holds': NHS nurse battling stage four skin cancer set to tie the knot in pandemic
A neonatal nurse from Preston Royal Hospital has vowed to marry her fiancé this year after being diagnosed with stage four melanoma
After noticing a change to a mole back in June 2019, nurse Rachel Walmsley knew she had to pay a visit to her GP to get it checked out.
But after being "shrugged off" by the doctor and returning a few weeks later with the same problem, she was quickly referred to Clifton dermatology and told the mole was "slightly concerning".
She said there was a feeling in the room that left herself and partner Gavin certain that something just wasn't right.
Two weeks later, she received results confirming that she had melanoma, a serious form of skin cancer that can spread to other organs in the body.
Rachel, 29, from Bispham said: "My mole had completely changed and became enlarged and was bleeding. The mole was sent off for testing by the dermatology department who were brilliant, but they made it clear they were slightly concerned about it and indicated to me that there may have been something.
"When I got the diagnosis, I didn't know much about melanoma at all. I was told I needed further operations to reduce the chances of it spreading any further.I knew very little about it, but because I am a nurse, I wanted to know everything so I began googling it and finding out more about the cancer.
"The following operation happened in August 2019, where a 2cm circumference area was taken out of my skin and replaced with skin from my thigh."
But shortly after the procedure, Rachel was rushed to the critical care unit after suffering a severe anaphylactic shock from the patent blue dye used in surgery.
And after recovering, doctors took a lymph node to check for the melanoma and found it had spread, meaning immunotherapy had to start immediately.
She paid visits to the Rosemeare cancer centre in Preston every six weeks to have the treatment infused into her bloodstream over half an hour.
Rachel said: "After my stage three diagnosis, there was a 50 per cent chance of the melanoma coming back, but having the immunotherapy treatment was supposed to reduce this by half. I had the treatment for a year and constant scans which didn't show it had spread.
"Immunotherapy isn't as strong as chemotherapy but makes me constantly feel like there is something stuck in my chest. It makes me struggle with breathlessness and feeling tired."
It was in October last year that a scan and ultrasound revealed a large mass in the vicinity of her heart, meaning her diagnosis had moved to stage four - giving a significantly reduced survival rate over a five year period.
And on New Year's Eve just last year, she was admitted to hospital before being told that an MRI scan had located two tumours on her spine and a tumour on her lung, meaning she began new forms of immunotherapy just last month.
Little did she know that her partner Gavin Turner was planning to get down on one knee for a romantic proposal for them to enter into the new year as an engaged couple.
Rachel said: "Gavin was desperate to propose to me. He really had always wanted to do it on New Year's. The support from him has been absolutely amazing and I can't wait to marry him.
"This year has been so challenging for us because of the coronavirus situation because I haven't been able to see people and get support.
"Before my diagnosis, I was always socialising and out with friends but since becoming unwell, it has limited my support of friends and having a lack of energy to do things has been extremely hard and frustrating.
"I have had an overwhelming response from people, so many people are sending me messages, cards and gifts and all my family and colleagues are doing their best to show their support.
"I don't think people realise that melanoma is just as dangerous as other cancers once it is under the skin. I want to use this opportunity to raise awareness because a lot of the time, I think people just think it's from a mole that looks dodgy.
"I want people to know doctors shouldn't be shrugging this off. Everyone should push for their health because if I hadn't, I could have been dead by now and that is the reality. I don't want this to happen to anyone else."
Rachel has used her Facebook page to keep friends updated on her journey with melanoma, regularly posting pictures and updates of her treatment.
And now, the staff at the Neonatal unit have kickstarted a Go Fund Me page to raise money to pay for the wedding of the future Mrs Turner, with donations currently almost at £8,000.
Friend Katie Noble described her as: "More than a person with cancer. She’s beautiful, kind, caring, funny, really clever and is full of potential. Rachel is a nurse, a daughter, a fiancé, a sister, a friend, a singer and an all-round amazing person."
Rachel and Gavin are hoping to tie the knot in April at the Blackpool Wedding Chapel and are holding out for a bigger celebration in August.
"We don't know what the future holds but we do know how much we want to get married and we are determined to make it happen," she added.
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