Woman who had double cancer diagnosis at 34 refused chemo to travel the world

A 34-year-old woman who thought she was going to die when she was diagnosed with cancer made the decision to reject chemo and travel the world with her girlfriend.

Katie Marshall, now 36, was diagnosed with skin cancer in January 2018 but was then told by doctors that she also had breast cancer just three months later.

Katie and her girlfriend Nicola Rowbotham, 33, were on a trip of a lifetime spanning 4,000 miles across America at the time, and they had to return to Manchester for urgent surgery to remove Katie’s tumour in May 2018.

But, following the surgery, Katie, who’s from Hattersley, Cheshire, refused chemotherapy which she says was ‘more terrifying. than the cancer diagnosis.

The loved-up couple then decided to save up so they could quit their jobs and continue their travels. They also adapted their lifestyles to incorporate Katie’s chosen holistic cancer treatment.

Finally, the pair settled in Canada in March this year, and have been there ever since.

The couple met in 2010 at a house party in Newcastle and have visited 36 different countries and travelled more than 200,000 miles together since 2015.

Katie and Nicola have now been living in a camper van in the Canadian wilderness without internet, WiFi or electricity for eight months.

The couple managed to get into the country just before lockdown in March after quitting their jobs and selling all of their belongings.

‘When I got my diagnosis, the thought of chemotherapy was more terrifying than the diagnosis itself,’ explains Katie.

‘I had a very supportive oncologist who was there to answer all of my concerns. I was offered chemo because of my age and because my breast cancer was aggressive.

‘I had surgery to remove the tumour and had an agonising wait for a number of results from the biopsy that lasted around three months.’

Doctors found a lesion on Katie’s spine and she was tested for bone cancer. But fortunately the results came back negative – they found a ‘micrometastasis’ which is a small collection of cancer cells from the original tumour.

‘That was successfully removed but it was petrifying to think that I might die at 34,’ she adds.

‘Ever since the trauma of being twice diagnosed with cancer, three months apart, I struggled with anxiety and insomnia for around a year.

‘I now see the trauma of the whole experience as a gentle steer into living freely on the road, hopefully for the rest of my days.’

Katie said she has ‘never felt more alive’ than she does now and, thankfully, she only needs to go for check-ups twice a year to make sure the tumour hasn’t grown.

The pair had hoped Canada would be the first of many stops in their travels, but the pandemic had other plans.

‘We had plans to drive our camper down to Oregon and California – eight months later, we’re still there due to the coronavirus pandemic,’ says Katie.

‘During this time, we have not had internet access, electricity or running water.’

They hope to get on the move again once travel restrictions and lockdowns are eased around the world.

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