Sophie Umhofer after getting her diagnosis (Picture:Jam Press)
When Sophie Umhofer began vomiting she figured it was a stomach bug or food poisoning.
But the random bouts of sickness persisted for a year until the mum-of-two couldn’t keep any food down at all.
Then, a colonoscopy showed a lesion blocking her bowel and doctors rushed her for more tests, confirming she had terminal bowel cancer that had spread extensively throughout her body.
To make matters worse, the biopsy showed a mutation called BRAF, which has a very low survival rate and life expectancy of around a year without treatment.
The mum from Warwickshire was told it was likely she wouldn’t make it to 40.
‘The waiting [to hear the news] was awful,’ Sophie said. ‘The cancer had spread to my liver and throughout my torso lymph nodes.
‘My tumour was so large by that point that it was dangerously close to cutting my bowels off completely.’
Sophie Umhofer showing off her scars (picture: Jam Press/Sophie Umhofer)
The oncologist said Sophie would need intense chemotherapy until she passed away, and that even if the chemo was effective she’d only see two or three more years.
‘I wouldn’t even live to see 40,’ Sophie added. ‘I went into panic mode and had to start planning for a future I now didn’t have.
‘The worst part was that my kids were only three and six at the time, and the worry of leaving them was just overwhelming amongst everything else.
‘My youngest might not even remember me. It was gut-wrenching.’
But, now 41, Sophie has defied the odds and is actually in remission. Although her cancer journey didn’t start out on such a positive note.
The mum, who shares children, Maisie and Freddie, with her husband, Mike, 46, initially had emergency surgery to remove the tumour, before beginning palliative chemotherapy in August 2018.
But her cancer continued to progress, and she started to experience horrific side effects – both physical and mental.
She said: ‘The chemotherapy absolutely destroyed me. I was a shell of the person I used to be. Cancer tore my world apart at a time when I was just starting to live.
‘I had to change my mindset when I was diagnosed and only live in two-week cycles, as everything would depend on how I reacted to the next chemotherapy round.’
Sophie Umhofer with her familyMaisie, Freddie and her husband, Mike (picture: Jam Press/Sophie Umhofer)
Sophie struggled to cope with the thought of her children being left without a mother and says even now her six-year-old is traumatised from her cancer battle.
Her husband wouldn’t discuss funeral plans so Sophie wrote her ‘death admin’ in a book for when she was gone.
‘I wrote letters and birthday cards to my kids and made them a box each with some little gifts for when I was no longer around,’ she added.
‘The greatest thing about this now though is that I have already passed two of the birthday cards I had written for them.’
But everything changed when Sophie took part in a privately-funded drug trial for a new immunotherapy, which had previously worked on melanoma patients.
The treatment, which began in February 2019, saved her life – just two years later, in March 2021, her scans were clear.
Sophie said: ‘My surgeon telling me that it was all gone and successful, with the biopsy post-op showing no cancerous cells, and that I was cancer-free was the biggest moment for me.
Sophie Umhofer in hospital (picture: Jam Press/Sophie Umhofer)
‘But it was also a bit anti-climatic and I think I was a bit numb from everything I had experienced.
‘My brain was trying to protect itself and I still don’t think I’ve really allowed myself to believe it [that I will survive], as we are always told that at stage four, you will die.’
Sophie recalls calling her husband and crying with relief, and rushing home to hug the kids when they got back from school. The family threw a ‘cancer gone’ party a few months later.
Sophie got the official all-clear in July 2021 and was taken off the treatment, and has been in remission ever since.
Possible symptoms of bowel cancer:
The symptoms of bowel (colorectal) cancer can include:
- bleeding from the back passage (rectum) or blood in your poo
- a change in your normal bowel habit, such as looser poo, pooing more often or constipation
- a lump that your doctor can feel in your back passage or tummy (abdomen), more commonly on the right side
- a feeling of needing to strain in your back passage (as if you need to poo), even after opening your bowels
- losing weight
- pain in your abdomen or back passage
- tiredness and breathlessness caused by a lower than normal level of red blood cells (anaemia)
Sometimes cancer can block the bowel. This is called a bowel obstruction. The symptoms include:
She said: ‘I went from feeling like I was actually dying on chemotherapy to rapidly turning it around on immunotherapy. I started surviving. I was living past dates I was told I wouldn’t.’
While she’s grateful to be alive Sophie has struggled with the trauma and has PTSD from her near death experience.
Sophie Umhofer three years ago (picture: Jam Press/Sophie Umhofer)
‘I was told in no uncertain terms that I wouldn’t survive this – it was just a matter of when. It’s still hard for me to live differently than short periods of time, but this year has been the first where I have left myself plan ahead,’ she says.
Sophie has returned to work and is now a race team coordinator for different motorsport series’.
When she’s not doing what she loves at the office, she’s with her family, and says her daughter starting senior school is a big milestone for her.
Sophie wants people to know that you’re never too young to get bowel cancer but that ‘miracles do happen’.
‘I am living proof of that,’ she said.
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