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Brave Norwich mum given cancer hope

PUBLISHED: 07:18 15 April 2011 | UPDATED: 12:03 15 April 2011

Pauline Cullum with her son Henry.

Pauline Cullum with her son Henry.

Archant © 2011

A Norwich mother who feared she would not see her young boy grow up after she was diagnosed with invasive lung cancer has been given new hope for the future after taking a different drug.

Pauline Cullum from Thorpe Hamlet discovered she had cancer last year despite never having smoked.

Her tumours grew as she underwent gruelling chemotherapy treatment, but after taking the drug Erlotinib in November last year she has now seen them reduced by almost 60pc.

Mrs Cullum, has a family history of cancer and she had resigned herself to the fact that she would fall victim to the condition one day, but she never expected to have it at such a young age.

“There’s a really strong history of cancer in my family, with nearly all female relatives going back on the family tree dying of cancer,” said Mrs Cullum, now 38, who lives in St Leonards Road with her husband Paul, 47, and son Henry, three.

“It was April 2010 when I noticed I was becoming breathless and had mild pain under my ribs and went to the doctors. They suspected gallstones.

“During the course of six days of tests and scans in hospital I was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer.

“I always suspected I’d get it, but it was still a shock to find that this invasive cancer had spread to my liver, pelvis and spine, and I had enlarged lymph glands and a lot of fluid around my heart.

“I just didn’t think I was going to come out of hospital. At 37 and having never smoked, this came as a huge shock to me and my family, and I was devastated at the thought that I would miss seeing my son growing up.”

Mrs Cullum had to undergo an invasive procedure to remove the fluid from her heart and went home from hospital after 12 days, starting an 18-week course of chemotherapy in May last year.

During that time, her tumours grew, causing more fear for her future. At the end of November, she was moved on to a tablet treatment called Erlotinib, which was approved in 2005, and within weeks started to see “astonishing” results.

“When we went to hospital to see how it was working after 20 days I was not really expecting any result,” she said.

“It was just amazing when they told us the drug had reduced the largest tumour from 3.6cm to 2cm in that short space of time.

“We were so shocked, almost as much as when we were first told I had cancer, but in a good way, just stunned for days that it was actually doing something.

“I am still taking the drug – just one tablet a day – and all of my tumours have continued to reduce in size by almost 60pc and I feel I now have a chance of surviving to see little Henry grow up.

“I can’t tell you how much that means to me, hopefully seeing all the things I thought I might not see, like school plays, birthdays and so on.”

It is still not known if Mrs Cullum will be cured from the disease but medics are said to be surprised by her progress so far.

A year on since her diagnosis, Mrs Cullum and her husband plan to launch their new online gift box business Premier Gift Boxes next month.

“I didn’t think I would be here by now,” said Mrs Cullum, who runs a construction business with her husband which is currently “dormant”. “I’ve always made gift boxes for other people for weddings, birthdays and babies so I thought why not make a business out of it. It’s really exciting to have something to focus on and to throw myself into after everything that’s happened.”

Mrs Cullum also plans to don her trainers and take part in the 5km Race for Life Norwich at Norfolk Showground on May 14.

It will be the third time she has taken part in the annual fundraiser which sees women join together to walk, jog or run 5km or 10km to raise money to help beat cancer.

Mrs Cullum, whose mum Sheila has battled cancer for 18 years, added: “I’m just so grateful for every day I have watching Henry grow and I want to thank the people who run Race for Life to raise money for Cancer Research UK to develop treatments like these.”

So far, Mrs Cullum has raised £450 for the charity and aims to raise £750.

Vicki Brown, Cancer Research UK area event manager for Norwich, said: “Everyone at Race for Life has their own special reason for participating. “They might be taking part in memory or celebration of a loved one, or to mark their own cancer journey. They might be joining together for a great, fun day out with the girls. Whatever their motivation, they are united by a spirit of sisterhood and the heartfelt determination to beat cancer. “Together they are doing something extraordinary – raising money to fund research which saves lives.”

Every two minutes someone is diagnosed with cancer in the UK. You can walk, jog or run to help save more lives by entering your local 5km Race for Life at www.raceforlife.org or by calling 0871 641 1111.

To sponsor Mrs Cullum, go to http://raceforlifesponsorme.org/paulinecullum2210

Are you triumphing over illness? Email kate.scotter@archant.co.uk

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