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A Lancashire mum has revealed how becoming infected with a worm disease while teaching in Africa inadvertently led to her being diagnosed with cancer.

Many people describe teaching abroad as a life changing experience but Pippa Taylor never realised how a stint teaching in Africa would end up having a major impact on her life.

Pippa, 43, who lives in Knowles Brow near Clitheroe, was a teacher mostly at Stoneyhurst but her last job was at Queen Elizabeth Grammar School in Blackburn.

However, Pippa taught briefly in Kenya, Africa from 2013 to 2014 and while she was out there, she was infected with a worm disease which ended up being fortuitous as it inadvertently led to her being diagnosed with cancer.

Pippa, who has a 12-year-old son Freddie, explains: “While I was working in Kenya, I got nematodes which are a type of microscopic worm in my lungs and this gave me a chesty cough.

“I only found out when I returned to the UK in 2014 and had a blood test which showed I had nematodes.

“I ended up having to see a tropical disease specialist to be treated for it.”

Even after Pippa had been treated for nematodes and specialists thought the microscopic worms had all gone, she kept saying she still didn’t feel right.

Pippa recalls: “It was mostly my stomach. I just felt unwell in my tummy. It was nothing specific but I just didn’t feel right.

“But I thought it was just the tablets I had been given that were making me feel ill.

“I also noticed a change in my bowel movements, but again I thought it was linked to the medication I had been given.”

Pippa eventually went to see her GP who gave her a blood test which showed her CEA (carcinoembryonic antigen) markers were raised which can be a sign of cancer. However, the GP was not unduly worried and at this stage, neither was Pippa.

Pippa says: “The GP was not particularly concerned and said the markers were just raised but this didn’t necessarily mean anything sinister.

“She sent me for a colonoscopy to check there weren’t any worms in my intestine.”

Pippa had her colonoscopy and was given the bombshell news that she had bowel cancer.

Pippa says: “It was a real shock. We were expecting to find worms and it ended up being cancer.

"But it was also better to know then than to have to wait to find out in the future.”

Pippa then went for more tests and underwent a CT scan before going to see a consultant at Burnley General Teaching Hospital who gently broke the news that the cancer had spread through Pippa’s liver and was inoperable.

Pippa remembers: “I felt faint and dazed to be told this news. But the consultant, Judith Salaman was so lovely and kind, it made it easier to deal with.

"I can still remember her words. She said: 'I can't cure you but I can make you better'

"That was a lovely thing to say and it really lifted me.

“Mrs Salaman really is phenomenal and I felt I was really blessed to have her as my consultant.

“She is such a lovely person and I felt she was going to do her best to look after me and she has done.”

Pippa began to have surgery to have the tumour removed from her bowel but when surgeons tried, they were unable to remove the tumour.

Pippa was under the care of oncologists at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust’s Royal Blackburn and Burnley hospitals and in August 2016, she started chemotherapy at Burnley Hospital to shrink the tumour and manage the cancer.

To her surprise, Pippa found chemotherapy to be a very positive experience.

She says: "We all expect chemotherapy to be so awful and everyone is always really nervous about it.

“But the nurses at Burnley Hospital’s chemotherapy unit were all so kind and genuinely lovely and thoughtful people and the other patients were really friendly, supportive and positive that chemotherapy was nothing like I think people imagine it to be.

“It is different for everyone but in my case, the whole experience was really positive and chemotherapy did not make me as poorly as I expected.”

Pippa had almost 30 rounds of chemotherapy and last summer, she went to see a consultant and was told they were sending her scans to specialists in Leeds as she had had such a good response to chemotherapy.

Pippa explains: “They told me they thought they might be able to do something for my liver, but only if the bowel cancer could be removed.

“I stopped chemotherapy in October and had an operation and this time they were able to remove the bowel tumour.

“I have had a scan and am now awaiting the results to see if they can operate on my liver.

“It is a glimmer of hope and I don’t want to get too excited but I am cautiously optimistic.

“But it is amazing as I have gone from being told I have terminal cancer to being told they might be able to operate on my liver.

“If this happens, it might halt my cancer or it might buy me another five years or so.

“I don’t know what my prognosis was before this as I didn’t want to know. But I knew it wasn’t good.”

Pippa says she has been lucky as she has fantastic friends who have rallied round to support her and she says her son Freddie has been really positive and given her a strong reason to keep going.

She is also full of praise for all the medical staff at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust she has encountered on her journey and says her experience has really opened up her eyes to the great work carried out by staff in the NHS on a daily basis.

Pippa says: “I can't speak highly enough of all the medical staff I have encountered. The compassion they have shown has been amazing. It has made a difficult time much easier.

"I get really upset when I hear people badmouthing the NHS as it has been nothing but brilliant for me.

“It sounds strange, but I feel really blessed to have had this cancer.

"I don't want to die but I have met some lovely people and they have made this difficult time so much better.

“I want to convey my gratitude to everyone involved in my care.

“Everyone from the consultants to the oncologists, chemotherapy team and even the receptionists and clerical staff have all been lovely.”

Pippa also feels she was almost lucky to have the worm disease as it inadvertently led to my bowel cancer diagnosis.

She says: “Having these nematodes actually ended up doing me a favour.

“Being diagnosed with bowel cancer was just one of those things.

“Instead of thinking: ‘Why me?’ I think ‘Why not me?’

“I am hoping for a miracle but until then, I just take each day at a time and get on with it.”