Katie Pearson has terminal bowel cancer. She is just 35 years old and she using the time she has left to raise awareness of the condition. Catherine Scott reports.
All Katie Pearson ever really wanted to do was be a dancer. And through hard work and determination she achieved her dream of being a professional dancer, travelling the world doing the thing she loved.
Now, aged just 35, some days she struggles to even walk.
Katie has terminal bowel cancer, something normally found in much older people. Despite her dire prognosis Katie is determined to remain as positive as possible, and make the most of the time she has left.
“I don’t want to spend the days I feel okay being bitter or sad, I can save that for the days I don’t feel so well,” says Katie who has moved back in with her parents in Barnsley. “I am determined to enjoy the time I have left. To spend it with my family and my little dog Walter, It might sound soppy but getting him has really helped me cope.”
Katie also wants to use her time to raise awareness of bowel cancer, its symptoms and also to help Weston Park Hospital in Sheffield where she has received a lot of her treatment
Katie, who is also a keen cyclist, got into dancing because sister danced.
“I went to a dance school in Barnsley and then went to Middlesex University studying performance dance.”
After graduating she danced in New York, Toronto, Hong Kong and Los Angeles. Contemporary dance was her passion especially tap. But her health problems started in her early 20s when she was diagnosed with endometriosis .
“I had a massive cyst which measured 20 cms on my ovaries and I had to have surgery to remove it,” explains Katie. “I couldn’t dance for six months. Because I had such a long time off I realised there was no way I could get back into dancing myself to a performance standard. It was a really hard decision, but I decided to start teaching dance.”
Katie taught at Yorkshire Dance and enjoyed passing on her knowledge to others. It was while Katie was teaching that she realised that she wasn’t feeling well again.
“I was very fit and healthy, or so I thought, but I started to get very tired.” She also started to notice a change in her bowel habits and then some bleeding.
“I thought it was the endometriosis again, but the pain was different. It disappeared after a few hours. The endometriosis never disappeared that quickly.”
Katie went to her GP and although she told the doctor her symptoms she kept being told to come back in a few months’ if the symptoms hadn’t gone away.
“I was feeling really bad and and I was worried that I had bowel cancer, but the doctor put my mind at rest saying I was too young, fit and healthy. He said it was more likely to be hemorrhoids and if it got worse to come back in three months.”
That went on for two years until the pain was so bad Katie had to crawl to the bathroom in the mornings. She went back to the doctor and asked to have a colonoscopy and in the end he agreed,
“Even when I was in hospital I felt like I was wasting everybody’s time. But the consultant reassured me that it was better to get things checked out.”
The test revealed that Katie’s bowel was badly inflamed and further tests revealed she did indeed have cancer.
“In some ways it came as a relief. I had spent two years being told there was nothing wrong,at least now I had a diagnosis.” At that point Katie thought the cancer was curable and after surgery to remove a large part of her bowel and chemotherapy she decided to pursue her dream of starting her own tap dancing company.
“I always loved tap dancing but I kept it a secret because in the contemporary dance world it’s always been frowned upon and a bit of a joke.. I got sick and suddenly I realised what was important in life and I decided I wasn’t bothered what people thought about tap dancing.”
And so in 2011 Katie formed the Northern Tap Company in her home town of Barnsley. However just a year later she started to feel poorly again.
Scans revealed Katie had a new tumour on her ovaries which had to be removed and she was told the cancer had spread.
“They said they were sorry but there was nothing they could do. It was devastating and I did think if I’d asked for the colonoscopy two years earlier it would be a very different story. But you can’t think like that too much.”
Katie, now 35, says she manages to keep very positive most of the time although she has decided not to have any further treatment.
“There is some chemo they can give me to hold off any new growth but it gave me a reaction and I very nearly died, I have decided to go for quality of life for the time I have left. Some people say I have given up, but I haven’t. It is just I would rather live a few months shorter but well.” Katie attends Barnsley Hospice and Weston Park Hospital. In 2012 she and her sister took part in the hospital’s fund-raising Run in the Park and Katie is determined to take part in the run on July 13 in Graves Park, Sheffield.
Katie says she is helped to stay positive by her nieces and nephew and her dog Walter.
“Walter is the one thing that keeps me smiling everyday. I got him after my first six months of chemo. Him and my nieces and nephew keeping me hanging in especially when I hit a tough patch pain. But my little man Walter is the most precious thing to me he’s also very protective over me.”
Katie is also backing Bowel Cancer Awareness month in a bid to improve knowledge of the symptoms and to save lives.
“If you are worried then get yourself checked out. You are never too young. Persist - you know your own body. It is best to be safe than sorry.”