Gran has stomach removed after dismissing 'terrible symptoms' for six months

Belinda Martin
Belinda Martin -Credit:PA Real Life

A gran who put off going to the GP for six months despite 'terrible' symptoms is urging others not to do the same. Belinda Martin experienced indigestion and vomiting before seeking help from a doctor.

An urgent endoscopy – a procedure to look inside your body – at The County Hospital in Hereford revealed Belinda had stomach cancer and this led to a referral for surgery at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital in June 2018.

The 73 year old never thought she would be diagnosed with cancer, despite “three generations” of her family losing their lives to the disease. The widow had her stomach removed meaning she “never feels hungry” and can only eat a banana or small cup of soup each day.

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But despite this Belinda, who lives in Ludlow, Shropshire, has said she is “grateful for the life” she has now and described her NHS doctors as her “heroes”.

The grandmother of seven lost her partner William to bowel cancer last year. But Belinda said she is “grateful” for her life and enjoys watching TV and spending time with her “lovely grandchildren”.

Belinda Martin with her granddaughter Aurora
Belinda Martin with her granddaughter Aurora -Credit:PA Real Life

Looking back now, she wishes she did not delay seeing her GP and would advise others to get any concerning symptoms checked as soon as possible. She said: "My advice would be not to leave things like I did.

"I know how difficult it is nowadays to get a doctor’s appointment, but if you’ve got any concerns, anything that’s worrying you, you should get it checked out… because it could make a huge difference to your outcome.

"You know your own body… and it’s better to get sorted sooner rather than later."

Belinda lost her great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother to bowel cancer growing up – but she never considered herself high-risk or thought she would be diagnosed with cancer herself.

In 2017, she experienced “chronic indigestion” and started vomiting out of the blue, but she did not “think anything about it” at first.

“I know it sounds ridiculous, but before I got diagnosed with this cancer, I had never heard of it,” Belinda said.

“I’ve heard of lots of different cancers – we all know breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer – but in all honesty, I had never heard of this particular one.”

It was only when the frequency of the vomiting increased, with Belinda being sick “virtually every time” she ate any food, that she decided to visit her GP – around six months after her symptoms first started.

An urgent appointment was then made at The County Hospital in Hereford and an endoscopy on December 27 2017 led to the news that Belinda had stomach cancer.

“(The doctor) said that there is surgery, but I couldn’t bear the thought of that, so I said to him, ‘What if I don’t have the surgery?’ And he said, ‘You will probably have about 18 months (to live)’,” she said.

Belinda was then booked in for several CT scans and other specialist tests at Cheltenham General Hospital, before having three rounds of chemotherapy, a pre-operative assessment, and surgery to remove her stomach.

She said she felt she was living in a “dreamworld” between appointments, but she tried to be as “normal” as she could be.

“I was just living in a world of hospitals and appointments… day and night you don’t think about anything else,” Belinda said.

“Of course, it’s fear of the unknown as well because you don’t know what’s coming next.”

Belinda counted down the months, days, and hours until she had the surgery to remove her stomach on June 6 2018 at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital, which involved joining her oesophagus to her small bowel.

She said she was told she would never be able to eat “a big carvery again” and was initially sent home with a feeding tube – but after developing an unusual amount of fluid around the lungs, she was taken back to hospital.

The surgery has affected her breathing and appetite to this day, and led to her losing more than four stone.

“I take supplement drinks, I can eat very small amounts of food – maybe a small banana, that would be my daily food,” Belinda said.

“Maybe I could have one small cup of soup, maybe half a banana, and maybe the supplement drink, and that is my day-to-day life because if I ate more than I could cope with, I would be in pain.

“I’m never without discomfort in my stomach, and another thing is, I never feel hungry… but I make myself (eat) because I know I’ve got to do it.”

Belinda said that without her late partner William Willsteed, who was “everything to (her)”, she does not think she would have made it through her diagnosis – but his health started deteriorating in 2022.

William had prostate cancer but died aged 81 in February 2023, just four weeks after being diagnosed with bowel cancer, and at first Belinda said it felt like she had “lost everything”.

“It’s life-changing that I lost my partner, it’s absolutely life-changing because I lived with him for eight years,” she said.

“We had each other, he was everything to me, and we looked after one another, and since he’s been gone I’ve had to find new things (to do).”

Belinda said she still struggles with grief and the side effects of her surgery, but in her spare time she enjoys watching quiz programmes on TV, listening to the radio, and spending time with her grandchildren.

She wants to continue enjoying life and hopes her story will raise more awareness of stomach cancer and encourage others to get checked.

“I’ve got my lovely grandchildren and they make me happy, and I’m so grateful to the NHS staff – they’re my heroes,” she said.

“I’m so grateful for the life I have now, and even though it’s not easy, it’s better than the alternative.

“There are people much worse off than me, but I still enjoy certain aspects (of life).”

Cancer Equals, a new campaign by Bristol Myers Squibb Pharmaceuticals Limited (BMS), aims to understand and help address the many possible reasons for diagnostic delays, including low awareness of cancer and challenges accessing services.

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