A woman who was given four months to live by doctors, has been told her Stage Four cervical cancer has almost disappeared, after her ex-husband's new wife led a fundraising campaign to pay for specialist treatment.
Nicola Hitchen was told in March that there was nothing more that could be done for her.
But rather than give up, the 41-year-old from Great Boughton in Cheshire booked five 10-day sessions at a pioneering chemotherapy centre in Turkey.
Since undergoing her first session in July, the cancer has been in retreat.
The main tumour in her abdomen has almost gone and others in her liver and on her spine have shrunk dramatically. A secondary tumour in her lungs has also completely gone.
However, the first five sessions cost £80,000, meaning Nicola was likely to run out of money before she could complete the sessions.
So her ex-husband Andy Hitchen and his new wife Claire began a massive fundraising campaign to raise the further £50,000 needed.
"Joe and Jake are my stepsons. Niki is my husband’s ex-wife and amazing Mum to Joe and Jake," said Claire, who is leading the campaign. "Niki continues to put them first throughout all of her treatment. Joe and Jake are also amazing big brothers to our three year old daughter and she adores them as they do her.
"Money is running out and Niki may not be able to continue with her life-saving treatment."
She added: "This is not an option – the boys need their mum and she deserves the chance to watch them grow into men and have their own families."
Nicola, who works as an administrator at a local primary school, said she had been overwhelmed by the response.
"I’m completely overwhelmed – everyone especially Claire has been amazing," she said. "I didn’t think people liked me that much."
After she was admitted to hospital in March, complaining of abdominal pains, she was initially diagnosed with a pelvic abscess and sepsis. But later tests revealed a tumour in her cervix.
Doctors were unable to formally diagnose cancer and start treatment until the infection was out of her system in in the intervening seven weeks the tumour grew and spread from a treatable stage two to untreatable stage four.
Nicola said: “It was such a shock. It proved really difficult to get rid of the abscess and, by the time the infection had gone I was told it was too late to treat the cancer.”
She added that she was "scared" when she was first told but “getting a diagnosis like that you can respond in one of two ways.
"Either you accept this is what’s happening and sort your affairs out – or you start looking at other options," she said. "The first wasn’t an option for me.”
The family looked a range of different options, including unproven alternative medicine "treatments", but eventually found a centre called ChemoThemia in Istanbul which combines chemotherapy with heat treatments to break down the tumour.
She was also placed on a special diet and spent time in an oxygen chamber to help her body heal and recover.
"In 10 days, I went from being on six or seven different painkillers a day to not needing any," she said. "It was amazing."
She said she has been touched by the support from her parents and sons, Joseph, 14, and Jacob, 12, as well as Andy, who is also in remission from Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, and Claire.
"It's brought us all even closer together," she said. "The support I've been given has been phenomenal, not just from my family but from complete strangers too."
A JustGiving page has already raised more than £7,000 towards the new target and a number of events are being planned to help raise the money.
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