A young woman who has recently fought a rare form of bone cancer is urging people to seek medical attention if they experience symptoms of the “silent killer”.

Emma Lapsley (22) from Fivemiletown was diagnosed with secondary chondrosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer after she visited her GP with symptoms she believed were related to stress from her university coursework.

“In January 2019 I went to my GP as I was experiencing a few headaches and a little bit of nausea but nothing to worry about. I put it down to coursework,” explained Emma.

After her GP raised concerns, Emma was advised to go to A&E at the South West Acute Hospital (SWAH.) Following tests and a chest x-ray, Emma was called back to the hospital a few days later where a consultant told her that they had found a mass on her seventh rib.

However, the consultant gave Emma more worrying news.

“He said, ‘look, I’m at a liberty to tell you that we missed it and it was there in 2016,’” shared Emma.

“I felt so failed by SWAH, for being such a modern and new hospital to have actually missed this here and just completely failed me,” she added.

Emma explained that she had attended SWAH in both 2016 and 2018 due to high blood pressure and chest infections. On both occasions she had received x-rays but was not made aware of the mass growing on her rib.

Following her meeting with the consultant at SWAH, Emma was “red flagged” to the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast for treatment.

“The Royal were so shocked at how Enniskillen had just went over these wee blips in 2016 and 2018, that they had spotted the mass in the x-ray and failed to tell me. The Royal couldn’t believe it,” said Emma.

In March, Emma received surgery to remove the mass on her rib.

“They took away most of the tumour and when they took it out it was actually the size of a ping pong ball,” explained Emma.

After the surgery, Emma had to wait a “testing” three weeks for her results.

She said: “I got a phone call from my GP and she said come down and talk to me. I went down and her eyes were just so wide with sympathy and she just said, ‘I’m so sorry, it’s sarcoma, bone cancer.’”

After a few hours, the GP was able to give Emma her full diagnosis as secondary chondrosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. “I’m the only one to have it so far,” said Emma.

Due to unclear margins which meant that there was still cancer in what was left of her seventh rib, Emma had to receive more surgery.

On May 15, Emma had surgery to remove the rest of her seventh rib, her sixth rib and eighth rib which were replaced with titanium rods.

“It was a gruelling operation. I was in excruciating pain, but the Royal were brilliant and I was home within the week then,” said Emma.

Two weeks later Emma received the results from her second surgery.

“It did show that the cancer was in the rest of my seventh rib but my tissue was clear and my sixth and eighth rib, it hadn’t spread,” Emma shared.

Emma was told she was cancer-free at the end of May.

“That was brilliant news and I just wanted to highlight the importance of going to your GP. One in two people do get cancer and I never thought as a 22-year-old girl that I was ever going to get this.”

She added: “I just want to highlight the importance to young and mature audiences that if you do feel out of the norm to go to your GP.”

During her treatment, Emma felt that talking about her cancer was a taboo topic to some people.

“When I was talking to people about the ‘big C word’ everyone was kind of, we can’t really talk about this. But I thought why shouldn’t I be able talk about this, everyone was making me feel like I should bottle it up and if I didn’t have such a supportive family and friends and surrounded by people who were open to talk about it, I definitely feel like it could have led to mental illness.”

Following her recovery, Emma wants to raise awareness of bone cancer in the community and “give back” by volunteering as a support worker with Cancer Focus NI.

She said: “I suppose it’s to tell people that I’m living proof that cancer isn’t a death sentence.”

“I want to be a light to other people who are surviving cancer or going through the whole diagnosis stage and just to be positive because I feel like a healthy mind set really promotes a healthy body,” Emma added.