Mum given five years to live finally gets married - nine years after diagnosis

By Jessica Taylor

A woman given five years to live after being diagnosed with incurable cancer that was eating her jaw has tied the knot with the love of her life - nine years later.

Christine Palfrey, 42, started to feel lethargic in 2012 but assumed she was exercising too much for the amount she was eating.

“I was working long hours and feeling tired all the time, but I just pushed through,” she said.

But one Sunday in December that year, she woke up with an excruciating pain in her lower jaw.

The ex-dental nurse made an emergency appointment to see a dentist - thinking some food had probably got trapped in her gums.

But after having X rays, Christine said her dentist went silent.

Christine didn't know how to break the news to her daughter Victoria (Collect/PA Real Life)

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"He said it could be an abscess, but he didn’t want to speculate and said he would refer me to a specialist in the next couple of days which, of course, set off alarm bells," she recalled.

But, knowing plenty about dentistry from her old job, Christine knew it was more serious.

"An abscess builds, so you don’t get sudden pain," she said.

However, she could never have predicted the diagnosis she would soon receive.

The dentist referred Christine to a specialist at King's College Hospital in London, Dr Kathleen Fan.

After cutting into her gum, Dr Fan found a solid lump - confirming Christine didn't have an abscess. She took a biopsy of the lump and sent the mum-of-one home to Bamford, Oxfordshire, to wait for the results.

Then Christine received a letter telling her to come back to the hospital - and bring her then-husband along, too.

She recalled: "The doctor had the results of the biopsy and said, 'This is quite a tough one to tell you. You have a very rare form of cancer. I’m afraid it’s not benign.'"

Christine was diagnosed with Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma (ACC), a rare, aggressive cancer that is usually found in the glands and the head.

After her diagnosis, Christine was referred to another specialist in London who told her she needed an operation to remove some of the cancer.

But although there were things they could do to treat the cancer, the specialist warned Christine it was stage 4 and incurable. She was given three to five years to live.

Christine met her new hubby Barry at work (Collect/PA Real Life)
The 12 hour operation changed the shape of Christine's face (Collect/PA Real Life)

Devastated by the news, Christine went ahead with the 12-hour operation the following week to give herself the best possible chance of survival.

The surgery involved talking a section of bone from her left hip to replace the section of her jawbone, which was cut away to remove the cancer.

It meant Christine had to learn to walk and talk again, and permanently changed the shape of her face.

But the most difficult thing of all was breaking the news to her daughter Victoria, who was just a teenager at the time.

“Everyone was crying, but I just kept telling Victoria, 'You know how strong your mother is. She will get through this. We all will. I will still be me and this is just a bump in the road, so we just need to focus on the future'," she recalled.

After the operation, Christine had to undergo radiotherapy for a year, which took its toll on her body.

And the strain of cancer also took its toll on her marriage to Victoria's father - with the pair filing for divorce in 2015.

However, the pair remained on good terms and amicably co-parented Victoria while Christine continued with cancer treatment.

Over the years, Christine has had three more operations to remove secondary cancer on her lungs, but she's continued working her office job throughout cancer treatment.

And it was in the office she met Barry Weeks, who she at first thought was "a bit of an idiot."

However, after the pair were sat on desks next to each other, they bonded over a shared "silly sense of humour" and eventually fell in love.

On Christine's 42nd birthday, Barry popped the question, and the pair walked down the aisle in November last year.

Given away by her brother Tony and with Victoria, now 21, by her side as a bridesmaid, Christine said it was a perfect day.

Now, she's excited for what the future holds with her new husband and won't let cancer stop her from living life to the fullest.

“At the moment, I am in a good place and there are no more secondaries.

Do you have a real life story to share? Email jessica.taylor@reachplc.com

“I have my next scan in February, so the base line is that I am not cured but I have been successfully treated.”

Christine is now supporting Cancer Research UK's Play Your Part campaign, which asks everyone to think about how they can contribute to improving cancer treatments and, eventually, finding a cure.

She said: "I am following a positive life force and now Barry has given me even more to look forward to in the future, too."


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