A mum who narrowly avoided the Manchester Arena terror attack has has now been diagnosed with cancer a year after she escaped the fatal bombing.
Karlla Birtchnell, 31, left the arena just before Ariana Grande’s last song and was returning to her car when she heard “explosions”.
Ten months on she was diagnosed with rectal cancer and said the courage of the 22 Manchester Arena victims is giving her the strength to face the disease.
Mum-of-two Karlla, from Liverpool, said: “The 22 victims stay with me everyday and that in turn has made me stronger.
“Within a year I’ve been involved in a terror attack and diagnosed with cancer.
“Who knows what this life is going to chuck at me next. I’m just taking one day at a time.
“I always think if I hadn’t had turned to Ella to say ‘let’s make a move now’ the worst could have happened.”
Karlla attended the Adriana Grande concert last May with her 13-year-old daughter Ella but they left before the last song to avoid the traffic.
She was parked just outside the arena and heard “explosions” before she saw a flurry of ambulances, and told her daughter “‘let’s make a move now”.
It wasn’t until she got home and turned on the TV she realised it had been a terror attack.
She began feeling under the weather in December when she experienced an unsettled stomach and pain after eating.
“I started feeling funny around Christmas time and everything I ate was passing through me,” she said.
“I finally sucked it up and got checked out.”
Despite paying a visit to the doctors on 3 January she was told she had to wait 12 weeks for a further appointment.
Knowing something was wrong Karlla phoned Aintree University Hospital 53 times which saw the wait for the referral appointment to drop to seven weeks, she claims.
On 9 March Karlla was diagnosed with Stage 3 rectal cancer caused by a hereditary condition known as Lynch Syndrome.
Although the condition does not directly cause cancer, carriers of the faulty gene have an increased risk of developing bowel cancer by 80 per cent.
It also raises the chance of developing ovary, breast and endometrial cancers.
Karlla began chemotherapy in April after being told her cancer was malignant and had spread to the lymph nodes.
After radiotherapy and three rounds of chemotherapy Karlla took the emotional decision to shave off all her hair and now wears a wig.
She said: “I’ve always had a beautiful head of hair and I’ve loved nothing more than taking one of two hours out of my day to have a blow-dry or to get it coloured.
“I noticed my hair was thinning and I started to get baldy patches. I didn’t want to be one of these desperate people clinging onto their hair.
“I did it by myself as I knew it would be emotional. I didn’t want to drag my friends into it and inflict an upsetting moment on them.
“It’s just a bad side effect of the drugs being used and those drugs are saving my lives and keeping me with my babies. In the grand scheme of thing it’s a small price to pay and it will grow back!
“I actually have a nice shaped head.”
Around 175,000 people are estimated to have Lynch syndrome in the UK, yet fewer than five per cent are known due to a lack of testing.
With another few gruelling months of chemotherapy to complete, Karlla wants to raise awareness of Lynch Syndrome which does not carry any obvious symptoms.
“I just want to raise awareness for people to get tested. It’s genetic so you can’t escape it if you have it,” she said.
“This wasn’t brought down to me smoking, drinking or making any bad lifestyle choices.
“Even though I’m seeking treatment, life as a whole has changed for the foreseeable future.
“Beforehand you don’t realise the impact a diagnosis has on your life and on your family.
“I’m just exhausted all the time. I can’t do much walking due to how tired I get. Even taking my kids to the park seems like hard work now.
“To those who have never heard of the cancer before I would say make yourself aware of your family history. Add the dots up and if you’re unsure just ask.
“Don’t let doctors fob you off about your age as they did to me and don’t be scared to ask questions.
“You’re the only person who knows your body as you live in it day to day.”
Earlier this year Bowel Cancer UK and Beating Bowel Cancer found four in five hospitals across England were not testing bowel cancer patients for Lynch Syndrome.
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