Woman given months to live after doctors thought she'd just pulled a muscle
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A ‘world-leading’ scientist was diagnosed with a rare terminal cancer after doctors initially believed she had pulled a muscle.
Kirsty Smitten, 28, was named as one of Forbes '30 Under 30' and is set to potentially save millions of lives with her antibiotic medicine.
However, her life was turned completely upside down when she was given the devastating news that she had terminal cardiac angiosarcom - a cancer so rare her surgeon had never seen it before.
Kirsty first realised something was wrong when she began to experience severe pain in the her heart last November. She took herself to A&E where a doctor told her she had most likely pulled a muscle and prescribed codeine.
But Kirsty insisted that it was something more and demanded a CT scan, which ultimately showed a tumour in her right atrium.
Kirsty, of Solihull, near Birmingham, said: "Other than the fact I was in agony all my health was absolutely fine, I didn’t have any problems with heart rate or anything.
“But then they did a CT scan for my blood clot and found a 6cm tumour in my heart, which, obviously, was a bit of a shock, because I had no other symptoms prior to that.
“It’s been a bit hectic since then. They found the tumour but initially they didn’t think it would be cancerous because it’s really, really rare."
Due to how rare the cancer is, it took three months to diagnose it, where she was given the devastating news that there’s a 68 percent chance she will die in the next 12 months.
Despite constant pain and weekly chemotherapy, she has continued her vital work.
While doing her microbiology PhD at the University of Sheffield, Kirsty developed a new class of antibiotics treating multi-drug resistant bacteria.
In March 2021, Kirsty set up MetalloBio - tackling the challenge of becoming a CEO while finishing her PhD and now having to work around her illness.
She said: “If we get the new drugs on the market it will potentially save tens of millions of lives.
“A new class of antibiotics hasn’t reached clinics in over 30 years, and by 2050 antibiotic microbial resistance is expected to kill 10 million people, which is a death every three seconds per year. We would be able to prevent that.
“I now see how important my work is, because if I get an infection I have about an hour to get IV antibiotics before it becomes fatal because with chemo I don’t have an immune system at the moment.
“I still work, I just can’t work the same as I used to and I can't go to as many in person things.”
Kirsty was initially told her cancer was inoperable, but has since had a second opinion from world-leading cancer care charity The Royal Marsden, who say surgery is possible.
This gives Kirsty a 10 percent chance of surviving for a further five years.
She said: “New things are coming out, and we just need to keep buying me time. But there’s still a 68 percent chance I’ll die within 12 months of diagnosis.
“If you saw me now and saw me when you get diagnosed it’s just barbaric because I still look absolutely fine. Other than the PICC (Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter) in my arm you wouldn’t know I was ill.
“My friends are just like, how on earth is this going on? Because you just look the exact same. I can still walk and exercise and stuff."
If you’ve been affected by any of these issues and want to speak to someone in confidence, contact Macmillan’s Cancer Support Line on 0808 808 00 00, 8am–8pm seven days a week