Karen Ryder

When Karen Ryder from Liverpool found a lump in her stomach one morning, she didn’t hang around.

“I’ve always been a healthy person and never gone to the doctor’s unless I really needed to,” she says, “but the lump was massive, so I contacted my GP straight away.”

As the lump could have been a sign she had a hernia, Karen’s GP advised her to stick to light duties at work with no heavy lifting. They also referred her for a scan to check what was causing the lump.

“But when the scan results came back, my GP told me I had an enlarged spleen. It should have been about 13cm but it was 21cm – and my GP told me that could be a sign of blood cancer.”

Karen’s GP acted quickly and made an urgent referral for her to Liverpool’s Haematology rapid diagnosis service, led by The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre NHS Foundation Trust in partnership with Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

Karen saw Dr Jeff Smith, a Consultant Haemato-Oncologist at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, just a few days later. He confirmed she had an enlarged spleen and ordered blood tests and a bone marrow biopsy to check if it could be blood cancer.

“I had my blood tests the same day that I saw Dr Smith,” says Karen, “and the bone marrow biopsy the next day. The results didn’t take long. Dr Smith explained I had a slow-growing blood cancer called splenic marginal zone lymphoma, a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.”

Within a week, Karen was starting treatment at the Marina Dalglish Centre in Aintree – it’s a specialist cancer treatment unit run by The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre so people can have their care closer to home.

She had a treatment called Rituximab which was given intravenously by a drip once a week for four weeks from September to October 2023.

Unlike chemotherapy which aims to kill cancer cells but can also affect non-cancerous cells in the body, Rituximab is a targeted therapy – so called because it directly targets the way that cancer cells grow and spread to stop them from doing this. Targeted therapies are less likely than chemotherapy to cause side-effects.

Dr Jeff Smith December 2023.jpg
Dr Jeff Smith

Karen’s treatment worked well at tackling her cancer and her spleen is now back to its usual size. She went back to work in January and is now feeling great and looking forward to a well-deserved getaway with all her family.

“I’ve had the best treatment ever,” she says. “Everybody has been so good to me right the way through. It’s just amazing how quickly it all happened from feeling the lump to being diagnosed and starting treatment. I’d like to thank my doctors and support worker for all their support.

“If there are other people out there who feel a lump or are worried something is wrong, I’d encourage them to go and get it checked. I was having very bad night sweats, for instance. If my story helps someone else to find out what’s wrong and get the treatment they need, then that would be fantastic.”

Dr Smith said: “The rapid diagnosis service was set up because the sooner something is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat. People often need several different tests to diagnose blood cancers, including blood tests, biopsies and CT scans.

“Karen’s story shows how well things can work when people are able to have all their tests quickly – she got a diagnosis within a few of weeks of referral by her GP and was able to start her treatment just a week or so after being given the diagnosis in the clinic. It’s great to see she is feeling so well and back enjoying her usual life."