In November 2016, Lucy gave birth to her first child, Ellena. She was 29, fit and healthy and working as a dental nurse.

Two weeks after Ellena was born, Lucy visited her GP with heavy bleeding. A scan revealed she’d retained placental cells in her womb but was reassured that they would fall away naturally. A few days later Lucy haemorrhaged and was rushed to her local hospital in Lincoln where it was assumed she was miscarrying due to high levels of the hCG hormone in her blood. Distressingly, she underwent an operation to remove what they believed to be a foetus, however the doctors concluded that it was in fact a mass, and most likely to be benign.

Post-operatively Lucy’s hCG levels continued to rise and a specimen from the removed mass was sent to a specialist cancer hospital – Weston Park - in Sheffield for a biopsy. “I was reassured again by those treating me that it was benign, and I was sent home” explains Lucy. “But once home I experienced agonising pains so I called Weston Park who advised me to go there immediately to be checked-out. Within 20 minutes of being at the hospital, I was told I had choriocarcinoma, a rare pregnancy related tumour that required immediate chemotherapy. I was devastated.

Further tests revealed that the cancer was also in her womb, lungs, liver and brain. Lucy immediately began a course of chemotherapy treatment and underwent stereotactic radiosurgery to remove a tumour from her brain. Sadly, despite this treatment blood tests revealed that her hCG levels had gone up, indicating that the cancer was growing. She underwent a hysterectomy and embarked on more chemotherapy.

“On Christmas Day 2017 I began to experience back ache and was prescribed diazepam and told to see a chiropractor. However, I subsequently collapsed on New Year’s Eve and, unable to walk, I was taken to hospital by ambulance. Scans revealed yet more devastating news that the cancer was now in my spine and that I may never walk again.”

The doctors had no option but to operate to remove the tumour from her spine leaving her with limited movement in her legs and wheelchair bound.


Lucy was transferred to the Sheffield Spinal Injuries Unit. Here she was able to have short sessions of physiotherapy twice a week. After 4 weeks on the Spinal Injuries Unit, Lucy contacted the nurses at the Weston Park Hospital for alternative rehabilitation options.

As there are a limited number of facilities available for young people like Lucy, once she was able to transfer from bed to wheelchair, she would’ve been discharged from hospital, faced with the prospect of returning home to receive community physio, for which there was a long waiting list.

Fortunately, one of the nurses had heard of STEPS and suggested the facility to Lucy.


In May 2018 Lucy transferred to STEPS Rehabilitation under the care of Mr Pradeep Thumbikat, a Consultant in Spinal Injuries. “Coming to STEPS was like a breath of fresh air. I was given my own room in the Transitional Living Unit which has a shared open plan lounge and fully accessible kitchen. From the very moment it immediately felt like home away from home. My partner James and daughter Ellena could visit whenever they liked; Ellena was even able to join me for my session in the hydrotherapy pool!”

On her first day at STEPS Lucy met with the head chef to discuss her dietary requirements and a meal plan was created to complement her rehabilitation programme. Together they worked out a plan that included a selection of nutritious meals, smoothies and high energy snacks. She also had her first physio session that afternoon.

Lucy presented with severe weakness to her left leg, moderate weakness to her right leg and mild right upper limb weakness. She also had sensory loss to her left side (tingling sensation only) and reported mild sensory loss in her right side. Proprioception was absent in both lower limbs.

Lucy’s Rehabilitation

Lucy’s rehabilitation programme includes:

  • One-to-one land-based physiotherapy sessions
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Sensory programme
  • Exercise programme
  • Bike sessions
  • Functional Electrical Stimulation programmes
  • Pilates
  • Balance class
  • Occupational therapy
  • Psychology

Hydrotherapy sessions in the on-site pool have always played an integral part of Lucy’s rehabilitation. When she first arrived at STEPS she had to be hoisted into the pool, and now walks in and out on her own and has been able to walk in the pool whilst carrying Ellena for the first time in February 2019, a key moment in her rehabilitation journey. A video of Lucy and Ellena in the pool can be viewed here. The environment of the hydrotherapy pool enables Lucy to relax into stretches, assists with her spasms and helps her work on de-sensitising hypersensitive body areas, such as her feet to enable her to practice her mobility in a safe and therapeutic way. The resistance of the water gives her great opportunities to improve strength and challenge her balance.

After 3 months, and having made significant progress, Lucy moved into STEPS’ assisted living apartment, allowing her to trial a more independent way of living before returning home just before Christmas in 2018.

With a personal health budget, Lucy is still able to attend the facility for day rehabilitation twice a week and has a personal assistant 5 days to week, allowing Lucy to live at home. These days, programmes include hydrotherapy and land-based physiotherapy, along with technical instructor and gym sessions.

Lucy’s progress

When Lucy first joined STEPS, she was reliant on a wheelchair, but after 7-months of intensive rehabilitation, she left walking. “Since being discharged from STEPS my family and I are looking ahead to the future. James and I are planning to get married in the next year or so. I remain determined to regain my independence and improve my movements as much as I can. STEPS are amazing…there is no other word to describe them. I never felt like I was in a hospital, it always felt like home. They perform miracles, not just for me but for every single client’.

We at STEPS think that Lucy is an inspirational young woman, and a great example of what can be achieved with intensive rehabilitation.