Back in 1998, Karen West was diagnosed with tongue cancer at just 39 years old. Here, she tells us about her cancer journey – and why she’s decided to leave a gift in her Will for Royal Surrey Charity.

Karen's story: 'You've given me my life back'

“At the time I was diagnosed, I’d actually gone to the doctor about something else. I just happened to mention that I had an ulcer that didn’t feel like an ulcer and that hadn’t gone away. The doctor initially said to treat it with steroid cream and told me to come back if it didn’t go away, so they could refer me. I went for my first appointment at my local hospital in Basingstoke initially, and the doctor took one look before saying ‘I’m really sorry to have to tell you this…’. And that was the start of it all.

I wasn’t even 40 when I was diagnosed and remember thinking how unfair it seemed – I’d never smoked; never drank too much. Tongue cancer was still seen as an ‘old man’s cancer.’ It was dealt with amazingly quickly – from diagnosis to operation – and I’ve had the most amazing care over 24 years at the Royal Surrey. I’ve had some ‘wobbles’ along the way, where I’ve needed further operations and treatment, but it’s so reassuring to know the team is here for me. If I woke up tomorrow and was worried about a lump, I know I can phone up, and I’m really grateful for that.

At the time my cancer was diagnosed, I taught adults how to be trainers, working in the civil service. I subsequently went on to become a coach; developing leaders in the UK and oversees. I’m retired now but I’m still a part-time vicar, so my tongue is and has been really important! I’m also an amateur singer in a choir – so it’s great to be able to still sing as well.

Making an impact

Over the years, I’ve fundraised for Royal Surrey Charity to raise money for St Luke’s Cancer Centre, as a thank you for the care I’ve received. I’ve taken part in a couple of sponsored walks – my spaniel Monty (pictured) even joined me for the ‘Run the World’ challenge recently.

I had a very big birthday three years ago. I celebrated with a barn dance and asked people to donate instead of gifts. It was my 60th birthday and the 20th anniversary since my diagnosis. People were amazingly generous and we used the money raised to buy a comfortable chemotherapy chair for people being treated for cancer.

Now I’m retired, I can’t afford to give on a regular basis, and – like most people – I’m just about making ends meet on a month by month basis, which means I don’t have a lot left over to give to charities. That’s why I’m leaving a gift in my Will to Royal Surrey Charity – it’s something I can do now that will make a difference later.

I have family I want to take care of, but in terms of my charity giving, it’s really important to me that some of that goes to St Luke’s. Obviously when you’re gone, you won’t be around to see it used, but it’s nice to know that there’s something there that will benefit others in the future.

My family are massively grateful too. You’ve been utterly brilliant and I’m so pleased to be able to leave something to the Royal Surrey. You’ve given me my life back. We all like to know our money is being used for something specific that will help and make someone’s visit a bit more comfortable.

You can’t take away the pain. You can’t take away the worry. But you can help make it a more pleasant environment for someone having treatment. That’s why I’m leaving a legacy to Royal Surrey Charity."

Did you know you can leave just 1% in your Will to Royal Surrey Charity, and still leave the rest to your loved ones?

Writing or amending your Will is simple. To find out more, please call Victoria on 01483 464146 or send us an email

Leaving a gift in your Will