A former nurse who worked in the NHS for 37 years urged people to get symptoms checked quickly after what she thought was just back pain turned out to be breast cancer that had spread.

The diagnosis came as a bolt from the blue for Vicky McIntosh and resulted in her being admitted to hospital the same day.

After being referred to the Great Western Hospital by a clinic in Purton, she got fed up with waiting to discover the cause of her agony and paid for a private MRI which revealed that it was breast cancer - and that had already spread to her pelvis, femur and the top of her spine.

The 81-year-old, who was made an MBE seven years ago for services to health care, said: “I am going to live with my cancer diagnosis. It will challenge me at times but, being a very determined Scottish lass, I intend to make the most of every single day that I live.

“I do not intend to take this knock lightly and want to brighten the lives of everyone I meet. I will carry on being as active as it is safe to be with my dodgy spine. A brace will be winging my way soon to provide extra protection.”

She told the Adver: “Ladies, I cannot praise GWH’s One Stop Breast Clinic too highly. It functions like a well oiled wheel, smooth and calm, and has dedicated specialist teams who will support and care for you in times of need.

“I know cancer news is very hard and will be devastating for you and your family but go and get help and support. Please, please examine your breasts regularly, ring the Breast Unit or your GP, talk to someone. Do not hide anything that worries you.”

As a former registered nurse and midwife who went on to become head of nursing at a hospital trust in Hertfordshire before retiring at 60, Vicky knows more than a little about how a hospital is managed.

She found no fault in the treatment she received during the 10 days she spent on Jasmine ward and praised the staff for their care and kindness during what was a difficult time both for her and for the hospital.

She added: “We in Swindon are so lucky to have GWH. Whenever we need it, staff are there to do their bit.

“I’m very independent and unaccustomed to being ill, so having to depend on others to help me was an interesting experience, very unusual and took getting used to, but I loved it.

“I feel I was privileged to be admitted and treated with such meticulous dedicated care and attention,” she said. “We should take note that all the GWH staff have been working under extremely difficult and at times dangerous conditions during this Covid-19 era.

“Many of them have had friends die with Covid or Covid-related illnesses, as have I, and have not seen their families for weeks at a time. Some are scared and do you blame them?

“But these amazing staff come back to work day after day and the relentless life of the workforce carries on.”

After returning home to Cricklade, Vicky put together a socially-distanced tea party in her back garden to raise money for Prospect Hospice.

Her friends and neighbours regularly check in on her for chores, chats and errands.

A Great Western Hospital spokeswoman said: “Although the pandemic has meant working in new and unfamiliar ways, our staff do their best to maintain a safe environment and to provide high quality care for our patients.

“We are always happy to receive feedback and thank Vicky for her support.

She urged: “Anyone who has concerns about new or worsening symptoms should speak to their GP and to seek help early on.

"It’s important that you attend hospital appointments as planned, or you may be putting your health at serious risk.”