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A horse and rider
MEDICAL HORSE SENSE: Libby credits Coco with saving her life

A young woman with a rare form of cancer says her horse saved her life by catapulting her out of the saddle twice in one week – leading to a trip to hospital that revealed a nine-inch tumour in her abdomen.

Libby Dodes from Derby, had been schooling her horse Coco when a huge jump caught the 23-year-old by surprise. Just a week later, Coco overjumped again, this time at a competition, and Libby was rushed to hospital fearing she may have fractured her pelvis in the fall.

Instead, doctors discovered a worrying mass in her abdomen that tests later found to be small cell ovarian cancer, a particularly aggressive and rare form of cancer affecting only 400 people worldwide.

“I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it,” Libby told MumsHaynet. “But I think Coco must have known.

“In the three years I have owned her I only fell off twice before. I am sure she was trying to tell me something, and it worked.”

Prior to the fall last October, Libby had complained of abdominal pain and a swollen tummy that medics blamed on endometriosis – a condition in which tissue similar to the lining of the womb grows outside the uterus.

“I was told it was nothing to worry about,” said Libby. “But because I was in pain and I kept pestering I was referred to urology on the 24th of October, but of course I fell off Coco on the 22nd and Io and behold that is what they found.”

The trainee veterinary nurse has now begun a gruelling programme of treatments including super-strength chemotherapy, an emergency hysterectomy, surgery to remove affected lymph nodes around her abdomen, pelvis and heart, as well as the removal of part of her peritoneum and her appendix.

“None of this feels real,” admitted Libby. “It’s like being trapped in a nightmare. You think you're going to wake up from it, but you don’t.”


Small cell ovarian cancer is an incredibly rare form of cancer, that tends to affect younger women, and Libby is one of only three known cases in the UK. In fact, it’s so rare that Libby and her family had to track down a specialist in America to work alongside UK medics.

“We are following the American regime, which means six rounds of chemotherapy to begin with and then higher dose chemotherapy, which is where I’m at now,” explained Libby.

“This is followed by radiotherapy, immunotherapy, and possibly more surgery.”

While most of Libby’s treatment is covered by the NHS, she needs to find the £300,000 price tag for immunotherapy as it isn’t something offered by the health service.

However, the US specialist says it’s a vital part of Libby's recovery. As she has an especially aggressive form of cancer with a tendency to return, immunotherapy is her best chance of staying disease free once treatment has finished.

Libby is a young woman having chemotherapy for the rare small ovarian cell cancer
PRETTY AMAZING: Libby still manages to smile despite the gruelling schedule of treatment she faces

To try to ensure their daughter’s survival, Libby’s parents have now set up a Go Fund Me page which has already raised £90,000 towards her £300,000 goal.

“The immunotherapy is the last stage of treatment,” explained Libby. “Unfortunately, it isn’t funded by the NHS even though it is an approved treatment in America, where it costs $2 million.

“My specialist says I need it because it’s one of the key things that help your body fight any future cancer. Through having immune therapy, if my cancer was to return in the future, my body could recognise it much sooner and attack it before it becomes a major problem to me.”

Despite an almost constant programme of hospital visits since October, and subsequent recovery times from strength-sapping chemotherapy, Libby has managed to return to riding.

In many ways, she says the 16hh Irish Sport Horse that she bought to have “a bit of fun on,” is the reason she keeps on fighting.

 “Coco is a fantastic horse,” said Libby. “Last summer, we had been working hard to build up her fitness because she hadn't done too much over the previous winter, and we'd really started to build a partnership.

“We were getting to the point where we'd go out to a show and we'd actually come back with a placing or a clear round, which was a really big achievement for Coco because when I first got her, she was so unfit and so green.

“Then I fell off, twice in the space of a week. The first time we’d been out for a lesson and it was very unlike Coco because she overjumped and actually put me on the floor. I didn't think much of it and got back on and carried on riding.

“I carried on riding throughout the week and then I thought I’d compete her that Sunday. It was the first arena event of the competition season and I thought it would be a bit of fun, and the same thing happened again. I ended up hitting the floor, which is very unusual for me. So, I think that mare was very definitely trying to tell me something.”

A young woman with small ovarian cancer
THE BEST THERAPY: Libby with her beloved Coco after being discharged from hospital

In a sad twist of fate, while Libby was waiting to be discharged from hospital following chemotherapy treatment, Coco came down with colic and had to undergo emergency surgery herself.

Thankfully, like her owner, the spirited mare also pulled through and four weeks ago, Libby began to bring her slowly back into work.

“We're just doing hacking and light schooling,” says Libby. “I do have someone who rides for me once a week, to help me out, but I'm back in the saddle and it feels great.

“Coco definitely keeps me sane. She gives me the motivation to get up every day. There's no better feeling than being able to get back on your horse.”

Libby’s parents, Vanessa and James, have been working tirelessly to fund raise for their daughter’s treatment and they say they have every confidence she will win the battle.

Mum Vanessa said: “Libby lives for her horses, dogs and cats, so much so she is a student veterinary nurse and loves her job. From the age of 10 she would wake up at 5.30am to go to the stables, in all weathers, and muck out and feed her pony before going to school.

“Libby is a phenomenal jockey and falling off is not something that happens regularly. We believe her horse, Coco, knew Libby wasn’t well and purposely over jumped causing Libby to fall and in turn saving her life. Libby and Coco have an exceptional bond.

“We have a long, hard road ahead of us. However, Libby is a fighter and those who know her know she loves to prove people wrong and this is what she intends to do.”


  • If you would like to help Libby reach her target to get the potentially life-saving immunotherapy she needs then, please, click here.



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