A woman diagnosed with cancer says a fear of getting in a lift may have saved her life - that and a robot.

Caroline Smith, 59, who lives in Swiss Cottage, has suffered from claustrophobia her whole life and says the thought of taking a lift made her blood run cold.

So deep was her terrorx, she would always happily walk up the stairs to reach her flat on the sixth floor of her block of flats.

But in January she knew something was wrong when she had to sit down and catch her breath after climbing just a single flight of stairs.

“I’d had no other symptoms at all and then suddenly this," she said. "I knew I was very fit and this couldn’t be put down to the menopause or getting older so I was straight on the phone to the GP.”

Tests confirmed Caroline had stage three colorectal cancer – doctors said the cancer would have been growing for two years - and she was scheduled for surgery a week later at the Royal Free Hospital, in Pond Street.

Ham & High: Colorectal theatre team at the Royal Free Hospital in HampsteadColorectal theatre team at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead (Image: Royal Free)

She is one of the first colorectal patients at the Hampstead hospital to undergo surgery via a surgical robot.

Carrying out surgery with a robot has been used at the Royal Free Hospital to treat those with kidney cancer and "brings a whole raft of benefits", the NHS Trust said.

Due to the tiny incisions the Da Vinci Xi robot can make, patients are likely to need less time in hospital recovering, are less likely to need a blood transfusion during surgery and there is less chance of complications after the operation.

Caroline said: “My surgeon Mr Suliman explained I would be having the surgery done with the use of a surgical robot. I’d never met anyone who had had this but I was excited because I’d seen it done on TV programmes and on the news.

“I thought it was fantastic and after the operation I was delighted to have minimal scarring.

"I ended up being discharged from hospital three days later armed with nothing stronger than over-the-counter medication and although I was in mild discomfort I wasn’t in any pain. People who visited me couldn’t believe I’d had major surgery!”

Caroline is currently undergoing chemotherapy – but said she feels ready to potentially return to her job as a secretar an accountancy firm on a flexible basis soon. She has also now conquered her fear and is now using the lift.

She added: “I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who cared for me at the Royal Free Hospital. Everyone was amazing and I feel incredibly grateful and lucky.”

Ham & High: Caroline Smith is back on her feet after a robot was used to remove her cancer - and she's no longer afraid to use a liftCaroline Smith is back on her feet after a robot was used to remove her cancer - and she's no longer afraid to use a lift (Image: Royal Free Hospital)

Doctors are now hoping to offer robotic surgery to more patients with colorectal cancer.

Colorectal consultant Ibnauf Suliman, who has performed eight operations so far at the hospital, said he was "delighted to hear Caroline is doing so well".

He said the patients treated so far were discharged with no surgical complications and within five days of their operation.