Anniversaries as we know them tend to be occasions to mark and celebrate something joyous, or at least that’s what I use to think. But what I’ve discovered is that once you been through a life changing trauma, anniversaries serve as an awful reminder.
Today, the 28th of August is an anniversary for me. One I wish I could forget but has haunted me for exactly two years, the day I was told I had cancer. I still remember it like it was yesterday. I remember when I was given the diagnosis, I remember the excruciating walk out of hospital, I remember phoning Ade from the car – the hardest phone call I have ever had to make and I remember breaking down like I have never broken down in my life. I remember going to my parents house to break the news to them that evening, I remember the look on their faces and I swear I could hear the sound of their hearts breaking. To this day I can remember every single detail and sometimes when I close my eyes, I’m forced to relive it and feel that same pain all over again.
There’s a common misconception that if you’re as lucky as me, you come through and all is good again, but this awful disease leaves a legacy that you never get over. It’s like a death of a loved one, you never get over the trauma, it becomes easier to live and deal with. I’m ok now, I have my moments, mainly due to the consequences of the treatment I’ve had, but I’m handling it much better than I thought I ever would. But for my family, particularly my parents, it has taken much longer. My mum has been so strong and she still does so much for me to make sure I’m not overdoing things despite the fact I’m working full time and I’m back to being active – she treats me as if I’m made of glass. My dad still blames himself for my illness. It’s so irrational and off course it’s not his fault at all, I was just unlucky but I understand why he feels the way he does. Cancer doesn’t discriminate, it doesn’t matter if you’ve been a bad person or a saint all your life, it will get you if it wants to. But for someone like my dad, he struggled with the ‘why me’, he needed a reason as to why I was the one who got ill. I remember the day after I told my parents, I was admitted to Accident & Emergency at Southend Hospital, my dad came into my room and broke down, he kept saying that he had been a bad father and that he shouldn’t have disciplined me as a child, he should’ve been nicer to me and paid more attention to me. It broke my heart to hear him say that and to see that he believed what he was saying. I had an amazing childhood with the best parents anyone could have, but this is the nature of such an evil disease, it didn’t just screw me, it screwed my family as well.
It’s taken a while, but two years on, I have beaten cancer. I’m in a much better place now with a better outlook on life. My family although scarred, have recovered too. The ghosts are still there but we’ve all learnt to accept that they will never completely go away. I’ve just got over a nasty chest infection (turned up just after I got over the Shingles) and I feel fantastic. I had my best pool session in over two years, and I’m on course to do my first post-cancer triathlon next week. At the end of September, I should be exorcising the ghost that is the Ealing half marathon – the event that I had to withdraw from in 2012 as I was having my first ever chemotherapy treatment.
So, although this is an anniversary I wish I could forget, it’s here to stay but I’ve marked it by being “normal” (don’t laugh). I went to work today, I had a great session in the pool and I’m ALIVE!
As usual, I’m finishing this entry off with a few photos, but not before I thank my amazing family and friends for getting me through the last two years. Special thanks to my husband Ade for being with me every step of the way, to the donor who gave me a second chance by selflessly donating their stem cells to me, for my employers at the BBC for having faith that I would recover and return to work, and also my personal trainer for helping rebuild my strength, fitness and confidence.
The rest of the weekend in hospital from a medical point of view was uneventful. Unlike doctors, the nurses were pretty much the only ones that were working and tended to patients in the ward. Though each day, my oncologist did come and see me to talk. He was aware that the whole thing has happened so quickly for me and he was also aware that I was frightened and also clueless.
The oncologist must have left the nurses with instructions as later that day, they introduced a new injection to give me and just to shake things up a bit and keep it fresh, it was an anti-clotting injection administer on my belly.. and get this.. this excited me.. it left a little purple bruise! I now have 3 of them on my belly – 3 injections. Ade must have told them purple was my favourite colour! 🙂
The weekend had the usual routine of blood tests and drugs as well. Apart from that, it was just trying to pass the time without going crazy, I spent most of it pretending to sleep to stop the highly irritating woman in the next bed talking to me, hiding the meals the hospital claimed were food in concealed carrier bags I had tucked down the side of the bed and wandering around the hospital gardens to get away from the ward.
Annoying woman – she was in the next bay to me and she was one of those patients that liked to talk non-stop. She did my head in to the point (this is going to sound bad) that if there had been a plug, I would have pulled it on her. She spent a lot of time on her mobile phone barking at her husband to bring her a KFC – she’s in there for bowel cancer – and telling him how useless he is.
Woman opposite me liked to sleep with her light on which meant no one else in the ward could sleep. She also snored something chronic too. Her mobile phone also had a hideous ring tone. Wouldn’t have bothered me but it was constantly ringing.
Food.. before anyone panics.. I do not have an eating disorder though in the last week I have lost 4kg f weight. The hospital food was SO shocking I couldn’t physically eat it. So you go into hospital in the hope that you will get better but when they feed you low grade, processed bollocks, it’s not going to happen. I saw what happened to the lady next to me when she refused to eat her food. Within half an hour, a psychiatrist and a nutritionalist was sent down to ‘talk’ about her eating problem. I didn’t want any of that, so I concealed the food when people weren’t looking into empty plastic bags. I got Ade to dispose of it and he would give me real home cooked food to eat!
I was lucky that I was in a ward where they allowed you to leave the actual ward. Seeing as it was a lovely sunny weekend, I spent a lot of it outside. I was one of those annoying patients that kept wandering off. Visiting hours were very restrictive and short so I would get around that by wandering off and seeing visitors outside the ward in the coffee shop or outside.
Over that weekend, I had various visitors. Off course my parents, brother and Ade. But also had visit from Ade’s borther and fiancee Steph. We had planned their visit for months to do the tourist thing in London so I insisted that they went out and enjoyed themselves even though I was stuck in hospital, but their visits in the evening really cheered me up. Stewart from work came to visit on Sunday which was great. We had a coffee opt like we would normally do at work and spent the whole time being offensive and politically incorrect. It was great not having to spend the whole time talking about cancer. I did enjoy making him queasy with nasty stories of tests and needles.
I leave you with Tiger – my Irish bear – Ade brought this into the hospital for me!
Anyone who knows me will know that I’m a bit obsessed with sport. Certainly for the last few years, the likeliest place you would find me is in the gym, the pool or hitting the streets somewhere competing. This year alone, I have raced in the 6 mile Sport Relief, Olympic Stadium 100m sprint charity event, the British 10k, the Eton Dorney Sprint Traithlon and the Jenson Button Trust double Triathlon. I felt really god competing in my first race in March but started to feel a little less fit after that despite all the hours of training I was putting in.
Towards the end of March, I found a swollen lymph node on my neck. It was a little sore and upon googling it found that it was quite normal. A swollen lymph node on the neck usually signifies that you’re fighting off some kind of infection. Ade put it down to a tooth extraction I had a couple of weeks before. I didn’t think any more of it until the it got larger. The more concerned I grew, the more Ade insisted I went to see a doctor so an appointment was made with Dr C and in true NHS style, there was a wait and by the time I saw him, my lymph node had calmed down. He said there was nothing to worry about and that it was a sign that the node was doing what it was suppose to.
A few weeks later, the node started to swell again, so I went back to Dr C. He pretty much said the same thing and fobbed me off with a bloody test which came back all clear.
A couple of weeks later, I went back again and by this time I was pretty much made to feel like a hypochondriac. This time Ade came with me as I was so worried and to top it off, the appointment was on mine and Ade’s wedding anniversary (8 May). Ade and I didn’t understand what he was trying to say about my lymphatic system so Dr C resorted to drawing diagrams to show us what he was trying to say!! Not really a confidence booster. Both Ade and I were a bit shocked it had come to a pen and paper description. He also weighed me as well and as I stood on the scales, he looked at the numbers and said “You’re a big girl” – I was mortified. Anyhow, Dr C didn’t seem concerned and said as a way of reassurance, he will refer me to a consultant at Southend University Hospital. I think as far as Dr C was concerned, case closed, fobbed off, success.
Almost 5 weeks later, I got an appointment with the consultant. To cut a long story short, he too wasn’t too concerned and believed that my lymph nodes were doing its job. He said the fact they are swelling and going down shows they are working. He sent me off for a chest x-ray that day to check for anything unusual. He also said he would organise a neck ultrasound for me.
When I got the letter through the post to make an ultrasound appointment, I started making calls. I had almost a weeks worth of the phone ringing our and phone being engaged. I contacted my consultants secretary to see if she could make me an appointment. She had the same problem ringing the ultrasound department and went down to see them in person and they insisted as the patient, I would need to contact them. Eventually after phoning them again, I got through to an exceptionally rude woman. When I mentioned I spent days trying to get through, her remark was “every one else has managed to get through”. I think she needs to go back to charm school. As it had taken me so long to get through, my request for an appointment had expired. My consultant would have to refer me again to get another request for an appointment. Don’t you just love red tape?!
My consultant forgot. I chased him a couple of months later to ask and he made another request and got me an appointment.
In between that time, the lymph nodes on my neck continued to swell, go down, swell, go down, swell, go down etc. On my 32nd birthday, the lump was at its all time biggest. I had appointments lined up but just had to wait for them.
Not long after my birthday in August I started getting really bad back and left side pain. I thought it was muscular so left it, then the pain got worse and I was starting to feel unwell. I went to urgent care at Hammersmith hospital where I waited 5 hours to be seen by someone else who lacked people skills. Turned out I had a kidney infection. This cleared up about a week later, but around this time, I got an extra swollen lymph node on my neck.
I recovered quite well after the visit to Hammersmith hospital and was fit enough to compete in the Jenson Button Triathlon in mid-August. I struggled with the race but put that down to not training as much due to illness but I still had an amazing weekend winning an award for most improved 2nd triathlon. The next day I had excruciating back and side pain. I thought it was muscular, so spent the lunch time at work ringing 15 different places for a sports or deep tissue massage. I couldn’t get one for love or money. Ade and I thought that was incredibly odd, we never realised how popular they were. You’ll find out in a later blog just how lucky I was not to get an appointment.
The Friday after the triathlon I was in absolute agony, so I asked Lee (manager at work) if I could go to the hospital to get something for it. As I had such a nasty experience at Hammersmith hospital, I went down to Charing Cross hospital. I was seen quite quickly by a Dr Coyne who examined me. I was in so much pain that I was actually in tears from it. The examination was the most painful one I had to date. Dr Coyne was amazing, unlike all the other doctors I had seen up till that point, he turned his back to his computer and faced me and actually talked and listen to ME and didn’t make me feel like I wasn’t just another hypochondriac. After his examination, he sat me down and said that judging by my pain, it was all coming from my spleen and that my spleen has swollen to what he suspects double the size of what it should be. To put it into context, the spleen should be the size of the fist. Mine had got so large, it was pushing against other organs in my body causing massive discomfort. He also said that the spleen is a major organ in the lymphatic system so it is connected to all my lymph nodes. Dr Coyne made the connection that day that NO other doctors had made before. He then referred me to a haematologist but as you will see later on, waiting for an appointment at Charing Cross hospital to be seen was abandoned, not anyones fault, but due to the urgent nature of what I have. Dr Coyne put me on a course of Cocodamol and Naproxen in the interim.
This entry is long enough, so I’ll leave it here for now. The next one will be about the rollercoaster of what was last week.
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