Sunday, 25 May 2014

2012 - The End of the World // Two Years On


Remember all the commotion about armageddon a couple of years ago? Well, the world itself may not have ended in 2012, but my world certainly did.

25th May 2012 is a day that is etched in memory as the day that life as I knew it changed forever. Five days before my 30th birthday I was given the news that I had cancer. 

A week before that, I'd had an ultrasound, a mammogram and a core biopsy of a hard lump in my left breast. I knew then and there that it wasn't a mere cyst. As I lay on the hospital couch, nurses and technicians bustling about, talking in hushed whispers and looking at the screens with undeniable concern, I knew. I was shaking uncontrollably. The clock said quarter to five. I was the last patient of the day. I lay there and stared at the clock, as the hands passed through ten to five, and awaited my fate.

"The images look veeeeery suspicious. Occasionally they can look really bad, then we send the biopsy off to be tested and they come back as benign, but we're about 75% sure that it's cancer."

I kept saying "OK" to everything they told me. I was given a huge green folder - the 'cancer pack', which made me think that they were were a lot more than 75% sure.

On the 25th the news was confirmed - I was now a cancer patient and life would never be the same again. A treatment plan had been arranged for me: chemotherapy, followed by surgery, followed by radiotherapy. Why not surgery first? I wanted it gone, I wanted them to cut it out, right the hell now. Due to my age and the nature of the cancer, they wanted to do chemo first to shrink the tumour as much as possible, 1) to make sure the chemo was actually having an effect and 2) to try to preserve as much of my breast as possible - having a mastectomy at any age is a big deal, but for a young girl in her late twenties, even more so. At the time I just wanted it sliced off, but I had to trust that the medical team knew what they were doing and were doing it with my best interests in mind. My life was literally in their hands.

We were due to go on holiday for my birthday, but that had to be cancelled. Instead I had a barrage of scans, CT and MRI, bloodtests. I hadn't really cried. The magnitude of it hadn't hit me. I was too busy trying to ensure everyone else was OK - my boyfriend, my mum, friends, family, colleagues...all got the same matter-of-fact emails from me, in which I reeled off word for word what I'd been told by doctors; desperately trying to find some kind of reassurance in their words, that if I said it enough times, I'd be alright. Everyone marvelled at how well I was dealing with it, when in truth I was probably in denial.

At the time, you deal with it, because you have to. There is no other choice. You fight, you crawl, you bawl and you scrape your way through the excruciating pain of treatment, the waiting, the not knowing if you'll live or die, if any of this brutal assault on your body is going to make a blind bit of difference. You do it, because what else is there? 

Chemo was the hardest thing I've ever been through. Physically and mentally it destroys you. After each round I had to self inject with a substance to help stimulate white blood cell production and the pain it caused is unlike anything I've ever felt. Imagine someone drilling the very centre of your bones with red hot metal and you might be somewhere close. Some people sail through chemo, but I was not so lucky. I was so ill and weak that I could barely walk to the bathroom without collapsing. My heart was constantly racing and felt like it might rupture or explode. So many times I thought I was going to die - that the chemo, not the cancer, was going to finish me off. 

It's incredible what the body can withstand. Pumped full of poison for four months, my body held on. When I was diagnosed, the tumour was a pretty huge 40mm and I had involved lymph nodes under my arm. The results of my surgery in November 2012 showed I had zero lymph nodes involved and in the sizeable amount of breast tissue they removed, only 1mm of cancer remained. 1mm. I'd had an almost complete response to the chemotherapy, which made all that hideous suffering worth it. I was cancer free.

I went on to have a month of radiotherapy as a precaution. Compared to chemo, radio is a fucking walk in the park. 

So that's it, right? I'm fine now, everything's back to normal? Wrong. So very, very wrong. I could write pages and pages about the side effects I still suffer from, the ways in which my body has changed and the psychological impact of experiencing a life threatening illness at such a young age. I've touched on it before in this post if you'd like to read about it, but here, now, today, I want to focus on exactly that: today.

Today I am alive. Today I am two years on from a horrifying and traumatic experience. Today I am a different person than I was then, but also a better person. I still have a long way to go - three and half years in fact - until I can be classed as 'safe'. A whole lot can happen in three and a half years and the worry of recurrence and the cancer spreading is a constant, sometimes overwhelming fear. There are no guarantees. But today, as far as I know, I am healthy. It may not be on the same scale as most people's healthy, but I am well and to the best of my knowledge, still cancer free.

It's a lot to come to terms with. And it's so bittersweet; there is so much I miss about my old life, but also so much I'm grateful for right now, every single day. 

Above all else, I'm damn proud of myself. Fuck cancer



xx


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19 comments:

  1. Thanks for posting this. I want to say more, but my words seem so inadequate compared to yours, so I'll leave it at thanks.

    Brian.

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  2. I've only just found your blog so it was really enlightening to read your previous post as well as this. Several close members of my own family have suffered from this horrible disease so it is so useful to read your words and be able to scratch the surface, even slightly, of how much this can effect some one. You are such an inspiring, strong person and thank you for sharing your experiences and helping us learn from them :) x

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    1. Thanks very much - it isn't always easy to share, but if it helps even one person to understand better, or helps someone feel less alone, then I'll share as much as I can x

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  3. Wow, that's actually heart wrenching to read. You are amazing, and I'm sorry that such a horrible thing could happen to you. But, like you said, we scratch and crawl our way through the hard times and we stand up tall on the other side. I don't think I've seen any one standing this tall in a long time. Good for you. Fuck cancer!

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  4. Fuck cancer. My dad recently had a stem cell transplant after several years of chemo. Chemo is honestly one of the more horrible things I've seen, watching him go through all of it over and over again was gut wrenching. You're a rockstar for fighting your way through and showing cancer who's boss. This post was intense, heart breaking, inspiring and beautifully written. You're awesome. <3

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    1. Oh your poor dad. One of my biggest fears is having to go through chemo again. I hope his stem cell transplant went well and helps him get better. Cancer is such a hideous, vile disease.
      Thanks for your kind words, doll xx

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  5. Fuck cancer! My aunt had breast cancer and is now, thankfully, officially cancer free. It helps me to (almost) understand the pride you're feeling - You have every right to be proud of yourself. Lisa xx
    (@CthulhuWakes ~ astarfellonher.wordpress.com)

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    1. Thanks, sweetie. So glad your aunt is cancer free and doing well! xx

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  6. Wow! You are such an amazing inspiration. Keep strong, it sounds like you have good people around you who will be there for you (as will we) xoxo

    Sirenne | www.sirennesays.com

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    1. I definitely wouldn't have been able to get through it without my wonderful boyfriend! xx

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  7. Beautifully written and so inspirational. xx

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  8. I lost my best friend to cancer before her 19th birthday. I am so glad to read the words of a survivor.
    There isn't much I can say, except thank you for sharing and I wish you all the health and happiness in the world.

    xo

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    1. I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend, especially at such a young age. Cancer is pure evil :( i'm glad that my words helped a little and thank you very much for your good wishes xo

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  9. Thank you for sharing. You are amazingly strong and inspirational.

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