After two weeks of being hospitalised and the cause of my spiking temperature still unknown, it was concluded that something more sinister might be at work and that I may have somehow contracted the H1N1 virus, commonly known as Swine Flu.
I was held in a private room at the hospital, whilst test were run, and any visiting friends and family were instructed to wear protective clothing before they could see me, which included a gown, face-mask and gloves. It seemed almost laughable that, along with the cancer that was wreacking havoc with my body, I might also have a separate disease fighting against me. Regardless of having to go along with the hospital formalities and adhering to procedures as best I could, I somehow knew that I hadn’t contacted the virus and that the temperature was purely down to my cancer. At one point during my stay in ‘quarantine’ I had some delicious oriental food smuggled into me, which had been provided by a friend of mine who worked in a restaurant! We all sat in my hospital room, filling our mouths with the wonderful tastes, my friends lifting their face-masks up in order to tuck in!
Just under a week after I was suspected of contracting the virus, the results finally came back showing that I was clear of any strains of the disease. It was only a small victory, but a happy one. It was decided that the best course of action would be to transfer me to the local hospice, where I could build my strength ready for my birthday party, which lay just around the corner.
The Hospice in the Weald is set in peaceful countryside, just outside Tunbridge Wells, and, on my arrival there, I knew that my stay was going to be a very happy one indeed. The true kindness and warmth that surrounded me was inspirational and for this I will always be grateful. As soon as I was admitted, I began to prepare for the party – for me this wasn’t going to be any other birthday, but a time for mass celebration with my friends and family from near and far. My only fear was that I wouldn’t be well enough when the time came to enjoy it.
The team at the hospice knew that my goal was to regain strength in time for my party and they did everything they could to encourage me to reach it. From helping me to gain psychical vigour, to assisting me with day to day tasks, the staff were incredible. Even when I desperately needed to find a dress for the celebration, having lost two stone very quickly, the owner of the local boutique, Kitch, arranged for dresses to be brought to the hospice in order for me to choose one. She was one of the wonderful volunteers, who went above and beyond in her duty of care to the residents there.
The day of my birthday dawned and, as I awoke, I surveyed the peaceful landscape outside my window. Although the sky was cloudy, the day was warm for that of mid-March. The green fields which stretched beyond my vision, gave way to an oast house on the horizon, capturing the soul of the Kentish countryside beautifully. I yawned before slowly beginning to lift myself from the bed, apprehensive of exactly how I would feel when my feet touched the floor and I gained my balance. Standing, I took a breath; so far, so good. I breathed deeply again, but this time a huge sigh of relief. There was no sickness or weakness – this day was certainly going to be one to remember and I would do everything in my power to make my birthday party the greatest imaginable.
At 5pm, my brother collected me and drove me to his house where I began to prepare myself for the party. Three hours later, I stepped out into the chilly but clear night. My dress fitted me perfectly and this, coupled with opaque tights and ankle boots, made me feel as if I really was Cinderella about to go to the ball. During the short drive to the venue, I silently questioned exactly how many of my friends and family would be there. I knew that family members had flown over from Lithuania to be with me, but how many of my British friends had been able to make the party was still unknown to me.
As I carefully opened the door of the party room, my heart leapt with joy; I could barely believe the vast amount of bodies packed into one space. Over eighty people smiled at me, and a huge cheer went up to greet me, as I stepped over the threshold. I steadied myself; this really was a dream come true and more than I could have ever hoped for. I knew that I was going to have the night of my life!
Amidst the joyous dancing, laughter and wondrous food, my friends gave me a present that was as equally amazing as the party itself; tickets to see Adele on her tour at the O2 Arena. I could hardly believe my eyes, as I gazed upon the tickets in my hand, presented in a huge card signed from all of my friends. I had regained my strength both physically and mentally for my party, but now I had another goal to aim for in only a few days time. I had to make sure that I was still strong for the concert, and I would do everything that I could to make that happen.
Although the celebrations were physically draining on my body, I made sure that I stayed at the party until the very end, and even danced to my favourite Lithuanian song into the early hours of the morning. I truly felt like a celebrity; so many people wanted to have their photo taken with me, and to sit and chat for a little while. I returned to the hospice shattered, but also overcome with happiness. I had made it. My 35th birthday had been the most special of my entire life.
Three days later, I awoke to the spring light peeping through the curtains of my room. Again, I steadied myself, took a breath and tried to ascertain exactly how I felt. I realised that, although I didn’t feel as good as I had done the previous Saturday, I was still ready mentally to take life by the horns and make the journey to the O2, to see my favourite artist. I had waited so long to see Adele live and my illness was certainly not going to stop me from completing my birthday celebrations in style.
The concert was utterly incredible and everything that I could have wished for. Although my legs were not strong enough to hold me, I was pushed around the arena and surrounding areas in a wheelchair, finally taking my seat at a balcony quite close to the double stage where the performance took place. Adele’s beautiful voice, mixed with her cheeky sense of humour, kept me enthralled to the very last note. I left with a broad smile on my face; my two dreams having come true in the space of just a few days.
The year yielded an early Easter, and Good Friday brought with it a beautiful spring day. As I eased myself slowly out of my bed at the hospice, and prepared myself for my usual bath, I ran through the day’s itinerary. I was to visit the local hospital and tests would be run on me, to determine whether the cancer had spread and the plan of action which needed to be taken.
After a short journey to the hospital with my old house mate, the necessary tests where run; a CT scan on my head, lungs and other organs. My friend drove me back in her car, and we busied ourselves by reminiscing on old times. On my arrival at the hospice, I made myself comfortable in my room, and said goodbye to my friend. However, just as she was turning the corner on her way down the corridor, my doctor approached her, asking her whether she could stay with me for a bit longer. The results of my CT scans had come back, and he wanted to discuss them immediately, with her by my side.
A sense of fatality filled me. I had been in this situation so often in the past eighteen months, but I somehow knew that this would be the very last time I would have words of regret delivered to me by a medical professional. I braced myself and listened, as my final diagnosis was recited. The CT scans had shown that the cancer had gone to my brain. In short, the disease had now totally assaulted my body, creeping and seeping into every crevice of my anatomy, storming through my organs with a vengeance and wrecking any hopes of survival that I might have had left. Slowly, I turned to my friend, speechless. In silence, we wept, our hands intertwined, our faces stained with tears. There was nothing more that I could do – no more fight that I could put up. It was over.
I lay in my bed that night, the silence of the hospice engulfing me. I closed my eyes, tying to comprehend what I now faced. What if it happened tonight and I didn’t wake up the next morning? The very fact that my body was swiftly giving up on me scared me the most. I was no longer in control of it and I could no longer dictate to it as I had done all my life. Up until this point, I had been able to regulate my body in one way or another. Now, finally, it was governing me. There were things that I needed to plan, small but vital tasks that I needed to complete. I assessed the situation and made a decision, I would spend the next few days getting my affairs in order. Once these were taken care of, I could breathe a steady sigh of relief.
Easter Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday brought clouds and rain, but regardless of the weather, I spent a few very happy days in the company of my friends, brother, sister-in-law and little niece. As she skipped around, her mouth covered in chocolate, her thoughts on Easter bunnies and yellow chicks, I smiled. I knew that I would not see her grow into the kind and beautiful girl that I knew she would be, but her happiness around me was enough.
The next day, I embarked on making sure that everything was just as I wanted it to be. Suddenly, a huge wave of relief engulfed me; I knew that my ending was near, but I also knew that I had said everything that I needed to say, and done everything which needed to be done. My party had been one last, wonderful celebration of my life; a happy farewell to those I held dear. I sat down and wrote a letter to my family and friends, trying to express from my heart exactly how I felt for when the time came and I was no longer with them. Sealing it, I drew a breath; it was all done.
I started writing this blog nearly eight months ago, blissfully unaware of the future, full of hope, dreams and determination. Now the time has come for me to conclude my last entry and I would like everyone who has read and supported it to know how I now feel.
I am standing at the top of a mountain, looking down. I see laughter and tears, happiness and heartache, bravery and weakness. I see every one of my friends faces, as they cheered and danced at my party. I see the familiar forms of my family in Lithuania, as I last remember them, the summer sun shining down on them, content and carefree.
I may have felt a certain amount of trepidation in the past few weeks, but this has left me now. Maybe long ago I sensed that my life would be short and that I had to pack as much as I could into it. I travelled the world with haste, as if I somehow recognised the dark shadow of cancer lying in wait for me, unseen, just around the corner. Perhaps deep down I realised that, one day, it would finally catch up with me.
So here I stand, looking down at the good times, the bad times, the sunshine and the rain. I have lived my life without fear, and I will continue to do so until the last.
I would like to thank everyone who has brought me joy and who has enriched my life, be it just for a fleeting time, or for longer intervals. I will spend my last weeks safe in the knowledge that I am loved deeply by my friends and family and that, in return, I love you all too.
Remember me sometimes, when you feel the warm breeze in your hair, when you laugh and dance to your favourite tunes and when you celebrate the good times with those close. I am walking in the Lithuanian countryside, I am strolling on a beach in Malaga, I am exploring the heady skyscrapers of Singapore, and I am no longer afraid.