Girl on Top (Part 8) – Hanging in the Balance

The light may have been fading around me, but there was another source of illumination burning strong: my imminent holiday to Spain.  Although I had planned it only a month before, the thought of spending time away from hospital appointments, examinations and the ever present threat that my cancer might return was, for me, a candle shining in the dim night.  Whilst in my surgeon’s office, I had decided that I was not going to let whatever lay before me get me down or chip away at my mind, creating unwanted obstacles. I was determined to enjoy my time in the sun with those close to me.

As I sat in the departure lounge, sipping a chilled glass of wine and reading the first chapter of a brand new novel that I had previously purchased from the small Gatwick book store, the immediate future felt bright.  My flight touched down in Malaga and, as my eyes searched through the crowd of people waiting in arrivals, I continued my way through the airport and to the car park.  Sure enough, I soon picked out a familiar form.  A smile broke over my face, as my childhood friend, whom I had not seen in over a decade, ran towards me.  Immediate warmth and companionship rushed through my system as we embraced, eradicating the lost years and making me feel young and carefree again.

On my first evening, we drove around the town, taking in all the sights and sounds of late May in southern Spain. The smell of tapas and the soft lapping of waves upon the sandy, deserted shoreline intensified my feeling of freedom and my longing for foreign lands beyond my reach.  Regardless of my illness, my sense of adventure prevailed ever-strong, and was certainly not going to be defeated by another potential tumour.  The very thought of my international career, which had been cut short almost eight months before, was still driving me on and fuelling my determination to overcome cancer and no longer live in its shadow.  However, as I sat on the balcony, drinking sangria and nibbling on long awaited home-made tapas, my legs began to throb and, looking down, I saw that they were both swollen below the knees, to almost twice their normal size.

The next morning, my legs were still the same and the walk down the stairs from my friend’s second floor apartment was unbearable. I determined to keep going though, remain positive and ‘grin and bear it’ as best I could.  I even laughed with my friend as, looking down at my feet (which are on the small-side anyway), I noticed that they had taken on an almost Hobbit-like appearance, stuck at the end of my swollen legs.  As morning turned into afternoon, and the swelling still hadn’t gone, I called my nurse in the UK, who advised me to go to the local hospital and seek professional advice.  Hobbling up the steps to the hospital Rincon de la Victoria, I grimaced as I began to realise that this was not the way in which I had planned to spend the first full day of my holiday in Spain.

The initial nurse took my details and assessed my symptoms, before asking me to take a seat and wait for another health care professional.  Before long, I was called into a doctor’s office where, again, I described my medical history and displayed my swollen legs to him.  After another wait, I was instructed to go to a different part of the hospital, where once more my details taken.  Sitting back down in the waiting room, two hours later, I could not help but giggle again with my friend that, by lunchtime, it seemed as if everyone in the entire hospital would know my medical history!

My visit to the hospital ended with me being directed down the road to the chemist, where I purchased a pair of long, support socks (not ideal for the warm, Spanish climate and certainly not sexy!) and some cream, my prognosis being that the swelling was more than likely due to the flight from Gatwick to Malaga, along with the climate change.  Sure enough, by the end of the evening, the swelling had decreased a little although my legs remained ballooned throughout my stay in Spain – my feet still looking as if they belonged to Bilbo Baggins!

The days that followed were truly amazing ones, which I will never forget; the weather, landmarks and sheer love for those around me morphing, what could have been a ‘usual’ trip to the Med, into a fantastic experience.  Another pal, who I had first met in Singapore, joined us and we fast became the ‘Three Musketeers’, leaving no Spanish stone unturned!  I may have travelled to Spain thinking that a relaxing beach holiday was in store for me, but I was very much mistaken.  My childhood friend pushed us to the limits, determined to show us as much of Malaga as she possibly could.  Our explorations were fun-filled and adventurous, every day being packed full of as much as we could possibly see, eat and drink, as if this would be our last ever visit to Spain!

Perhaps the biggest challenge for me during my time in Spain and a stark reminder of my condition, was our trip to the King’s Little Pathway (Caminito del Ray), in El Chorro, which has been dubbed by many as one of the world’s most dangerous passages.  A hard hat must be worn by all walkers and the trail, which was built to provide construction workers with access to the hydroelectric power plants in the early twentieth century, looks like a scene straight out of an Indiana Jones movie!

As I prepared to set off on the journey up the steep climb, I surveyed what lay before me.  The long mountain path, stretching out in front of us, signified more than just a fun trip out to me.  It was as if my cancer had suddenly taken on the form of these rocky fixtures ahead.  Should I admit defeat before I had even started, throw down my protective hat, and tell my friends to go on without me?  Or should I fix a determined stare on the dusty path in front of my feet and begin to walk ahead, as best I could, and regardless of how my limbs ached and the sun beat down on my hat-clad head?  For me, there was no choice to make, for I had already decided upon my path over six months ago, at the dawn of my cancer.  I would continue along the road ahead, even if I had to sometimes stop and catch my breath along the way.

I steadied myself, fixed my widest smile on my face, and gave a cheeky wink to my companions.  They might, at times, have to leave me to rest for a bit as they marched on, but I would continue with them as best I could.  I was determined to climb the mountain and sit on the top in the sun, feeling the warmth spread over my face and glimpsing the beautiful view.  Obstacles were there to be overcome, be they geological or physical, and I would do my utmost to conquer them.

Throughout my holiday to Spain, my childhood friend was surprised at how cancer and the subsequent chemotherapy had sapped my physical strength from within, even though my outward appearance (my wig and full face of make-up) looked little changed.  Due to the sunny climate, I was able to keep my sunglasses on mostly whilst I was outside and these benefited me in several ways: firstly, they hid my lack of eyelashes and brows and secondly, the glasses shielded any tears of both anger and pain that I might have had in my eyes.

As my time in the sun wore on, I began to notice that I was having increasing difficulty doing up my trousers and putting my socks and shoes on.  I had pain in my finger nails and I fast began to realise that they were wobbling to my touch. I had hoped so much that I wouldn’t lose them, as I had always been proud of my immaculate, shiny nails, but I now realised that this might be a very real prospect.  Unlike hair and eyebrows, nails (once gone) can only be covered by means of gloves, and I knew that this wasn’t practical in the summer heat.  It was yet another thing to put to the back of my mind and literally, live from day to day, not questioning what tomorrow might bring.  It certainly wouldn’t stop me enjoying every minute of my holiday, which I certainly did.  On my last evening in Spain, the three of us sat, recounting the holiday (from being stung by a jelly fish to hiring a car and being driven along the coastline by my friend the American Musketeer!) and, emptying a jug of sangria and throwing our heads up to the cloudless sky, we laughed until we cried.  So many memories, so many selfies, so much fun!

All good things must come to an end, and so it was with a sense of sadness that I hugged my friends goodbye and walked to the departure lounge the next day, ready to board my flight back to Gatwick.  Sitting, watching the gleaming white planes reflecting the afternoon sun, I looked down to see that my finger nail had come loose from my hand and was lying, pitifully on my lap.  Closing my eyes to steady myself, I picked it up and nonchalantly popped it away.  I had hoped so much that the side effects of my chemotherapy had come to an end, but this signified that the chemicals were still surging through my body, trying to stop the cancer in its wake whilst, at the same time, destroying my outward appearance, if only temporarily.  Maybe this wouldn’t have been so bad if I had believed deep down that the chemotherapy had actually been successful, but the new lump on my breast told a very different story.

In fact, it had grown in size and I could no longer ignore the fact that it felt exactly like my first tumour.  Glancing down at my diary, as the Spanish sun began to set on the horizon and I distantly heard my flight number called, I saw that the appointment with my surgeon was the very next day.  My touch down in London would not only signify the end of my carefree holiday, but would also very likely herald in unwanted, yet vital news on my health.

Taking my seat on the plane, and hearing the engines roar ready for take-off, I pictured my results sitting on the surgeon’s desk.  Was I strong enough to face them, to be told that, what I had been through over the past six months had all been in vain, and that the cancer had returned with a vengeance?  Yes, was the simple answer.  I could face it, of course I could.  No matter what might lie ahead.  It was not in my nature to curl up in a corner and begin to feel sorry for myself.

The next day, I sat in the surgeon’s office again, my palms slightly damp with both the early summer heat and nervous expectancy.  A man of little words, he took no time in confirming what I had already feared. The biopsy that they had taken the week previously confirmed that the lump in my breast was cancerous. My radiotherapy was to be cancelled and I would be sent, instead, for a full body CT scan, MRI scan, plus a bone scan and a handful of other tests.

It was true that the chemotherapy hadn’t worked, but exactly why was unknown to my surgeon.   He simply apologised and told me that cancerous cells sometimes don’t respond to chemo in the way that we would like or expect.  A sense of immediate anger filled me, not at the medical professionals, but at the cancer itself.  I had, as suspected, gone through six month of struggle for nothing.  The surgeon suggested a single mastectomy of the affected breast, which would remove the possibility of any further tumours there.  The thought of the surgical procedure that I would have to go through paled into insignificance, as it became more and more apparent that the cancer inside me was, not only aggressive, but tenacious too.  It was decided that the operation would take place as soon as the results from the scans had come through.

No matter how resolute and untiring my surgeon and his team were, there were still questions left unanswered, doubts prevailing.  As I left the office, those thoughts whirled around in my head, unable to leave me alone, yet impossible to answer.  Somewhere at the back of my mind, a tiny voice niggled, telling me that, however strong I was being, the cancer was matching that strength, defying it and trying to bring me down.  I sighed deeply.  If this was the case, there was only one thing that I could do, and that was to up my game, meet it head on and fly in the face of the very illness that was trying to destroy me.

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13 thoughts on “Girl on Top (Part 8) – Hanging in the Balance”

  1. Laura – I am continually surprised by your strength and am trying to learn about how to approach life based on your amazing example. I miss you truly friend and will see you for another adventure – all my love,

    Adam

    Liked by 1 person

  2. When I wake up I think of you I ask why this world is so unjust
    Every morning when I mascara’fi’ I think of you & sometimes that leads me to having ‘re do’ my make up..(which is also the case after reading your blog!)

    Hair, eyelashes ,nails & everything else aside you are still YOU: stunningly beautiful, amazing, funny, entertaining, determined and never a quitter.

    Love & respect always x

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Laura, your blogs are so poignant and inspirational! I remember seeing the photos from your Spain trip, but you never mentioned your pain. You are remarkable….cancer has a strong opponent!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Laura, again I have read and re-read your latest post and just felt like I was there with you by looking over your shoulder and seeing it with you in hindsight. Your beautiful nails- I know such a small piece of your overall cancer journey, but what a shock it must have been to have seen it there in your lap xx What a strong beautiful girl you are, you’re right in that rocky walk being a metaphor, and you’ve walked every step with your head held high. A true inspiration. Thank you again for sharing this with us all xx

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Seems I always had some words to say about your blog, but this time I did not. I had time to write it, but I did avoid it. Why? Maybe the words that I read in your blog that ” I was surprised at how cancer and the chemotherapy had sapped your physical strength” are not exactly my feelings. My first emotion was a shock, to see you calm and quiet taking off your wig, gently putting on my Nespresso coffee machine, slightly brushing it for tomorrow, taking care as we used to take care of Barbie dolls when we were kids. Taking make up off, cleaning your eyebrows, eyes, skin, lips. I still see the color of your skin – pale blue. Yes pale blue! No color, dry dry skin and putting a huge amount of body cream as your skin was super dry after a treatment. But you were so so quiet, it was a daily routine for you… I thought I know a lot about the cancer, but I knew nothing. I had a shock! It was a shock, that I went to the kitchen to wash dishes, even I have a dishwasher, I washed by hands all our first dinner dishes, glasses. I didn’t know what else I can do not to think, not to imagine you and your 6 month of chemo. I wasn’t ready to see you like this. I was wondering why it happened to you? As I remember you, my childhood friend was always strong, lively, active and competitive( somehow we always end up competing between each other or in games or Miss yard:-) ha ha.. I was feeling afraid, I felt fear and guilt too, that I didn’t come to see you in such an awful chemo time. The moments like, your swollen legs scared me so much, so at night I made you a bath with a lavender salt. I commanded you to sit in it filled with fresh, slightly cold water. You were very bored and cold sitting in it alone, so I sat on a toilet bucket too, to keep you company, I put a towel on your shoulders to stop you shivering, but your skin was getting more pale and seemed I could see your veins, like a body map. I still remember, I had to pull on your long support socks (as your nails were wobbly and sore )in the beach bar and how everyone was looking at us surprised, but they had no clue what you are going through. Every night I made you a bed, as mattress was in another room as it was too sore for you to drag it. I felt helpless, sad, angry, why it happened to you? But after so many scary feelings , I felt privileged, that you came to Màlaga, to my house, to spoil yourself after such a long hard chemo. Three musketeers were rocking Andalusia. We had such a wonderful time, loud laugh, visiting as many places, as I felt to compensate the time you spent at home with chemo treatment. ( I did slightly pushed your-our limits, but I knew you can do it:-)). I’m sure you are a unique person( after chemo treatment who straight away did The King’s secret pathway or climbed to the top of Frigiliana’s castle ruins( and our third musketeer had to pull you the last meters to the top). We haven’t seen each other for a decade and third musketeer I met after you arrived, but I felt that we never have been apart . Yes! So many memories, so many selfies, so much fun! The song we were paying in the car is still in my head. “I wanna dance by water near the Mexican sky
    Drink some Margaritas by a string of blue lights
    Listen to the Mariachi play at midnight
    Are you with me, are you with me?” … But I could not ignore my fear, frustration, angry feeling that you had another tumor. Saying Hasta Pronto wasn’t easy, made my throat hurt. Leaving you, to cope with another tumor, another operation, pile of medications, with a fear and worry, sadness and anxiety was a nerve racking, spine chilling, blood curdling time for me and a third musketeer. Laura you left us shaking like a leaf. I simply said very quick, See you Soon Laura. I know life will reward me with a very soon new Hello. ( Sangria, Sunshine, Trips with Musketeers awaits you here),-):-)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Laura you are one in a million,you have courage strength determination and most of all, knowing you for a short time feels we have know each other for years. You are a great example to all. Chin up. John/Venetia xx

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Laura you are such a brave person, the little I have seen or sending messages to each other, to me it looks like we have known each other for s long time. Thinking of you all the time. Be strong. John/Venetia xx

    Liked by 1 person

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