Girl on Top (Part 12) – Back With A Vengeance

As Tuesday morning dawned and the September sun rose late in the cloudless sky, I blinked the sleep out of my eyes and rubbed my sore neck.  Slowly I got out of bed, opened the curtains and stared out into the garden. The crisp leaves clung lifelessly onto the branches of the trees as the early Autumn wind made them dance back and forth almost, it seemed, at its will.

Turning away from the window I opened a large bag and began to embark on a ritual that was becoming far too familiar for me: packing for another visit to hospital.   Even though it would only be a short one, I still had to ensure that I had all the necessary belongings with me, just in case I was required to stay later than I had anticipated.

Before long, I was in the passenger seat of my cousin’s car and on my way to the minor operation that awaited me.  I was to go under general anaesthetic in order to remove the mass of blood which had congregated around my chest, and established itself as hematoma.  This was a result of my previous operation to remove the cancer which had broken through my skin.

The wind had become even stronger as we pulled into the overly busy hospital car park.  Realising that there was nowhere close-by to park, my cousin suggested that she drop me off at the entrance to save me the walk, and we briefly made arrangements.  I would call her as soon as I was ready to be picked up, which, all being well, would be that very same evening.  Taking a deep breath, I stepped out of the car and walked, as confidently as I could possibly muster, into the hospital.

In the waiting room I was immediately greeted by a nurse, who almost did a double take as she laid eyes on me.  Only four days previously, I had sat in the very same waiting room, expectantly awaiting what I had hoped would be last operation for some time to come.  I quickly explained my situation and she directed me to another nurse, who went through the operation check list with me.

As she made her way down the list, she reached one of the slightly more tricky obligatory questions:

“Are you pregnant?”

I cleared my throat “Um … no.”  I stated.

“Are you sure you haven’t been busy over the weekend?”  she laughed, as a huge smile broke over my face and I couldn’t  stop myself from laughing out loud too.

I swiftly confirmed that, unfortunately, I hadn’t been at all busy.

“Maybe next weekend, eh?” she winked, as we wrapped up the checklist and I prepared myself for my brief discussion with the anaesthetist.  More questions.  More ticking of boxes.  More forms.

I was soon taken to a bed, from which I proceeded to the operating theatre and a bizarre sense of déjà vu again filled me.  It seemed almost unreal that, within the space of a week, I was going through exactly the same thing.  Again, the necessary drugs were injected into my blood stream and, again, I fell into a deep, induced sleep.

An hour later, I awoke and was told that the operation had been a success.  The necessary blood had been drained from my chest.  I was effectively free to leave.  Reaching for my phone, I dialed my cousin’s number.  It was over.  My body had withstood another operation.  I was homeward bound.

A phone call from the breast clinic several days later confirmed that my surgeon requested to see me.  Another barrier.  Another separate appointment at the hospital lay in between the commencement of my radiotherapy.  Another unknown quantity.  As I sat in the waiting room of the breast cancer clinic with my two friends, we chatted and laughed naturally, as I was watched other patients out the of corner of my eye.  Trying to gauge how they might be feeling or what they must be going through, my thoughts snapped back to my own health.  What if the results of the skin that they had removed showed something else more sinister?  How would I cope with another blow if it was dealt me and how hard an impact would it have?

My name was called and I walked directly into the surgeon’s office, resuming my usual seat opposite him at the desk.

“Happy Christmas!” I grinned as I took my seat.

Confused, he tilted his head towards me, in search of an explanation.

“Well,” I continued “I distinctly remember you telling me that I wouldn’t t see you again until December, but here I am.”

He smiled as he drew my notes towards him and explained that the only reason he wanted to see me was to go through what they had found after the operation.  Although the cancer had been removed from my skin, the speed with which it had grown and the severity of my case meant that he wanted me to have both a bone scan and a CT scan, just to confirm that the spread had again been nipped in bud and that my body was, at present, clear of disease.

Walking back past the rows of women who lined the waiting room, I couldn’t help but wonder what fate awaited them as they were, one by one, called into the office.  I prayed that it was good news.

The rest of the week passed by uneventfully and I slowly began to relax, unwind and look forward to the trip to Norfolk which I had planned for that weekend.  The pain, although less intense, was still present, although I tried to ignore it as best I could and focus on the fun times around me.  My short break away reminded me that I truly loved the British countryside and seaside.  No trip to the Norfolk coast would be complete without going seal spotting and as the waves crashed upon the sandy shore, I breathed in the salty air and made a promise to myself that I would finish the year as positively as I could.  My radiotherapy awaited me, just around the corner and after that I would concentrate on getting my career back on track, along with anticipating the reconstruction of my right breast.  There was also another reason to smile: I had another trip planned, this time across the waters to Canada and then on to New York.   All being well, in five weeks’ time I would be strolling down Fifth Avenue and all the worries of the past year would be a million miles away.

On my arrival back home from Norfolk, a letter bearing the hospital stamp greeted me.  Quickly opening it, I realised that it was a series of dates, above which bore the word ‘Radiotherapy’.  Confused, I began to read through the letter; I had already been allocated my treatment dates, so at first I failed to comprehend why I had been sent another lot.  Then it struck me – my dates had been changed.  Scanning swiftly through them, I immediately noticed that they clashed with my vacation across the Atlantic.  Yet again, it seemed as if life was conspiring against me and, just when things were on the up, I had been hit by another complication.  After a restless night, I awoke early and made the all-important call to the radiotherapy department, bracing myself for the worst.

After a brief conversation with the receptionist, I put the phone down and slowly stretched out on my bed, taking a deep breath.  I closed my eyes, listening to the wind building up again outside my bedroom window.  At last fate was smiling on me.  The radiotherapy department had changed the treatment dates to fit in with my trip.  I was going on holiday and nothing was going to stand in my way.

A further visit to the hospital a few days later marked a prelude to my radiotherapy and I was ‘measured’ for the treatment, along with having minute dots tattooed onto the area that the radiotherapy would target.  The hospital was, one way or another, beginning to feel very much like ‘home from home’ for me, whether I liked it or not!  I knew that just over three weeks of radiotherapy five times a week would make this an actuality; however, I resolved that the treatment would be a minimal disturbance compared to the chemo that I had gone through just four months previously.  In essence, it would be a true ‘walk in the park’ in comparison.

It had been decided some weeks back that my constant trips to the hospital in order to receive my radiotherapy would mean that I would have to seek a lift most days from friends and family.  This was not only unrealistic but also inconvenient for both myself and those involved.  After a discussion with my brother, he had decided to go out and find me a little car, so I would be able to drive myself to my treatment on a daily basis, along with any other hospital appointments that I might have to get to.  My car had arrived just in time for the start of my radiotherapy and I quickly found that it was not only a convenience but also a novelty to have the freedom to just get in and drive wherever I wanted to go!

The week after my radiotherapy measurements, I had another trip to hospital, to have a bone scan and the very next day I noticed some discomfort in my chest. Within twenty-four hours, the pain was worse. On mentioning this to my brother, he immediately thought the worst and concluded that it may be connected to my cancer and, in particular, my lungs.  I laughed off his suggestion, telling him that his outlook was far too negative and that he needed to start thinking positively about things.

A few days later the pain was no better and my breathing had become slightly more labored, but I still continued to be filled with optimism, as the radiotherapy that I had waited so long for was finally to begin.  Both relief and happiness charged through me, as I walked into the waiting room and took my seat, waiting for my name to light up on the screen and be called.  As it flashed up, I smiled to myself and those around me waiting in turn for their treatment giving me slightly bewildered looks.  My treatment had been put back numerous times but now, finally, it was going to start in earnest.

Next day, I awoke to both excitement and worry.  I had been contacted by a BBC radio producer who was, that very day, looking for women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer to appear on the drive time show on Radio 5 Live.  In tandem with this, the pain in my chest was now accompanied by difficulty in breathing.  Pushing the discomfort to one side, I decided that ‘15 minutes of fame’ on the radio might be just what I needed to take my mind off things.  I emailed the producer back, and she said that she would arrange for me to speak on the national drive time show at my local BBC studio early that evening.

That afternoon saw another trip to the hospital and the CT scans carried out on my organs. As I waited to be called, I messaged the producer explaining where I was and that I might not be able to get to London in time.  The producer reassured me that she would set up a link from my local BBC studio and that I could speak from there.

Being October, it was Breast Cancer Awareness month and the diagnosis and subsequent video diary of TV Presenter Victoria Derbyshire had brought the subject to the fore with even more intensity than usual.  The drive time show had devoted a whole segment to Victoria’s story, along with adding several other voices (one of which was mine) and inviting us to comment on our journeys with breast cancer.  The interview went well and, although I was incredibly nervous, I told my story to the best of my abilities and hoped that I might, in some way, have given others an insight into the condition.  As the presenter drew the segment to its close, she had one final question for me:

“So, Laura, is everything ok for you now?  Are you clear?”

I paused, unsure of what answer to give.

“I don’t know” I began truthfully “It’s not over yet, I still maybe have a few more mountains left to climb.  I hope not, but we’ll see.”

She seemed equally as unsure in how to respond to my answer, obviously hoping that it would have been an affirmative and that I would have produced a happy ending to my story and to the feature.

“We wish you all the best for the future then.” she exclaimed as the closing music rolled and they cut to the news.

That evening, I decided to take to my computer and look up my symptoms, to see if I could shed any light on the pain that I was feeling.  After scanning several medical pages, I thought that the best course of action was to speak with my friend in Canada, with whom I was going to stay the next month.  I told him what I had read, along with my brother’s premonition that my pain was connected to the cancer.  He listened to all that I had to say, before reassuring me and telling me that I must try to stop overthinking things or be influenced by both the internet and other people’s opinions.  He concluded that it was my very positivity which endeared me to people, and that I must stay strong and optimistic.

As I lay in bed that night, my mind again raced through possible scenarios.  I knew my body well enough to realise that something was definitely not right.  I was going to the hospital the next day, for my third session of radiotherapy and I reasoned that I could either drive back home and spend another night in pain, or seek advice at the hospital.  The former seemed the easier option, but the latter was the most sensible.  I decided that the best thing was to go and see my nurse at the breast clinic and describe my symptoms to her.

I returned to work for a meeting the following morning, and, as I sat there trying hard to concentrate on what was being said, the rising pain making me feel almost heady and disorientated.  I tried desperately to focus, but a stabbing pain prevailed in the right side of my chest, every time I took a deep breath.

At lunchtime, I excused myself from the meeting and walked to my car and drove to the hospital.  As I lay on the treatment bed listening to the unusual clicks and grinding of the vast machine over my head as it whirred above me, penetrating its rays into my body.  As soon as my session was finished, I made my way to the breast clinic.

Arriving at the desk, I asked to see my nurse.  After describing my symptoms to her, she ushered me in to see the biopsy specialist, was the only available person in that day.

After running through my symptoms again, a swift diagnosis was made.  Due to my recent medical history of hematoma and the complications which had ensued, the general consensus of opinion was that I had suffered a pulmonary embolism; in short a blood clot which had been caused by the operation.  Although potentially life-threatening, this could be dealt with by an injection and tablets, although the nurse advised me that they would take me to A&E first carry out a test just to make sure that this was the case. I informed her that the day before I had my CT scan, and she swiftly went off to see whether the results had come back.

It seemed as if my run of bad luck hadn’t stopped with the last operation to the drain the blood from my chest and that another condition had blighted my recovery.  I closed my eyes, trying to shut out the stark white lights of the hospital.  Was there anything else that could possibly rear its head and stop me from somehow, sometime soon climbing the mountain back to the health that I had so readily taken for granted just a year ago?

The clickerty-click of footsteps in the hallway interrupted my thoughts.  The door opened and the nurse appeared again, her face serious, her manner somehow changed from how it had been previously.  Taking a seat beside me, she drew my hand into hers and a momentary silence engulfed us.

My head whirled; suddenly all thoughts of a pulmonary embolism had vanished and the words that I had been subconsciously dreading were about to be uttered.  I needed to somehow escape from the small room, from the sullen doctor, from the very oppression of cancer.  What was I doing here?   I didn’t belong trapped within these clinical corridors, in the company of strangers.  I belonged where there was laughter and love and light, a long way from this nightmare which, no matter how hard I tried, I simply could not shake off.  I had to speak, I had to break the silence that hung oppressively between the two of us.

“The cancer has spread, hasn’t it.”  This was not a question, as instinctively I already knew the answer.

She nodded her head and squeezed my hand.  “Yes, the scan results show that you have tumors on both of your lungs.”

It had been said.  There was nothing left to utter.  No words left to describe.  No rational thoughts left to cling on to.

It had foiled me in my tracks.  It had lay waiting for me around the corner, just when I thought that I could run clear, just when I had started to shake off the very shackles of its abhorrent existence.   This disease would not give up.  It was too strong for that.  It would hunt me to the end.

But this was not a battle that I would readily abandon, nor a struggle that I would easily relinquish.

I was now fighting for the most important and precious thing in the world to me, and that was my life.

VOTE FOR MY BLOG AT THE UK BLOG AWARDS HERE!

http://www.blogawardsuk.co.uk/ukba2016/my-entry/girl-top

 

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8 thoughts on “Girl on Top (Part 12) – Back With A Vengeance”

  1. Words fail me with your story. You are an amazing girl, so strong and so brave. You’re a fighter and nothing will deter that! Life can be so cruel, but will only throw at you, what you can deal with. You can and YOU WILL. Keep up that positivity special girl. xxx Much love xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Laura it’s tough to read this one, thank you so much for having the courage and commitment to write it. It’s so beautifully written and so immersive, that I found myself ‘losing’ myself in the story and then every so often I jolted back to reality that this is YOU, real-life wonderful YOU that this is happening to. The fact that you have organised everything that has happened into a clear timeline shows the pace of cancer- I had no idea it could all happen this fast. I am living my life differently as a result of seeing first-hand how precious our health is, which is the impact your blog has had on me. I’ve just voted for you on the best blog site, and will encourage my friends to do the same.
    I love you, see you for more belly-laughs and flirting very soon xx

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Your determination and courage are held in the greatest respect.
    Reading your blog always has the most profound effect on me (as I’m sure it does to other readers)… That’s why I need ‘quiet uninterrupted time’ to read it.
    Your sheer grit and perseverance never cease to amaze me , you enlighten us all by sharing your experience.
    Thank you Laura you are one truly special lady.
    Much love always xx

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I have just put the last few hours on hold as I absorbed myself in your astonishing blog postings, and now I feel compelled to write to you as a distant acquaintance to tell you that I think you’re the bravest and strongest women I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet (albeit from a couple of lifetimes ago). I want to say more, but am still trying to process everything I’ve just read! I wish you every bit of love and strength for the future. Ruth xx

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is heartbreaking but still you remain incredibly strong. It was amazing to spend the weekend seal spotting with you. Let’s plan the next adventure soon. Love you loads xxxx

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Laura, the only way to beat cancer is to accept the reality, embrace the pain and find the courage to move forward, one day at a time. So powerful, so strong and forceful chapter. You are an incredible girl!
    I cannot truly understand the journey you are going through. You are all but alone on this nasty road. All your friends and family are praying for you, cheering for you and desperately waiting for you at the finish line. Fight for it, go for it.
    And always remember how far you’ve come, not just how far you have to go. You may not be where you want to be, but neither are you where you used to be. Cancer changed you, It sculpted you into someone who understands more deeply, appreciates more quickly, hopes more desperately, loves more openly, and lives more passionately. Lots of love Laura!x (Voted!)

    Liked by 1 person

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