Girl on Top (Part 13) – Coming To Terms With It All

Although everything else swam around my mind, unable to be contained or made sense of, one thing was clear: my cancer was taking its vengeance and I was to be allowed little peace from it.

As I sat in the hospital, having been delivered the news that my breast cancer had metastised and spread to both of my lungs, I watched the faces of the nurses as they, in turn, observed me.  I could tell that, although they had surely been in this position before, they were trying to find the best thing to say to me whilst, at the same time, analysing what was going through my mind.

One nurse had whispered to me that I might have to spend the night in hospital, depending on my situation, a thought which I did not take kindly to.  I had arrived there just a couple of hours previously for a session of radiotherapy, alone and completely unprepared for an overnight stay.  They determined that the best thing to do was to take me to A&E, where they could check on me and take measures to control my chest pain.

As I stared at the countless notices and posters on the walls of a feeling of loneliness swamped me.  The news that I was coming to terms with had become totally internalized in my own head, with no one next to me to literally thrash it out with.  The nurses, although kindly, were strangers to me and it was therefore difficult for me to express my innermost feeling to them.  What I wanted more than anything in the world, was for someone to hold me, to joke, to take my mind off the monster that was engulfing me.

The nurse returned and asked for my car number plate, as she needed to call security and tell them that my car would be staying overnight in the car park  She also asked whether there was anyone I wanted to call.   At the mention of this, my mind snapped back to my brother; how on earth was I going to break the news to him?  I knew that I had to do it quickly, as before long he would start to wonder where I was and worry.  It was ironic to think that, only a few days before, he had suggested that my difficulty breathing and pain might be due to the fact that the cancer had spread to my lungs.  I was now going to have to make the most difficult of phone calls and tell him that he had been right.

Tears began to streak my face, as I prepared myself.  The nurse asked me whether I wanted to be left alone to make the call.  I requested that I did and she left the room, the door closed silently behind her, leaving me staring at the phone in my hand.

After I had made the phone call, my thoughts turned to my imminent trip to Canada and New York and the miles which stretched between me and American continent suddenly seemed tripled in distance.  Would I still be able to go?  What would happen if I couldn’t?  Everything had been booked and paid for and in my mind it had been a shining light at the end of a dull tunnel.

I explained my situation to the nurse and she gravely explained that it was unlikely that I would be able to make the trip.  My grip tightened on the phone in my hand: there was one more call which I had to make.   Trying to steady myself, my finger scrolled down the contact list, to my friend in Canada.  I pressed dial, closed my eyes, and waited for him to answer.

My conversation was cut short with the arrival of the nurse and a wheelchair was brought for me. For the first time in a long and emotionally draining afternoon, a small smile crossed my face.

“I’ve got a few chest pains, that’s all!”  I laughed to the nurse.  “You can’t be serious – I don’t need a wheelchair!”

She giggled slightly, as she explained that it was hospital procedure.  I relented, telling her that I would sit in the wheelchair when we get near, so she didn’t get into trouble.

As we chatted together, I asked her to be brutally honest with me and, as a medical professional, to tell me just how bad the outlook was.  She tried to avoid the conversation, but I pressed her again, explaining that I would both respect and admire her if she could tell me the honest facts as she understood them. The nurse looked me in the eye and told me that my scan results didn’t look good.  She said that she was sorry to have to tell me, but I thanked her for her honesty, explaining that I needed to know the cold, hard facts, regardless of how difficult they might be to process at this point.  The nurse hugged me, before asking me to dress in a hospital gown and then occupy the empty bed in the small room, where I completed some necessary paperwork.

I took a further thirty minutes to make all the necessary calls to close friends and family.  It was heartbreaking telling the news to my dear ones, who had been so supportive of me and who had genuinely believed that my fight was nearly at its end.  Now, I had to inform them that the battle lines had widened considerably and that another onslaught was to ensue.  My thoughts switched instantly from myself to others, as I heard the voices of my friends breaking down the line as they processed the news.

While I waited for the specialist, I also decided to pass the time by texting some of my other friends and break the news to them.  I felt as if I needed to get what had happened to me off my chest, and actually typing it in message form provided me with the best way of doing this.  I didn’t have to directly deal with anyone’s response, but the very feeling of a weight lifting from my mind as I pressed the send button, gave me both clarity and a sense of purpose.  However, I was in no way ready for what ensued and, for the next few hours, my phone lit up every other minute with texts of affection, strength and love from a wealth of friends and acquaintances.

The arrival of my brother and ex-housemates at the hospital coincided with the specialist coming in.  As I sat on the bed and he went through the notes, his brow furrowed and he explained to me that he couldn’t quite understand why I had been taken to A&E.  There wasn’t anything immediate that they could do to relieve my symptoms, and the specialist advised that the best course of action would be for me to go back home and get a good night’s sleep in my own bed.  He would then arrange for me to return to the hospital the following day to see my oncologist.  His manner seemed slightly quirky and his persona was chatty and jokey, a far cry from the normal stereotype of a doctor. He even wore jeans and a shirt and looked nothing like a specialist.

The journey home was made almost entirely in silence, with neither my brother nor myself knowing what to say to one another.  As soon as I arrived back, I grabbed my computer and looked up ‘Metastatic Breast Cancer – Lungs’.  As I pressed the search button, I closed my eyes, unsure of exactly what was waiting for me on the other side of the bright, cheerful ‘Google’ logo.  A barrage of information greeted me, and I eagerly digested as much as I could about the disease, the implications, its symptoms and treatments.

As the house fell still that night, I slowly pulled myself into bed, and drew the covers over my head.  Closing my eyes and shutting out the world around me, I fell into a deep sleep.

The next day I hung by my phone, eagerly awaiting the call that would tell me when my appointment with the oncologist would be.  A pounding raged through my head and would not subside and, at points, my vision blurred.  Finally, the call came through and I made preparations for my trip to the hospital.

I was accompanied by my friend and, whilst we drove, we talked over what had happened in the last twenty-four hours and the questions that I needed to ask the oncologist.  My late-night internet research had raised a number of issues and queries that needed answering.  As we waited in the reception area of the oncology department, we opened a notebook and began to scribble down all of the questions that we could think of.  From what I should be eating and drinking, to whether I would get the money back from my booked trip to Canada, to my life-expectancy.  No stone was to be left unturned.

My name was called and within seconds, I was sitting in the office of my oncologist, with my friend.  A nurse sat in the corner of the room, looking almost pitifully at me.  The oncologist cleared her throat and began:

“I’m afraid it’s bad news, the cancer has travelled to your lungs and is now what is termed metastatic breast cancer, which means that although you have tumours on both of you lungs, it is still breast cancer.”

“I know, it’s treatable, but not curable.” I added.  “I looked it up last night.”

Slowly, one by one, we went through all the questions, and the oncologist showed me the results of my scans and the position of the tumours on my lymph nodes and lungs.   Due to the aggressive nature of my cancer and the speed at which it had spread, she suggested that I see another specialist at a clinic in London, in order to get a second opinion.

As my treatment options were listed, the work ‘chemotherapy’ immediately came up and I gave an inadvertent shiver.  My journey thus far with cancer had been a rocky one, but the greatest personal hurdle for me had been chemotherapy.  Now, the very mention of the word filled me with a strange sense of déjà vu, along with a sickly fear.  Looking the oncologist straight in the eye, I broached the dreaded question:

“What will happen if I refuse the chemotherapy?”

Her answer was short and straight to the point:

“You won’t be here this time next year.”

I explained my ongoing fear of chemo along with the fact that it had done nothing to eradicate my cancer the first time around.  The oncologist explained that there was another option and that this would be a clinical trial at a different hospital, potentially in London.  She said that she would send my case notes to both the Royal Marsden and Barts and, in the meantime, that I was to continue with my radiotherapy treatment on the area around my right breast.  Before I left, I had one more question to ask –

“I was told that I could no longer go on my trip to Canada and the US” I explained “Is this still the case?”

The oncologist smiled before answering.

“I think they over-reacted slightly yesterday when they saw your tumours on the scan” she explained “I don’t see any reason why you can’t go.”

My heart leapt.  Regardless of what had happened over the past day, I was still going on my vacation – I was still going to NYC!   Relief and excitement flood me, the trip was still on, my dreams were still alive.

That night, as I lay in bed, I realised the date.  It was almost exactly a year ago that I had been diagnosed with breast cancer, on 13 October 2014.  Now, on 14 October 2015, I had been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, which had travelled to my lungs.  This was also just one day after UK national metastatic breast cancer day.  Statistics show that people with metastatic cancer live on average from 3 to 5 years after diagnosis, if their course of treatment works.

The following three weeks were, in many ways, the hardest weeks of my life.  To begin with, I had to both accept and come to terms with the fact that cancer was to be an overshadowing factor of my life, no matter how strong I was, or how I tried to put the thought of it out of my mind.  Now, it almost seemed as if the disease defined me; my life worked around my cancer, rather than the other way around.  Secondly, although friends and family flooded to help and I realised that I was truly blessed with so many caring people around me, the amount of conflicting advice, suggestions and alternative remedies that I had thrown my way, sent me into a downward spiral.

Some of my family began blaming the doctors for not diagnosing the disease before, whilst others sobbed and tried to picture life without me.   Deep down, I knew they cared and that there was every good intention in behind what they said, but all I wanted was peace and quiet.   Everyday became a game of question roulette, with the same questions but from different people.  I wanted to escape, but had no place to go to. I realised I was becoming more moody, upset and grumpy and, along with this, I started to get unbearable headaches and blurred and double vision.  My oncologist suggested that I have a brain scan, in order to see whether the cancer had spread  and,  in the meantime, I asked my friends and family politely to give me some space, so that I could deal with things on my own and in my own way.  Instead of being bombarded by questions on a daily basis and having to spend time answering them, I set up a Whatsapp group called ‘No news is good news’, which meant that, if no one heard from me for a while, then things were still ok and that, if I had any news to share, I would do so.

Slowly, for the first time, I got lost in my thoughts.  How long did I have left to live; what sort of treatment would I get; what quality of life was waiting for me; would I still be able to smile and stay positive?

I knew that my diagnosis was incurable, not terminal, and that I still had time, but exactly how much time, I didn’t know.  My dreams, plans, aspirations and future had been cut short.  My life had been changed forever.  There was no going back.   I still determined to stay positive for those around me and, although the weight on my shoulders sometimes crippled me, I managed to smile and laugh, and remain the person everyone wanted so see and expected me to be.  Although this was by no means a façade, I still deep down questioned my future every day.  Those around me continued to stay positive and talk of miracle cures and how I could survive anything, but I knew that this wasn’t to be the case.  At some point, the treatment (whatever that might be) would stop working and there would be no cure. These were the facts.

Although my blurred vision continued, by some small miracle, the results of my brain scan were clear and the cancer remained contained in my lymph nodes and lungs.  More good news followed this, with the confirmation that I might be eligible for a clinical trial sponsored by a pharmaceutical company at Barts Hospital in London.  I hurried up to London the day before my departure to Canada and met with the lead oncologist there, who explained that I matched all the required criteria for the trial, but that further tests were needed before I could be deemed suitable.  I was to sign the papers and, in the meantime, they would see whether my cancer fit the criteria.

Back home, I began to pack.  I was finally going, finally making the trip that I had been longing for.  In twenty-four hours, I would be on the other side of the Atlantic, away from the harsh reality of cancer and the grueling month that I had been through.  My radiotherapy was at its end and I could close the door on treatment, for now.  I could take time for myself, escape and spend two weeks with someone close.  I could recharge my batteries and unwind.  I could turn my back on the disease, all be it momentarily, and concentrate on fun and laughter, on good times and indulgence, on all the things that I had been looking forward to for so very long.

DON’T FORGET TO VOTE FOR MY BLOG AT:

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

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11 thoughts on “Girl on Top (Part 13) – Coming To Terms With It All”

  1. Oh Laura, I just can’t comprehend this has all just been in one year, and the fact you sent ME flowers this week as I’ve been down with s simple cold just sums up what s giving, loving, generous beautiful young woman you are. I love you xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You always manage to keep putting things in perspective and live for those precious moments .. Keep going dear friend.
    Remain strong.
    I’m here , whenever you need me, take me up on the offer.. Please!!

    Honoured to be one of your ‘no news is good news’ but so wish you’d lean on me a bit more ❤

    Truly amazing loveable lady xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Only you voras would think to start writing about one of the darkest chapters of your life, with such uplifting quotes!

    You use to tell me you’d write a book of your life’s adventures one day – I’m so glad I was part of some your most joyful chapters.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You’re admirable, Laura!
    ❤️ God has a plan for all of us. We don’t know His intentions with you but I humbly pray for Him to give you strength to keep going. Thank you for sharing your story.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Your blog is really good Laura – I had ovarian cancer and I understand some of what you’re going through. I really only popped in to wish you luck in the UK Blog Awards finals, but your words have moved me. Good luck with everything x

    Liked by 1 person

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