Girl on Top (Part 14) – Shattered Dreams

My break away in Canada and New York was everything that I needed, and more; walking in Central Park; visiting the United Nations (and getting a ‘back stage pass’ there!); riding in a horse and carriage; climbing the Empire State Building; strolling across Brooklyn Bridge; seeing the skyline via a ride in a helicopter – my trip had it all!  I was lucky enough to meet friends, both old and new, as well as spend time with my very special friend and make some wonderful memories.

Finally, I felt as if I was taking a break from my illness and that the thousands of miles which lay between me and the UK were representative of the distance between myself and the disease that had plagued me for the past year of my life.  If not for only a short amount of time, I could shed the millstone that I had carried around my neck, and be free.  No longer did I have to answer questions or explain how I felt or what was going through my mind.  I could take a deep breath, relax and enjoy.

Time flew by quickly, and the time that I spent afterwards in Canada was very precious to me.  Although I had visited the country before, this trip proved to me that maybe in a different universe, where fate hadn’t conspired against me, I could have found myself happy to spend a lot more of my life there.

The moment finally came when I had to say my goodbyes, unaware of when or where I would see my special friend again.  However, I had recharged my batteries and, as my plane touched down at Heathrow, I concluded that I felt like ‘normal Laura’ again.  No longer a victim of cancer, nor a patient.  Just me.

Back in England, I waited for news of whether I had been accepted on the immunotherapy trial at St Bart’s hospital in London.  Samples had been sent to the necessary people, and tests had been run.  I I felt as if I were waiting for the outcome of a highly important job interview; in short it seemed as if my immediate future depended on it.  I waited nervously for a phone call, an email, a letter – some kind of affirmation.  Two weeks later, I received a reply.  I had been accepted.  My place on the trial was confirmed and, with it, a vision of a better, brighter future.

Exhilarated, I prepared myself for my impending treatment at St Bart’s Hospital in London.   The programme would run much the same as my previous chemotherapy had done earlier that year, and I would make the journey to the hospital every three weeks, in order to have the drug intravenously  fed into my body.   A month previously, I had signed the necessary papers which had stated that I was willing to be part of the immunotherapy trial, which was funded by a US pharmaceutical company.  The trial was new in its field and targeted the immune system, as opposed to the actual cancer.  I had read much about this treatment, and the publicity that it had received seemed very positive.  Up to 94% of patients who had been given a similar therapy had gone into remission.  My hopes were high and my faith in cancer treatment restored.

Filled with mental strength, refreshed and ready to face the next step of my journey, I boarded the train to the capital.   Almost immediately, my phone lit up with a call, showing a London number.  Frowning, I answered it, unsure of just who would be contacting me.

“Hello Laura, this is the oncology department at Bart’s,” a voice began down the line “Have you left for the hospital yet?”

“Yes,” I answered, confused “I’m on the train.  Is everything all right?”

There was a pause, before the nurse on the other end answered.

“Err, yes – everything’s fine.  We’ll see you in a short while.”

St Bartholomew’s Hospital is the oldest hospital building in Britain (first founded in 1123, just a short distance from where the hospital now stands) and it is as magnificent today as it was when its main square was first designed back in 1730.  As I walked along the London streets, in the shadow of St Paul’s, my mind filled with a sense of focus.  None of the previous fear that I had felt as I embarked on my first steps of chemotherapy impeded me now.  I had been informed by the oncologist who was conducting the trial that the side effect s would be minimal and that the nausea that had haunted me just six months previously, along with the deep aching in my bones, would not be apparent during this treatment.

Arriving at the reception desk, I checked in and took a seat in the large waiting room.  Unlike so many of the previous hospitals I had been in, St Barts felt more like a grand airport, or an airy continental hotel, than a place of medicine.  I marvelled at the glass walkways and wide corridors, which held no sense of the normal trepidation associated with hospitals.  This was to be my one hope, my light at the end of the tunnel, my saving grace.

“Laura?”  A voice jolted me out of my thoughts and I turned my head to see a nurse smiling at me.  “Would you like to come with me for a moment please?”

Following her down the shiny hall towards a small room, I sensed that something was not quite right and that the previous call from the hospital may have had something to do with this.

Shutting the door, the nurse cleared her throat and began.

“I’m afraid there’s been a mix up with your date of birth in the States, which is where all the main administration for this trial takes place.  We need to wait for them to respond before we can proceed.  I’m afraid it’s still very early in the morning there, and so it will take a few hours before they can process our request.   If you can come back this afternoon, we can hopefully begin your treatment then.”

I shrugged, giving the nurse a half-smile.

“Don’t worry,” I began, in a resigned manner “Nothing’s ever easy when it comes to me.”

Three hours later, I was back in the hospital and the treatment was being fed into my arm.  As I closed my eyes and breathed deeply, my mind drifted back to my holiday across the Atlantic.  Would I ever make a long-haul trip abroad again?  Travelling was my passion and the very thing that made the blood flow through my veins and my mind whirl with excitement.  The idea that I might not be able to go on another adventure was an unthinkable one.

My phone buzzed with a message.  Slowly exhaling, I opened my eyes and picked it up.  I had received lots of texts and emails that morning, wishing my luck with the new treatment, and I assumed that it was going to be another kind message of hope.  The email which greeted me made me take a sharp intake of breath and I had to steady myself, as I blinked my eyes and re-read what was in front of me.  It was from the international director of my company, asking if I would like to make a trip to Singapore for two weeks in February, to help with the business over there.   Calling a nurse over, I asked whether I would be able travel abroad whilst on the trial.  She smiled, as she replied that she didn’t see why not.  Hardly able to contain my excitement, I began to compose my reply in the affirmative.  I was going to go back to the city I loved, to see my friends again, to carry on from where I had left off.    I may have begun my day with a small setback, but fate was now smiling on me.  I had Singapore in my sights, along with my first dose of immunotherapy under my belt.  Anything was possible now.

In my excitement, I decided to text my special friend in Canada to share the news, as I always had.  I also wanted to find out whether, with Christmas drawing near, he might like to come to the UK and celebrate with me.   His manner seemed a little more cold than usual, although he was extremely happy for me.  For some reason, I felt that, deep down, neither his heart nor his head were where mine were in our relationship.   Wanting the truth, I asked for honesty, feeling that things were shifting between us and that I was having to push to ask certain questions that should have come easily.  I either needed someone to support me all the time, or a long distance ‘friend’ – the choice was clear.  A week later I received his reply.  He had decided that ‘friends’ was best.  My heart sank.  A huge void had been left in my life after a year and a half of closeness.

As Christmas drew near, so too did my next cycle of treatment.  The oncologist had been right; although a little tired, I generally felt fine, and my side effects were minimal.  I spent my time back at work and meeting up with friends for some festive cheer.  Although I didn’t feel nauseous in any way, I had begun to notice that my cough had worsened, especially at night, and that my back and neck had started to ache slightly.  I shrugged these symptoms off as best as I could; they were nothing in comparison to the side effects of the chemo.

Christmas day was spent with my brother, sister-in-law and little niece in true Lithuanian style.  Lots of wonderful  food, drink, laughter and fun.  I also managed to catch up with my cousin and his family and, although my lungs were now hurting me twice as much as before, and the cough was taking hold of me in the evenings, I managed to have a truly good time with them.

Just before New Year’s Eve, a new pain became apparent to me; my neck and back ached even more and so I decided to seek the advice of a chiropractor.  I assumed that all of the coughing I had been doing had somehow jarred my body and affected my back.   I also thought that the side effects of the treatment may have caused the discomfort which I felt, and so tried to deal with them without worrying.

In early January, just before my third cycle of immunotherapy, I was given a scan on the lymph nodes in my chest along with my lungs.  This was to determine whether the treatment had halted the cancer in its tracks or if it had developed in any way.  I had been told by the trial’s oncology team that if the scan results showed that the tumours had become enlarged, it could mean that they were swollen simply due to the treatment.  This was a possible side effect and the team assured me that they would continue the programme regardless of this.

A week after my scan, I boarded the train and made my way to St Bart’s, for what was becoming an almost routine journey for me.  The remnants of Christmas still hung, almost sadly, around the great city.  Drooping Christmas trees stood, uprooted and alone in alleyways, waiting to be taken away by the bin-men, whilst the mini-supermarket just around the corner from the hospital displayed an array of heavily discounted Christmas cards and wrapping paper.  Even the cinnamon frappuccinos advertised in the window of the coffee shop held little interest to passers-by now.

Climbing the steps leading up to Barts, I took a breath and prepared myself for my blood test which preceded the third cycle of the treatment, scheduled for the very next day.  A sharp pain hit my right side and I doubled slightly in the cold, winter air. Coughing, I tried to steady myself, clinging onto the railings, trying to fill my lungs with air.  Slowly, as if coming to the surface of a murky river, I breathed in and then out again, the pain stabbing deep into my lower back.  Quickly, I walked through the door, into the warmth of the hospital and towards the oncology department.

I tried to take my mind off the discomfort and, as I walked down the corridor, which was now familiar to me, thoughts of Singapore filled my mind.  As long as I had a focus, I could get through whatever pain came my way.  I would be strong and look to the future.  This was not only what I expected of myself, but what others anticipated of me too; a belief which sometimes could be a curse as well as a blessing.   Although I was used to being strong (both for others as well as myself) my resolve only took me so far and, in my darker days, I needed to be given free rein to become vulnerable, if only for a little time.

As I sat again in the waiting room, I decided that I would tell the team about my on-going pain and see if there was anything that they could do to help relieve it.  My name was called by a nurse and I was accompanied into the oncologist’s room.  I frowned, unsure.  This was not usual procedure when giving blood.  Something was wrong.   Bewildered, I took a seat, as she sifted through the papers she had in front of her.

“Laura, I’m afraid that the scan results have shown that your right lung has completely collapsed and that the tumours have doubled in size.  We cannot be certain, but we believe that if you continue the immunotherapy treatment with us, it may be detrimental to your health and your other lung may suffer.”  she paused, as I took in exactly what was being said  “I’m afraid you can no longer continue on the trial.  I’m sorry, but we feel that the treatment isn’t working.  We will refer you back to your local health trust immediately, so that you can begin your course of chemotherapy with them instead.”

I had been dealt many blows during my time grappling with cancer, but this was the most damaging of them all.  My one hope, the promise that I had so eagerly clung to, had been pulled violently away from me, when I had least expected it.   For the first time, I broke down in front of a medical team.   A collapsed lung, I could deal with, but being excluded from the trial, I could not.   The very assurance that had kept me going over these past few months, had driven me on, had made me fight through the ever-increasing pain, was now gone, in one single sentence, one small utterance.  My hope was lost.

Somehow I found my way out of the grandeur of St Bart’s and onto the cold, now dark, streets which led me back to the station.  Commuters bustled past me, in their eagerness to get home, as the sharp, bitter evening air stabbed at my lungs.  Reaching the station, I fought for a seat on the train amongst overweight business men, clad in pin-striped suits, their faces furrowed in frowns.  Oblivious to it all, I stared out of the window, at the black, starless, night sky.  Tears streaked my face, as slowly the train pulled out of the station leaving London behind, and with it all my dreams of a cancer-free future.

 

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7 thoughts on “Girl on Top (Part 14) – Shattered Dreams”

  1. My dear Laura, heartrending to read and so beautifully and painfully written. Thank you for sharing this most intimate journey with us all. See you tomorrow, love you xx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your strength, inner beauty and bravery are other-wordly; in short you are one in a million. Once in a lifetime we come across someone like you, Laura. You touch the hearts of others and will go on doing so, long after your story has been told. Love you xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My dearest Laura
    You are amazing! I dont know how you have found the strength to deal with this very difficult pain you are allowed to protest and cry from time to time its the only way we humans can carrie on when our mind body and soul is put to the test. Love u always Joxxxxxxxxx

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Dear Laura, as the tears keep flowing, I find it so hard to know what to say! Sharing your inner most thoughts and feelings with us is truly admirable. You are one in a million and your courage and strength is exceptional. Love and thoughts with a big fat squish of a hug. xxx 😘🙏🏻🙌

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Stiprybes noriu tau palinketi,Laurute ir Dievo malones,kuri yra tikra ir visa apimanti. Stebuklu buna.Meldziuosi uz tave.
    Apkabinu tave.
    Inesa,tavo vaikystes drauge ir kaimyne.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Dear Laura,
    I’ve been following your posts and the more I read and get to know you more through this, the more I admire you and learn so much from you. You make me appreciate life and I love you for sharing your story. You don’t know how much positive impact you make in other people’s life. My aunt has cancer and when I translated some of your posts to her she felt she was not the only one struggling. You helped her carry on and I’m very thankful for that. Your strength and perseverance truly inspire me and other people who are suffering not only with health problems but with life obstacles, and you know what? that’s priceless. Nobody will ever know what you exactly went and are going through but I’d like to tell you from here, that God is always with you. Don’t ever forget that. He’s always there even in our “worst” moments. Keep strong and remember God has a plan for each and everyone of us. You’re on my prayers and I mean it ❤️.

    Liked by 1 person

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