Girl on Top (Part 15) – Going Under

I had to get away.  If only for a few days.   I had to somehow touch, feel and become part of normality.  Cancer may put innumerable strains on the body, but the mind too is deluged with foreign thoughts and feelings.  How will I cope when things get worse?  What will I tell people? How will my friends and family come to terms with it all?

A break away seemed my best solution.

My friend and I scanned the internet, hoping for a weekend somewhere in the British Isles, in order for me to recharge my batteries and get back to ‘old Laura’; in short, the person that I was before cancer had so suddenly invaded my life.  After several searches, we found that a city break to a European destination was more reasonable, plus we thought that the weather may smile kindly on us in a Mediterranean setting.  Finally, we chose Rome, the backdrop of those gladiators who had fought to the death centuries ago, for dignity, honour and pride; something that wasn’t a million miles away from how I was feeling in my struggle, which was materialising into a very real battle against an incurable disease.

As our plane touched down in the Italian capital, I smiled.  Although it was still January, the warm sun glistened in the cloudless sky.  Immediately, we whisked ourselves off to the hotel and the adventures that Rome might afford us.

Three days flew by and, apart from the pain that was still gathering in my chest, neck and lower back, along with the persisting cough once the sun had set, we had the most amazing adventure.  There were times when strangers came up to me, offering assistance, or trying to point me to the nearest pharmacy in order to relieve  the almost choking sound which omitted from my lungs.  In fact, one particular onlooker insisted on patting me hard on the back; a gesture to which I urgently shook my head and asked him to cease.  People trying to help me in my plight was swiftly becoming my downfall.

Back in the UK, I endeavoured to return to work, but the sheer exhaustion that I felt in my body stopped me from going about my daily routine.  Even walking from my car to work seemed like a huge hurdle that I had to stagger through.  Instead of spending my lunch hour eating and chatting to friends, I found myself sleeping over my desk, all my energy sapped .

Slowly but surely I felt my temperature rising and realised that all was not well.  I had grown used to the aching in my bones, to the drained feeling every time I sat down and to the wheezing in my chest – but this was something new.  At 10pm on a Sunday evening, I decided to take medical advice and call ‘111’, the NHS helpline for non-emergency queries.  After explaining my symptoms, an ambulance arrived on my doorstep and took me to my local A&E.

After several hours waiting, I was told by a nurse that – due to the fact that I was a cancer patient – I would be given a bed in a ward and seen to as soon as they could find a doctor to assess me.  A few more hours slipped by and I was ushered into a small, dark room, where a previous body had very obviously lain just a short time before.  Trying to settle myself, with the temperature now roaring through my veins, I smelled the unpleasant aromas of stale smoke and body odour where other patients had been. Another four hours passed, but no news was forthcoming and my plea for painkillers was not heard.  As the dawn chorus resounded in my ears and the first shafts of daylight broke through the sullen, winter night sky,  I swiftly pulled my aching body out of the bed and returned to the reception area, where I discharged myself and left; the promise of my own bedroom too much of a temptation to resist.

I had been informed in the hospital, whilst I was waiting to be seen, that full body scans would be run the very next morning.  I understood that, by discharging myself, I had knowingly forgone the chance to have these but, at the time, the little peace and tranquility that I might have in my own home that night far outweighed the almost third-world surroundings that the NHS offered me.  For the first time, I was saddened by the state of the National Health Service; I had had so many wonderful experiences elsewhere during my journey with cancer, but finding myself in casualty on a cold, January night was a journey that I never wanted to repeat.

The next morning, my temperature was worse and I made a swift call to my nurse at the hospice, who prescribed me anti-biotics and advised me to book an appointment with my GP that afternoon.   After a brief consultation, I was advised to take the medication that I  had been prescribed and to check back if things escalated.

By the end of the week , my body felt drained and my temperature was spiking to abnormal heights.  The painkillers, although strong, were not kicking in as I had expected them to and I realised that medical help was once again required.  Again I found myself in the waiting room of the A&E department.  This time, however, things were running smoothly – the hustle and bustle of the previous Sunday night paling into insignificance against the quiet, almost tranquil atmosphere of a Friday afternoon.   After I explained my symptoms, it was decided an X-Ray and CT Scan would be run in order to ascertain if there had been any major changes in my body.

The results of the X-Ray came back almost immediately with news that was both surprising and distressing; a huge amount of liquid had accumulated around my heart, which was causing me extra pain.  The doctor advised that the best thing was for me to be admitted into hospital immediately, in order for this to be drained and for my temperature to be assessed further.

My new hospital surroundings were a sharp contrast to the small dungeon-like room which I had inhabited for several hours the previous Sunday.  I was taken to the private wing of the hospital, where I had been the summer before, whilst recovering from my mastectomy.   These extra rooms were used when there were no vacant beds in the other wards, and I was fortunate enough to be there for the second time.  As night fell, I began to consider just what the CT scan results would show.  I had a feeling deep within me that the news would not be good and that I needed to prepare myself for what may well be ‘the worst’.

My instincts were correct.

The next morning, I was moved from the private suite to the Coronary Care Unit (CCU) of the hospital, in order for the nurses to monitor my heart properly.  The amount of liquid which had been drained from my heart had been over a litre, and my doctors were keen to make sure that my heart function was still normal.  The care that I received in this unit was magnificent and the kindness and professionalism of the nurses was above and beyond.

I lay in the comfortable bed, with the sun high and bright in the February sky.  I had listened to medical professionals deliver test results so many times before and every instance seemed to yield even more disappointment, tinged with fear.  It felt as if, although my will was strong and my mind driven by thoughts of recovery, my body was far from that.  Although I had carried on, kept focussed and positive, gathered all my strength for the next battle, knockbacks were constant and becoming more and more frequent.  I had gone to hospital with a temperature only the day before, and now words that I could hardly even comprehend, let alone fully take in, were being imparted to me.

“Laura, the CT scan results show that the cancer has spread.  It has travelled to your ovaries.  Your other tumours have grown and your left, lower lung has collapsed.  You only have a quarter lung capacity left.”

I stared, unseeing, almost unhearing, into the face of the doctor.  How must he feel delivering such news to me, condemning me to a life of cancer, a future of uncertainty and fear?   My gaze flickered towards the bright morning outside the hospital, where people walked, talked, laughed, lived.  Suddenly ‘ordinary’ life seemed so very far away from me.  Although I had felt myself drifting from it for quite a time now, I had somehow been able to grasp onto the last remnants of normality.  Now I found myself rushing down a river, pulled by a torrent far stronger than me, ripped from a life that I had taken for granted, but which I held more precious than anything in the world.

The doctor continued “We will drain the liquid from your heart.  This will relieve some of the pain that you are feeling around your chest.  We also want to run an MRI scan to see why you are getting pains in your lower back.”

That afternoon I was taken for the MRI scan and also given a local anaesthetic for a small hole to be drilled through near my heart, where the liquid was drained out via a needle and tube.  A bag was then attached to the tube, and left overnight to drain any of the remaining liquid away.

I had a flurry of visitors and imparting the news to each and every person became more and more difficult.  In the end, I decided to send a group message out to all my friends, telling them what had happened and, at the same time, asking for a certain amount of space.  I still felt incredibly unwell, due to the continuing temperature, which the medical team had been unable to control, and the pain in my back, neck and left side in particular, was immense.

It wasn’t long before the cause of the discomfort that I had felt for over two months became apparent.  The results of the MRI scan brought more damning news, which shook me immeasurably.   The cancer had spread to my spine.

The very next day I was given radiotherapy in another hospital over an hour away from where I was.  The treatment targeted  my lower back and neck and I was told that it would relieve the discomfort.  My trip seemed totally alien to the journeys I had made to the same unit just under four months ago.  Now, instead of driving myself in the car, I was being taken by ambulance, and the sickness that I felt (due to both the continued temperature and effects of the radio) was taking its toll on me.  Sick bags were provided in the ambulance and I was relieved when the five daily sessions came to an end.

I had been moved to yet another ward during this time, and the care that I received there was not, in my opinion, anywhere near as good as it had been in my two previous wards.  Nurses did not bother to check on me to see whether any pain killers needed to be administered and, when I asked for my prescribed medication, I was told that they had ‘run out’.  It was a sad contrast to the warmth that I had been privileged to receive elsewhere in the hospital.

My temperature still couldn’t be explained and, as I lay in my bed, on the night of my last cycle of radiotherapy, I tried to rationalise exactly what had happened to me over the past week.  Only ten days ago, I had been at home, unaware of the extent of the cancer that was rampaging through my body.  Now the agonising truth had been uncovered and it was up to me to come to terms with a shattered future, where the hopes that I held dear were left devastated on the floor, too fragmented, too broken to ever be put back together again.  The mental strength that had carried me through for so very long, now seemed to drain from me.  I no longer felt strong, no longer felt in control or ‘together’.  For the first time, my illness was getting the better of me and I was being dragged down, not waving but drowning in the sea of uncertainty which raged around me, beckoning me under.

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14 thoughts on “Girl on Top (Part 15) – Going Under”

  1. So very sad to read this blog – so beautifully written and so very moving. Laura, you are ALWAYS in our thoughts and prayers. One can’t help but admire your frankness and courage . We send you big hugs as always and are looking forward to being with you again soon. You are an incredible lady, for sure . God bless and heaps of love xxxxxx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I find it incredible that you write your story in such a beautiful truthful way Laura. Under the circumstances you still manage to inspire us. We are thinking of you every day xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have no words to describe how I felt when reading this entry. Gentle hugs and kisses and looking forward to seeing you Saturday to celebrate your birthday. Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Laura, I know that so many people have been inspired and moved by your blog and it has been shared to lots of people. No matter the pain levels you must have been feeling, you have always maintained your poise, grace and kindness to others. Thank you so much and I hope that this week you have been able to rest and get some strength back. Love you lots, xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I wanna curse life for dealing you such s**t hand, for not giving me the courage to do what I said I would do! But that same life brought wonderful you into my life, and every…single…day…hour…I hope it has one more miracle to surprise us with…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Laura, I am sending you all the love in the world. Thank you for sharing your journey, you continue to be an absolute inspiration and shining star to all those around you. Remember how loved you are darling. Stay strong, keep going xxxxxxx

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Keep strong, Laura!!! You look so beautiful in your birthday pics ! I’m amazed how strong you are and although you are going through pain your soul still reflects its beauty in your gorgeous face. I love you even though we haven’t met and you are on my prayers. I know He listens and his plan will be greater than we all think ❤️You’re blessed Laura. Don’t lose the faith!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for sharing your experience!
    I could relate to your story.
    I am 42years old Lithuanian, in UK from 2004.
    In March, 2014 I had the brain tumour, stage 4 removed and I spent a few months in Barts’ Hospital for radiotherapy and then chemo.
    All the best wishes to us!
    Ačiū!

    Liked by 1 person

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