All posts by Girl On Top

Looking cancer in the eye and taking it head on.

Girl on Top (Part 16) – Standing on the Top

After two weeks of being hospitalised and the cause of my spiking temperature still unknown, it was concluded that something more sinister might be at work and that I may have somehow contracted the H1N1 virus, commonly known as Swine Flu.

I was held in a private room at the hospital, whilst test were run, and any visiting friends and family were instructed to wear protective clothing before they could see me, which included a gown, face-mask and gloves.  It seemed almost laughable that, along with the cancer that was wreacking havoc with my body, I might also have a separate disease fighting against me.  Regardless of having to go along with the hospital formalities and adhering to procedures as best I could, I somehow knew that I hadn’t contacted the virus and that the temperature was purely down to my cancer.  At one point during my stay in ‘quarantine’ I had some delicious oriental food smuggled into me, which had been provided by a friend of mine who worked in a restaurant!  We all sat in my hospital room, filling our mouths with the wonderful tastes, my friends lifting their face-masks up in order to tuck in!

Just under a week after I was suspected of contracting the virus, the results finally came back showing that I was clear of any strains of the disease. It was only a small victory, but a happy one.  It was decided that the best course of action would be to transfer me to the local hospice, where I could build my strength ready for my birthday party, which lay just around the corner.

The Hospice in the Weald is set in peaceful countryside, just outside Tunbridge Wells, and, on my arrival there, I knew that my stay was going to be a very happy one indeed.  The true kindness and warmth that surrounded me was inspirational and for this I will always be grateful.   As soon as I was admitted, I began to prepare for the party – for me this wasn’t going to be any other birthday, but a time for mass celebration with my friends and family from near and far.  My only fear was that I wouldn’t be well enough when the time came to enjoy it.

The team at the hospice knew that my goal was to regain strength in time for my party and they did everything they could to encourage me to reach it.  From helping me to gain psychical vigour, to assisting me with day to day tasks, the staff were incredible.  Even when I desperately needed to find a dress for the celebration, having lost two stone very quickly, the owner of the local boutique, Kitch, arranged for dresses to be brought to the hospice in order for me to choose one.  She was one of the wonderful volunteers, who went above and beyond in her duty of care to the residents there.

The day of my birthday dawned and, as I awoke, I surveyed the peaceful landscape outside my window.  Although the sky was cloudy, the day was warm for that of mid-March.  The green fields which stretched beyond my vision, gave way to an oast house on the horizon, capturing the soul of the Kentish countryside beautifully.  I yawned before slowly beginning to lift myself from the bed, apprehensive of exactly how I would feel when my feet touched the floor and I gained my balance.  Standing, I took a breath; so far, so good.  I breathed deeply again, but this time a huge sigh of relief.  There was no sickness or weakness – this day was certainly going to be one to remember and I would do everything in my power to make my birthday party the greatest imaginable.

At 5pm, my brother collected me and drove me to his house where I began to prepare myself for the party.   Three hours later, I stepped out into the chilly but clear night.  My dress fitted me perfectly and this, coupled with opaque tights and ankle boots, made me feel as if I really was Cinderella about to go to the ball.  During the short drive to the venue, I silently questioned exactly how many of my friends and family would be there.  I knew that family members had flown over from Lithuania to be with me, but how many of my British friends had been able to make the party was still unknown to me.

As I carefully opened the door of the party room, my heart leapt with joy; I could barely believe the vast amount of bodies packed into one space.  Over eighty people smiled at me, and a huge cheer went up to greet me, as I stepped over the threshold.   I steadied myself; this really was a dream come true and more than I could have ever hoped for.  I knew that I was going to have the night of my life!

Amidst the joyous dancing, laughter and wondrous food, my friends gave me a present that was as equally amazing as the party itself; tickets to see Adele on her tour at the O2 Arena.  I could hardly believe my eyes, as I gazed upon the tickets in my hand, presented in a huge card signed from all of my friends.  I had regained my strength both physically and mentally for my party, but now I had another goal to aim for in only a few days time.  I had to make sure that I was still strong for the concert, and I would do everything that I could to make that happen.

Although the celebrations were physically draining on my body, I made sure that I stayed at the party until the very end, and even danced to my favourite Lithuanian song into the early hours of the morning.  I truly felt like a celebrity; so many people wanted to have their photo taken with me, and to sit and chat for a little while.  I returned to the hospice shattered, but also overcome with happiness.  I had made it.   My 35th birthday had been the most special of my entire life.

Three days later, I awoke to the spring light peeping through the curtains of my room.  Again, I steadied myself, took a breath and tried to ascertain exactly how I felt.  I realised that, although I didn’t feel as good as I had done the previous Saturday, I was still ready mentally to take life by the horns and make the journey to the O2, to see my favourite artist.  I had waited so long to see Adele live and my illness was certainly not going to stop me from completing my birthday celebrations in style.

The concert was utterly incredible and everything that I could have wished for.  Although my legs were not strong enough to hold me, I was pushed around the arena and surrounding areas in a wheelchair, finally taking my seat at a balcony quite close to the double stage where the performance took place.  Adele’s beautiful voice, mixed with her cheeky sense of humour, kept me enthralled to the very last note.  I left with a broad smile on my face; my two dreams having come true in the space of just a few days.

The year yielded an early Easter, and Good Friday brought with it a beautiful spring day.  As I eased myself slowly out of my bed at the hospice, and prepared myself for my usual bath, I ran through the day’s itinerary.  I was to visit the local hospital and tests would be run on me, to determine whether the cancer had spread and the plan of action which needed to be taken.

After a short journey to the hospital with my old house mate, the necessary tests where run; a CT scan on my head, lungs and other organs.  My friend drove me back in her car, and we busied ourselves by reminiscing on old times.  On my arrival at the hospice, I made myself comfortable in my room, and said goodbye to my friend.  However, just as she was turning the corner on her way down the corridor, my doctor approached her, asking her whether she could stay with me for a bit longer.  The results of my CT scans had come back, and he wanted to discuss them immediately, with her by my side.

A sense of fatality filled me.  I had been in this situation so often in the past eighteen months, but I somehow knew that this would be the very last time I would have words of regret delivered to me by a medical professional.  I braced myself and listened, as my final diagnosis was recited.  The CT scans had shown that the cancer had gone to my brain.  In short, the disease had now totally assaulted my body, creeping and seeping into every crevice of my anatomy, storming through my organs with a vengeance and wrecking any hopes of survival that I might have had left.  Slowly, I turned to my friend, speechless. In silence, we wept, our hands intertwined, our faces stained with tears.  There was nothing more that I could do – no more fight that I could put up.  It was over.

I lay in my bed that night, the silence of the hospice engulfing me.  I closed my eyes, tying to comprehend what I now faced.  What if it happened tonight and I didn’t wake up the next morning?   The very fact that my body was swiftly giving up on me scared me the most.  I was no longer in control of it and I could no longer dictate to it as I had done all my life.  Up until this point, I had been able to regulate my body in one way or another.  Now, finally, it was governing me.  There were things that I needed to plan, small but vital tasks that I needed to complete.  I assessed the situation and made a decision, I would spend the next few days getting my affairs in order.  Once these were taken care of, I could breathe a steady sigh of relief.

Easter Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday brought clouds and rain, but regardless of the weather, I spent a few very happy days in the company of my friends, brother, sister-in-law and little niece.   As she skipped around, her mouth covered in chocolate, her thoughts on Easter bunnies and yellow chicks, I smiled.  I knew that I would not see her grow into the kind and beautiful girl that I knew she would be, but her happiness around me was enough.

The next day, I embarked on making sure that everything was just as I wanted it to be.  Suddenly, a huge wave of relief engulfed me; I knew that my ending was near, but I also knew that I had said everything that I needed to say, and done everything which needed to be done.  My party had been one last, wonderful celebration of my life; a happy farewell to those I held dear.  I sat down and  wrote a letter to my family and friends, trying to express from my heart exactly how I felt for when the time came and I was no longer with them.  Sealing it, I drew a breath; it was all done.

I started writing this blog nearly eight months ago, blissfully unaware of the future, full of hope, dreams and determination.  Now the time has come for me to conclude my last entry and I would like everyone who has read and supported it to know how I now feel.

I am standing at the top of a mountain, looking down.  I see laughter and tears, happiness and heartache, bravery and weakness.  I see every one of my friends faces, as they cheered and danced at my party.  I see the familiar forms of my family in Lithuania, as I last remember them, the summer sun shining down on them, content and carefree.

I may have felt a certain amount of trepidation in the past few weeks, but this has left me now.  Maybe long ago I sensed that my life would be short and that I had to pack as much as I could into it.  I travelled the world with haste, as if I somehow recognised the dark shadow of cancer lying in wait for me, unseen, just around the corner.  Perhaps deep down I realised that, one day, it would finally catch up with me.

So here I stand, looking down at the good times, the bad times, the sunshine and the rain.  I have lived my life without fear, and I will continue to do so until the last.

I would like to thank everyone who has brought me joy and who has enriched my life, be it just for a fleeting time, or for longer intervals.  I will spend my last weeks safe in the knowledge that I am loved deeply by my friends and family and that, in return, I love you all too.

Remember me sometimes, when you feel the warm breeze in your hair, when you laugh and dance to your favourite tunes and when you  celebrate the good times with those close.  I am walking in the Lithuanian countryside, I am strolling on a beach in Malaga, I am exploring the heady skyscrapers of Singapore, and I am no longer afraid.

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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.

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.

 

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.

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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.

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Girl on Top (Part 11) – Feeling the Pain

I stood at the mirror, undecided.  Were the marks at the front of my right breast simply scar tissue, or something more sinister?  The scar that I had sustained after the mastectomy of my right breast, curved all the way from under my right armpit to the very middle of my rib cage and, although I had administered Bio Oil every day, it still looked quite fierce to the untrained eye.

After deliberating even more, I decided that a second (and maybe even third) opinion was called for.

Baring the mark to my friend, she was as unsure as I.  It certainly looked like scar tissue as, at close inspection, it crept its way inoffensively out of the long line across my right breast, almost seeming to form part of the scar that bore testimony to my operation six weeks earlier.  However, there was a niggling feeling that it looked different to the bold scar which traced the outline of where my breast once sat.  A feeling that it somehow sort both attention and confirmation, regardless of however small and insignificant the mark might seem.

Seeking further affirmation, I decided that the best course of action was to call my breast care nurse who would then, if necessary, forward me on to my surgeon.

I am not someone who creates unnecessary scenarios out of nowhere; in short, I am not a drama queen, or a person who craves attention from the smallest ‘incident’.  Although something, somewhere told me that this was more than just a gut feeling and that this was something to be concerned about.

A few weeks previous to this I had sat, carefree, with my friend in the late summer sun, sipping wine and discussing, among other things, how my cancer had impacted on my life to date. After a few giddy glasses in the evening twilight, we had broached the subject of my mother’s premature death and my reaction to both that and my impending disease. My friend had pressed me as to what I foresaw in my future, to which I had unabashedly answered that I didn’t see a future further than a few years down the line.  This declaration wasn’t meant in a morose or disheartened way, but simply a statement of my innermost feelings.  I had no boyfriend and no children who depended on me; in short, there nothing which I could honestly say demanded my attention somewhere ‘down the line’.  My friend reasoned that she too was in the same situation, but I somehow rationalised that (without wanting to seem pompous or racked with self-doubt) my gut feelings told me that things happen for a reason, and that this was very much a feeling of que sera sera …

The next day, my nurse called me to confirm an appointment with my surgeon at the hospital and I again found myself in the waiting room of the breast clinic.  As I walked in, the receptionist greeted me almost like an old friend, there being no need for me to tell her my name, even though I had not seen her for some months.  On being summoned to the surgeon’s room, he too welcomed me with a smile:

“You can’t keep away from this place, can you?” he joked, as he gestured to the seat next to his desk.

“I just thought you might be missing me” I smiled, as I sat down next to him.

After I had explained the marks that I had seen, the surgeon examined me and concluded that he thought that the most likely cause was scar tissue.  As I had already experienced complications with the cancer penetrating my skin, my surgeon thought it best for me to have an ultra-sound, which showed that all was as it should be under my skin and that there was no cause for alarm.  Just to be completely sure, he also took a punch biopsy on the area, to give me peace of mind.  Usually, this would have been taken in another part of the clinic but, as it was busy that day, my surgeon decided to do it himself, accompanied by an American nurse whom I had not met before.  As she began to explain the procedure to me, I caught my surgeon’s eye, and we started to laugh.

“It’s fine, I already know the procedure, I’ve experienced it once … or twice” I told the nurse, who was unsure as to why we were giggling.

“I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing” she smiled, as she began to assist with carrying out the painful process.

A week later, I returned to the hospital for the results.  Over that time, I had noticed that the red mark that I had caught sight of ten days previously had spread even more, and now looked like the small branch of a tree growing out of my scar line.  I resigned myself to what I had first thought; I knew what the results of the biopsy would be.

Sitting across the desk from my surgeon once more, he sighed before beginning.  Interjecting, I cleared my throat and told him that I was aware of what he was about to tell me: the cancer had returned again.  He solemnly confirmed my suspicions and continued to examine my scar and the mark, becoming increasingly surprised at how large it had grown within the space of a week.  Measuring it, he conveyed to me that it had more than doubled in size, and began to make small points of reference on my skin where he would soon operate to remove the cancerous area.

It was now my turn to express surprise, as he asked me whether I could take the following day off work, for the small operation to be performed.  Taken aback, I agreed and told him that I would arrange for cover at work, in order for the operation to take place.  The procedure wouldn’t be a long one, but would involve the removal of the infected skin, and would be conducted under general anesthetic.

As I sat back with my surgeon at the desk, and he began to make notes in preparation, a sense of shock overwhelmed me.  Although I had already known that the sprawling mark on my chest was more than just scar tissue, to have this confirmed in the cold light of day, felt like a physical slap in the face.  Another operation.  Another cancer.

Questions rushed through my head, like an express train and I fought to compose myself and structure these into a sentence.  How had this happened again and was it because I had not started my radiotherapy sooner?  Deep down, I felt that my surgeon was thinking exactly the same things, but I knew that, as a matter of course, he wouldn’t express this to me, as it might in some way highlight negligence on his part.  As he was straining to answer, another thought clicked in my head: what would happen to my radiotherapy that was scheduled to begin in four days?  Would this again have to be pushed back further?  The surgeon explained that, even though my scar might be sensitive, I should still go along for my first session, as it was critical that this treatment start as soon as possible.

My journey home gave me time to compose myself and try to answer some of the other questions that still raced around in my mind.  I was due to move house in a few days’ time, which would mean the very day after my newly planned operation, yet this now seemed both hectic and totally unrealistic.  The fact that I was about to have an operation, move house and then begin radiotherapy in the space of three days was an insane and grueling agenda for one single person.  I would have to deal with it as best I could.

As soon as I got home from the hospital, I began packing and continued into the early hours of the morning.  On waking, I resumed filling boxes right up until 2pm, when I grabbed the essential pieces required, and made my way to the hospital for my operation.

This was third time in a less than a year that I would be going under anesthetic to have another procedure performed on my body, to try and eradicate the cancer which seemed to laugh in the face of modern medicine and continue to seep its way through my veins. On my arrival at hospital, I was greeted by my surgeon who told me in a lighthearted manner that this would be the very last time that he would operate on me.  I smiled back, conveying that he must be fed up with me by now and that he would probably never want to clap eyes on me again!

Sitting in the waiting room, I prepared myself for the operation in hand.  Before long, I was again lying on a bed, as I had done three times previously, this time chatting to a lovely nurse while waiting for the anaesthetist.  As we waited and observed the comings and goings of the busy hospital, I bombarded the nurse with questions.  Exactly what surgeons and nurses talked about in the operating theatre had always fascinated me; did their chats, for example, mirror those from Grey’s Anatomy?  To my disappointment, she informed me that only operating procedures were discussed, along with in-depth explanations if a young practitioner was present.  Before long, my anaesthetist appeared and told me, as he was administering injections, that I was to be the last operation of the day.  My surgeon had made room for me on the end of his busy operating schedule, in order to ensure that the cancerous area growing from my scar was removed as soon as possible.  As the anaesthetist spoke, his profile above me suddenly became a blur and I found myself floating like a feather on the wind, and falling into a deep, deep sleep.

Nearly two hours later, the nurse wakened me, and my surgeon visited to ask how I felt.  My mind, although still anaesthetized, somehow snapped into thinking and, ignoring his question, I told him that he had been wrong in what he had said previously.

“You know, this isn’t my last operation with you” I stated, as I shifted in the hospital bed, trying to shake the remains of the anaesthetic off.  “You will have to operate on me again and hopefully soon.”

My surgeon’s brow furrowed slightly and a look of concern played on his face, before I continued:

“You’ve got to do the reconstruction, remember?  I still want my new boobs!”

He smiled and assured me that, as soon as my radiotherapy was complete, he would assess the situation.  However, he was determined not to see me until my formal appointment with him in December.

“In that case, I’ll see you at Christmas and hopefully you’ll have a present for me.” I joked.

After a few hours, in recovery, I found myself completely alone in the ward.  The second hand of my watch ticked slowly by, and soon it was 6pm.  Looking out of the window, I watched the late summer sun slowly beginning to set.  The bustling hospital seemed somehow more quiet and tranquil than it had when I first arrived in the early afternoon.  My friend was due to pick me up at 8pm, and so I spent another few hours chatting with the nurses, as they came and went.  Surprisingly, the pain that I felt as the anaesthetic cleared, was far more than I had encountered in my previous operations, even though these had been a lot longer and the procedures somewhat more complicated.  I resolved that pain killers would soon sort this out and that, the most important thing, was getting home, continuing with my packing and then implementing my big move the very next morning.  Although the thought of what I had to do spiraled in front of me, like a never ending upward staircase, I could see somewhere at the end of it, my comfy bed the very next night, safe in the new surroundings of my brother’s house.

Arriving back home at 9pm, I looked around my room, which was now adorned with cardboard boxes piled high.  Trying to snuggle down in my bed, a sense of sadness suddenly overwhelmed me, as I shut my eyes and tried to block out the negative thoughts that danced before me in the darkness.  The pain was still strong, even though I had taken a number of prescribed tablets, and this, along with my resistance to leave the house, was morphing into something which was difficult to shut out.

I had lived with my two best friends for over three years now, and we had made so many happy memories together.  However, my planned departure for Singapore the previous year had meant that my room would have become vacant.  With my housemate giving birth to her beautiful baby boy in spring, it was now time for her to return to work, and it had been decided that her mother would come and stay, to look after the new addition.

Deep down, I always knew that this moment would come, but it didn’t make my departure any easier.  We had been through a lot together and my housemates had played a very important part in my life.  They had been through everything with me; my ups and downs, my tears and laughter, my unsuccessful Tinder dates and my triumphs in love.  My career, my cancer, my chemo … the list went on.  Secrets to cherish and memories to share forever.

As the sun crept its way slowly up into the untroubled, cloudless sky the very next day, I carefully stretched in bed and cautiously registered the pain.  It was still unnervingly bad, although I had hoped that the rest (although fitful) might have done my aching body some good.  However, today was the day of my move, and I was determined (with the help of my brother, cousin and housemates) to make sure that it went without a hitch.

On my arrival later that day at my brother’s house, a certain sense of trepidation filled me.  As I sat on the floor of my new bedroom, unpacking my belongings and trying to find them new homes, I questioned how things would be, living with my brother, his wife and their small daughter.  The restful night that I had been so looking forward to, still seemed a million miles away.  Although I had only been in the new house for a few hours, I found myself missing my old room and this, in tandem with the immense pain that I was still feeling in my chest and neck, began to make things unbearable.

And so I was proven right; another sleepless night followed, as the discomfort became worse and my mind continued to work overtime, as my eyes flicked in the darkness from one side of my new room to the other.

Next day, I awoke to find that the right side of my neck was swollen and the mass under my new scar moved around to my touch.  There was also substantial bruising to my right side and I was unable to lift my arm any higher than my waist.  My first thoughts were that of alarm, not because of the pain that I was in, but because I feared that my swollen state might stop me from commencing my radiotherapy which was just one day away.  I decided that I would go to the hospital regardless, and see whether they would give me the treatment.

That evening, I spoke to my friend in Canada via Skype.  A sense of sadness and upset still prevailed and, unlike before, I found that I was being pulled down and could see no way out.  Perhaps the pain made my emotions worse as it was as if, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t shake off the intense feeling of being dragged into what seemed like a bottomless pit.  To brighten my mood, we spoke about my newly-planned  trip over to see him in Toronto, which I had booked just a few weeks previously.  Trying to lift my spirits even higher, I suggested a couple of days in New York along the way, to which he agreed.  Considerably cheered up by thoughts of holidays and travel, my mood brightened a little and, as I laid my head on the pillow for the second night in my new bedroom, thoughts of the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty and Central Park, eradicated the pain which engulfed me.

As rain pattered against the pane of my bedroom window the next morning, a wave of soreness hit me and I immediately reached out to feel my swollen neck.  My radiotherapy was due to start within the space of a few hours and I was determined to proceed with it.  Grabbing my phone, I called my breast care nurse, to ask her if I could see someone before my treatment began, to check up on my swollen neck and painful side.

On my arrival at the hospital, my nurse saw me straight away and directed me to another breast surgeon who was in clinic that day.  After a swift examination, she concluded that I had contracted Hematoma, which is a localized collection of blood outside the blood vessels, usually manifesting in liquid form within the tissue.  It explained the pain, bruising and swelling along with the strange sensation of feeling a mass moving around under my skin.  The surgeon decided that she did not want to hang around and, to avoid another general anaesthetic, she explained that she would open my wound up there and then in the clinic and try to drain as much blood out as possible.

Calling in my breast care nurse to sit beside me, the surgeon began to prepare to deal with the blood that had manifested itself in the region of my wound, armpit and neck.  As the instruments were prepared, I tried to relax and joke that my previous surgeon must have definitely had enough of me, as I was so bruised it looked as if he’d beaten me up while operating on me!

“Laura, you’re still smiling!” the nurse beamed, as the procedure began.  Suddenly feelings of uncontrollable anger hit me.

“This time I’m not smiling.” I told her.

I had been through so very much, and there was only a certain amount that any one person could take before reaching the end of their positive thought process.  Quite simply, I had had enough.  I had reached my limit.  I didn’t want to be tested and taunted any longer by the cancer which continued to rear its head, or poked and prodded around by medical professionals.  I wanted to go right back to the time before my nightmare had begun.  I wanted to feel the certainty of a life full of new and exciting opportunities, of a future away from hospitals and treatment.

As the surgeon removed the dressing, I was unsure of exactly what to expect underneath. The area around my scar was already numb, so when the anaesthetic was administered, I couldn’t even feel the sensation of the needle penetrating my skin.  Unable to avert my eyes, I watched as she slowly started to cut the stitching away, commenting on how good my surgeon’s needlework was, and how he was renowned for his careful hand.  I was fascinated as I watched the wound being opened up and the plastic tube going inside, pumping and draining the blood out.

Fortunately I’m not in the least bit squeamish, but my attention began to wander as a sense of discomfort filled me and I realised that the tube was rubbing against my chest bone.  Sensing the tenderness, the surgeon asked me whether I would like her to halt the procedure, but I encouraged her to continue, wanting the blood drained from me as quickly as possible.  A few minutes later she asked me again if I was all right, and again I replied in the affirmative.  For the first time, I averted my eyes from my wound, as my head began to swim, my mind dizzy with pain.  Again the surgeon asked me whether the discomfort was too much and, this time, I agreed that I wanted her to cease what she was doing.  Immersed in near agony I knew that I had withstood all that I could.

After being stitched back up (and she was right, her stitches weren’t anywhere near as good as my previous surgeon!), I was sent for an ultra-sound to see whether she had been successful in removing the majority of blood that had congregated around my wound area.  Unfortunately, this showed that there was still quite a bit of blood left.  Gravely, she informed me that there was only one way to remove this: I would need another operation the next day.

Again, my radiotherapy would be postponed, again I would go under the surgeon’s knife, again it was all far from being straight forward.

As I lay on my bed that evening, listening to my brother and niece downstairs, I felt both exhausted and drained.  How much more was my body going to test me, in my fight for recovery?  How longer would I be confined to hospital beds, operating theatres, and consulting rooms?  A wave of pity, anger and fear swept over me, maybe because of my new and unfamiliar surroundings and maybe because of what the immediate future held for me.  The pain of the last few days remained, as I tried to rest my head and close my eyes.  My cancer took on a form of its own, as I drifted into an uncomfortable nights’ sleep, jeering at my every intention to recover, at my very will to overcome it.  I banished it to the back of my mind and, instead, tried to fill my thoughts with my forthcoming trip across the Atlantic; of skyscrapers and clouds, of bagels and coffee and of my true friend from over the seas who was waiting for me there.

Girl on Top (Part 10) -Twists and Turns

Slowly opening my eyes, I spied the first rays of the July sun streaming through the gap in my closed bedroom curtains.  My mind focused, as the last waves of sleep cleared and the day that lay before me sharpened in my mind.  Instead of enjoying a summer’s day off work, the events stretching before me meant that it would be as far removed from a relaxing break as imaginable.  There would be no sitting in the park eating ice cream, or strolling around the shops for me today.  Instead, I would be admitted into hospital, where I would undergo surgery to have my right breast removed.

Due to the nature of my operation (the surgeon had decided to whisk me in at the last minute, only the day before) it meant that I had to play a waiting game for the majority of the day, until I received a call from the hospital to tell me the exact time of the operation.  I had packed my bags the previous night, along with having my last food and drink before the op.  It had been specified that I wasn’t allowed to consume anything that day and, by mid-morning, and with no phone call having come through from the hospital, my stomach had begun to make the obligatory rumbling noises and my mouth was dry in the summer heat.

Although I had tried to fill my morning as I might usually have when at home, my mind kept wandering from any task that I tried to engage in, and my eyes kept being drawn back to my phone, willing  the screen to light up and the number of the hospital to be displayed there.

Finally, just after midday, I received a call and was instructed to be in the hospital at 1pm.  My brother had been on standby ready to drive me in and, once I had checked and double checked that I had everything I needed, we made the short trip to the hospital.  Although I had hoped that once there my wait would be over, I was wrong.  Another two hours ensued before the nurse told me that they were ready for me and that my operation was imminent.

During that time, my thought process skipped erratically from one thing to another, but one image loomed large – and that was a vision of what was to come for me physically.  I had had many conversations regarding the mastectomy and what would await me on the other side, but sitting in the waiting room, watching the second hand of the clock slowly tick down every minute, I could not help but imagine what I would look like in the space of a few hours’ time.

I had always hoped that the nature of the operation would allow me to have an instant reconstruction whilst under the same anesthetic, but my surgeon had informed me the previous day that this was not to be the case.  The thought of having a silicone implant and tattooed nipple had been a slightly challenging one, but to be left, indefinitely, with just one breast was an even more difficult thought for me to come to terms with.  Many of my friends had told me to consider the reconstructive surgery as a ‘boob job for free’ but, in the back of my mind, I had known that this simply wasn’t the case.  Now, I was faced with the prospect of being without part of my body for an uncertain amount of time and having to come to terms with looking at a very different version of myself in the mirror each day.

At 3pm, I found myself being wheeled down the corridor on the hospital trolley.  In the theatre, a pleasant sight greeted my eyes; a young and quite dashing anaesthetist with a clipboard, ran through a number of questions with me.  Suddenly I was acutely aware of the bandana around my head and lack of make-up on my face, as he questioned me regarding allergies and diet. He searched for my vein and injections were then given, as we chatted and joked, and my eyelids began to feel heavy.  I swiftly fell into an anaesthetized state.

Just before 6pm, my arm was gently squeezed by a nurse and I felt as if I were returning from a very long, very deep sleep.  My handsome anaesthetist winked at me as he stood alongside my surgeon and they told me that the operation had been a success and I was again wheeled along the corridor (this time in the opposite direction) and into a room.  To my delight, I found the room which I was to occupy for the next four days was in the private wing of the hospital and was nothing short of a hotel suite!

The first evening I was surrounded by friends and family and, at one point, there were at least ten people in the room, all so pleased that the operation had been successful.  It was the first instance that I had stayed for a substantial amount of time in hospital and the luxury of having my own room made me want to stay there for another week!  Two tubes were fixed to my side and these drained the blood and liquids from my body into little bags, which I had to carry around with me.  I was quite intrigued by these and even took pictures to show what they looked like to friends who couldn’t visit me in hospital.

Finally I had to face my own reflection.  I was no stranger to having to deal with a different vision staring back at me as, over the past six months, chemotherapy had meant that my image had changed quite drastically and that I had had to deal with different versions of myself along the way.   A bandage covered the area that had been operated on and the only difference that I saw was that the area was flat.

After four days, my tubes and bags were removed and I was able to leave my luxurious ‘hotel room’ and return home, where I had really good care from those around me.  I had been signed off from work for six weeks, and my recovery went swiftly; plenty of friends came to visit me and, slowly but surely, I began to heal.  I was finally grateful that my operation had been in the summer, as this enabled me to take walks in the park and spend time in the sunshine.

A week after the operation, I went to see my surgeon and have the bandage removed.  On my first viewing, the scar had begun to heal beautifully and looked really neat.  I had, of course, been hesitant to what would await me on the removal of my dressing, but I was pleasantly surprised with what greeted me.  My right chest area was totally flat and carefully stitched into a curved line, which almost resembled a smile.  It wasn’t ugly at all, but just different to what I had been used to viewing.  I breathed a sigh of relief; I could deal with my slightly changed torso without any major issues and without feeling sad or resentful in any way.

My surgeon also told me that he had removed twenty lymph nodes in my right armpit. Only one of these had been infected with cancer and, due to the removal of them, I had to be careful not to get an infection in that arm.  If it was cut or burnt in any way, the lack of lymph nodes would mean that my body could not easily fight off any infection and that lymphoedema might ensue.

So many happy memories were made over the month of my recovery, including my friends from Singapore and my aunt from Lithuania visiting, birthdays, a trip to the New Forrest and a friend coming all the way over from Canada to see me.  During this time, my hair had continued to grow steadily back and I made a decision to dye it bleach blonde in the style of Jessie J!  The new style and colour were an instant hit and I found that my confidence returned a little more, as I no longer had to wear (or be conscious of) my wig.

I also made the decision to begin a blog.  I had toyed with it for some time and quite a few friends had suggested that I should take up writing in order to express how I felt.  My first blog was penned (or typed!) during my recovery time and it inspired me to continue my writing to this day.

I returned to work in early September, and my radiotherapy was scheduled to begin a few weeks after that. Two days into my return, I was administering Bio Oil to my scar, to help reduce the marking, when I noticed two very distinct red marks just to the side of where I had been stitched.  A barrage of questions filled my head and I tried to search for answers; I had been here before, but to return to this place again was bewildering.  Examining the marks again, the overwhelming question was quite simply that, if they were cancerous, how would it be possible to operate on tissue that had already been extensively removed?  I shut this thought out; they were surely just an extension of the scar tissue that was healing, nothing more.

A sickly sense of dread filled me. Was it possible that the cancer had come back and if so, how?  Had my surgeon not cut enough out, and were these marks due to me not starting my course of radiotherapy earlier?  So many questions and so few explanations.

I needed answers – and fast!