I had cancer.
It still doesn’t seem real, yet this wasn’t a bad dream; it was the very cold reality that I faced 18 months ago.
My journey of discovery didn’t start in the extreme way that one might expect with such a serious condition, but with a few stomach aches and a bit of bloating. I ignored it for a while and then started to make excuses for why I was in pain… I have eaten too much bread… I think I am intolerant to something… I haven’t had enough water today. After a few weeks, I went to my GP, hoping to be sent away with a prescription but I was referred to a gastroenterologist. When he couldn’t offer a diagnosis I was passed on to another hospital and then a gynecologist. I underwent two CT scans, an MRI scan, three ultrasound scans and countless blood tests. After two months of tests, we were back at the gastroenterologist and then, finally, I was given an appointment with a colorectal surgeon.
By this point, I was completely fed up with not knowing what was wrong with me. I had pretty much ‘Googled’ myself into a state of hysteria but, like most people, cancer was the last thing on my mind. I just figured I had some sort of food intolerance. So to say that my diagnosis came as something of a shock was an understatement. I was 31, I regularly went to the gym, I ate healthily; I couldn’t possibly have cancer. I did.
Fortunately for me, an experienced doctor had seen a case like mine before. He explained how serious the cancer was and told us that it probably started in my appendix. This was gutting to hear as two years previously I had been admitted to hospital with suspected appendicitis.My doctor referred me to a specialist in Basingstoke and within 10 days I was at the doors to the operating theatre saying goodbye to my husband, James. Honestly, I was unsure if I would ever see him again.
I spent nine and a half hours in theatre receiving cytoreductive surgery (also known as the ‘mother of all surgeries’) and intraoperative hyperthermic peritoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC, heated chemotherapy directly into my abdomen). The tumour had spread to many organs and the surgeons removed my appendix, gall bladder, spleen, part of my stomach, part of my colon, some of my diaphragm and, sadly, my ovaries and womb.
I spent 12 days in intensive care and was completely immobile. Due to the length of the incision (from my breast bone to my pubic bone) I had no core strength and needed help to sit up, stand and walk. I required physiotherapy and it took me months to recover physically. However, I found an inner strength and, with the help of my family and friends, I started to rebuild my life.
Three months after my operation, James and I met with my consultant and he decided it would be best if I received six months of chemotherapy – I understood why but I was devastated. My recovery was put on pause and, instead, I had to put all my energy into fighting the side effects from having chemotherapy treatment every two weeks.
It’s fair to say that chemotherapy really pissed me off. I developed mouth ulcers, was extremely sensitive to cold things, felt nauseous, completely lost the feeling in my fingers and toes (I still can’t feel anything with my fingertips) and I lost my hair.
After my final treatment, I left the hospital and didn’t look back.
James and I know that our lives will never be what we once planned. Not being able to have children is still very hard for us to come to terms with but we know that it was necessary to improve my chance of long-term survival. We take each day as it comes and are thankful for the life that we are given the chance to live, not taking anything for granted.
It is for this reason that my family, friends and I are walking up Mount Snowdon on August 8th. This will not be easy for me. I still struggle with physical and mental fatigue but am determined to complete this challenge.
Our aim is to raise awareness of rare cancers and to raise money for Pseudomyxoma Survivor. This money will go to this small charity that relies completely on donations and volunteers to help them to continue to support those affected by PMP.
Please share my story. Even if you do not donate, please help others to become aware.
I survived cancer. Please help others to survive too.