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Whatever Happens, Happens

Leading up to Christmas in 2021, my hair dresser said that she couldn’t do my highlights because my hair was broken and very split. She felt that I needed to get a blood test to figure out what was going on.

I saw her again mid January and she asked how the blood test had gone. I hadn’t done it yet and she insisted again that I needed to because she still couldn’t do anything and felt there was something going on.

At the same time my skin was really really dry and my daughter got me a thick body cream to help. It wasn’t rubbing in as easily as my usual lotion, so I was rubbing quite hard.

Now, I never checked my breasts at all, ever, because you never think cancer’s going to happen to you. Then I felt the lump. I didn’t call the doctor straight away. In the back of my mind I was thinking ‘It’s probably nothing.

My GP practice phoned me by chance a few days later as I’m  their stationary supplier. I said ‘While I’ve got you, I found a lump in my breasts.’ Immediately she said, ‘Right you’re in at 9am tomorrow, you’ll be the first patient. It’s just as well I called you to place an order!

I agree, because honestly I didn’t know when I would have called them. I don’t know whether things happen for a reason but that certainly felt like it.

I saw the doctor the next morning and he wasn’t happy with what he was feeling, so he referred me to the Whittington. I called my private healthcare and they didn’t have an appointment for two weeks.

While on the phone to them, I was put on hold they came back with ‘We’ve just had a cancellation can you come now?Yes!

I made it by the skin of my teeth. I saw the consultant and was sent for a mammogram and an ultrasound. He spoke with me again straight after and wasn’t happy with what he was seeing, he told me I was now going to have a biopsy.

Can you come and see me at the end of the week? I’ll push the results through and we’ll have a definite result. Oh, and bring someone with you.

Well, he had told me everything I needed to know with that sentence. He was more or less certain the biopsy would show cancer.

My daughter is a paramedic so she came with me to the next appointment to ask the questions I couldn’t. The consultant was talking about receptors, BRCA gene, MRI, heart test, liver function tests, oncologist appointments, clips, breast consultant appointments which all went right over my head.

My lump was 3cm and was stage two grade two. As I was triple negative and non-hormone related there were less treatment options available to me but it was treatable. The only word I heard was ‘treatable’! I was going to have chemo, radiotherapy then an operation.

When I went for my MRI scan my breast care nurse said, ‘Get in contact with The Nightingale, they can help.’  I registered immediately and Fiona offered me various therapies, including reflexology, help and support but I couldn’t risk coming into the centre just yet due to chemo weakening my immune system.

Cancer became my whole life.

Chemo of Paclitaxel and Carboplatin was weekly for 12 weeks. As I was using the cold cap, each visit lasted for at least 5 hours. The day before I would go for a blood test. Two days of steroids followed Chemo and three days of injections. Then you’re more or less back round to the next lot of blood tests and chemo.

After my third chemo session my lump had shrunk by 9mm! At my 6th chemo appointment I had a reaction which doctors thought was sepsis. They put me on antibiotics and my chemo was put on hold for two weeks. After that they slowed down my chemo and kept me in overnight to spread it over two days, they had an anaphylactic kit to hand in case I had another reaction.

By my 10th appointment I had another reaction and I ended up in hospital for two weeks on oxygen. They did all sorts of test but couldn’t find what was causing the problems. They could only assumed it was chemo. I had to stop the chemo after 10 sessions and my operation date was brought forward. This wasn’t the route they wanted to take but they were left with no choice.

Despite not being able to come into the centre, Fiona was calling me weekly during my chemo ordeal to check up on me. When I think back now, it was so nice of her to do that. I remember one time I was on the hospital bed giving her an update.

She phoned after my operation and booked me in two weeks later for a reflexology appointment and a Look Good Feel Better session. I was overwhelmed by Look Good Feel Better. The bag of goodies was just wonderful. It was such a nice touch.

When I cam in for Reflexology, Fiona mentioned the Coffee Club (a very therapeutic group). 

Why don’t you come in tomorrow for it? You’ve already done the hard part of walking through the doors here. Come along.’ I kept thinking, ‘Will I, won’t I.’

I found it difficult walking into the Coffee Club for the first time but the four ladies who run it are amazing. You’re seeing people who have had cancer and are out the other side. Every week I was meeting different people at different stages. When you’re going through your appointments, as I was in private, you’re in a room on your own. I didn’t come across anybody that was in the same boat as me until I came to the Coffee Club. It really helped me.

The Coffee Club, the therapies and Fitsteps are the biggest benefits and takeaways for me from The Nightingale.

Previous to my diagnosis I had come across people in my life who had had cancer.

I was sympathetic but I had no empathy and that was the same for others towards me during my journey.

Before I was diagnosed, I bumped into my friend and her son who had a brain tumour. I said, ‘Wow, James you look really well,’ and he said, ‘Looks can be deceiving’. And there has never been truer words spoken. So many people said similar things to me during chemo and after and I thought so much about James’ words.

Then I was back to chemo but this time three weeks. As most of my hair was gone, I didn’t see any point in using the cold cap any more. After the first week of EC all my hair was gone.

Yet again, I had another reaction and ended up in the hospital for 5 days. I became neutropenic (when you have a low number of white blood cells and your immune system is severely weakened). I had sores all over my mouth and was put into total isolation.

Due to this the doctors lowered my chemo dose by 25%, advising me that if I had another reaction I would have to stop chemo. I only had to have 4 chemo sessions in total and that would be number two. I was desperate to finish and thankfully I did, without another reaction.

Then, onto radiotherapy. The week before I was due to start I got covid! It knocked me for six. It was a good job I got it before starting radiotherapy because if I had got it during, the doctors said I would have had to carry on even with covid! Thank goodness.

After a month of covid, we could finally start the 9 sessions of radiotherapy. I got through that without any more issues or reactions.

A month after that, I got the all clear.

That was 6 months ago now. After a few days of being clear you start feeling very alone. During treatment I could call the nurse at 7 in the morning and say I had a temperature and five minutes later they’d call me back and tell me what to do.

You’ve got all the support all the way around you and then literally that’s it. ‘We’ll see you once every 6 months.’ All this support and any one I can speak to are all gone.

I remember getting a UTI not long after the all clear. I hadn’t had one for years so I just thought, ‘Omg this must be bladder cancer or something’. It would have never entered my mind before. A couple of weeks later I got a pain in the base of my spine and thought, ‘Omg I’ve got bone cancer now’. Anything now, I think cancer. Which isn’t very me.

I stayed positive the whole way through, with a motto of ‘whatever happens, happens’. Though a few of my relationships changed.

I was hesitant to tell people of my diagnosis. Of the few people I did tell, in one instance someone started crying straight away and wondered if they had it asking ‘What did the lump look like? Are you sure I don’t have it?’ It was all about them.

At first I was getting calls and texts coming through daily asking of how I was. Loads of messages after the chemo, many from people I hadn’t heard from in years. You end up doing the same message to everyone, copy and paste. It can be draining.

After about two weeks, they all started to dwindle and people didn’t ask as much. And you can see who your genuine friends were. I could count on my two hands the people who are still checking in with me.

That’s the nice thing about The Nightingale and the people I’ve met there, everyone is genuine. I often call this my extended family now. I don’t want to miss my Coffee Club on a Tuesday.

I think everyone with cancer of any description, or their family and friends should be coming in to see The Nightingale.

Make use of these services because it really helps. I didn’t even know what the Fitsteps class was when I joined it, but I absolutely loved it. I did the exercise class, but I’d never really gone to the gym so it wasn’t exactly for me. But I was able to try it and see. You can feel that you’ve moved in sometimes with the amount of stuff you’re coming to do.

I just feel that everyone is so lovely in here, so helpful, so friendly and they go out of their way to help and support you.

To be honest that’s why I wanted to do the Night Hike because of how wonderful The Nightingale is. I did the 15km which was fine as I started off but the last bit was the worst as every step hurt. Funny enough a couple of people who sponsored me have business along the route, so of course I had a photo taken outside of their offices and sent them to them. This showed exactly what they were sponsoring.

It’s an amazing charity. Anyone should get in contact. No matter what you’re going through or how you’re feeling there’s something here for you.

The door’s open for anybody. Even If it’s just for a tea or a chat if you’re feeling down. Someone is always there for you.