In September 2013, during a wonderful family holiday in the Charente- Maritime, I began to have slightly inconvenient reactions to alcohol, absolutely not what you want to experience when you’re relaxing in wine country. Every time I had a glass though, I experienced sharp pains, so I enjoyed a more or less teetotal holiday and thought little of it.
A month or so later, I started to experience these sharp pains more frequently and was also suffering heartburn regularly. I decided it was all caused by my coil and had it removed. My doctor diagnosed a stomach ulcer and gave me a prescription for this. For a couple of weeks this seemed to lessen the symptoms but soon I was suffering from a frequent upset stomach, I was exhausted and occasionally vomitting. The uphill walk to collect Wee P from school had gone from taking me 10-15 minutes to feeling like a mountaineering challenge. And the stabbing pains persisted. I began to be sent home from work on a regular basis. By December I had been to the GP (not my usual doctor) several times, had a few different bloods and stool tests (yeuch!) done and although my blood count was low but iron levels not depleted (I’ve since learned this is a very strong indicator of cancer) and my liver function was off, she didn’t seem too concerned. When I complained that the pain was sometimes excruciating, I was advised to take paractamol. (I am still very bitter about this!) Eventually, I was given a non-urgent referral to a gastroenterologist just before Christmas. It would take 12 weeks to get an appointment. The symptoms persisted and I had a painful and agitated Christmas. At some point, Chris, my husband asked if I had been tested for cancer. I exploded. I couldn’t believe he would consider such a thing and put such a worry in my head. But on Christmas Day I had flashes of concern and a weird feeling that this would be my last festive season.
On Hogmanay, after a trip to the museum and a bus journey home that felt like an endurance test that I was failing, I had one sip of a kir royale and promptly threw up.
Eventually, a few days later, Chris frogmarched me back to the surgery , where I felt like I should be getting some sort of loyalty bonus, and insisted on coming in with me. We saw a different GP, who finally showed some real concern and was keen to tackle the pain first, something I felt that the previous doctor has dismissed as me making a fuss about nothing. He also thought that I should see a consultant as soon as possible. Fortunately, Chris has private medical insurance as a job perk and we decided to go private as it was going to take several weeks for an appointment with an NHS consultant, so the next morning saw me having a telescope shoved up my bum by a rather attractive man I had met mere minutes before, while discussing my daughter’s tap lessons and his childhood hatred for having to endure his sister’s dance shows. Just a typical Saturday morning then. He had a prod at my stomach (poor man!) and pretty much immediately identified a lump which he said was probably a fibroid.
I was promptly sent for a scan where a woman I had met mere minutes before blew a balloon up in my back passage. (It was an eventful few days for my poor wee rectum). So a week or so later I had an appointment with the consultant, skipped breezily in thinking my mind was about to be set at ease, whereupon he switched on his laptop and showed me a lovely picture of my innards, including a whopping great tumour in my caecum. (the tumour would soon be christened “The Motherfucker”, much to my own very polite mother’s horror). Quite the shock! Chris was with me, luckily, but telling my mum was probably the hardest thing I had ever had to do until that point. (There have been other harder things since, but I’m sure I’ll get to them in the fullness of time).
Anyway, I was fast-tracked for surgery and given follow up chemo intended to zap any remaining bad cells, as pathology showed that there had been spread to some lymph nodes as the tumour itself was advanced, having broken the bowel wall and attached to an ovary, which also had to be removed. I was fortunate that my bowel was resected without need for a stoma (although my Facebook targetted ads frequently try to tempt me with ileostomy products. Thanks.)
I had four cycles of Capecitabine and Oxaliplatin chemotherapy before being scanned. At this point, I was given the completely unexpected (I had genuinely never considered the possibility) and horrific news that the chemo was not working and that a small mark that they had identified on my lung during the initial scan which had been assumed to be asthma scarring had grown and been joined by a few more spots (motherfuckerlets). Cancer. More bloody cancer.
My chemo regime was changed to Folfiri, a palliative programme, but with the reassurance that with eventual lung surgery there was still the possibility of a curative outcome. After 10 more chemo cycles, the lung mark remained the same and was assumed to be dead. The tumour markers in my blood were at the same level as a cancer-free non-smoker and things were looking promising. And so after an epic slog of a year, I ended 2014 on a chemo-free high.
To be continued (if you haven’t all expired from boredom already!)