Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Let's Talk About Cancer

I've had the most difficult year and a half of my life. And I want to share my story.

In September 2015, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

In January 2016, I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis.

*breathes in and out*

It all started in January 2015, when I was stuck in bed for a week with unbearable pain. I couldn't move, I couldn't sleep, I couldn't eat. It felt like something was attacking my insides. So I went to the doctor. After a bit of prodding and poking, they went "hmmm well, we're not quite sure what it is." SO they referred me for an ultrasound scan at the hospital.

That scan was so weird. I went in, expecting it to be perfectly fine. Just a little scan of my tummy then I'd be off home. The ultrasound nurse moved her little thingy across my tummy, and she kept going back to the same place. I knew she had noticed something, but she didn't say what. She asked another nurse to come in, and they said they weren't "sure what it is but we'll refer you for a CT scan". Great, another scan.

I went for the CT scan, where they said the same thing as before - and referred me for a biopsy. Now, by this point, it was July and I didn't have the pain anymore. But doctors still wanted to know what was up. They were telling me it could be a cyst or an infection. I had no clue, I just wanted to know what it was so I could stop going to the hospital. The place freaked me out.

I had biopsies taken from my lung, and about two weeks later - on a Monday, I received an email saying I needed to go in urgently.

I was only three days into my new job at the time, in a school, so I told them to wait until my appointment on the Wednesday. I didn't wanna mess up my first week of work by taking off. Oh boy, little did I know..

My doctor wanted to talk to my BSL interpreter in private first, which made me a bit suspicious. When I went in, I looked at my interpreter's face and she was completely white. I knew it wasn't good.

She was straight to the point. "Rebecca, you've got cancer. Thyroid cancer."

My whole world came crashing down.

My first thought was, "will I die?"

What happened next is a blur. I burst into tears. "But I FEEL FINE! I feel completely FINE!" I screamed.

After I calmed down, the doctor explained that she was sending me to the Royal Marsden Hospital in South Kensington, London. The Royal Marsden is the "world's first hospital dedicated to cancer diagnosis, treatment, research and education." (quoted from its website)

Something my doctor said really resonated with me.

"Rebecca, you are young and you are fit. You are healthy(ish). You CAN fight this. You CAN beat this. There's no reason why you shouldn't, you are strong and capable of fighting."

And she was right. Why should I give up because I have a cancer diagnosis?

That isn't going to stop me. Oh no. I'm going to conquer this. I am a warrior.

That night, I went home and I thought long and hard. I told my closest family members and my closest friends. There were tears, there were long hugs, there were determined fist punches - "YOU CAN DO THIS, GIRL." It was amazing.

I had work the next day, and Mum asked me if I wanted to go. I said yes. I didn't want to let this take over my life. I still had a job, dreams, hopes and goals for the future, and damn it, I was going to achieve them all.

The next few weeks were crazy. The craziest weeks of my life.

Even more blood tests, urine tests, heart scans, CT scans, even one where I was injected with a radioactive tracer. I had to stay away from young children and pregnant women for a few days (lol). Blood pressure checks, ECGs, urine tests. You name it, I had it. I was being poked EVERYWHERE.

At my first appointment there were literally six or seven doctors all crammed into a tiny room with me, my parents and my interpreter. It was overwhelming.

I definitely did a lifetime's worth of crying in the first few weeks and months.

But I met the doctor who would take me under her care. She was a Consultant Clinical Oncologist, for the head and neck, particularly thyroid. She was in charge of my treatment, and I had a lovely team who would look after me every time I went for an appointment. They went above and beyond to accommodate me, giving me their emails so I could contact them any time I wanted. They always ask how I am, what I've been doing, what my future plans are.

Then I finally got the go ahead to start treatment. In a sense, I'm sort of lucky because the treatment I'm on doesn't mean I lose my hair. But the side effects are very much real. I suffer from extreme fatigue, acne and super-sensitive skin, so I have to stay out of sunlight. That's OK, I never really liked being in the sun anyway.

After the diagnosis of cancer, everything was just so rushed and I had appointments every week that I didn't get a chance to realise that I still had stomach problems. I always have had problems when going to the toilet and stomach aches for most of my teenage/adult life. After a CT scan the consultant saw something was wrong with my bowel. There was a hole in it.

Here we go again..

My consultant, to be on the safe side, referred me to one of the Gastroentreologists at the RM. I had colonoscopies, more blood tests and also had to do a food diary to see what were causing my symptoms.

When they finally told me I had a certain form of Ulcerative Colitis, I was relieved. It meant I could put a name to the disease, and get it under control. I am on lifelong medication, and I've had to adapt my diet - but it's been for the better. I still have bad days where I have flare-ups, or eat something that triggers a stomach ache. I'm still learning what suits me and what doesn't.

So there's that. A mad year and a half, huh? I'm still adapting to it myself..

I have SO much to thank the Royal Marsden for. I feel so lucky and blessed to be a patient at such a world class hospital, where the staff are so devoted to their work and where they make amazing advances in treatment and research. The staff are truly angels - they've been absolute saviours to me and my family.

I wanted to share my story to raise awareness of both thyroid cancer and Ulcerative Colitis, and so I'm going to use this blog as a means of talking about life with both diseases. I won't share the exact details of what type it is, or what stage I'm at, because that's personal. I simply want to show what it's like as a Cancer Slayer and UC Warrior.

As my best friend so eloquently put it, I literally take each day and chew it and spit it out onto the floor and step over it like gum.

I travelled through Europe last summer against doctor's orders, with a bowel infection. I had surgery on my stomach in October last year, and I was out of hospital after 6 days (they'd said at least two weeks staying in hospital). My point is, this won't stop me. I'm going to live my life as much as I can, and see as much of the world as I'm physically able to. I am going to #fightlikeagirl.

I will live the life I dream of.

Finally, thank you for reading this post. I know it was super long - well done if you've read this far!




1 comment:

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