After making a loose plan with my consultant and telling everyone I needed to about my cancer diagnosis, reality really started to kick in. My life as I knew it changed overnight. I cancelled work for the next six months, handing over the reins to my two trusted administrators, and I deferred uni for a year. I found myself seeking solace in a good friend of mine, who had been like a mentor to me as I was growing up, whom I knew had started to pray for me during this tough time. As much as I wasn’t in a good place, praying with her helped. She asked me to come to her church, as the pastor’s wife wanted to pray for me too. (I had dipped in and out of ‘friend’s’ churches for many years in the hope of finding a place where I could comfortably develop my Christianity and understanding of the word – in my own time at my own pace – but had failed to find anywhere that felt right to me.) I remember thinking two things about my friend’s invitation. Firstly, I was struck by how lovely it was of her to reach out and want to pray for me; secondly, I knew I couldn’t do this one alone. I had been through many things in my 31 years – sexual abuse, severe depression, near bankruptcy – but this one, this one was too big for me to take on. I remember that meeting with the pastor’s wife and how warm and welcoming she was towards me. She expressed a genuine/loving care for my situation, and it was also handy that she was a nurse and knew what I was going through all too well. I prayed alongside her and my friend, cried and then prayed some more. Wow. I instantly felt better. It was the best I’d felt since hearing the diagnosis. I remember questioning whether this was right. Was I really getting that much good feeling from prayer? Walking from that meeting, if there was one thing I could be certain of it was that I had found the place to develop my Christianity.
Along with my newfound positivity, the appointments started coming in thick and fast. In that first week after my diagnosis, it became apparent that the hospital would now become my second home. I was there an average of about three or four times a week. I had detailed CT scans to check my body for any further spreading and discrepancies, including day surgery to have a sentinel lymph node biopsy to see if the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes. I also had a marker inserted into my breast to measure the effects of the chemo and track its effectiveness at shrinking my tumor.
With my chemo consultation looming, I knew I had to prepare myself, both practically and physically. On the practical side, I decided to redecorate my room from scratch. My sister and a friend volunteered to help and we shopped around for a beautiful bed, a sofa, curtains and even a brand new 48inch TV – after all, my room was where I would be living for the next six months so every penny spent was worth it! Physically I changed my diet, trying to incorporate all the amazing juice and alkaline diet recipes I was being sent by everyone. I stopped drinking caffeine and gave up smoking and drinking. In the process I went down to the lowest weight I had been for over a decade. I took out my beloved blonde-kissed weave and decided to wear my hair natural until the inevitable happened and it fell out. I also removed my semi-permanent eyelashes, in preparation for when my real lashes became weak and dropped out. My false nails went, along with my piercings, as I couldn’t have these for my various scans and operations.
Amongst the many appointments I had weekly I met the nurse who would be administering my 8 rounds of chemo, she was fantastic and explained in full why and how chemo works. This made me realise how lucky I was to be receiving this treatment FREE on the NHS. The treatment plan cost £60k in drugs alone, which instantly brought up feelings of gratitude for our fantastic UK health care system. The nurse also explained that the month I was diagnosed was the busiest they had ever seen in the clinic. I learnt from this appointment that it was very rare for someone of my age to get breast cancer unless there was some sort of family history. She went on to explain the side effects of the drugs, which included the two things I was most dreading and were right at the top of the list, sickness and hair loss. Damn it. We also talked about a new drug on the horizon, which had achieved fantastic results at clinical trials. At present, though, it cost 18k privately. The NHS was due to make a decision about its usage at the High Court. If approved, I would be one of the first cancer patients in the UK to be given it. I was also asked to set a date to start the chemo. I decided to start it in four day’s time. Monday, November 21st would be exactly a month after my diagnosis and four days away from my brother’s wedding.
During one of the final two appointments before starting chemo, I bumped into one of my dance mums whose two girls had taken part in some of my dance programmes over the years. She was wearing a scarf and for a moment we just looked at each other in shock. She was probably no more than ten years older than me. After we’d hugged she asked me what I was in for and couldn’t believe it when I told her. She was in for the same thing, but went on to explain that just a few days earlier she had been told that the cancer had spread to her lungs. I was so shocked, especially as I thought about her two teenage daughters, who she mentioned were, unsurprisingly, going out of their minds. She asked me if I had to have chemo and when I told her I she warned me how horrendous it was going to be. We exchanged numbers and after leaving the hospital I couldn’t stop thinking about her. In some ways seeing her made me feel scared about my impending, uncertain journey ahead- Wow, lung cancer. I was slowly learning this cancer thing was no joke!!
The last appointment on my list was the chemo declaration meeting. This is when I had to sign the paperwork allowing the Department of Health to administer the chemo and confirm I had been warned about the side effects, etc. As I sat down, I noticed the consultant’s face change. He said that he had the results of my CT scans – oh yes, the scans, I forgot about those – and mentioned whilst these were all fine, one of them showed a small 8mm mass on my liver and they wanted to investigate further with another MRI scan. Wait, just as I’m starting to feel better, now this? What are the chances of it spreading? What do you think it is? The consultant reassured me that usually these things turned out to be nothing, but that they wanted to double check everything for me. I crumbled. No words he or my mum said made me feel any better. I was convinced that the disease had spread and this was my time. I was going to die from cancer. I immediately fell back into my shell again. After three weeks of doing OK, I was back in that dark place again. This time I decided I wasn’t going to tell everyone about it. I couldn’t. I didn’t want to worry people or worry myself even more by doing so. I received a call from the hospital the following day booking me in for the MRI scan that coming Sunday. That was the day before my first chemo treatment. I realised they were taking this very seriously. Wow! What does this mean? Once again, going to the hospital was tough, and upon leaving and dropping off my mum and making my way to church, I broke down so much I couldn’t get out my car. Everything came to a head as I tried to take in the MRI scan, the cancer, my new life and, most importantly, Chemo beginning the next day. Between myself, my mentor, the pastor’s wife and the pastor of my church we prayed, prayed and then prayed some more.
With the chemo set to begin in less than 24 hours and a liver scan pending, I spent the day feeling sorry for myself about what my life had become. The changes physically, mentally and practically were too dramatic and along with the cancer being my new full-time job, things behind the scenes weren’t going well. My whole support network had changed and I was shocked at how little I had heard from certain individuals and how disposable I had become to many of them. Was cancer that anti-social? My conversation with God that day was, “If it’s my time, that’s fine, but I would like another shot at life.” In that moment, with my chemo journey about the begin, I knew I was learning some of life’s biggest lessons.
My younger sister and a close friend slept with me in my new bed that night. We had a few laughs and drifted off to sleep, none of us knowing what tomorrow would bring. The only thing we knew for sure were that me and my life were never going to be the same again.
Featured Picture: Top left- my hair once i took out the weave, Top right- my favorite juice shop in Bayswater, Bottom left- my new TV, Bottom right- me on the day surgery ward awaiting my sentinel lymph node biopsy.