I start by apologising for my lack of communication……simply put, I got some bad news over the last few weeks and I cried every time I tried to write….but here goes.
I’ve always strived to be an over achiever. My childhood memories are mainly formed from the hours spent in the hot, stuffy gym with the warm fantastic people that was Woking gymnastics club in the 90’s! By the age of 9 I was training 30 hours per week in the highest performing girls artistic club in the country where I was taught to strive for perfection. Each routine in my days was scored out of 10 and anything less was imperfect. You lost points for a wobble, a fall, a step in the wrong direction, a leg that was not straight – there was always someone better than you. I learned discipline from Russia’s best – even with what turned out to be a broken ankle I got back on the beam as soon as I was allowed, to land the backflip that I slipped on and injured myself. You are on the bars doing giants (big circles around the bar holding on by your hands) – you slip, fall, and land on your head and you get back up and you do it again until you end on a ‘good one’. In competition, as you walk into an arena with thousands of people to perform the floor routine you have rehearsed in your sleep, butterflies take over and you have a mental battle convincing yourself that you’ve got this. I used to run up to the vault, even in competition and freak at the last moment and bolt to the side- convinced I would land on my head – I wouldn’t – I’d been trained very well, but it was mental strength that got you through. You have been taught the skills but it’s mind over matter – you know you can land a double backflip twisted layout on the beam at the age of 12 because you’ve done it 50 times in training, but at the moment before takeoff with eyes watching you doubt yourself. I learnt at that young age, that your mind is sometimes more powerful than your body, that whilst you can control it, at times it may seem like it controls you like a rollercoaster you are not in charge of – but work with it and anything is possible. I learnt this valuable life lesson very early on – and for that I’m grateful.
Without bragging, If my body was going to create cancer, to actually stand a chance of harbouring itself in what many would consider a hostile environment (!!) and finding a ‘home’ it would have to think carefully about outsmarting me – it would most likely be rare, aggressive, sly and much cheekier than me. And as I’ve learnt this week, mine has not disappointed!
Ever the over achiever, 2nd was never an option and I feel that unfortunately my cancer has the same sentiment! I was never going to have a bog standard adacarcinoma (the most common type of bowel tumour found). Oh no, I was going to produce an muscious tumour, found in 10% of Bowel cancer, oh and then it was going to have a BRAF mutation – only the rarest and most hardest to treat due to its unresponsiveness to chemo, aggressive make up or lack of ‘wonder’ immunotherapy cure. Brilliant!
So here I stand, 4 months after my world turned upside down with the words ‘you have cancer’ thinking at first that it was an early stage totally curable ‘hiccup’ in my life, to being faced with the harsh reality of being 35 and having to face Stage 4 cancer head on.
So how have I got here?!
2 months ago I started chemo – we had a plan – teachers like a plan….yes we can, and do go ‘off Piste’ but a plan seems like the sensible place to start. Whilst it wasn’t without its flaws as my last blog will honestly tell you, my ‘action plan’ to combat this cancer with the suggested 12 cycles of FOLFOX has now been blown out of the water. We have by all accounts a new plan of action! Or at least an initial draft!
On the Friday before my 4th cycle I had a routine CT scan to monitor some pesky lung nodes that were poking up their ugly head.
On the following Tuesday I had a very strange morning- the previous week I had the privilege of filming at the BBC for the Victoria Derbyshire show to raise awareness of Bowel cancer and it was to be shown that morning. I went as normal to the Marsden, with my friend Lynn, to get my Port accessed, bloods taken and then we escaped to watch the film in tears at the Ivy (my new local), with Buck’s Fizz! I was told to meet my oncologist at 11.
I felt pretty positive, having just talked on national TV about my stage 3 cancer and woken up to find myself in my own BBC news feed (!) discussing how I’m looking forward to ending my chemo in the summer! As I rocked back up, there was a smart looking surgeon (whom I quickly googled and realised is the top lung surgeon at the Brompton) lurking in the shadows. I started (albeit a bit over hyped by the Buck’s Fizz!) saying to Lynn I know that he is here for me – I just know!
As I’m ushered into a room and who I now know to be Simon also appears, My heart sinks instantly and I know that the news I’m about to be given is bad. David my brilliant oncologist quickly cuts to the chase in the least harsh way – my lung noddles that we believed were 2 benign things are now 5 almost certain metastatic growths in both lungs. Good news, I’m operable, bad news I’m now stage 4 cancer, 2 possible lung resections, and the emotional screw up of knowing that my 5 year prognosis just plummeted to 10%.
On the grand scheme of chemo side effects I was doing ok – I was, despite just about muddling through on some days, by all intense purposes living a good life – I had a niggly feeling it would explode!
Therefore I start pleading as though it can’t be true – ‘but I didn’t have any symptoms and I ran 10k yesterday on chemo’ I proudly declare to my surgeon! I’d actually just had my best chemo cycle, my dose had been cut by 20% so my fingers had stopped cramping and the sun had started to come out. I surprised my daughter again on a school trip, had a wonderful Mother’s Day and even celebrated St Patrick’s day with some hard core whisky tasting!
And so despite my utter belief that I was doing pretty well, in yet another momentarily suspension of time where you feel you’ve hit another brick wall, I’m whipped straight off chemo – no point in poisoning me with stuff that doesn’t work, and I’m sent away in a haze (and head straight to the pub!) to contemplate life (or not) as a stage 4 cancer combattant.
Please note that upon my bad news I turned to Lynn and said ‘let’s crack open the champagne and get totally hammered’. Apparently this is a tame reaction – they have heard worse, expected more from me and now I feel like I’m clearly way too innocent and will clearly need advice to vamp up my bucket list! 😂😂😂😂
I awoke at 7.00am with the hangover from hell claiming that I’d deal with my alcoholism after I’ve tackled cancer! Having been joined so valiantly by my husband and more friends after my bad news the day before we decided to ensure that my ‘new local’ would stay afloat for a while longer (at least to ensure it could see me through my future treatment!). Even that next day as I sat with my bestie slumped in tears on a pub sofa sipping yet more Pinot, it didn’t really sink in what I was facing – It’s seemed incomprehensible the idea of ‘what could be’ as I’m sitting there feeling actually pretty well! (Hangover aside!)
As luck would have it, it was 4 days later at 8am on the BBC breakfast sofa that the uphill struggle I was to face started to sink in. As part of my mission to ensure that no one has to go through the ‘shit’ that I am, and with the fab friends I have, I found myself trekking up (albeit 4 hours late due to my sister) to Manchester to appear on the BBC breakfast show. On Saturday morning, as myself and Deborah Alsina, the wonderful CEO at Bowel cancer UK were ushered into the live set, I realised the enormity of what I was about to discuss on live TV when having had the diagnosis only a few days previously, I hadn’t even got round to telling some close friends about the new plan! After a few deep breaths led by Charlie Stayt – I managed not to cry, not to swear, and not to show my knickers (my 3 aims!).
Having got through the live interview, I came off to a phone going into overdrive with thousands of ‘beeps’. Instantly I was blown away but the sheer amount of incredibly positive comments, emails, tweets, messages and donations I received from the most wonderful people most of whom I’ve never met.
I’m ever grateful to the sun online who now calls me their ‘Bowel cancer champion’!‘ for following up on my story and helping to raise awareness – in case you missed any of the recent articles here and above are some of the most recent ones.
I cannot thank you enough for those messages of support off the back of these – whilst re-reading them it started to sink in the enormity of what I faced, I felt so grateful to know I had the support and prayers of so many to get me through.
Within 24 hours of new diagnosis and taking the only silver lining from the situation of ‘no chemo’ we managed to jump on a plane to Seville and spent half the week exploring this wonderful city. I cannot recommended it highly enough for its beautiful buildings, authentic culture and friendly hospitality. We then drove through the white washed village of Ronda to spend the second half of the week pretending to be super rich alongside the extra large boats in Puerto Banus 😂. We even managed only to take one child, as the other one still wanted to ‘large it up’ skiing and partying with his 9 year old mates at the Follie Douce in Val d’seres – and why not, I’d do the same if I could! I took to making the most of the Champagne breakfast buffet whilst not on chemo and then started to convince myself that as a result my liver is clearly next on the tumour hit list!
Boom, as soon as I landed from a week of sunshine and fun, it was back to the Marsden and reality! In the last week I have waited nervously (whilst being radioactive!) to get the go ahead for my lung resection.
I write this on the eve of my operation, whilst clearly worried, I never thought I’d be happy to be sliced open! I know for me – like many other stage 4 cancer patients that the best chance of longer term survival is to be able to chop out the cancer and I’m grateful to have that chance. I suppose I’m looking at this as another beam routine from my gym days. I’m scared, just like I’ve had a fall so to speak, but I’ve got a great team of support and I’m going to have to get back on the ‘beam’ and try it face it again. I have to train my mind to believe I can get through this – I know my 5 year old self would stop telling me to me such a wuss!
So as I try and calm my nerves ahead of Tomorrow’s next challenge and continue to contemplate my bucket list that does include Necker Island (if anyone can help there!!), I found myself having a very honest conversation with my 9 year old about cancer at lunch today. I alway ask him ‘what’s worrying you’ and he said, mummy I just worry that it might get to the point where they can’t cut it out and you’ll die. Well I say to hugo ‘that’s a possibility and yes it might happen but we are going to try everything to make sure it doesn’t’. I then told him what my oncologist said to me the following day after my new plan of action started…..”that he will do everything humanly possibly to keep me alive”. To which hugo said..
“Well mummy that’s good but it seems like cancer is all a bit of a roller coaster, you’ll just have to make sure you hold on tight at the scary bits then it will be fine….”
I was never a fan of rollercoasters but I suppose I don’t have a choice over riding this one! So here’s to the next Big Dipper part of the journey! I’ll be holding on tightly next to these two little monsters!