Yesterday I posted about the Stand Up To Cancer Campaign by Cancer Research UK and Channel 4. I also talked about my Grandad living with Cancer and losing my Gran to Cancer. Today I’m going to tell you about my experience with Cancer.
I was 8 years old, it was January 1994, somewhere around 6pm. I was sitting at the dining table in the kitchen, tucking into my favourite dinner… Liver and Bacon (yes that still seems relevant even now!), when the doctor knocked on our door. He went to the lounge with my parents and they shut the door. I carried on eating my dinner.
I’d had a blood test earlier that day. I had unexplained bruises and marks that looked like lovebites on my body (Petechiae), plus a couple of minor nosebleeds. I’d also been having the most horrendous mood swings… not that I noticed, but my mum did. Other than that… I was well.
Then they called my into the lounge and told me. I don’t remember feeling anything. I didn’t know what Leukaemia was. I vaguely remember sitting on my mums lap and hearing her tell me that if I did have Leukaemia, I was going to lose all my hair. I cried. I could sit on my hair. I loved that it was the longest of all the children in my school. Here is me, shortly before diagnoses.
Everything moved quickly from there. I was under shared care between Dorchester and Southampton hospitals. I had a hicman line fitted, which i referred to as my wiggly. I still have it in a box upstairs. It saved me having needles, all my drugs went in there.
I remember them drawing pictures of cells attacking each other, on a whiteboard, to educate me on what was happening inside my body, and what chemo was for. I learnt about white cells, haemaglobin, platelets and neutrophils and what they do for the body.
A nurse went into my school with my mum to explain to all my friends what was happening to me. Some were frightened for me. Some worried if they could catch it. Some wondered if I would still be me. They took the time to answer all those innocent questions.
I had chemotherapy for two years. Or 100 weeks to be precise. There were three intensive blocks of chemo, which knocked all my hair out.
I remember the names of some of the drugs. Vincristine, I was told came from the rainforest and was very expensive. It had to go in very very slowly as it was so potent. Asparaginase was a drug I had to have injected straight into the muscle in my thigh. I dreaded it. I used to score the nurses on how much they hurt me. Prednisolone was a steroid I had in dissolvable form. It tasted disgusting and I had to take four at a time, several times a day. The steroids made me insatiably hungry and I ate so much that I made my family feel sick just watching; but it physically hurt if I didn’t eat. Methotrexate and Mercaptopurine are two more chemo drugs I remember the names of, but don’t remember their exact function.
I remember having Lumbar Punctures and having Bone Marrow taken for testing. General Anasthetics, blood transfusions and platelet transfusions, both of which, I am ironically allergic to… cue more drugs.
In fact, despite being only 8 years old, I remember SO much. More than I could ever write down. I remember so much that if I shut my eyes and concentrate, I am transported back there in my mind. But despite it all, there was only one moment when I thought I was going to die. It was at the lowest point in my treatment. I had a fever, I was having a nosebleed and vomitting blood at the same time. My mum was with me and through the tears I can remember asking her if I was going to die. She told me NO. She was my rock. My mum never left my side. I never had a single night alone. If I stayed in hospital, she stayed in hospital. Or sometimes just across the road in a house run by the charity CLIC Sargent. She spent her birthdays in hospital, as well mine. I often think it was harder for her, than it was for me. She gave me an always-optimistic outlook on everything.
Somebody told me the other day, that I was brave. It’s not bravery. You have no choice with Cancer. You just have to get on with it.
I finished my treatment in December 1996 but had regular checkups until 2006.
Right now I consider myself one of the luckiest people alive. I Stood Up To Cancer. I survived. Not only that but I managed to still graduate university and was still able to have three beautiful children. Some people aren’t that lucky. Some people have long term side affects from chemo. Some have memory problems. Many are made infertile. And worst still… some don’t make it through at all.
When I had Cancer, the survival rate for children with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia was 70%. I knew 4 children in that other 30%. All younger than me. One was a baby.
Now the survival rate for ALL is 85%. But that other 15% is still so significant.
That’s why the Stand Up To Cancer campaign has affected me so much. I dream of the day when all cancers can be cured. It lights me up to hear that cures are within grasp. And all they need now, is the funding to complete trials. So if you haven’t donated yet. Please do. Click here to find the Stand Up To Cancer UK website.