Saturday, 26 June 2010
Part 2 - The News
I don't actually remember how my parents told me I had cancer all I remember feeling was as if I was up on the ceiling in the corner of the room watching this drama play out as if it was someone else. I remember very quickly asking 'am I going to die'. They were so honest without wanting to frighten me (my Mum can never lie! When I was a teenager and someone rang who I didn't want to talk to the only way she'd say I was out was if I went and stood outside the back door! :-) They told me they didn't know but they hoped not. Much later I found out the real news they had been given. Unfortunately both Mr Belchetz and Abberton had gone away and left a registrar Mr Tulwah to break the news. He told them bluntly I had a rare form of bone cancer, it was terminal and I was going to die. When Mum asked 'what are you talking about months, weeks, days?' he replied 'the latter I think and would you like me to tell her?' Errr maybe not!
The nurses on the ward were all quite young and so lovely. They had already spent a long time chatting to me and laughing about the numbers of visitors I was getting, threatening to sell tickets! It all fitted together why they had been so quiet that morning and two of them, including the sister had obviously been crying, now I knew why.
Very shortly afterwards a porter came to take me for a CT scan. The LGI is a very bizarre place, at that time the radiology department being in the bowels of the old part of the hospital, down corridor after corridor. It was a very surreal journey, we passed the hospital chapel and I remember thinking should I go in there and pray, but what for? Apparently whilst I was being scanned a consultant radiographer found my parents in the corridor, quite obviously devastated. He took them in his office and asked what they had been told, at which point he could barely contain his fury and asked them to request My Tulwah called him at his home that evening. He reassured them there were things they could do.
The mood was certainly lightened when we returned to my room to find 3 of my fellow class mates waiting for me Andy P, Nathan and Steve along with a carrot and other vegetable arrangement on my pillow....a good alternative to grapes! We all had a real laugh about it and then I very casually broke the news to them 'I've got cancer'. There, said it. The poor lads didn't know where to put themselves and after making as many of the right noises as they could think of made a swift exit, who can blame them?
I also have no recollection how or who broke it to my boyfriend at the time (Dave) but I do know they let him stay with me at the hospital and the nurses spent a lot of time talking to us.
There began a frenzy of activity - being taken for test after test after test. After being pumped full of radioactive material I had a bone scan in nuclear medicine, to establish whether the cancer had spread. Again this was in a dark basement department lit with artificial light, with no windows, it now really felt like I was trapped in a prison with no idea when and if I'd ever escape. I lay on my back on the table with Dave holding my hand crying so hard the tears where pouring down my face and filling my ears! I do have a vivid imagination (like Mum!) and just imagined the cancer being everywhere in my body. How wrong I was, about escaping...well sort of....I was popped in an ambulance and taken to St James University Hospital (the then well known Jimmys of TV fame). I was on a gurney and hated everyone staring so pulled the red blanket over myself and thought I wonder now if people will think I'm dead!! My first MRI scan followed to establish the extent of the tumour. It was now Friday less than 5 days since I'd been driven to hospital.
During the next couple of days it emerged that there was a protocol of treatment for those diagnosed with an osteosarcoma. The supra regional centre for bone tumours at The Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in Birmingham treated patients such as myself. It entailed 3 sessions of chemotherapy (the type where you're plugged into the electricity for 4 days on an IV drip) followed by extensive surgery to remove the diseased bone and a certain amount either side. In essence a knee replacement with much of the bone above and below also being replaced by metal, muscles being moved around and tendons reattached etc. A further 3 sessions of the chemo followed. A real prospect to look forward to....but I guess a welcome alternative to what my parents had been told originally. Patients were able to have the chemo in their local hospitals and travel to Birmingham for the further biopsies, scans and surgery.
I wanted to tell those close to me the news myself, which was hard for all of us but better that way. Also the phone isn't the ideal mode of delivery but needs must. The worst phone call I had to make was to one of my best friends, Lorna. She was studying in Sheffield and we regularly made trips back and forth from West to South Yorkshire for nights out. All I could picture was her student house, the glass partition doors between the kitchen and lounge and asking her to go through those doors as I needed to talk to her about something serious. It's wierd though because you somehow find the strength to be cheerful and positive to try and lessen the blow to those who love you.
On the Monday I was to be moved by ambulance to Cookridge Hospital (also in Leeds, although it no longer exists) to begin my first session of chemotherapy. One week on from becoming a 'patient', a name, a number, a condition and things were about to get much worse........