About a month after I finished radiotherapy, we all went on a big family holiday to north Devon. We all had a great time, until the very last day of the holiday. I started getting really painful headaches. I tried all manner of painkillers, but they weren’t doing the trick. We eventually after a lot of faffing, got in contact with Melissa. She arranged an appointment for me to see Dr C.
We drove back a bit earlier in quite a tense state. I had an MRI and a couple of days later me, my husband, my sister and my mum were sitting in the ENT waiting room to hear the results. It was the first time my mum and sister had been there. My mum especially was thoroughly confused by it all.
My name was called out by the nurse and I was weighed.
“Why were you weighed?” asked mum.
“I dunno… it’s something they always do.”
Mum looked puzzled, but before she could formulate a question, we were called through. This time we sat in a line next to a door.
“Good?” said my husband.
“Actually I would say nerve wracking.” Said my sister. “ You would think they would organise it in a better way…”
As we debated how they could do this better, Melissa magically appeared and called us in.
It wasn’t Dr C or Mr B that saw us. It was a nervy looking registrar.
“I’m afraid that both Dr C and Mr B are away on holiday at the moment. I’ve had a look at your scan and it looks like you are disease free.”
“Does that mean it’s gone?” asked my sister.
“Urm… yes. It says there is no evidence of disease…”
We all breathed a sigh of relief.
“But what about the pain?” I asked
“ I think that must be an after effect from the radiotherapy. I can prescribe you some medication if you like. What is the pain like?”
I outlined the types of pain that I was in. It was a shooting, nerve pain running up the left side of my face.
“Ok…I’ll prescribe you a drug called Gabapentin. That is good for nerve pain so hopefully it should do the trick.”
As we made our way out of the room, my nearest and dearest were cockahoop. They were high fiving and talking of places to go to celebrate. I however didn’t feel quite so jovial. Something wasn’t quite right…
As summer rolled into autumn, I prepared to go back to work. I had a meeting with my manager and decided to go down to working four days a week. One of the classes I was assigned was an evening class which I was due to start after Christmas, once I had got back into the swing of things.
I started back just before the summer break which was quite a good time to return to work. I initially didn’t do any teaching and was helping out in an admin role. The summer break went by in a flash and soon I was sat in a classroom at the beginning of September listening to our Induction for the next academic year.
It all started so well. We spend the first couple of weeks of every academic year interviewing and enrolling learners. This went well and most of the classes filled up quickly. It was when the teaching started that I began to feel a bit peculiar. Basically I was knackered. A whole day of teaching would completely wipe me out. I would get home, have a shower, have something to eat and then go to bed usually by eight o’clock. The prospect of having to teach an evening class terrified me. I would be asleep by break!
The tiredness you get with cancer is completely different to the tiredness that you usually feel. It is energy sapping, fuzzy head making and eye drooping. You feel it in your core. No amount of coffee, energy drinks or supplements can tackle it. You just have to give in, however frustrated you may feel about it.
I was still getting really bad headaches, so Melissa booked appointment to see Mr C and soon I was being weighed in the ENT waiting room. I had another MRI and was here for the results.
We walked in the room and my husband moved his chair closer to mine.
“It’s not good news. The cancer has returned and has spread. It’s gone up a nerve and has now formed a tumour at the base of your skull. I’ve spoken to the neurosurgeons at the QMC and the have said that it is inoperable. It’s very small but where it is located is the problem. If we operate you would definitely lose your left eye and would more than likely have a stroke. This would greatly affect your quality of life. I’m going to book you in for another PET scan to check that the cancer hasn’t spread any further…”
Part of me felt relieved when I heard this. I KNEW something was wrong! Aha! I was right! I felt like shouting. I also felt like I had some justification on where to tell my manager to stick her evening class.
It was only when I looked at my husband that the reality started to hit.
“So… there’s absolutely nothing you can do?” asked my husband.
“Not surgically wise… no…”said Mr C.
“What about radiotherapy or chemo?” I asked.
“We don’t think the tumour would respond to chemo and as for radiotherapy, you have only just finished one cycle. It would be quite dangerous to make you anymore weaker. It would greatly affect your quality of life.”
“So… how long have I got then?”
“We don’t really know but…why don’t you speak with Melissa? I’m sure she can help you come to terms with this news.”
We thanked Mr C who gave us an appointment sheet to hand in to collect the PET scan results. We then left with Melissa.
I can’t quite remember what we discussed with Melissa, as we were both in shock. I remember phoning my dad afterwards and breaking down on the phone to him. I think the reality of it all had began to have sunk in. While we were stuck in traffic on the ring road my husband made quite a glib remark.
“Now’s the time to do anything that you want to do…have you ever thought about doing crack cocaine? You’ve got nothing to lose you know!”
For which he received a thump on the arm.