My immediate reaction on hearing the diagnosis was “so how quickly will it [the cancer] be taken out”. I was taken aback by the response … “it depends, surgery may not be the answer”. The consultant didn’t elaborate on the alternatives so I immediately concluded that if the scans show it to be so advanced they won’t bother doing anything. I don’t remember much else from that day other than wanting to leave the stifling surroundings of hospital the minute we could. We retreated to the infamous Park Run bench on the Stray whilst the news sank in and felt as if the world as we knew it had fallen apart.
A long wait ensued. The five days between diagnosis and the appointment with my nominated consultant felt like eternity with everyone around me eager as I was for an update on the ‘what next’. With two days of the school term left it was important for me to face the playground. News had got around but my biggest fear was the emotion any conversation about it would trigger, in front of the boys. School holidays then started so we kept busy to limit the time I had to dwell on what it all meant.
The appointment comes … it took a while to get used to ‘consultant speak’ – everything was matter of fact. I tried to stay composed, not wanting to waste valuable appointment time getting emotional. Lots of opportunity for questions. I have lots that I know the consultant can’t answer and I’m aware that I should probably have many more pertinent ones relating to the proposed surgery but it feels so far removed from what I know, I can’t think of anything sensible to ask. The consultant explains the scan results indicate the cancer is early stage and therefore treatable (but does emphasise scans don’t show everything) which seems like a positive in the circumstances and warrants a couple of glasses of wine in the late afternoon sun. I’m advised a hysterectomy is the first stage of my treatment with the option to have it done by the consultant in four weeks under the NHS or in six days under my private healthcare which I was fortunate to have with my employer. That was a decision I felt I could make. The sooner the better as far as I was concerned. I’m not sure I could have gone for another four weeks knowing what was growing inside of me. Additionally, I was starting to feel increased discomfort from the pressure of the tumours and the fluid in my abdomen.
The way I saw it they could take whatever they needed out of me in order to give me the best possible chance of longevity. I recall the consent form I signed prior to going to theatre listed a series of procedures with a caveat around taking anything else they discovered they needed to. An hour or so before the operation the surgeon explained where they were going to cut me. A 9 inch vertical incision on my abdomen not even central. Only at that point did I realise it was bye bye bikini!
To be honest I was focused on getting through the operation and recovering. I hadn’t given much thought to what they might find whilst performing the surgery. I went into theatre about 5pm and vaguely recall coming round about 9pm, I wasn’t properly with it until the next morning when I awoke feeling elated I had got through the operation and no doubt slightly fuelled by the strong painkillers.
The elation was short-lived; the consultant had asked Rob to be back at the hospital early the next morning, at which time he explained that in doing the surgery it was apparent the cancer had spread further than anticipated. He had removed what he was practically able to but inevitably some microscopic cancerous cells would remain and therefore chemo would need to follow when my body had recovered sufficiently from the surgery. Even then I don’t think it dawned on me what the implications were. It was only after the anaesthetist had stopped by later that evening (allegedly to check on my pain relief but I suspect more to offer her sympathies and share her personal experience of cancer), that I realised this wasn’t going to be a blip where I was out of action for a couple of months and that cancer was now a permanent feature in my life.
Seeing my local GP a week on from surgery was reassuring. She reiterated the extent of what I had physically and emotionally been through and gave me some insights about how the chemo may affect me. I recall asking her how soon can I have a glass of wine (I’d avoided alcohol whilst on the cocktail of painkillers post-surgery). Since I was no longer taking any pain relief she gave the okay to indulge in a glass that evening and it sure tasted good. Not wanting to appear to have an alcohol issue I braved asking whether four months of chemo meant no drinking – I was assured it was not the case (based on the drugs I was having), but to be sensible and I was cautioned that there would be plenty of times during the chemo when alcohol was the last thing that I would want.
On reflection I made a speedy recovery from the surgery in terms of getting my mobility back. I forced myself to take it very easy the first few days after being discharged - a challenge with two young boys charging round the house and leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. I distinctly recall taking the slow walk to the post box a mere two minute walk away from home and feeling like I’d used every last ounce of energy to do it, but within a matter of days my mobility started to return and the wound was visibly healing. That was probably the point at which I got the greatest level of sympathy from the boys – they’d visited me in hospital, knew I was having an operation to make me feel better and could see an impressive wound. As expected from children that age, their sympathy levels started to wane, especially when they saw me looking physically stronger and able to drive again.
In the weeks that followed surgery I quickly became an expert on coffee venues in and around Harrogate. Never before had I ‘done coffee’ quite so often. When presented with the choice of having people stop by the house it felt more of an achievement to have ventured out. Many a time I found myself thinking I’m sure I’m repeating myself as I relayed the latest instalment of my treatment and consultations. In hindsight it actually helped to continually talk about it. It made it feel real, but equally it was a relief when people filled me in on what was going on in their life to take the focus off my illness.