What cancer were you diagnosed with? Hodgkin's Lymphoma
What age were you diagnosed? 28
What helped you to thrive? Yoga, walking in the countryside, the support of my amazing family, boyfriend and friends as well as the online cancer community, my dog Marvin aka therapy dog, ginger biscuits - they work wonders for nausea, writing down all my crazy thoughts and anxieties, the NHS - I owe my life to my amazing Consultant and Nurses and all the people I never met working for me behind the scenes.
I have always had lots of energy and before being diagnosed with cancer had never been really ill or in hospital before. I was a fit, happy 28-year-old, living a pretty hectic life in London with my boyfriend and working in a busy job casting for film and TV. My life consisted of working hard, yoga classes, boozing with friends, holidays in the sun and generally enjoying myself. I never thought much about my health but definitely considered myself healthy. I always tried to eat well, would drink water like it was going out fashion and was a bit of a yoga bunny. But then something strange started to happen. At the end of 2015 I started to get back pain. What started as just a bit of an ache got progressively worse and by March 2016 the back pain was starting to become unbearable. I began taking codeine daily and visited A&E on a number of occasions as I was in so much pain. No blood test was ever done on me and instead I was told by an A&E Doctor that I had a codeine addiction! Only to be prescribed more codeine. As the back pain got worse I started to feel extreme exhaustion. I would come home from work and would just have to lie down, I even started taking naps in my office on my lunch hour. I lost all my strength, I couldn’t even unscrew a jar of Marmite and sometimes found myself crawling up the stairs in my flat (all 6 of them!). I started having terrible night sweats and fevers. I would start shivering, to the point that my teeth would chatter and I would feel freezing cold. I’d snuggle into my boyfriend and get a hot water bottle. Then I’d suddenly be boiling hot. On a bad night I would need to change my pyjamas three times, as they’d be soaked through with sweat, along with the sheet and duvet. The weight started to fall off me. My jeans that once made me look shapely and peachy now had a good 3 inches of extra material to pull at. People started to comment – “You’ve lost weight”. Had I? I wasn’t convinced, for some reason it wasn’t computing with me that I was ill, very ill. And never for a minute did I think I might have cancer.
Eventually it all got too much and I was admitted to hospital for a five day stint as I’d become so ill. At this point I was pretty much bed bound and my body was working over time to keep me going. After lots of tests and biopsies in June 2016 I was diagnosed with Stage 4b Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. It was a very scary time and I was riddled with anxiety and fear. Thoughts whirred around in my head at 100mph. My first real thought was simply the fragility of life, that no matter how big and confident we feel, we will always be fragile and vulnerable. That was the first biggie to get my head around. Then I started to face my own mortality – I was convinced I was going to die. Thoughts of my own funeral played over and over in my head. Next the anger came, why me? What have I done to deserve this? This is so unfair, why me, why me, why me? This was by fair the hardest part to come to terms with. But of course you can’t think like this and we all know positive thinking saves the day. So I cried a lot, talked about it all even more and thought to myself fuck this, I’m going to kick cancer up the ass. I surprised myself with how quickly I started to make sense of my fate and the road to acceptance began. I knew that the only way to get through this was to accept, cease all control and hand my trust over to the medical professionals who were to look after me on this long journey. And I will never ever forget for the rest of my life my mum coming in to my hospital room and saying to me ‘I just know you’re going to be okay’. By far the most reassuring sentence in my life to date. So simple, yet so perfect and suddenly I knew I would be okay.
I started chemo at the end of June and it was a tough slog to the say the least! Diarrhea, mouth sores, neutropenia, bone aches, migraines, exhaustion, mental fatigue, constipation, muscle cramps, anxiety, shivers, insomnia, piles, tooth infections, acne, weight loss, weight gain, stomach cramps, raised heart rate, infections, viruses, hospital admissions, hot flushes, nausea, joint aches, dizziness, hair loss, water retention, swollen ankles, sun spots, trapped wind, fevers, anemia, breathlessness, paranoia and loss of energy were all part of the process. Slowly though I began to heal. I forced myself to walk as much as I could, even when it was a struggle to walk up the stairs, I cycled as and when and practiced yoga almost daily. I found space for me and my body and my own self healing. I thanked my body constantly and most importantly I believed that my health would return back to me. I did not push myself and I accepted that some days were just too tough to get out of bed. Slowly my strength and energy began to return and I started to feel better. It is the most AMAZING feeling. I finally finished chemo on 7th December and on Monday I have my PET scan. I have every possible thing crossed that I will be given the all clear.
It has been an incredibly tough journey but equally having cancer has taught me so much. It has given me time to reflect, to become more self aware, to reassess who I am and what I want from life, to readjust my priorities and to change my reference points for what success and happiness is. And most importantly it has taught me the limitless strength of the human spirit and how to be resilient when faced with huge crisis. So for all these reasons I actually feel quite lucky to have had cancer. Who’d have thought?!