When I found I had cancer I truly thought I'd been through the worst time, even before those words were said to me.
3 weeks after my third gorgeous baby Gabriella was born, I had been admitted to hospital for 9 nights due to a mass on my chest that I'd grown throughout my pregnancy. A mass I was told was fluid and nothing to worry about. But now with a 3 week old I was told it was an infection and I needed an operation or my sternum would collapse.
So there I was, without my new baby. Having to stop breastfeeding and missing the summer holidays. But still......better to be safe and all that.
So upon release I tried to find a new normal. New baby. Machine attached to my chest (to help my open wound of 10cm x5cm heal naturally rather than stitches.) And aim to enjoy some family time before school started again for the other kids. Pearl was 5 and Toby 17.
Then I got that call. Our world was ripped apart. Cancer. (Non hodgkins lymphoma if we are to be precise.)
So Gabriella is now 6 weeks old. And I'm sat in a room with a oncologist and Macmillan nurse. Discussing chemo. And radiation. And losing my hair. And did we want more children in the future? My husband and mum are there too......Its all a little too much for my mum. She's sat here before. For my dad, NHL and for herself, Stage 3 Breast Cancer. (We joke now how alike dad and I were......I had to get HIS cancer didn't I? )
So the plan is in place. 6 rounds of chemo. Every 3 weeks. Then a month of daily radiation. If everything goes well, no infections or reactions, I'll be done the day before Pearls 6th birthday. January 6th is my end game. I won't allow anything to go wrong. I tell myself I have a really bad cold. Not cancer. Well CANCER, but cancer you can beat you know? PMA all the way and that.
So it begins. And I refuse to back down from being a wife and mother. Apart from the school run, (Chemo during Autumn / winter is going to be a bitch with no car and a good 40 minute walk there and back twice a day) I continue as normal as can be during the cycles.
After the first two. I twigged the routine of the chemo and it's effects on me. They were:
Cycle Day 1 - Sit in a comfy chair. Hope you get a good vein nurse. If no delays should be done within 5 hours. Home for wine and cheese 👍
Cycle Day 2 - Reap the rewards of the steroids......as chemo was always Fridays this meant I was buzzing my tatties off for a weekend with the kids. This was FAB! Nothing could stop me. Roast dinners every Sunday. Boom!
Cycle Day 5 - No steroids anymore. Oh shit! Jaw ache and upset tummy begins. ( I discover just before chemo 3 that eating anything remotely healthy or green during this time is bad news gut wise. Dr advises only carbs during this time....#explainsmyfatarse
Cycle Day 7 - feel back to normal ish self. Await the next 14 days til the next date with the Chemo crew.
So that's a breakdown of how I handled the cycles. Easy peasy. Not!
Obviously after diagnosis we had to break the news to the kids. It went like so.....
Me to Gabriella...."Gabs....mummy has cancer. "
Gabriella to me "Waa waa blurble gurgle Vomit" (she didn't really enjoy formula milk and had a lots of reflux bouts)
Easy. Job done!
Me to Pearl.... " You know Mummys chest has been poorly. Well its MORE poorly inside so I need a special medicine called chemo to make me better. "
Pearl to me "Ok but you don't have to stay in hospital again do you? Because daddy will not be able to work AND have Gabriella without Grandma coming to stay again. And then he might make that face again" (screws face up in a stressed out/ baby trying to poop way) ** My mum stayed during my hospitalisation. It was....interesting apparently. Hehe.
Me to Pearl " No I won't BUT the medicine does funny things.... like make me sick. Makes me tired. And even make my hair come out....."
I wait at this point for a reaction.....And what comes sums my amazing, strong daughter up to a T.
"Well mummy you have so much hair you will get a rest from straightening it. And plus...(feels my head) It'll look pretty good so dont worry."
My gentle giant was the hardest. At 17 he knows the pain of cancer. Knows the fear the word brings...With Pearl I never said THE word. My choice. Others choose to....I know personally that word strikes fear for a child hearing those words. And at 6 years old and above average reading she would see every advert or article and be terrified. (We really like to talk death and bad shit with cancer. Hardly ever the amazing research and positive leaps we are making in curing it!)
So Toby cried. And I cried. And Dad cried. But we rally. We are strong. Together we can do this.
So that was that. Each cycle came and went. I cooked and cleaned as normal. I'm hindsight it was bloody stupid. It was probably the ONLY time I could've got away with being waited on. But I needed that control.
So hair went after cycle 2. My lovely red curls would be on my pillow. I knew it was coming but it came hard and fast. I couldn't let Pearl see my upset so decided it was chop time. And she was the one to do it.
I must stress you never EVER think letting a 5 year old cut your hair is a bright idea . It isn't. Not at all. She hacked and hacked at it til my lob was no more. Then daddy finished with the clippers. Empowering? Nah. Necessary? Yes. It was done.
The wig came. The wig went. Bloody hot and uncomfy. Confused the baby no end. Saved the wig for special occasions like shopping but even then after a month of wearing it I pulled out my favourite scarf from Venice and styled the crap out of it.( I love that scarf. I need to preserve it in some arty way.....suggestions welcome!)
We plodded on into Christmas and it was the hardest time of the chemo. I was very bald. Very tired. And had the end in sight but a fear growing of what if it hadn't been working. A mid scan showed it had. But seen as I never felt ill before diagnosis it could always be creeping back Right? I push these thoughts behind me and attempt to smile through celebrations.
We give the kids everything they want. I have to do this. Anyone would. But it never feels like a proper Christmas.
Then the day is here. Final chemo. All systems are go. All nurses pop by to visit and we share the Christmas chocolates brought in by patient's as thank yous..... There were very few "young people" on my chemo days so I guess they quite liked hearing my escapades as a mum and how big Gabriella had gotten during each session.... I saw 3 nurses announce their pregnancies and almost begin Maternity leave so bonds form.
(I can't lie. I do get a bit miffed when I see new mums and think about all the things Gabs and I have missed during the cancer/ post op days... having to stop the booby juice....We couldn't really do play groups as the risk of infection was way too high. Likewise swimming etc. I couldn't have her fall asleep in my chest. Couldn't bath her by myself. Or even carry her in a sling. Silly things you just expect to do as a new mummy. But instead I get to see her grow up so it's all worth it. 👍)
So chemo is done and a month later Radiation begins. Now that is a different matter all together.
Monday to Friday for 4 weeks. Strapped to a table, barely able to swallow as the laser is THAT precise one false move and trouble. This took it's toll. All my sessions were late afternoon. So you never rested during the day. The anxiety of what was coming had you firmly on your toes. Each session was delayed by about 45 minutes. Not to mention the taxis there and back as I don't have a car. So a 10 minute blast of radiation ended up being almost a 3 hour round trip.
I admit defeat. I cannot cook, clean and iron. I can barely stand. What follows is extreme fatigue. Terrible sore throat. Lack of appetite. A whole sense of just feeling shit. Being unable to take care of the family. When the last session came I wept with relief.
And slowly time passes. Hair grows. Children forget the dark days. We even have ourselves a long over due holiday.......Then 3 months has passed and your PET scan results are there. Waiting with baited breath and a belly full of sickness at what may be said.
Remission. Total metabolic Remisson. We cry in relief. This is over. I fought and won.
Does life return to normal? No. Do you skip through the meadows with butterflies? No. What you do is strap on those big boots you've used for the last year. Walk out that door and begin a new phase.
You've slayed a monster that is likely to return. You accept this. But shall not dwell on it.
My children are my life. My life is now also cancer. It will never go away. It's dark shadow looms... in the scar on my chest when I look in the mirror...... In the pain in my joints when I wake to settle Gabriella or return Pearl to her bed after a bad dream......Its the first thing I see in the morning and last thing at night.
But I am humbled by what it HAS given me. A greater understanding of families and love. The realisation that there really are some special people in this world and sometimes it takes dealing with bad experiences for them to enter your life.
Would I rather have had a new kitchen? Sure! But then what would Santa bring me? 😉
This is my story.
My story is just one of many.
Cancer is in all our lives. But we will fight on.
I intend to do as much as possible to help in that fight.
Ellen is currently holding an Instagram Raffle for raise money for two amazing little Cancer charities that have supported her.
www.trekstock.com supporting people in their 20s and 30s diagnosed with cancer.
www.mummysstar.org who support women diagnosed with cancer during and after pregnancy
Lots of mama and baby prizes to be won. Tickets are £2 via PayPal. Drop her a DM @mummythecancerslayer for more information.