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6. Cancerella

“Don’t forget, every Cinderella has her midnight.” – Eve Peabody

I had just recovered from my first round of chemotherapy and was back at work, eager to attend our black tie, all inclusive company Christmas party held at the iconic Old Billingsgate in London. Then on the day of the party, I felt stabbing pains in my abdomen. My doctors were very concerned and recommended that I go immediately back to the cancer ward to be examined.

With just 7 hours to go before the party, I was questioned in depth, pricked with needles for blood tests and scanned to investigate what was causing the pain. As always in hospital, I was asked to score the severity of my pain on a scale from one to ten. At the time I was in agony and rated it a 9/10. (However, in the months to follow I would unfortunately learn how much worse a real 9/10 rating would feel). As well as having chemotherapy in the weeks beforehand, I’d had my first dose of Avastin, a recently approved targeted therapy drug. Alongside chemotherapy, it was my main hope at successful treatment. However as with any drug, it came with a small chance of side effects. One of the more frightening side effects was perforation of the bowel or other organs. After examining me, my oncologist feared that the drug that was supposed to be helping me was causing me serious internal damage. The thought of this was devastating for me. I desperately hoped it was something else causing the pain; something minor.

After nervously awaiting the results, the scan confirmed that the Avastin hadn’t caused any holes. This meant I would thankfully be able to continue with my planned treatment course. My oncologist then ruled the pain down to a minor blockage in my bowel. This came as not too much of a surprise, considering that all of this time, my bowel had practically been holding up a “free hugs” sign to the cancer tumors.

Along with this good news and having an unplanned CT scan… The question then dawned on me; had my cancer shrunk, had the chemotherapy worked? For the first time, my oncologist had the answers in her hands. I was absolutely desperate to know and hoping for the best, however, my oncologist unfortunately confirmed that there was no difference between my pre-chemo scan and this one. As the look of devastation swept over my face, she reassured me that although it was disappointing, not to be disheartened as we were still in the very early stages of treatment. My oncologist was called away and the ward doctor suggested, that as a precaution, I stay in hospital overnight (and miss the party) to keep an eye on the pain. My heart sunk even more. As the ward doctor began to explain his reasoning, I could feel my eyes start to well up. It may have seemed silly given everything else going on in my life, but that’s what made the idea of gong to the party that bit more special. It wasn’t just another night out on the town, it was an opportunity to get dolled up, celebrate success and have fun with great friends - a fleeting opportunity at the start of my life as a cancer patient. The curtains were quickly drawn to give me privacy. In between sniffles, I explained my situation, the doctor sympathised, but reinforced that my health was the priority. Slumped over with tears I let all of my emotions out. I’d been relatively tear free since my initial diagnosis, but this was my trigger. How dare this disease come uninvited in to my life and rob me of time and memories. I was upset, angry and most of all exhausted, emotionally and physically. I couldn’t bare the thought of laying in a hospital bed all night while the party went on just streets away. I knew my situation was serious, but at the same time, it was just pain. I’d become used to pain, I could handle it. The ward doctor and nurses continued to comfort me. I was so embarrassed for crying, but I just couldn’t help it. Not long after, my oncologist (aka fairy godmother) came back to see me. She then rearranged for the final checks that I was due later that night to take place straight away. This meant that I was finished with medical tests and my overnight stay would be purely observational. In light of this, my wish was granted - I was allowed to attend the party. I had only two rules:

1. Not to take advantage of the free bar; and

2. If I started to feel the slightest bit sick, to head straight back to the hospital.

Although I’m sure I wouldn’t have turned into a pumpkin, I didn’t want to jeopardise my fairytale night and agreed to follow the rules. I wiped off the tears, and a smile back on to my face. The nurses then cheered and clapped as they sent Cancerella off to the ball. In no time I transformed from hospital gown, knotted hair and a red teary face to:

Rushed for time, I met a couple of co-worker girlfriends and we headed in to the party where I greeted my entire work team. I couldn’t believe I was there. I was so excited to celebrate the fantastic year behind us and cheers to the future, no matter how uncertain it was. In the weeks before, a handful of colleagues and friends throughout the company had found out that I was ill. At the party they were so pleased to see me and gave me huge hugs and words of encouragement. It was lovely to have their support. On the other hand were the colleagues who had no idea what was happening with me, and why would they? I was wearing my brave face and a full head of hair. Throughout the evening I politely excused myself from dancing, saying I’d been feeling “a little bit off” and when offered drinks I’d simply say I was on medication. One colleague persistently questioned which medication I was on, insisting that you can still drink with some types of antibiotics. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that my medication was in fact, chemotherapy. The night continued with great company, striking views of London, many glasses of coca cola and great new memories. As the tale goes, the clock soon struck midnight and the party came to a close. It was time for reality to set back in. My spell slowly came undone; my sparkling dress turned into pyjamas, my high heels into fluffy slippers and in the days to follow, my long blonde hair would turn to bald.

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