“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” - Desmond Tutu
Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one; Happy New Year! I had spent the night of New Year’s Eve ticking off one of my bucket list items: to attend a masquerade ball. Dressed from head to toe I wore my wig Kimberly, a black and gold mask with an oversized feather and a beautifully beaded dress that I had admired for months; until my sister kindly brought it for me as a Christmas present. I felt like a million dollars and was filled with adrenalin from the buzzing city. Any other year I would have drank copious amounts of wine and found a midnight kiss. Instead things were a little different this year, having only just recovered from my latest round of chemotherapy treatment, I took a step back and calmly celebrated the clock striking midnight with my mother and sister.
The fireworks lit up the London sky as it simultaneously poured down with rain and wind. It was quite an accurate indicator of my year to come; where I would try to keep my light shining bright and hopeful whilst my body battled the number of extreme conditions thrown at it.
As I gave cheers to welcoming 2014, my New Year resolution wasn’t to lose weight, get over an ex-boyfriend or to save money; it would simply be to survive. I wanted nothing more than to become cancer free. After the excitement of the festive season wore off, I tumbled straight back into the role of cancer patient. My oncologist had scheduled me in for my first official progress CT scan to find out whether the chemotherapy was having any impact on the cancer. My chances of survival were dependent upon these results.
Up until this point, my prognosis was dire. With a lack of treatment options available, my Oncologist had warned me that although chemotherapy was unlikely to work on my type of cancer, we could at least try it. I was blindly taking the pain and toxicity of chemotherapy on a whim, hoping for the best but prepared for worst. If the CT scan results were to come back without any improvement, my one hope, however slim, would be completely gone. Ordinarily the next option would be to perform surgery, however we already knew that I had some inoperable tumours. Without chemotherapy on my side to shrink them, my life expectancy would be so short that it wouldn’t have even been worth the trauma or recovery time to perform such a major operation. I would have been told that there was nothing more they could do. I was desperate for the chemotherapy to work and couldn’t bare the thought of it failing.
Going in for this CT scan was a complete emotional roller coaster. I worried for the days beforehand with no short supply of sleepless nights. As the appointment started, I made small talk with the Radiography Assistant whilst he inserted a needle and cannula into my arm and asked me to drink cup after cup of icy water. Once lying flat on the bench of the CT Scanner, the Radiographer explained that I needed a contrast dye to be injected into my veins throughout the scan and what the side effects would be. Once the cool liquid shot through my arm I experienced all of them immediately; a metallic taste in my mouth, hot flushes and the most bizarre of all; the sensation of wetting yourself. After having to drink so much water prior to the scan I was convinced I’d had an “accident” on the bench. However as the machine then instructed me to hold my breath as the bench slowly slid my body through the machine, my thoughts of embarrassment and toilet humour quickly shifted. I began imagining every positive thought I could muster up, almost hoping that these thoughts would just eat up the cancer so that my scan could be clear. After all of the emotion that goes into the lead up and scan itself, you find yourself expecting that they’ll tell you the results then and there, but of course, it takes days; a complete anti-climax.
A few days later, I found myself walking into the oncology appointment that I knew would become one of the most defining moments of my life, for good or bad. After we passed the small talk, my Oncologist turned to me, looked me straight in the eye and without a single blink, told me the results. As the words came out of her mouth, my sister shrieked and I looked blankly in disbelief. I felt time stand still until I registered the sound of laughter as my sister threw her arms around me in elation. Despite the odds, after only two rounds of chemotherapy combined with Avastin, the cancer was in fact shrinking.
A million thoughts then raced through my head. This was the first time throughout this whole journey that I had a real chance of surviving the cancer. I was overwhelmed, excited and grateful. I felt like I’d just won a prize that I wasn’t expecting. The thoughts of “really, me? Yes, ME!” ran through my head. I thanked my oncologist for the brilliant news. She laughed and said "so we’ll schedule in for another dose on Monday?” I nodded without the slightest hesitation. I then looked forward to my next chemotherapy session, the very thing that I had detested almost as much as the cancer itself. I hated chemotherapy for the debilitated state it would leave me in, but couldn’t help but love it for the simple fact that it was saving my life! I would go through anything to survive and if my demon was chemotherapy, so be it.
I leapt into my chemotherapy appointment feeling revitalised, like I had a new lease on life, because frankly, I did. After months of battling this disease I was no longer fighting bare handed, I had a weapon.
I would go on to endure the week of awful side effects like clockwork, however this time I embraced the pain a little more. I thought if it’s making me feel this bad, imagine how it’s making the cancer feel.