So when I last left you I was three months out from finishing treatment and all was rosy in the garden. My six month checkup was more of the same and I was feeling good and getting back to normal – or at least the new normal. And then in September 2016 I went for my nine month checkup. I’d been having a lot of back pain over the past couple of months but I wasn’t particularly concerned about it. I’d lost some weight but I thought that was because I was eating better. And I’d had the occasional fever and few days of feeling rotten but I put that down to my body recovering from the cancer treatment. Luckily for me, my oncologist wasn’t so quick to dismiss things as I was. As she put it at the time, when someone who doesn’t normally complain starts complaining, you get worried. So she booked me in for a CT scan to try and figure out what was going on. I had it two weeks later and within a couple of hours of the scan I got a call from her – never a good sign. The scan had shown what looked like a massive abscess on my liver and I needed to be admitted to hospital urgently. So I panicked briefly, then shook it off, made arrangements for the boys to be looked after and packed my bag.
I came into CUH in the evening and was admitted to the oncology ward – not the most cheerful of places. The next day I had a drain put into my liver and within a few hours 1.2 litres of fluid had been removed from it – it was no wonder I had so much pain! There were no signs of anything visible on the outside of my body so my poor liver was completely squashed on the inside. And then began the testing and the questioning. Had I been to any tropical countries recently? Had I eaten any raw meat or sushi? Been in contact with anyone with a rare illness? I met an array of specialists and they ran every test under the sun on me – I had MRI’s, ultrasounds, blood tests just to name a few. They tested the fluid samples for every type of possible infection or parasite. And nothing showed up. I was something of a medical mystery. And so after nine long days in hospital, it was put down to a mystery infection and I was left home with a nurse coming to give me IV antibiotics for two weeks as a precaution. So far, so good, even if somewhat baffling.
And then after about a week the back pain starting coming back. And then I spiked a fever and so back to CUH I went. The testing started again and they found that the abscess had filled up again so back in went the drain and out came another litre of fluid. Another battery of tests followed and this time the liver specialists got involved. And they determined that it wasn’t an abscess but a cyst. Still no idea what was causing it though. After another ten days in hospital with no answers it was decided to biopsy my liver and see if they could figure out the cause from that. But the day before the biopsy was scheduled for, they finally got a result. And it was not one we wanted. Some random cancer cells had shown up in the second sample of drain fluid. And so the world turned upside down again.
Straight away it was back to PET scans and panicking. The cancer was in my liver but was it anywhere else? If not, then surgery might be an option. But it wasn’t. The PET scan showed that as well as the cystic tumour in my liver, there were also spots in my lung. So surgery was off the table. And so too was any talk of ‘cure’. It was all about ‘control’ and ‘stabilising’. No timeframes were given because you can’t plan for the unknown. But I’d need chemotherapy again and this time it wouldn’t be ‘chemo-lite’ like I had the first time; this time it was going to be full-on, hair-falling-out, feeling-like-crap chemo. And I needed to start it as soon as possible.
I was in a very dark place at this stage. My only thoughts were about my boys and how they’d cope growing up without their mom. Noah was only 18 months – he probably wouldn’t even remember me. And my Oscar wasn’t even four yet but he’s so bright and clued-in – we couldn’t hide anything from him. All I could think about for those few weeks while I was waiting to start chemo was that I was going to die and everything I was going to miss out on. The boys first days at school, their birthdays, the first time they’d bring a girl home and every other milestone in their lives. It all seemed so unfair. I never wanted to be famous or rich or powerful. All I wanted was to live my little life with my husband and raise my babies – was that really too much to ask for?
And so those few dark weeks passed until I was about to start chemo. I was going to have six cycles of Taxol and Carboplatin, each cycle three weeks apart. Once it started, I knew I had to crawl out of my hole and get my game face on. There are only two options when it comes to something like this – lie down and give up or get up and keep going. And I don’t come from a lie down and give up family. So I got up. I went wig shopping and got my eyebrows tattooed (more on that later). I researched complementary treatments and supplements to support my body through chemo, and I saw a nutritionist to get advice on my diet. I got organised. And on 9th November I started chemo, again.