Honey honey

I have a carrier bag full of tablets. Pain killers, anti-sickness, anti-this, anti-that. My medicine for the side effects of the cancer treatment is all pretty potent. Some of it is so strong that I have capsules which I have to take first to prepare my stomach for the toxic onslaught. Thankfully most of the stuff now stays in the bag.

This week I’m celebrating a medical breakthrough but it’s not thanks to a pill or a chemical potion – something much more natural – honey. It’s helped with a problem that’s been bothering me for a while. For many months actually.

Medical honey – not to be put on toast!

Before I go on, I have to warn you that there are a few euwghhh medical details so if you’re a bit squeamish, you might want to give this a miss. Otherwise let’s get on with the gore…

So, the operation to get rid of the stupid cancer was way back in March. The wound was held together with what looked like metal staples. I was left with a massive scar. I don’t mind its size as it reflects just what a big battle I fought and won.

A couple of weeks after the surgery they were pulled out (even more painful than it sounds) the skin should have all joined up. That’s not quite what happened.

Once the staples were out, I laid back on my hospital bed and stared at the scar. It looked as if it had healed lovely. But over the next half an hour I watched as part of the wound opened up. It was like a real life horror movie. It seemed like my stomach was being ripped apart. I was totally freaked out.

If you imagine two decks of cards on top of each other, that’s how long, wide and deep the wound was. Just gruesome.

I had a mixture of sickness and panic but the faces of the medical staff didn’t reflect the fear that I felt. They told me that it would improve. I wasn’t convinced. I couldn’t bear to look at it for weeks.

The area needed to be treated every day and then every other day. There was a lovely team of district nurses who came to see me at my parent’s house. Sasha the dog enjoyed having the regular visitors but it meant my life was planned around my wound. Gradually it shrank but the chemo ensured that it never healed.

You might think that compared to dealing with cancer this isn’t really a big deal and you’re right, in the scheme of things it’s not, but it just dragged on. Once the chemo was over it seemed to get worse. When I came back to London it was the wonderful nurses at my GP’s surgery who gave it the attention that it constantly demanded.

My life seemed to revolve around the wound. It was a lingering link to my traumatic time in hospital. Until it was sorted out, I knew that I wouldn’t feel like I was really getting better.

I went back to hospital where a tissue specialist suggested we try putting honey on the affected area. She told me how honey has antibacterial properties and has been used to help with healing for centuries. I was willing to try anything. Medical grade honey that had been sterilised was smeared on my wound. This wasn’t quite the gloopy stuff that you get in a jar but very similar.

I had the sweet, sticky treatment for about a month. It made such a difference.

After 37 frustrating weeks, the wound has now finally healed and it’s a huge relief. This is another step towards getting my life back. It’s amazing that in the end, it was an ancient remedy that came to my rescue.

I choose life …

When I came into hospital I thought I had already made that big decision. Do I want to do whatever it takes to save my life? My answer was yes. Of course. What I didn’t realise was that I would have to make that choice again.

On the day of my operation, I wasn’t supposed to be first on the list for surgery but someone else was late. With a pink dressing gown over my NHS hospital gown I rushed to the end of the ward to join some of my medical team.We walked briskly to the operating theatre along a confusing set of corridors. Early morning light streamed through square 1950′s style windows across sage green floor tiles.

As we chatted, I glanced out at the hospital grounds. It didn’t occur to me that this would be the last time I would be able to walk for a more than a week.

The adrenalin rush reminded me of work, when as a reporter you’re sent to a breaking story. There’s a buzz of not quite knowing what’s next. Plus I was feeling excited to be finally, hopefully, getting rid of the cancer.

The op, I was told, would be several hours long. Maybe five hours at the most. So I was prepared for it to be awful. My team were looking for the pea while this princess was well asleep. Sadly they found a whole lot more than just a tiny tumour. They discovered some of his bigger and nastier friends plus plenty of his little mates too. So much for the pea theory. As it was such a big op I was in theatre for pretty much the whole day.

But (and how I like these buts), they got it all out. The surgery was a success thanks to my brilliant team (and I’m not just saying that because I know some of them are reading my blog!). All the cancer has now been removed.

Amazing news. But physically I felt awful. That night was bad and the next day not much better. The pain was harsh but all that mattered was that they’d got the cancer and mum was at my bedside. Now surely the worst was over.

That morning I was given a load of painkillers and easily dozed off. This was a dangerous sleep that I was drifting into.

At some point I started to dream about a group of people. I could hear their voices in the distance. It was like they were in another room. Slowly I began to work out what they were saying. It took a while to realise that this group of people were actually talking to me.

“Can you hear us Helen?” They seemed to ask.

Yes of course I can hear you all, I thought to myself and ignored them.

“Helen, open your eyes.”

I was totally unaware that anything was wrong. I just felt relaxed and happy in a bubble of unconsciousness.

There was also a male automated voice. It was saying something like, if the patient doesn’t respond, start CPR. The computerised voice sounded angry. I couldn’t understand why I was hearing this. Or what the fuss was about. On and on all the voices kept talking to me.

So I opened my eyes.

And in doing so, I chose to live.

It turned out that I had stopped breathing because of a bad reaction to the painkillers. Apparently my body started convulsing and the emergency crash team was called.

That’s how I ended up in intensive care.

I was hooked up to a bank of machines. These computers didn’t talk. Instead they bleeped. Now I was petrified of both sleeping and the monitors.

I was told that the drugs which had caused me to become unconscious would take a while to leave my body. Every time a sound went off I thought I had stopped breathing.

Almost delirious from exhaustion, that night I was haunted by hallucination-like dreams during the scraps of sleep I managed to get. Every five minutes that passed felt like two hours.

My bed faced away from the windows. It was hard to tell what time of day it was. Intensive care  was a bright white environment with large fluorescent lights in the ceiling. I knew it was eventually morning when there was a shift change.

It was the worst night of the my life. But it was over.

Despite feeling incredibly ill, I was determined that now my recovery would start.

It was tough. I could hardly move, small things like a nurse washing my face would leave me shattered and I found it difficult to focus my eyes on anything for long.

Ever so slowly and painfully I improved until that amazing moment when I was considered well enough for the toast.

Finally, a week after the op I was allowed to leave intensive care.

As my bed was pushed towards a normal ward it felt like we we were doing a victory lap of the hospital. When we came to the corridor with the square 1950s windows full of light, I was so happy that I cried.

Everyday since then I’ve been gradually getting better. It’s taken a long time but finally I feel like me again.

I’m an optimistic person anyway, but after the past couple of weeks I appreciate even more than ever just how precious life is.

Looking forward to toast-op

It’s hard to write as I’m so hungry. Today it’s been liquids only to prepare for the big operation. Well I have been allowed to eat jelly and ice lollies. So like I said I’m starving.

I actually had one of the best meals of my life in hospital so I’m not too worried about the food.

But I’m scared about the surgery. I have a great team of people. The consultants and surgeons are brilliant and I feel very confident that they will take good care of me.

Operations are not without risk so what happens if something goes wrong?

You see last time there was a problem. As I came round from the op I could open my eyes but I felt dizzy. I could barely talk and it was hard to breathe.

The next day my bed was wheeled into the intensive care part of the ward. Even with an oxygen mask, I couldn’t get enough air into my lungs. It was as if I was being smothered.

No one could work out what was wrong with me post-op. Over the next couple of days I got worse. Slowly I could feel my life slipping away.

Finally I was given a blood transfusion through the night and I started to get better. The next morning I was well enough to have breakfast. Toasted white bread never tasted so good.

There’s just hours to go before I have to be on the ward. The surgery will take place not long after I arrive.

I now can’t wait for my next hospital breakfast as it will mean that everything has gone well.