A perfect ten

Dolphins. How I dread those hospital dolphins.

They swim along the corridor on the way to the chemotherapy unit. Even the ceiling has been painted to make it seem as if you’re under the sea. It may look tranquil but just seeing the dolphins made me feel completely drained.

There might as well be a neon sign that says CANCER? COME THIS WAY….

As if that wasn’t bad enough, towards the end of the corridor it starts to slope upwards. It takes every last bit of your energy to walk the last part of it. Mum had come with me. My arm was through hers as we slowly made our way up the corridor.

It’s been a month since my chemo ended. I was there for a final check-up to find out for sure that the toxic treatment had been successful.

This is where I was told I had cancer. More than six months later I was back in the same room and in the same chair. Mum was next to me, also in the same seat as before. I felt so sick that I thought I might have to run out of the room.

However I was so focused on what we were about to be told that I felt compelled to stay. As far as big moments go, this was pretty massive.

If I got the all clear, then I’d be done with the disease, the doctors and the dolphins.

But if I didn’t, then it would mean that those evil chemo cocktails hadn’t worked. We’d have to try again. Jump through more hoops. Worse still, it could suggest that the cancer was terminal and that putting any amount of poison into my veins wouldn’t kill it.

At the hospital there’s a team of people involved in my care. For this appointment I was seeing a consultant who I’ve known for years, ever since the first cancer. She’s never had to break any bad news to me. She is the Good Doctor. Surely this must be a positive sign?

I know that the treatment has already gone really well. All the tumours have been removed and my blood test results are back to normal. But you don’t know what could happen next.

The blood test is known as a CA 125. Basically I needed to get a low number. Anything higher than thirty could mean the cancer had come back.

After chatting for a few minutes it was down to business. My consultant looked at my notes, at my records on the computer screen and then back at me as she said the magic number.

I’d scored a ten. A perfect ten.

The Good Doctor quickly revealed that there was also nothing nasty on my scan. It was a stunning set of results. She brought up a different screen on the computer.

“See, your organs look lovely, don’t they?” I had to take her word for it. All I could make out was a moving black and white image of my insides.

She pointed out various bits and pieces. It was a cross section of a healthy body. My healthy body.

“Hooray! It’s all gone!” The Good Doctor threw her arms in the air. We all grinned and punched the air. My sickness went; it was replaced with pure relief.

That’s it. Finally it’s all over.

The treatment has officially been successful. I won’t have another check-up for months.

After lunch in the hospital canteen, oh yes my celebrations are not always Kylie and cocktails, we got a lift home from the flower girl.

It ended where it all began, outside my house with my friend, Chantal in her big flower van. This is how I started out on my cancer journey when she took me to hospital for what turned out to be a life saving operation.

Back then I had no idea just how hard it would all be or whether I’d even be able to defeat the disease. That’s why I originally called this blog – beating cancer, again, hopefully.

I never realised quite how important the blog would become to me. I’ve been blown away by the love and support that I’ve received. I’ve appreciated every comment even though I may not have been able to reply to all of them.

So, thank you.

I’m now cancer free and there will be no more horrendous treatment but I’m still going to continue with this blog.

I’ve been given another second chance at life. Or maybe that makes it a third chance? Whatever it is, I hope that you’ll be joining me as I blog about life after cancer.

Blue-sky thinking

Now that my treatment has finished the doctors need to make sure that I really really have beaten the stupid cancer so I had to go back to hospital for a scan. I’ll get the results next week.

While I was there something happened which was a bit strange. I started to meditate.

I was sat in a changing room the size of a big cupboard at the imaging unit dressed and ready for my appointment. I’ve had so many scans over the years that I know how to properly tie those pesky medical gowns so that everything is covered.

With its familiar sights, sounds and smells, just being in the hospital was horrible.

I needed to relax. As I waited, I began meditating. I counted my breath in and out, trying to ignore the noise around me.

That was until I heard something which sent my heart racing. An alarm was going off in the next room. The loud bleeping sound meant a patient had stopped breathing, just like I had following surgery. It was a false alarm but it took me straight back to that time when I was so close to death.

I opened my eyes, giving up on the mediation and feeling more stressed than ever. Not long afterwards a man with tattooed arms came and got me. It was time to be scanned.

So why the sudden interest in meditation?  

All my medical treatment is over. Yes, I’ll have check-ups and routine tests but aside from that I’m on my own. I want to do more than just hope it doesn’t come back.

During the chemo I had some less conventional treatments like acupuncture and hypnotherapy. They seemed to help ease the nasty side effects. I thought I’d try some more complimentary methods and last week I went on a course at a holistic centre for people dealing with cancer.

I have to admit that part of me was sceptical however I’m willing to try anything.

Even so, I did smuggle in some sachets of coffee. We’d been told that the menu would be ultra-healthy and there’d be no caffeinated drinks on offer. I thought I might need my own supply and I was right. One of the coffee substitutes was something called Slippery Elm!

Contraband coffee

The course at the Penny Brohn Cancer Care centre took place over three days. Inside the Georgian building it felt like a cross between a hotel and a posh hospital, outside there were acres of landscaped grounds which overlooked a river. With bright blue skies and dazzling sunny weather everyday, it was uplifting just being there.

It was almost like a health spa for cancer fighters.

Based on the edge of Bristol, the place helps people live as well while coping with the impact of the deadly disease. The charity was set up in the 1970’s when eating brown rice was considered by some to be subversive. Since then what they do has become known as the Bristol approach. Now it’s part of an NHS pilot project.

The focus was on mind, body and spirit. It might sound new age and some of it certainly was. The course was led by a couple of healers who spent most of the time barefoot. Right in the centre of the carpeted room there was a collection of lit candles and flowers which were arranged in a bowl of sand.

There was a group of ten of us, all affected by cancer in some way. You’d think that it would’ve been a sad few days but it was inspiring to be with people who’d been through similar experiences.

We sat wrapped in soft baby blue blankets in a circle of comfy chairs. We were given talks and taught relaxation techniques including mediation.

I’m glad that I went. It made me determined to improve my lifestyle. Despite my concerns that it was all going to be far too alternative, it turned out that most of the stuff was common sense.

Essentially it comes down to this. To live well after a cancer diagnosis it’s best to eat healthily, exercise more – a whole lot more, worry less but don’t ignore how you feel, take time out to relax and do things which make you happy.

I’m off now to meet a friend to celebrate the end of my chemo. Coffee and cake may well put in an appearance too.

I’m going to count all that as something that makes me happy.