So one day Im training for a big competition, the next Im telling my coach Im just going to take a little break while I find out why I feel so shit!.
Im a swimming teacher ( I run my own swim school) an aquafit instructor and a Masters competitive swimmer, I had always been ranked high in my age group worldwide and had held records over several age groups, so after having had a bit of a break from swimming for one reason or another, I decided I would get back into my sport and get some serious training under my belt for a major masters championship in May earlier this year. That was back in 2012, around the same time i had started getting some nasty on and off pains low down in my pelvis. A pelvic scan showed up a large cyst on my ovary and I was told to wait and see which way it was going to go. Get bigger and take out, shrink leave it alone. A year later and the pains were getting worse, but I kept on swimming and running my aquafit classes ( 5-6 times a week, i was pretty fit actually!). So October 2013 I went back to my docs and i had another scan, which showed the cyst had shrunk, so the pain couldnt be that. Blood tests didnt show anything nasty but then in February I had a nasty bleed, it looked someone had been murdered in my loo! By this time my aqua ladies were commenting on my weight loss, I poo pood (no pun intended!) it as me just doing more swim training and lots of fitness classes, so I went back to my GP, who sent me for a barium enema.
I have to admit by this time I was starting to feel rubbish, low energy and going off my food, I was struggling to go to the loo too, so thats when I told my coach I was just going to take a little break to see what was wrong.
The enema was a nightmare, they couldnt get any air in to get the darn stuff in ( I should have heard alarm bells then as if I couldnt get anything out, then nothing was going to go in!). They had the same trouble with a colonoscopy so couldnt get a biopsy, and a scan, nothing could be got past the blockage. So I was booked for an op to remove whatever it was that was causing mee such problems, August or September time. I had my pre op assesment in July. Thats when my whole world went tits up really. The nurse going through the checks took one look at me and told me if she let me go home I wouldnt make it! I have to admit by this time i was taking permanent painkillers, wasnt sleeping and definately not eating properly. I was now unable to do my fitness classes as well as I liked and just felt like sleeping all the time
A bed was found, and I was pumped full of fluid, magnesium and Iron and then waited for my surgeon to find a space to do my op. To be honest I was quite relieved it would be sorted and I could get back to normal. Eventually, 5 days later, I went down for surgery. When I woke up, I found out that whatever it was had ruptured and invaded my fallopian tube and stuck itself to my uterus, so Id also had a full hysterectomy. and in return for my womb, I was given a colostomy bag!
To be honest, at the time the bag didnt bother me, if it meant I would have no more pain and could eat again, it was fine by me. After a week and several blood transfusions later, I was allowed home to recover. Well i say recover, My mum had been diagnosed with lung cancer the previous year and she was being released from hospital to my care, so I needed to look after her as well as myself.
3 weeks after my op I was called up to the hospital as they had the results back from the path lab.
‘Im sorry its not good news, the mass they removed was a 9cm tumour. It was stage 3. It hadnt got into your lymph nodes but it was found in tissue in that area ( abdominal lining, back of the pelvis).and in the vascular system in that area. The surgeon has scraped out as much as he can, but you need to start treatment soon, 6 months chemo followed by radiotherapy. Would you like me to leave you alone for a moment?’
I looked at my hubby, i could tell he was stunned, neither of us had any words, I burst into tears. i heard myself saying ‘ How? Why?’ But no one can ever answer those questions. The nurse returneed with an appt to see an oncologist and I left the hospital wondering how i was going to tell everyone.
The first person I told was my son, then my Mum. Bless her, I wish I hadnt had to, given where she was in her cancer journey, Coming to the end of her life and more confused every day as the cancer had spread to her brain. It was around this time I received a call from my Dad. He wanted to tell me he sympathised with the bag thing, as he had had one for a while after he found out he had bladder cancer and skin cancer the previous October. He hadnt told anyone before now, but he was going through chemo and radiotherapy.
My GP came on an unexpected visit to both myself and Mum, when I told him about Dad, his response was ‘you couldnt write this’. I guess he was right.
Im not going to give you a blow by blow account of my treatment and recovery. The fact is I had my treatment (long boring days of infusions, ( incidentally, I was told by the cnacer nurses, I would not be allowed to go anywhere near a poolside while being treated as I would put myself at risk of catching an infection) painful spasmy hands, face, feet. thinning hair (I didnt go bald thankfully, much to the disgust of my friend who had been looking forward to wig shopping!), cardboard tasting food and drink, fluctuating between the runs and constipation, lack of energy and ability to even climb the stairs to the bathroom. and I did recover. I went through my treatment and came out the other side.
In the middle of it all I lost my mum, the lung cancer took her. I dont know if she went feeling reassured that i would survive. I wish she could see I did. I also lost my Dad to the skin cancer, he went within a year of my Mum. And again my GP said ‘you couldnt write this stuff’. My Gp cried with me..
What I am going to talk about is how I feel now, and Im sure a million other cancer survivors feel once diagnosis and treatment are behind them. Its a little under 18 months since i finished treatment and its been a long slow journey to complete recovery. During treatment I focused on still taking part in that competition. I needed sometihng to aim for so 4 weeks after my last radiotherapy I got myself back into the pool and started the slow process of 1) building up the muscles cancer stole from me and then 2) gaining some semblence of fitness that would see me through to finishing a race!
Lets start with what cancer has taken away. There is the obvious, like weight, muscle, my insides and my parents, but it has taken more, much to my disgust at myself. Ive lost some of my confidence, confidence in me and being responsible for this body I was given. (was it something I did that caused it?) Confidence in my body for no longer being able to keep me well, I dont trust it to be able to tell me if there is something wrong now. I get twitchy at every ache and pain I feel. ‘is this headache the cancer spread? Is that twinge in my tummy sometihng more then a twinge? is this cough thats not going more then just a cough?’ Ive lost my trust in people, Ive learned there are people who although they say they are there for you, they arent really, there are those who comment ‘well you had cancer but its gone now, so just get over it’. There are those that look at you pityingly and those that seem surprised that you look well! I have started responding with ‘why wouldnt I look well, I dont have cancer anymore’, There are those who are surprised when I tell them I have a bag and I still do everything I used to,
Having cancer made me angry, Im still angry, I cant shake this ‘angry’. I have become intolerant of people, I want to shut myself away and not have to meet people. I do though, because I have a business to run, and no one would know I feel this way. I have declined invitations to parties and gatherings, I no longer wish to socialise. I dont feel anyone understands or wants to understand. I want to talk about being angry and why Im angry, but then there is that comment going round in my head ‘get over it’ and I think people dont want to hear me talking about having cancer still, 2 years after it was cut out.
Oh, and then there was my ‘wobble’, I had a major wobble when my Dad passed away. You see my mum died less then a year after being diagnosed, my Dad almost 2 years, at which time I was just 13 months away from diagnosis. It was hard to not have a wobble when 2 out of the 3 people you knew had passed away from the dreaded C. I almost broke out the Prosecco when I reached and passed 2 years survivng cancer! Every person you hear of not making it, brings it home how close a call it was.
As for my swimming, Im still training and Im getting stronger. I can vent my angry in the pool. the water is my meditation space and the training gives me focus. I swam my competition in May, I have just competed in another one, I socialised a bit, but not as much as I would have done pre cancer. Im no longer a champion but its a goal, to be back on top again. Its also my aim to be as fit as I possibly can be. ready for my reversal in the new year, so that I wont be out of the pool as long and pick up easier where I left off. I cant wait to not have a bag to worry about while Im swimming and competing as it can be quite distracting, Plus, its an everday reminder of having been so ill.
My GP still insists ‘you couldnt write this stuff’, and even though I dont go to see him very often, we still have a cry together when I do.