Found out I had cancer on my daughter’s birthday
Opening the front door, I saw an official looking letter waiting for me on the mat. It was October 1st 2015, my daughter Emmie’s first birthday and it must have arrived while we were celebrating at the soft play centre two miles away. My fiancé Lee and I had taken Emmie, her brother Dyllan, now three (four in May), and my grandparents – it had been such a fun day out. Now we were going to have a birthday tea.
Ordinarily, I’d have waited before opening the letter. Only I’d been waiting for the results of some tests. Five months earlier, I’d been lying in bed when I noticed a raised bump under my left kneecap.
‘It must be a bruise from that tumble I took,’ I’d told Lee, recalling how I’d slipped on the stairs and taken the weight on my leg. I wasn’t particularly worried, but over the following couple of months the lump had swelled to the size of a golf ball and I found walking painful. The skin around the lump was all squishy and swollen too.
My GP referred me to the Royal Derby Hospital where I had an X-ray, an MRI and a CT scan. I still wasn’t overly concerned. After all, how serious could a bruise be?
But when I opened the letter, I saw it was a referral to the oncology department at the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in Birmingham. I didn’t know what ‘oncology’ meant so I logged onto the computer and Googled the world.
When I saw the search results flash up, the colour drained from my face.
A million thoughts shot through my mind.
Was I dying? Was I going to make it to see Emmie’s second birthday?
With shaking hands I dialled the phone number on the letter, was told to call back the following day.
All I could do was to try and put my worries to the back of my mind and enjoy the rest of the day. The next morning, after a restless night, I called the hospital again as instructed.
‘Are you sure you want to be told over the phone?’ the woman at the other end of the line asked.
It wasn’t ideal, but at the same time my appointment wasn’t for another two weeks. I couldn’t face an anxious fortnight of waiting, worrying and wondering.
‘Please tell me what’s wrong with me,’ I said.
I held back tears as I was told I had Parosteal osteosarcoma – in other words, a malignant tumour on my leg.
I felt numb and couldn’t help but think the worst as the shattering news sunk in. But I had to be positive for the sake of Lee and the kids.
A biopsy showed the tumour was low grade so I was booked in for surgery at the Birmingham hospital the following December. It was a big op as part of the bone had to be removed and replaced by another, but it seemed to go well.
Then, one December 23rd, as I prepared to go home, I was told the devastating news the cancer wasn’t low grade after all and I’d need to stay in hospital and start a course of chemotherapy.
I had to resign myself to staying in over the festive period. Lee and the kids came to see me on the day along with other family members, and although we all got a Christmas dinner, I longed to be at home.
On January 8th 2016, I was transferred from the hospital in Birmingham to Nottingham City Hospital to start chemo. I was put on four different types of the drug and they all gave me different side effects. One made my face swell up, one gave me flu-like symptoms and another made my long, fair hair fall out in patches. The doctors had explained that the drugs had to get right into the bone, which is why I was put on such high doses. Sometimes I’d shake as if I was freezing cold, even when my temperature was normal.
I decided to face the hair loss head on and take control. I cut it short myself, then one of the nurses shaved it all off for me. I couldn’t face looking in the mirror to see what I looked like.
Lee was a rock and although thankfully Emmie was too young to understand what was going on, Dyllan took it hard. Lee had to take him to the doctors because he wasn’t swallowing his food properly. The GP explained my illness was having an emotional impact on him and causing reflux problems.
Though it was tough, I told myself I was doing it all so Dyllan and Emmie would grow up with their mummy.
I kept myself strong by thinking ahead to my wedding to Lee. He’d proposed back on Christmas Day in 2012, but it was three years until I found the perfect wedding venue. As soon as I saw Shottle Hall in Derby I knew I wanted to tie the knot there. We’d booked it in April 2015, before my cancer diagnosis, and the date was set for October 2017.
While in hospital, I looked at wedding dresses and flowers, dreamt of being able to walk down the aisle.
But it was tough. I couldn’t even get to the toilet without help.
There was a further set back when Lee had to resign from his call centre job, as his bosses weren’t happy with him taking so much time off to tend to me and the kids. We were forced to dip into our wedding savings to pay for bills, but fortunately friends and family rallied round and donated money so we could recoup the costs.
By the summer I was able to stop the chemo but I kept getting infections in my leg and needed frequent trips to hospital.
It was Catch 22. Being on the chemo meant I hadn’t had the strength to do any physiotherapy. This meant I still couldn’t put any weight on my left leg. It was held together in a brace and I needed a wheelchair to get around.
For Emmie’s second birthday we had a tea party, but while I was glad I was still alive to be there for it I couldn’t help feeling tearful.
‘I wish I could change Emmie’s birthday,’ I said to Lee. ‘It’s always going to remind me of the day I found out I had cancer.’
In December I was given the all clear but unfortunately I still wasn’t able to walk. Even now it’s unclear whether I’ll be able to walk down the aisle or even whether I’ll be better off having my leg amputated. But though it’s been tough beyond anything I could ever have imagined, I’m thankful to be alive to share many more happy birthdays with Emmie, Dyllan and Lee.