"I was diagnosed with cancer in June 2007, aged 39. I had been for a colposcopy at my local hospital in Ascot and after the examination I was taken into a different room and asked to wait for the consultant who would come to see me. This room had proper sofa's, proper carpet and proper flowers and so I figured I was now in 'proper trouble' as this room was a far cry from the plastic chairs, lino flooring and 9 year old Readers Digests that I was used to.
The consultant, with a nurse, informed me that I had cancer and I would need to go to Queen Charlotte and Chelsea Hospital in London for a biopsy in the next 10 days or so. I called my boyfriend from outside the hospital (at that stage I was still adhering to the 'no mobile phone' signs) and gave him the news. I don't remember what he said, or what I said or for that matter what happened for the next few days. I do remember telling my manager at work whilst we were 'brewing up' together in the works kitchen. I thought I could keep it a secret from everyone but of course she needed to tell her manager and her managers manager. I had to have a couple of short meetings with them as they needed to know if they could do anything for me but most importantly to them - how long would I be off !! I didn't at this point have any answers as I didn't know much more than my appointment date.
The day of the biopsy came and started off more fraught than I hoped it would. I got a local taxi to take me into London and he had very annoyingly left his sat nav on for the previous trip and so we didn't get to where we need to get! In fact, I got out of his taxi at some traffic lights and with my little overnight bag (just in case it was needed) I got into a black cab and I arrived at the hospital more or less on time with a tear stained red face. They assured me I was in good hands I assured them I was crying because of the taxi driver !!!
The London Consultant wasn't best please when I told him my Ascot Consultant told me I had cancer as he said it hadn't been determined yet - so that then added to my emotions as I now didn't know if I did or didn't have cancer - anyway as we now know I DID.
I then had to decide which type of hysterectomy I'd have - the radical were everything is taken out or a type where they leave the ovaries (and therefore the eggs) behind. Up until this stage in my life I hadn't had children but hadn't really ruled them out - however I now had a week to decide if I wanted any in the future. Tough choice. I'm an only child and spoke with my parents about my options and as much as they would have loved grandchildren they also quite fancied the idea of having me around for a bit longer !! The other thing to consider would for me to have 'kept some of my bits' for a bit longer, had a child and then for the cancer to return, and you never know next time I may not have survived, and so the child would then be motherless. We decided as a family to have the lot out!
My operation was scheduled in for 1st August 1998 and so I arrive at Queen Charlotte and Chelsea the day before for them to do all the tests needed. I was in hospital for 11 days which is what was expected, there were no major hiccoughs and everything seemed to have gone well. I was determined to have stitches and not staples and so to make sure, I wrote instructions on both of my hands (where they put the IV line in) and I also wrote instructions on my belly - just to be sure and it worked !
My parents came down from Lancashire and visited me each day, I was surprised and scared by this thought seeing as my dad was 71 at the time and he hadn't driven in London for a l-o-n-g time. Mostly my boyfriend brought them but they did the trip a few times during the day on their own. This wasn't the first time they'd seen me in that state as a few years earlier I'd got into even more trouble when a bowel operation went wrong and I ended up in Intensive Care for 3 days on a life support machine and had three weeks in hospital, so a radical hysterectomy was a breeze!! That was until reality (and the menopause) hit ! Oh what I'd have done for a breeze in those days ! HRT sees me right at the moment. I have to have DEXA bone scans every 2-3years to test my bone density.
I recovered from the operation really well physically but emotionally I wasn't doing so good. I started to see a counsellor at my GP's Practice and she really helped me comes to terms with my loss...even though I hadn't lost an actual person I felt I had lost a part of me and strangely I worried about things like who would have the family photos that my parents have after I had died, and who would I show them to? I don't remember what her answers were to those questions but she did really help me.
About a year after my operation I was approached by a Macmillan nurse again from QC&C and she told me about a group she was getting together to meet up and talk and help each other, it meant me having to commit to 9 trips to London(30 miles away) over the next 9 months and actually 'talking out loud' to strangers! again I was frightened of doing this but I agreed to go and I'm so please that I did. I didn't speak much at first and was even frightened of introducing myself but I met a great bunch of ladies and its 3 years on and we still meet up 2 or 3 times a year....but this time in bars and without a nurse present !
Whilst I was in hospital my Macmillan nurse put my name forward for a 'Special Day' via the Willow Foundation. Luckily I was deemed ill enough to receive one of their weekends (ha ha) and I decided to spend my 40th Birthday in London with my boyfriend - we had 2 nights in a hotel on Park Lane, went to see Mama Mia, the terracotta soldiers at the British Museum, had a tour of Lords Cricket Ground, ate at Bibendem, had a car for the whole time and we were even give money to spend in incidentals, money at the hotel for room services and we were picked up and dropped off back home - it was perfect. The Willow Foundation were amazing and I knew I wanted to 'pay them back' for what they had done for me. I spent a few months racking my brain to think of a way and then came up with the idea of super soft hats for people receiving chemotherapy. I didn't need to have chemo but my mum did for breast cancer 10 years ago, and just so my dad didn't miss out, he has since has prostrate cancer and recently had a huge operation for skin cancer ( the three of us always do everything together !!!!). Its probably a good thing that I dont have any siblings !
I set up a website named Retail & Therapy www.retailandtherapy.com. I donate some of my proceeds to Willow and I hope to work with some other charities too so that they can promote my site and I can donate. I keep the costs as low as I can so that I am able to donate as much as I can. I have the beanies made in the UK by a lady who herself received chemo for breast cancer. The scarves come from Paris.
I'm coming up to being 5 years clear of cancer in August this year and I'm looking forward to cheaper travel insurance ha ha. I still am aware that once you get to 5 years its not a miracle date when everything gets better and this was brought to my attention even more so recently when one of my dear friends from the hospital meet-ups celebrated her '10 year clear' on 10th December and within a day or two found out her cancer was back. She had her operation on Tuesday this week and is currently in ITU due to an allergic reaction to a pain killer. The surgeon is sure the cancer has all been removed but she has a big hill to climb and another 6 months of chemo to get through.
My priorities changed after I had cancer, I decided to go down the healthy eating route (the words horse and stable door come to mind) I got myself an allotment about 1 mile from home, I reduced my working week to 4 days ( I REALLY missed the money for the first few months but soon adapted and would recommend it to any one) and I set up the website. I never realised it would take up so much of my time but it is a labour of love and each donation I make to charity makes it all worth while. I really enjoy my time at the allotment too and it is something I don't think I'd have thought of doing before having cancer. Plus, all the 80 year old men do my heavy digging for me - they moan but they love it really and I get invited to their BBQ's where we swap recipes for courgettes !
Thanks for reading this, I wish you and your loved ones all the very best."