‘It ain’t easy being wheezy’

As the days went on and I was still the same, I became more of a wreck. Exams were starting in a few weeks and the work-load was just getting bigger and bigger, especially when I kept putting it off. I had no energy to do any of it. My skin had deteriorated once again and I assumed it was just stress. I was pale, losing more weight and completely breathless even after short walks or going up a big flight of stairs. This made no sense because I was taking what felt like a million iron supplements every day. My emotions were all over the place. Everybody was worrying about me, which obviously made me feel worse.

Are you depressed? Are you pregnant? Are you eating properly? You’re not taking drugs are you?

Everybody thought I was hiding something and treated me like I was harbouring this big secret that I didn’t want to reveal. It was my body that was hiding secrets: I was just as in the dark as they were. I didn’t know what was wrong me. I had no idea. My mind was all over the place and I was trying to put on a brave face for the sake of everyone else as well as myself. So, I carried on as normal as I could: went to college and work at the weekends then went out with everyone. To be honest, it was just the closest to me that knew I wasn’t myself because nobody else could have known what was going through my mind.

The not knowing was the worst part.

Somehow, probably by miracle, I managed to sit all my exams, though I’m not entirely sure how I got out of bed for some! At this point, my parents didn’t want me to sit the exams as they had never seen me like this before. I have always taken school work and exams seriously and pride myself in doing well, but I was convinced and obsessed that I was going to fail. I couldn’t remember any of the set poems at all, barely even long enough to write it down in an exam. Looking back, I feel stupid for pushing myself to that degree. In hindsight, I feel so stupid for pushing myself. They are only exams and at the end of the day your health and well-being is much more important than a few letters on a piece of paper.

June 25th, a week after finishing my a-levels and college we had our sixth-form prom. We had finished our A-levels and college, we had a good few months of summer before gap years and university and the ‘real world’ – it was sure to be jam-packed full of silliness, hangovers and unforgettable memories. I was due to start my nursing degree in Cardiff in September. Our prom was amazing, everybody had a great time: too much wine, too much dancing and far too many photos. It was a lovely way to farewell with the year and it was definitely emotional because this was the last time that we would ever be this certain, this together. Nobody really knew what was around the corner; I certainly didn’t.

The morning after the prom, I had a killer hangover and unfortunately, an appointment with my GP. I’m quite certain that I was still drunk as I lay on the bed to let the doctor examine the rash and my breathing. In fact, I’m sure the doctor knew as well; she could probably smell the wine on my breath. In fact my own stench filled the small room as soon as I walked in. My mother just happened to mention to the doctor that my grandfather recently had pneumonia, and asked if I could also have got it. Although it was unlikely, I had nothing to lose and I had been complaining of breathlessness for a long time, so I was sent for a lung x-ray.

I can’t stand to think what would have happened had I not been sent for that x-ray. I got the x-ray that Friday afternoon, and by the Monday I was back in the GP office receiving my results.

That particular Monday morning, I remember waking up with a list in my head of things I needed to do that week before going on holiday to Malia with my best friends on Friday. With the list swirling around my head (Euros, bikini, sandals), I was surprised when I got the call to go and receive the x-ray results but thought nothing of it and went to the surgery absent-minded.

As I walked to the GP’s room, I knew something was wrong in an instant. You could cut the tension in the room with a knife. And the doctor was just awkward and I could tell she wanted to tell me something, but she just sat there, all stiff and tense. Like she didn’t really want to tell me but she knew she had to. She went through the results, and told me the terrible news.

As soon as she said the word Lymphoma I started crying. I didn’t even know what it was, but I could tell it was bad. I could see the C word forming on her lips.

Lymphoma is a type of cancer, she said. I could no longer hear or process anything she was saying.

My tears went from a few measly raindrops in the corner of my eyes to full on deluge-style, torrential rain ugly crying. I was crying like a mad woman, without control or shame. I didn’t even feel embarrassed. I just wanted my mum. It was ironic that it had always been my mum taking me to all my doctor’s appointments in life, but when there was something as big as this, something as brutal and life-changing as this, she wasn’t there to ask silly questions or hold my hand. The rest was a blur. The doctor was sympathetic and apologetic but by this stage I couldn’t really take anything in or hear anything other than my own heart pounding through my chest cavity. But I came out of the room not fully knowing what was wrong with me, only I knew that the word cancer had been mentioned.

I walked out of the surgery and straight to my car. I sat sobbing in the driver’s seat for a good few minutes, shaking and bawling my eyes out. I had no idea what to do. If ever there was a time when a ‘what to do when you find out you have cancer’ guide needed, this would be it. Who do you call first? What exactly do you tell them? More importantly, how do you stop the crying? It was a strange time, sitting in my little car in the car-park: I had all these thoughts swirling around in my head that I couldn’t make sense of but I felt completely numb too. Like I was looking in at myself but it wasn’t actually happening to me.

Finally, I reversed my car and drove like a drunken woman, somewhere – anywhere. I just drove. I couldn’t go home, as my little brother was there alone and he was the last person I wanted to break the news to. I needed my mum. She would know what to do, not just because mums always know what to do, but because she’d been through this herself. I needed to break down in her arms. I stopped the car and rang her. No answer. (She is a teacher so she doesn’t have her phone on her all day). I cried even more at the thought that I didn’t know what to do.

I drove to my best friend’s house as I knew she would be home. I ran up stairs and scream-cried, ugly tears in her face. She must have thought I had just murdered somebody.

I couldn’t talk. I could barely breathe. She was obviously distressed as she didn’t know what was going on.

“You’re bloody pregnant aren’t you?”

I shook my head. That was an attractive alternative. Once I had calmed down, I managed to tell her some of what the doctor had said. All I knew was that I had lymphoma, a type of cancer. She began to cry and soon we were both sobbing. I felt silly for not knowing more, but even now when I go to appointments, I just can’t listen on what they say. I think it’s mostly a coping mechanism.

When my mum finally called me back, she knew something was wrong as I wouldn’t usually call her when she’s at work. I was still crying and all I managed to say was ‘x-ray results’. She raced over to where I was. We went back to the doctors together and she explained properly what was wrong and that I needed to go and see a specialist to get a full diagnosis and discuss next steps and treatments.

That Monday was by far, the worst day of my life.

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