From a Friend’s Perspective

It’s been hard for me to watch my best friend battle cancer.

I’ve always been the emotional drama-queen of the group and she’s always been the massive joker who doesn’t let anything get her down – not even cancer. In many ways, things have remained the same: I am still the emotional wreck most of the time and Megan’s still the strong one. She is the one that has carried us through the battle – her strength gives us strength.

With that said, I have often felt hopeless, completely hopeless. I worried, and still worry about saying the right thing at the right time or the wrong thing at the wrong time. I wanted her to know that I was there for her but I didn’t want to smoother her, because I knew she’d hate that. It was often hard to balance being there for her and being too inquisitive – was she okay, did she need anything, how did she feel?

I remember vividly the day she drove up to my house and told me the doctor had found a lump in her chest. On the rare occasion Megan cries (typically, it happens when she’s consumed too much pink wine!), she was crying an ugly, all encompassing cry but I had no idea what could be wrong. I knew she wasn’t herself and had lost weight but you never think, in that moment, that it could be that serious. You think no, that would never happen to me or my friend, wrapping yourself in this invisible cotton wool that disintegrates immediately when the shit actually hits the fan because it does – and to so many people.

I asked her if she was pregnant. Of course, she must have been pregnant!

She couldn’t even laugh at my stupidity but uttered only the words ‘lump…they’ve found a lump…cancer.’

After that, everything happened at an intense speed: our holiday while she had consultations and egg-freezing. After that, the Royal Show for the last bender and then reality hit: chemotherapy.

Summer was just one big venture into the unknown. Nobody knew what to expect.

I thought deeply about all the possibilities and about Megan’s future. It felt like my world was tearing into small pieces and I was trying my best to be strong, which was difficult despite it being Megan actually battling cancer and not me. I knew cancer killed people and Megan had cancer. Could I imagine a life without her? Could I live in a world where only memories of Megan existed and not her actually in it?

I was determined to be as good as a friend that I could be. I wanted her to feel that she was not in alone in this battle and that she could count on me. Since the beginning of 2015 I’d set my sights on taking a gap year and that crystallized when Megan was diagnosed. I no longer cared about going to Thailand or France: I wanted to support my best friend. Be it taking her to have chemo or just messing around, going on adventures to cafe after cafe – I was determined to stand by her side.

Chemo days were long and it was difficult to watch Megan having to go through it. The three of us, Megan, Nel and I would set off at 8am, arrive at 9am, calling ourselves the ‘Three Musketeers.’ It was draining, especially for Megan, but it was draining in a different way for us because we’d just sit there, helpless, watching our friend being injected with needle after needle, being fed by a poisonous drip for 40 minutes. Watching the chemo actually take its effect on her body was possibly the worst thing I had to face. Physically, I can’t imagine how she felt and I’d never expected her deterioration to be as visible as it was. By the time 3pm came, she was a different person –not the person we’d arrived with. She was paler, obviously much weaker and lacking in energy but she still forced herself to make the fortnightly trip to Topshop – which she was still doing to prove that nothing could get her down, not even chemo. This was frustrating at times because I just wanted to say ‘you don’t have to do this, it’s okay we can just go home’ but that would be accepting defeat. It would not be the Megan D way of battling cancer.

To pass the horrible months that were in front of Megan, we decided to fundraise for her cancer unit. We arranged a huge gig and our Young Farmers Club organised a 22 mile sponsored walk. We were blown away with how a small community came together in support of a great cause, but mostly to show their support towards Megan. A group of us decided to cut our hair to donate to the ‘Little Princess Trust’ – the charity that gave Megan her beautiful wig. Even though all our hair wasn’t off, I hoped it made Megan more comfortable at the thought of cutting hers.

In January, after all the chemo was over, our families went skiing, and it was one of the best holidays I’ve had, with the last night being the absolute highlight. Megan and I were filled up with Vodka & Fanta’s and everyone was jolly. Megan’s father requested ‘Angels’ by Robbie Williams from the DJ and as I looked to her direction, she filled up with tears. She then whispered in my ear ‘dare me to take my wig off,’ so I did: I dared her to take her wig off and that’s exactly what she did.

She ripped off that wig that had been such a comfort blanket for the last six months, with such pride in the middle of the pub. Everyone was looking and there was not a single dry eye in the house. This was probably one of the best moments of my life. I was so proud.

Now, Megan’s on the road to recovery, I look forward to seeing what she will tackle next, because there really is no stopping her.

Some people didn’t understand why I didn’t go travelling or do something ‘useful’ with my year, but, for me, when I’m 50, 60 or even 70 years old, I’ll be able to look back and think that no ski season, no trip to Thailand would ever replace being by my best friend’s side as she battled cancer with such dignity and humour. I am immensely proud of her. This was the most useful thing I could ever have done with my year and was absolutely the best decision I have ever made: I have no regrets at all. She is the strongest person I know and I feel so proud being able to call her my friend.

Results and Reflection

I have written, deleted and re-written this post about a thousand times: I have no idea how to express what I want to say, let alone put pen to paper and write it down. I seem to be having a serious case of writer’s block! The last few months have flown by and I have enjoyed life as much as possible; I have not been too burdened by drugs, drips and hospitals and have remained, in many ways, normal. I have written it documenting the last four months – here we go!

 

January

I had my last chemo on January the 8th with my two best friends, my mother and my star nurse (who I can never thank her enough for everything that she has done for me.) Despite it being one of the best days of my life, I wasn’t jumping up and down with joy, as the effects of the treatment started to kick in very quickly. I desperately wanted to shout from the rooftops ‘YES THIS IS FINALLY OVER’ and have one (or twelve) glasses of vino to celebrate, but I could feel the energy seeping out of me. My celebration was a long, deep sleep.

So, I took the rest of the month to get better and stronger.

I felt the effects of the last chemo more so than all the others – it was far more gruelling and took more out of me as though all twelve treatments came hurtling into my body at once, instantly draining my body of all energy.

It was also a time for reflection and I often felt really overwhelmed with everything that had happened in the last six months.

I had cancer.

I battled cancer.

Instead of going to university or travelling or being a normal teenager, I had to have chemotherapy. It was all dizzying to get my head around, especially the fact that I had come out the other side, sanity intact and I guess, alive for the time being.

Oddly enough, it was weird to not have my usual routine: I had treatment every fortnight on the Friday then I knew I would be ill for a good week, and would pick myself back up ready for the weekend and then ready for the next treatment. I worked in cycles: my body was a chemo clock.

What was I going to do now?

It was hard to get my head around that I no longer needed treatment: had the chemo actually worked? There was no use celebrating until I got my scan results in a month’s time.

I was feeling much better, but the effects of treatments were still on me (and they will be for the next couple of months). I didn’t need to take daily naps, I didn’t mope around in pajamas every day, and I was finally strong enough to wake up before 2pm every day.

A week and a half after my last chemo, I felt that I needed to do something, to keep busy. I had finished treatment and I was bored. I still had a month until my scan and results, and I wasn’t going to sit and wait for time to pass.

I started to pick myself up and gain back some strength; I had become so weak from the relentless treatment and the hours spent in bed for a whole 6 months, so I headed back to the gym. I had neglected any form of exercise since beginning of treatment and for the first time ever in my life, I found I enjoyed exercising! I used (and continue to use) the time spent working out, as time for me, time out of the world, where I didn’t over-think or over-analyse, I just concentrated on nothing other than that moment.

At the end of January, I went on a skiing trip with my best friend and her family: it was the break everybody needed. But thoughts of the PET CT scan and results still lingered in the back of my mind.

 

February

On Tuesday, 9th of February I had my scan, with the results then due on Friday, 12th of February which meant four days of waiting. Four long days for me to over-think and over-analyse and over-worry about every single possibility.

Being ill has actually made me more of a pessimist: my mind seems to automatically think that clouds don’t have silver linings and there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,only more bad news.

I kept telling myself it was going to be terrible news; there was something in the back of my mind which kept saying ‘Don’t get your hopes up Megan’. I made myself sick thinking of all the worse case scenarios.

The only thing that was getting me through the week was my boyfriend who only looks at the positives in every situation – which is incredibly annoying at times but his positive thinking helped drastically in that week – and throughout the illness. He’s nothing close to a doctor (and everybody who knows him will laugh) but there’s something in my head that clicks every time he says “stay positive,” and I just do. It’s like my frame of mind totally changes when I’m with him. He will never understand how much he’s helped me through the last year, even if he was a mere shoulder to cry on or a body next to me as I slept for hours.

I will never forget the look on his face way, way back at the start, the day after my biopsy, when I came home from hospital with bandages and plasters all over my arms and neck from the operations, drips and needles. He looked like he had seen a ghost. I bet he wanted to run a mile, he was dreading what was in front of us – him – but he has never backed-out and his resolution and faith in me, has never dwindled or failed.

But back to that week, I somehow go through it, worrying my tits off, but I also tried to remain calm and positive and triedto keep as busy as possible.

When that dreaded Friday finally arrived, I felt surprisingly positive. I sat silently in the passenger seat as my mother drove us to Bangor Hospital for the results. Vivid memories came rushing back from the first drive to the hospital for my first chemo: me sitting in that same seat, bawling and shaking, my mother helpless next to me. I was so scared of beginning chemo – and the venturing into the unknown – but there I was 6 months later, heading to the same place for my results.

I had about dozens of good luck and best wishes messages on my phone, but I couldn’t bear to read any of them, let alone reply. Kind messages of comfort haunted me all the way to the hospital.

My mother, father and I sat in the waiting room for what felt like light-years. The hospital was low staffed, with only one doctor on call so we waited and waited until my name was finally called. When the time came, I couldn’t breathe, my chest felt tight and I wanted to run away. I didn’t want to hear the news: I had convinced myself it would be bad. It would be bad. There was something deep down telling me to prepare for bad news.

I followed the doctor.

“Have you had your scan?”

“Yes” I replied puzzled.

To cut long story short, on that Friday I didn’t receive the results I wanted.

The doctor had been so busy, my scan hadn’t been discussed with other consultants and my appointment was messed up- the hospital wasn’t expecting me until next week. Seriously.The doctor hadn’t had time to look at the results, so she asked us to sit back down in the waiting room to give her time to study the scan.

A few minutes later, my name was called again.

The three of us followed the doctor into the room and sat down but I couldn’t concentrate.

“The lymphoma is gone.”

WHAT? Had I heard correctly?

The big melon-grapefruit beast inside me, which had dragged me and everybody who loves me to hell and back, had actually gone? But I could sense a heavy tension in the room; nobody was jumping up for joy and the doctor still had a serious look on her face.

“…But”

There it was; there was the big but.

The scan revealed active cells around my stomach and as there had been no discussions amongst the other consultants, my doctor couldn’t pin point exactly what these active cells were. It could be nothing. It could be more cancer. But it would be difficult to say exactly, as I wasn’t allowed any other scans as more radiation would be harmful. So I was left to ponder over that bombshell for another week while the doctors had more discussions.

We didn’t know anything for certain yet, but it was another almighty shake for me and my family. Were we stupid in thinking that it might have been the day where we could start putting our lives back together and could finally hit the play button after months of being on pause? Perhaps we were.

I wanted to run away, I wanted to be alone. I couldn’t bear being in the same room as any other human being. I didn’t want a tissue; I didn’t want anybody to touch me or comfort me.

I was confused and angry because the lymphoma had gone,but another cancer had just randomly appeared? How? I couldn’t believe that I had battled cancer for the last 6 months but I may have another 6 months of treatment and hospital visits with my life put on hold yet again. I didn’t have it in me to be brave and courageous and inspiring for another 6 months.

I was devastated. I had plans to go travelling in the summer, to do my nursing degree in September, to be a normal person again. Just as I had gained back the strength lost, I was faced with the possibility of another 6 months in bed.

‘…But don’t worry. You shouldn’t worry Megan’ said the doctor once more.

How could I not worry?

How could I carry on with day-to-day life thinking I might have cancer but might not?

What ensued was yet another silent car journey. I was too numb to talk. I couldn’t think. I was utterly devastated.

And what was I to say to people?

The cancer is gone, but maybe I have something else wrong with me now. But I don’t know anything yet. So let’s not get our hopes up too much but hey, let’s keep our hopes up.

I told the closest people the truth and nothing else. Nothing was certain, and it might not be anything worth worrying about but I didn’t want to discuss anything, least of all how I was feeling. I tried to remain positive but that’s easier said than done. It was hard to keep my spirits high when I was constantly thinking about worst case scenarios and another 6 months of treatment.

Five agonizing days of waiting came to an end. The phone rang. I talked to the doctor on loud speaker with my mother listening in the background, ready to ask questions when the time came.

“Are you sitting comfortable?”

Did it really matter?

This was the moment of truth.

I was listening, but my mind was somewhere else. She mumbled something about ovulation. Something inside me started to panic. God, I wasn’t pregnant was I.

No. I knew I wasn’t.

She explained.

The doctor had made a mistake, the active cells were in my ovaries due to ovulation and they showed up as active cells on the scan.

We all let out a huge sigh of relief.

This was my day: this was the day I was allowed to jump up and down, screaming from the rooftops.

I had beaten it. I HAD BEATEN CANCER. I no longer had lymphoma. The pause button could be reset and I could finally put this hellish period behind me.

She was sorry. She was sorry for putting me and my family through hell for the past 5 days.

“I am so happy for you Megan, go and carry on with your life. You deserve it.”

I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was speechless, but everybody else around me was ecstatic. Everybody had been with me every step of the way and they felt as euphoric as I did. We had all beaten this: each one of us.

What was I going to do now?

The first thing I did was google-search ‘flights to Thailand’ and then I went to the gym.

 

March… April

Life has carried on and before I knew it, months had already passed: April already.

Slowly, I am becoming stronger and I’m making it my aim to get healthy again in 2016. My appetite has thankfully, gone back to normal and I no longer crave all sorts of food at all times in the day. I have stripped my diet bare, and I am eating healthy once again: vegetables and fruit aplenty for me! One day, when my metabolism will get back to normal, I would like to have my pre-cancer body back, but for now I have to cover my ‘steroid baby’ in baggy clothes.  The only thing that slows my weight loss down is my alcohol consumption but I am not yet ready to kick it out the window! I am 19 years old, and I want to enjoy myself, I have already lost time to enjoy with friends and I don’t wish to lose a second more.

By now, I actually have my life back on track, and I am so proud of myself for getting myself and my shit together so early after finishing treatment. I even have a new job.

I am beginning to see facets of the Megan I used to be, returning.

But in many ways, I think there will always be a Megan: pre-cancer and a Megan: post-cancer. I believe I have become a far better, far more determined and far stronger person from my experience and I will never again take life or friends or family for granted. I have learnt that even when faced with great adversities, people can rise to the challenge and be there for you in ways you never knew possible – I can rise to the challenge.

I know that when the next hurdle appears, I am ready. We are all ready.

But for now, I’ll just take every day as it comes and make the most of life, because I don’t want to lose out on anther second.