I woke up Friday 25th October and felt ready to tackle what I was faced with, I promised myself that very morning that melanoma was not going to define me or beat me; whatever I had to do to to win against the 'c' word, I would do. It felt ages since I'd sat and cried to Lynne at the hospital, but it was only 24 hours ago. Now it was time to fight back, but I was scared, nervous and already emotionally exhausted and this was only day one!
At the time of my diagnosis a lady I used to work with called Ann was undergoing treatment for breast cancer. I had previously seen a few of Ann's posts on Facebook about her treatment, first her operation then chemo and remember being shocked and saddened someone so lovely was going through such a horrible thing, I couldn't believe Ann had been diagnosed with cancer. I noticed her posts more and more over the forthcoming weeks and realised that having once worked together closely, we now had something in common once again. We had been entered into a club we didn't sign up for. Ann seemed very upbeat and almost humorous in her posts, although I'm sure this was just a coping mechanism, one of her many brave and admirable traits. I wanted to speak to Ann about her diagnosis, so I could relate her feelings to how I was feeling. I decided to tell Ann about what I had learned the day before, her reaction was both pure shock and upset. I felt awful for loading my problems onto her, as if she didn't already have enough to deal with; but they say a problem shared is a problem halved and out of anyone Ann would probably know exactly where I was coming from. I sent my message and speaking from unfortunate experience Ann knew exactly what to say, how to encourage me, explained the treatment and the speed the NHS would move at, she told me I would automatically enter into 'survival mode.' She was right.
I had woken up that morning in survival mode, feeling positive and brave. I was glad this sense of feeling had kicked in, it made me feel good, prepared and ready. I am a fighter and I will fight this, I'm 26 years old there is still so much I have to do, there is no way this is going to stop me. The problem with the word 'cancer' is that it stirs so many emotions, to many it means pain, hurt and consequently death. At this point I couldn't say the word so I referred to it as melanoma, it doesn't change what it is, but at least that way it was seen as a disease, not a death sentence.
Mark and I jumped in the car and he drove me to meet Dad in the car park of a local pub by the hospital. My heart was in my throat as we drove around the corner and I see his blue car. Dad was the first family member I would see since I found out I had melanoma, getting out of the car I see his eyes welled up and mine did too, he hugged me so tight like he was trying to squeeze whatever it was out of me. We made our way in one car to the hospital, parked up and in we went. The day before I was so carefree walking into the RUH hospital, then I looked at myself and everyone else; we all looked so scared about what we were about to learn.
The skin clinic was full of people between 70 and 80 years old, don't get me wrong I love old people, but a part of me did not want to be sat in the same room as the senior citizens club that particular day. I'm young and I shouldn't be here. The only problem with the idea of cancer is that its commonly associated with age, mainly older age, but Melanoma is becoming very common in 15-30 year old's and the main cause, although sometimes genetic, or hereditary, is sun damage. So while we all run around on the beach in our factor 10, feeling young, tanned and untouchable, remember that we aren't. Thanks to my Dad I am fair skinned and freckly, but I have my Mums dark eyes and features, a bit of a cocktail. I am not a sun worshiper, I dont really tan at all. I've always use sunscreen and often get bored sun bathing on holiday, but yet this disease has still got me in it's grip.
With that we are called in to meet Dr. A, so Myself, Mark, Dad and step mum Kath fill the office and nervously sit while Dr. A introduces himself, he looks like a nice, friendly man and his voice is very gentle, but his facial expression is slightly strained and concerned. We discuss my history of the vanishing mole and he talks me through how melanoma tends to behave. Thanks to Mark I am already aware of a lot of this, I look across at Dad taking it all in, nodding slowly like the Churchill dog.
Dr. A informs me that my surgery to remove the infected lymph nodes is penciled in for the 13th November, two and a half weeks away. OK wow, I think to myself...surgery. Dr.A hadn't even met me and he's already booked my surgery, my Dad and Mark look completely exasperated, although impressed with Dr. A's efforts to get my treatment rolling so efficiently, like me, they want it out now! Dr. A goes on to explain that we have to work backwards from the surgery date, because there is a chance the melanoma could have spread elsewhere in my body, from my lymph glands to my organs and that I must undergo scans to rule out this potential factor. I was to be sent for an MRI on my Brain and PET scan on my body, these scans would come though during the following week. If there were any signs of spread were set to be playing a very different ball game. I would automatically become stage 4 and the prognosis and chances of removing the melanoma were not so good, surgery would then be questioned, potentially even cancelled and I would be sent for more a more intense form of treatment, there is no stage 5, stage 4 is the worst the cancer can get.
That lump in my throat returned and Dr. A begins to tell me about the surgery, which 'fingers crossed' we were aiming for, with no evidence of spread. My life had literally spilt into two roads and we are trying to bear left. The surgery didn't phase me in the grand scheme of things, I just wanted it out of me, tell me when, I am there.
Dr. A gave me confidence I would be OK through my own positivity and attitude, but he couldn't give much away or tell me I was definitely going to be OK because he couldn't see inside me. To add insult to injury, Dr. A informed us that melanoma doesn't respond to standard radiotherapy or chemotherapy the same way that other cancers do, so if it has spread the treatment plan will need to be discussed further and things do become much more serious, there is currently no cure for melanoma; it is still a cancer experts are learning about, but it is much more manageable at stage 3 (my stage) than stage 4. I had done my homework at this point and the silent matter was raised that a prognosis when the melanoma has spread, as far as I understood, meant you have a matter of months or years and the fight to succeed this is long and often unsuccessful; it was heart wrenching and something none of us wanted to discuss, but it was an elephant in the room that we couldn't ignore. So much was hanging on these scans and so we waited for the next steps, trying to stay positive.
During the next few days the idea was to keep busy, positive and optimistic, every time I felt like I was going to breakdown I had Mark next to me, telling me we will get through it, and no matter how scared I was, I believed him. I stopped myself from reading about melanoma on the internet, some of the stories leave you petrified. Instead I spent the next few days moving around slowly, observing and appreciating everything, I didn't know what was around the corner or which turning I was set to take. I had rushed my way through life since I can remember, anyone who knows me will agree I just can't sit still, I'm always busy, always wanting to do something. Perhaps it was time to stop and start noticing the small things in life that I charge past everyday.
My phone didn't stop beeping for days, with my friends and family encouraging me day and night, none stop. My clearest memory before my scans was watching Mark play football away at Slimbridge in a cup game. Myself and his family had driven up the M5 in sunshine and showers to watch the match. Wrapped up in my thick coat with just enough make-up on to hide the tired bags under my eyes, I sat and watched the game. The clouds were thick and heavy, the wind had picked up and it looked like it was going to pour with rain. 10 mins into the second half the rain let up and the sun slowly emerged from behind an angry, thick, black cloud, much like the one that had been hanging over my head since Thursday. The sunlight hit my face and illuminated the whole pitch making it glisten, it felt warm and I felt peaceful.
It was at this point I had no worries, I just sat wrapped-up in the autumn sun. I didn't think about my diagnosis, my head had stopped spinning and it was just me sitting in a busy crowd and I was genuinely happy, ready to take on what was to be thrown at me. How I felt that peaceful knowing what I knew that day I'll never know, but I did realise that its the simple things that are most important and without them, there is no hope. I believe the smallest things in life make a difference, when you are faced with trouble they are what help keep you strong.