It’s been almost two weeks since I received the biggest news of my life. The news signalled the ending of a chapter that started way back in 2009. However, I can now reveal that this 8-year long chapter has had an abrupt ending. Cue a blog post how it feels to get the all-clear from cancer.
Let me give you some context but throwing it back to 2009. I, a 14-year-old, had just been diagnosed with stage 3 blood cancer, whilst on the brink of being terminal. Now, as if choosing Team Edward or Team Jacob weren’t tough enough life choices for a teenager, I had more life-affirming decisions to make: Should I shave off all of my hair? Or should I let it fall out naturally from the chemotherapy? Should I carry on going to school, and stick with my GCSE’s, as a way of staying focused? Or should I make a bucket list in case I tip over the edge to ‘terminal’? Should I research the ins and outs of my diagnosis and treatment? Or should I leave that all to my consultant so I can act like a normal teenager?
How it Feels To Live With Cancer
It’s safe to say that there were a lot of big decisions to be made whilst I was ill. I actually decided to leave everything to my dear consultant, Josef. Instead, I just wanted to focus on normal teenage things, like preaching about being Team Edward or recording my fave Akon song for Blackberry ringtone.
Thankfully, Josef was a-okay with this and actually encouraged me to try and carry on with life as normal. Josef’s amazing. Basically, if Beyonce was a childhood cancer consultant and researcher, she would be Josef. He was globally renowned for conducting ground-breaking research and winning awards for said research. All in all, he was very good at saving lives, so I was very blessed to have him choose my chemotherapy and operation path. I put my trust in Josef and accepted every decision of his.
Some of the Many Side Effects of Chemotherapy
Waking Up Paralysed
Even when the chemotherapy led to horrific side effects – as it so often did – I trusted his decision. For example, one morning I woke up completely paralysed from the waist down. One of the prescribed drugs, Daunorubicin, had left me completely bed-bound.
My whole life had changed overnight – I suddenly wasn’t able to leave the house, unless it was essential, such as going for treatment. Even having a shower or needing the toilet, was a chore as my poor mother had to carry me in her arms.
But despite all of this – I put my trust into Josef. And I was right to do soon. The Daunorubicin was killing the cancerous cells that had taken over my blood.
Naturally, once the dosage started lowering – I also started regaining the ability to move the bottom half of my body. However, it wasn’t as simple as waking up and regaining full control. Nope, definitely not. Instead, my nerve endings were so damaged from the Dauno that they had seized up. I was only able to walk on my tip-toes, and my feet needed to be bent back to that ‘L’ shape we all take for joy.
So, as Josef, often did – he saved the day and requested for me to receive casts. I had a cast on each foot that went from my toes to above my knee. Then eventually, 6 weeks and many Optimus Prime impersonations later, the casts finally came off.
I was then referred to a physiotherapist where I taught how to walk again. It’s safe to say that once these sessions were over, I was strutting all over the place. I could have definitely won a Lip Sync Battle on Ru Paul – and it’s all down to Josef.
Finding Out I’m Allergic to My Own Blood Type
After retraining myself to walk, my mum kindly took me out for a celebratory meal. However, mid-entree, I ended up having a massive fit in the middle of the restaurant. The whole room went black, and I found myself crashing to the ground.
I then opened my eyes for a fraction of a second, only to find myself back on the ward. Time had stopped. I was going in and out of consciousness – and then suddenly a nurse stabbed me with some sort of insulin device. I then passed out one final time before waking up fully conscious. After my awakening, I was told I had had an allergic reaction to a prior blood transfusion. Apparently, I’m allergic to my own blood type so needed a special version imported in the future. Now talk about being extra.
Contracting Swine Flu Whilst Having No Immune System
Then there was also the time a nurse had contracted swine flu and accidentally gave it to me. Yep, she gave a deadly virus to a blood cancer patient with no immune system. I know it wasn’t her fault (she thought she had a cold) but I was immediately rushed into intensive care, where tests were undertaken.
Again, I was in and out of consciousness – but this period lasted a couple of days. My haemoglobin, which is supposed to be at 12 – 15.5, was at 0.2, and my mum was informed I was nearly brain dead. I don’t remember much of this time-frame. But miraculously Josef came up with another miracle of a treatment path and regained my haemoglobin levels to a normal level – well, at least for a cancer patient.
I still have problems with my mobility, and always will have. The nerve endings are so damaged in my joints that I struggle to stand or walk flat-footed.
I’m also going to go into the menopause in my early 30s so if I want babies, I need them in the next seven years (I am currently 23). And if that doesn’t make me feel old – I’m also going to get arthritis early on in life. And all because of that dreaded Daunrubicin!
I know to you reading this – it might sound quite tragic. But hey, I’m alive, and that’s the most important thing, right?
Life Post-Treatment But Not Yet Receiving the All-Clear from Cancer
Gosh, my fingers have begun quivering as I type all of this out. These very fingers, which were once paralysed from that dreaded daunorubicin drug, are now allowing me to reflect. My life today couldn’t be further apart from that period. I’m now a 23-year-old graduate, who feels very lucky to has the privilege of having the usual problems of someone in their early 20s.
My life is extremely normal, and I’m so grateful for it. I work in an office, I pay tax and I daydream of one day owning a Smeg fridge. And I’m very happy with all of this. I like the stability and the normalness of it all.
But every year, around the end of summer, I am hit the reality that my yearly cancer check is coming up. Usually, this consists of a general body MOT – I’d be weighed, have my blood pressure taken, and all of the mundane stuff.
Then there’s the cheeky shmoozing with Josef. He asks me what I’d been up to in the past year. He’d then tell me his normal day-to-day shenanigans in the most humble way: saving lives, running marathons for charity and giving kids the all-clear from cancer. You know, the usual stuff.
But this year, he had a life update. He told me that he had been approached to work as the Head Consultant of the Children and Teenager Oncology Ward in the Netherlands. Basically, the Netherlands has created a massive Cancer Institue. that’s so big that all cancer patients in the Netherlands get treated in this one institute.
Then, whilst I’m processing how proud I am, he turns to me. Then he says in passing comment, “and because I am leaving in January, Bekki, I would like to personally discharge you from the ward today.” And just like that – he gives me the all-clear from cancer.
…and Finally How it Feels to Get the All-Clear from Cancer
And just like that, time stopped again. But this time, the only fit I was having was in my eye ducts as I couldn’t stop bloody sobbing. I mean, how do I reply to that? Just thirty minutes prior, I had been sat in a manager’s meeting at work, discussing retail strategies. Now I’m here – unexpectedly closing the biggest chapter of my life.
I didn’t know what to say to Josef. I mean, what do you say to the mean who saved your life? How can you sum up the words? This very man made a series of decisions, which in turn, has allowed me to live the life I have today (albeit one that gets excited over Smeg fridges).
The rest of the checkup was a bit of a blur. I remember blurting out my gratitude whilst he so humbly accepted. And now here I am, at the beginning of a new chapter – a one that suddenly feels a lot more important. What do I do? Where do I go from here? How do I celebrate getting the all-clear from cancer? The choices are endless but if there’s one thing that I’m excited for – it’s being in control of my own decisions from here on out. Here’s to a happy and healthy future.
If you fancy reading more honest think pieces, you can find them all here.
Or if you yourself have received the all-clear from cancer and are looking at coping strategies, then this Macmillian article may help.