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There is life after cancer

Updated: Dec 16, 2017

September 2010. I have just lost my job, I was pushed to take redundancy, which I did as I felt very tired not knowing that I was very ill. I left the firm in tears after more then 7 years working there. I did not know then that I could not perform because I was not well. I was getting a new infection every day. My temperature eventually reached 40. I was constantly sick, sore throat, water infection, some horrible rush all over my body. I felt lightheaded, had terrible cough and general body aches.  I had so many infections and few trips to GP crying and begging for a simple blood test only listening 'if symptoms do not go away in one week then you will get a blood test'.

18th of September, 2010. I could not wait for a blood test promised by GP. My instincts told me call an ambulance. My instinct saved my life. Ambulance arrived, looked at me, checked my temperature and took me to our nearest hospital QE in Gateshead not even letting me to change in a decent PJ and a fresh dressing gown. Everything was fast. Nurse taking blood, not able to catch, the blood which looked like some pink water and was everywhere, then X-ray, then doctor's questions about any other possible blood illnesses I might had in the past, then a little hospital room and strict instructions not to leave the room till doctor arrives. I was coughing violently being sick again, I was crying and searching for answers, but secretly understanding the answer. It was something sinister, they talked about white blood cells. Chernobyl came to my mind (it made sense, I was 15 living just 100 miles away from an explosion in April 1986) , I was trying hard not to think about a blood cancer. But the word blood cancer permanently settled in my mind.

Two hours passed from being admitted to QE and a haematology consultant arrived from Sunderland Hospital. It was 9pm when he entered my small hospital room and not even letting him to finish his introduction, I asked 'Doctor, do I have cancer?' He looked at me and said it looks like you have cancer...... But it is impossible as I have small children 3 and 5 years old', I whispered in return trying hard to fight my tears. 'We have treatment to cure blood cancer, but first we need to do more tests to understand the type of cancer. I am taking you to Sunderland Hospital now'.  Before my fragile body was loaded into ambulance again, I made two phone calls, one to my husband and one to my closest friend, Marilyn. I felt guilty at that point, thinking how to tell them that I probably have cancer. How to protect them from pain?'  I am again on a road to Sunderland hospital, another small side room and the nurse with a musical name Melody caring after me all night. Many bags of antibiotics and blood transfusion and sleepless, perhaps the most difficult night of my life not knowing the future. Was any future? Would my little children grow up without mum? That night was crucial, as apparently I was very ill passing 40 days when anyone with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) survives without treatment. I was lucky being generally healthy with a strong heart and not managing to add pneumonia to all other infections I had at that time.

19 of September 2010. I had my first experience of bone marrow biopsy. It was more then painful. I tried not to cry and was making jokes in a company of other people and only allowed myself to cry when no one was watching. The day I had my biopsy, I cried, I was in pain physically and emotionally. Not seeing my children was the hardest part. I could not stop crying, I let it go. Amanda, my nurse entered the room, sat down on my bed and gave me a huge hug. I needed that hug, I had to stop to pretend I was OK. She then said. 'Your journey is going to be hard, the treatment is harsh, but there is a hope. Remember that'. I needed that words of comfort badly and I cried even harder, but I was ready for treatment, I could not wait for my diagnosis to come, to get all my infections under control and start my treatment.

22 of September, 2 pm. I was sitting on my bed, Geoff on my left, Amanda, the nurse on my right and my consultant opposite us. He confirmed that I had a blood cancer, but good news, I had a good type of blood cancer, AML. At that point all the attention went to my husband. He nearly collapsed. We knew I had cancer, but he still had hopes. He lost both parents to cancer. However, I felt ready to start my journey towards recovery. I frankly decided not to use word fight, as I did not understand its meaning. I met then my research nurse, Paula a very smiley nurse. She explained my options either traditional treatment or a trial AML17. After trying to read, I made a decision go for trial. However, I could not start my treatment till all my infections were under control. Few more weeks in my little room, lots of antibiotics before I was given news that I was ready to start my treatment. However, before starting chemotherapy, I was allowed to go home. My hair were shaved and my new wig arrived. I was ready to see my children.

October 2010. I remember the day really well. I rushed home from hospital, to spend weekend with my family. My daughter 3 years old then did not go towards me immediately. She did not see mum for a long time. However, when she realised, that mum was home, she did not want to let me go. My other emotional experience was going to school to collect my son. I will never forget fright on his little face, when I run towards him to give him a huge hug. He did not see me in a new wig, he was scared and I was nearly crying standing with him in a middle of the school yard. My son was only 5 years old then.

When I started my treatment, my husband self-employed had to leave his job to look after our children and myself. We did not have any income, were not entitled for many benefits Macmillan nurses applied and were lucky having savings and no debts at that time. I am not sure how we could cope if not for my parents, my mum's cooking and our friends. My mum left her elderly mum and my dad in Ukraine to look after us, my friends were helping us with looking after children, cooking, visiting me and so much more.

The treatment was hash. I lost count after 60 chemos, I managed to escape from hospital, I walked out from a hospital warden who was trying to wheel me into a very busy lift, climbing on all my four to the fourth floor, to my ward after. My immune system did not exist and many people in a lift with different germs could simply kill me. I was actually proud of myself being able to get to my ward without a wheelchair and anyone else help. I was then hysterical, crying and getting comfort from my nurse Janice instead of telling me off. I was perhaps the most difficult patient who was questioning everything, managing having 'debates' with my doctor and a registrar. However, I have never lost hope. My children were driving me to survive. I had their photos with smiley faces on a wall of my side room. I was praying every morning and every night looking at their small faces. Knitting then helped me to calm my mind down and kept me busy. I was knitting with my closed eyes as I could not do anything else. I went into remission quickly, but  the extensive chemo made me very ill at that time.

Seven years later, I have a busy and normal life, as normal as it can be. Cancer leaves a huge scar. I have been fighting with many issues related to cancer. However, I am here, I am alive. I have been rebuilding my life for the last six years, which perhaps is a long time. I have been challenging myself all the time. I am fitter now at 46 years old then before I had cancer. I have been running my little creative business, studying for Master degree with aim to start a new career in online education.  I met many amazing people. I made new friends, I built new bonds with few people and one of them my Hayley, another AML survivor and the most amazing person. I can certainly tell that there is life after cancer and it is a beautiful life even with many obstacles.

Thank you for reading this blog. Please accept my apologies for few mistakes and a lack of photos. I simply do not have any from that challenging time of my life.

Tomorrow is 18 of September - Seven years since I learned what is a blood cancer and tomorrow is the normal day with very busy school runs, after school activities, working on my assignment, cooking dinner, taking our dog for a walk and enjoying little moments of my life, something I did not appreciate 7 years ago. Life is busy, Life is good even with many obstacles which make me to appreciate life even more.

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Simply beautiful, thank you for sharing. I'm glad I've had the chance to meet you, you're a very strong and inspiring woman.

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