Watching films and tv, I always wondered how I would feel when I was told that I or one of my family had cancer. How would I react? How could I possibly cope? Well this year cancer has played a big role in my life.
A good friend of mine had cancer. Had it since he was 12. Someone asked him how he felt having a disease that was terminal and he simply replied, I don't know any different. Unfortunately he was taken from us far too early. When we were saying our goodbyes at the beginning of the year, Gaby was really poorly. He had stopped responding to his treatment for the past 2 years and it was really taking hold of him. He was in so much pain that he couldn't get out of bed until he had taken a dozen painkillers in the morning. I'm sure it was much worse but he wasn't one to openly complain.
So when we said goodbye to him in March I knew I might not see him again. I was able to say goodbye and tell him how much he meant to me, what an amazing person he was. When do you say goodbye to a friend who has cancer. Each time you see them you know it might be the last but you have to stay positive. I felt lucky that I had the chance to say what I wanted to. 6 weeks later, I received the news that he had passed away. I was devastated. Even though I knew it was for the best, that his suffering had ended, it didn't seem fair that someone so young, someone so amazing, was taken from us all. I felt for his wife. Could not believe how strong she was, could not imagine how she could cope with the loss of her husband.
I was able to fly back to the UK and attend his funeral. It was great to be around friends and to be there with everyone. A friend from London was surprised to see me at the funeral and said to me " You came back!" to which I burst into tears and said "Of course I did!"
A couple of weeks after my return, I received a phone call from my Mum. I knew straight away that something was wrong. She told me, very calmly, that at age 60, she'd had a mammogram and they had found a tumour. It had been tested and it was cancer. I had so many emotions running through me. I was angry. Why hadn't she told me earlier (obviously there was no point worrying me but it made me feel much further away). Why did she have breast cancer? When I was 18 she had had a heart attack and ended up needing a heart bypass at age 40. Ever since, when the phone rang, I thought maybe it was bad news, that she'd had another heart attack or that she needed another bypass. My Mum has heart problems, she isn't supposed to get cancer. Everyone I know who gets cancer, dies (I have said goodbye to 3 people over the last few years, taken by cancer). But she said they had caught it early so that was good news and she was to start chemo straight away.
Around the same time, a new friend in the US was also diagnosed with breast cancer. She has been an amazing support to me, always asking me how my Mum is, answering my questions and offering to talk if I ever need someone. She is such a strong woman. She is going through cancer herself but wants to be there for me. Bless her!
So I am dealing with the second blow in one year and just getting my head round those two when it strikes again.
Jeremy had been having some trouble since we moved to the US and thought he had kidney stones or a bladder infection. He had some tests and went off to see the Urologist whilst I went about my day as usual. I was at Toby's gym when the phone rang. Jeremy was on the phone asking if I was sitting down and if I could talk. The doctor had found a tumour. Jeremy was gutted and had a million questions going round in his head. The doctor told him he was too young for it to be cancer but we would have to have the tumour removed and wait for the pathologist results. I was very calm and just told him it would all be ok. The doctor said he was too young and I believed him. We started to look up bladder cancer on the Internet and that is when I started to panic. When you see the survival rates and that some bladder cancer can be terminal.
I went through every emotion of being strong for Jeremy, to planning what I would say at his funeral. Wondering if I could be as strong as Gaby's wife. Wondering how on earth I could live my life without him. What about the kids?!
So we had to stay positive and believe it was something else.
He had surgery to remove the tumour a couple of weeks later. My neighbour had our kids so I could be at the hospital. I was given a pager and cried when I saw the message that he was in surgery. You feel so helpless just sitting in a canteen, waiting. My husband was lying on a bed, with a tube down his throat, undergoing surgery.
A couple of hours later, the doctor came to see me. It wasn't cancer! Yippee! It looked like his prostrate had grown into his bladder. Sounds awful but it wasn't cancer. I remember thinking, are you really going to tell me bad news in front of everyone in the crowded waiting room? But he wasn't, he was telling me he was sure it was ok BUT we still needed to wait for path results. I was feeling so blessed and that everything would be ok.
So I was in complete shock 2 weeks later, when we sat in the doctor's office and he read out the path results. Cancer. They had found cancer cells in the tumour. Wow! How did I feel? Well I couldn't take it all in. I was in shock. Calm but kept thinking, it will be ok. Jeremy cried briefly but we just had a big hug and decided to head home to talk about it. The doctor said it was a very unusual type of cancer and he did not know what it was and how to move forward so was going to refer us to a bladder cancer specialist at another hospital. Everything felt surreal.
And that is how we ended up walking through the doors of the cancer building at the University of Michigan hospital. I could not believe we were there. We had joined a sector of society that I had always dreaded joining. My husband had cancer but no point in panicking, just go and see the doctor and find out what we were dealing with.
He wanted to do another op on Jeremy, to take more samples and see the bladder for himself. He too thought Jeremy was too young but was also wondering if he had colon cancer which had grown into his bladder.
So we were left waiting for another op, more test results, hoping and praying for the best but also imagining the worst. Colon cancer that had grown into his bladder would have to be pretty advanced. How unfair given that for the last 7 years Jeremy had been having regular colonoscopies for his colitis. We knew he was likely to get colon cancer at some point but they should catch it early. We had so many of those what if days.
A couple of weeks later, Jeremy went back to the hospital with a friend for another op. I stayed at home as the kids had been really unsettled and I wanted to keep things as normal as possible. It was so hard to not be there but he was with a good friend who kept in touch with me throughout the morning. Yet again I was at Toby's gym class when the phone rang. This time it was the doctor. I answered the phone and listened whilst he told me the surgery had gone well, Jeremy was doing well but it was cancer. It was cancer. Well I just lost it. I started to cry and couldn't concentrate to ask the right questions. All I heard was it's cancer and it's bad. He needed to take Jeremy's bladder out in the next few weeks, sooner rather than later. I managed to get Toby into the car and rang Jeremy's Dad. He was so good and told me it would all be ok. But how was I going to tell Jeremy when he got home. I should have been there. I should have gone to hold his hand when he got the news. Well it turned out the doctor had told him and he was so brave. When he got home we talked about it, about how he would cope without a bladder. How he was lucky that they could cure it with surgery and that he might not have to go through the hell that is Chemo. Jeremy's calm demeanour and bravery was amazing!
Friends and family were so supportive, on email, on the phone. Praying for us all over the world. People we had only just got to know and those we hadn't even met. We have been so touched by everyone's love and support.
And I have to say the prayers worked. We went back again to the hospital and the doctor said, much to his shock and surprise, the cancer had not spread. They had caught it early and it was confined to the tumour. The tissue he thought was riddled with cancer was just inflammation. He still didn't understand what type of cancer it was, that it is the type of cancer that is normally found in the colon but we have the gift of time. No immediate surgery, just a lot more tests and research to work out a long term plan. He has never seen a case like it and he wants to confer with other doctors across America but for now we could return to the UK and enjoy our trip.
So now we are here, enjoying our home leave. Jeremy has to undergo another op when we get back from the UK, to take more samples but if all is well, he will be tested every 3 months and time will tell.
We are sure he will have to have his bladder removed at some point and his colitis needs to get under control again. They think maybe the two are linked. So maybe Jeremy will end up in a magazine as a test case. A rare cancer caused by colon tissue in the bladder. Fame at last!!
But for now, I am just happy that I still have my husband, in one piece.
Our lives have changed so much over the last year and it will never be the same again. Always looking over his shoulder, wondering if the ache or pain is something to be worried about. Will the cancer have grown back again, how soon, how severely? But we are taking one day at a time. Today we are enjoying seeing our nieces and nephew. The surgery can wait until we get back.
So time for another cup of tea I think and a cuddle with my gorgeous family.