Today marks 10 years since I had a tumour removed from my neck!
Earlier this year I made myself sick with worry over changes to a mole on my back and afterwards I felt compelled to write. Until then, I hadn’t really spoken much about my feelings surrounding the tumour, the operation and everything that went with it and in all honesty the flood gates opened, so my writing may not be as eloquent as I would like!
I hope the below, which I posted on Facebook at the time of writing, goes a little way to explaining how such an experience feels, why it can be so difficult to talk about and maybe even helps someone going through a similar experience to hold onto the fact that not all horrors end badly.
“When I was 17 I had a tumour in my neck. Thankfully it turned out to be benign (I think it’s called a follicular Oedema?). The tumour made me very poorly and certainly didn’t feel very benign when I would wake in the night gasping for air, the weight of it closing my windpipe.
Going into surgery I was terrified. That year I had lost two friends, taken long before their time, one of them to cancer. On top of that, a friend at Sixth Form was also battling against cancer which had made its home in her stomach and now, I thought, it was coming for me.
By the time I came round from surgery I wasn’t terrified anymore, I felt numb, empty, resigned to the fact that I was going to die. The tumour, expected to be the size of a walnut was collectively the size of a large orange. I say collectively as it was wrapped around my windpipe, thyroid and even my voice-box. In fact my voice now is quite different to my ‘pre-surgery’ voice.
The days that followed are hazy. I remember certain peoples’ faces, my friends Laura and Emily, Ollie who brought grapes and then ate them 😉 and Hannah, who would cry when she had to leave.
I saw the colour drain from my Mother’s face on an hourly basis; helpless to make me better and hearing news from Doctors that she chose not to share with me. All I remember of my Father was him repeatedly telling me that he loved me. As I left the hospital, so thin I could see my bones clearly through my skin, it was almost Christmas. I accepted that even if this was not my last, it would be the last one I would spend as a relatively well person.
I remember considering the impact of my death. Not something I expect many 17 year olds have had to do. I made my peace with a sad old man who used to terrify me, reconciled with old friends and made sure that those who loved me knew that I loved them.
When I hugged my Mum, I held her longer than I needed to, when I caught her looking at me, I would keep my face as still as possible, believing she may be preserving these moments, my face, my smell, for when I was gone. My youngest sister, then only 7, would grow up without me. To her I thought, me not being there would eventually be normal. I wished it would be that easy for everyone else. We had been told to hope for the best; but prepare for the worst: And we did.
Remarkably I wasn’t even that sad for myself, it was everyone else. I didn’t want anyone to feel guilty or have regrets on my account, so I forgave everything!!
I spent Christmas at home in Ipswich and then, somewhat against doctors orders, went back to Preston for New Year. I visited everyone, though not everyone knew why!! Then all that was left to do was wait. The great unknown is debilitating, believe me.
Unfortunately because of the nature of the growth; it took longer to test each part.
When we were finally called back to hospital, it was my Mum who struggled to take the steps from the car to the entrance. Not wanting to be greeted with the worst news a parent can hear. I cracked jokes, annoyingly flippant I’m sure. But as far as I was concerned I knew what they were going to say: that I had cancer.
I was ready, I had accepted my fate, all that was left was to make things as easy as possible for everyone else. Like I said I was numb. But the news was good! I was ok. Tests on the tumour(s) had been extensive due to their nature; but it was all benign!
In the month that followed a lot happened. I returned to Sixth Form and muddled through my exams. The lovely and brave Laura Croker fought hard against her cancer (sadly she lost this battle during the Summer) and we remembered the beautiful Melanie Grant on the 1st anniversary of her passing.
My own experience seemed tiny in comparison, my feelings a self absorbed folly. There were people still living as I had done all over the World. I still felt nothing. Shortly after I discovered that my New Year in Preston, the one I was convinced was my last had resulted in my becoming pregnant! Far from preparing myself for dying; I had to get ready to be a Mother.
(The following refers to earlier this year)
For the last couple of weeks I have been convinced I had skin cancer. After two referrals it seemed inevitable. Unsuccessful the first time, it had come for me again.
Once again I tried to cover all bases. I made sure my loved ones knew they were loved ones, I tried to reconcile with estranged friends, I got my affairs in order.
This time was different, the 8 year old in my life is my daughter and certainly would never get used to life without me. I have an almost husband, my own home, plans, a future. I didn’t want to go: I was devastated. But its fine, I’m fine, it was nothing, a false alarm.
I have cried so much in the last two days! I think the relief I should have felt almost ten years ago has finally been allowed to come out. I am so grateful for everything I have, had and will have. I love and am loved. I have a great life and I actually get to live it!!
But not everyone is as lucky as me. So many people have been greeted with the unthinkable news that glued my Mums feet to the ground in that hospital car park. So many children have had the life insurance but no Mummy or Daddy. So many lives go unlived.
I think a lot of the time we go around with blinkers on: seeing day to day life as mundane rather than the miracle it is. I want to take this opportunity to say thank you to all my friends and family for always being there for me. Whether they have known what has been going on or not. I hope we continue to be the lucky ones.