The day that everything changed was just an average Friday.
I was sat at home a week before starting a new job, staring into space and playing with my necklace, when I felt a little lump on my collar bone.
Fast forward four weeks and after numerous tests, scans and a pretty visual neck-biopsy while awake, I received the news.
It hit like a tonne of ‘WTF’ stamped bricks. I’d never even heard of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. And the scariest thing was that I felt so normal. The news made me question everything I’d done in my life up to that point – was it my diet? Too much partying? Had I picked up something weird when travelling abroad? – I needed a reason why. But there wasn’t an answer, nowhere to place the blame, just bad luck that I had to accept.
To banish the beast that had set up camp in my immune system, an intensive 6-month course of chemotherapy through intravenous was required. I began to comprehend the 5-6 hour chemo sessions I’d have every other week for the next six months with no real idea what chemo was or what to expect. But before I knew it, it began.
After the first two sessions, the pain became unbearable as the veins in my hands ‘gave up’. I was then told I’d have to have a PICC line put into my arm, those semi-permanent tube’n’tap devices that hang out of your arm. Very stylish! But it meant I could connect to chemo easily and it would make the process less painful, so it was a no brainer.
The months went by and as time passed by, experiencing different issues and side effects from chemo became the new norm. The complications, sickness, pains, moods and mad thoughts that all crop up eventually stopped surprising me – you feel a little helpless at times. I was weak, unhappy and never felt any closer to the end.
But I – begrudgingly – began to accept the situation. I realised I had to make some changes in my life to make the tougher days a little easier; keep positivity UP and the lows to a minimum.
Living with cancer and the effects of intense rounds of chemo take its toll not only on the physical body but the mental state too. I was always looking for things that could make life a little bit easier.
My mum bought me a calendar to keep track of my never-ending list of hospital appointments. Just a basic one where you can see the whole month on one page. I wrote all of my appointments and hospital, medical stuff in pencil; non-permanent, to try and make cancer seem like it wasn’t leaving a permanent imprint on me. I happily crossed out the ‘pencil’ days once they’d been done.
I then wrote all the positive normal things I’d be doing in bright pink pen. Coffee with friends, trip to the cinema, being able to go into work for a day or two, or maybe a night out when I felt okay enough to have a drink. Even the smaller things like going for a walk – basically anything that wasn’t wallowing.
The idea was that as long as I could look at my month and see more pink than pencil, then I’d create the feeling, the illusion that cancer and the crappy things that come with it weren’t dominating my month or my life. It definitely helped keep morale up.
It helped to make plans but keep them flexible too. I found that when I didn’t have anything planned, I’d fall into a horrible pit of cabin-fever-induced self-loathing and the outside world started to seem really daunting. The longer I stayed in, the more anxiety-inducing it became. So getting out of the house, into the outdoors and speaking to people, even video calling a friend, could bring me out of the crappiest moods even when it was the last thing I felt like doing, and when I looked and felt like sh*t.
Another huge saviour for me was yoga – game-changer, mood-lifter, positive full-body experience. Sometimes moving about is the last thing you want to do after chemo so listen to your body, but when I could, I found that low impact yoga perfectly matched my level of energy. I did gentler classes and mostly online so I didn’t have to leave the house. It was great for the body as well as sorting my nut out.
I was lucky that my new job and the people I work with are so supportive. I was able to work at home or in the office if and when I felt like I could. It helped keep my brain in gear and surrounded me with some normality and a good change of scenery. I felt like I’d achieved something too, which between the more mundane days of nothingness, was a good feeling.
Another important thing, which I found the hardest to do was to just accept the situation. It honestly sounds so much easier than it is. I was frustrated as to why my life had to come to a standstill, I felt robbed. I tried to be a bit kinder to myself day by day and say ‘it’s okay’ to stay in bed today but, being honest, this took me a long time and I wish I did it more often.
CBD oil, ginger and turmeric all helped me with the aches, pains and sickness too.
It’s now 2 months since I finished chemo and I’m rebuilding my life slowly. I’ve moved back to Manchester, I’m back at work and trying to get fit again. I’ve got more PET scans to come before I’m declared in remission. But generally, I’m doing good.
Last year feels like a weird acid trip. It took a lot from me; my fitness, periods, eyebrows, and some confidence to name a few things. But I’m working on it and they’re coming back slowly.
After waking up every morning into what felt like a bad dream for over 6 months, I now wake up feeling relieved that treatment is finished and feel happy to be alive. Although the aftermath of chemo is not quite over yet and I’m still working towards remission, I’ve adapted to the new me and I’m incredibly thankful that I caught cancer early.