Friday, 6 April 2012

A big thank you

Firstly, I just wanted to say a huge thank you for all the kind messages I have received since the article was published in the JC and online. However, due to unavoidable circumstances and word limits, my piece was significantly reduced in size and I wanted you to see the full version. So here it is. Wishing you all a happy Pesach/Easter and thanking you all for your kind wishes and support.

Erev Rosh Hashanah. Normally a time spent getting the last few things ready for Yom Tov. However last Rosh Hashanah turned out to be one of the worst days of my life.

I had been ill since returning home from my year abroad in Berlin and I had undergone countless blood tests, three skin biopsies, a fine needle biopsy, three operations, possible tuberculosis, a diagnosis of Dermatomyositis (a rare auto-immune disease), two MRI scans, a muscle specific MRI, three CT scans, an ultra-sound, three steroid infusions, hundreds of pills and creams and seen ten consultants for innumerable appointments. Despite all of this, I had just returned back to Leeds University to complete the final year of my degree, I hadn’t even unpacked when my parents called me, and told me to get the next train home. The doctor had news...

Down I rushed from Leeds to London where I was met at the station by my family, all looking at me nervously. We drove straight to the hospital and waited in the now very familiar rheumatology waiting room to be seen by my consultant. She called us in. There was a long, awkward silence and I think we all knew what was coming. Although I had travelled down to London with the expectation of bad news, nothing could have prepared me for what she was going to say.
“You have cancer”, she explained. The tears and emotions which followed were unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. Nothing could have equipped me psychologically for those three words. All the negative connotations associated with cancer were dancing around my mind. The consultant kept talking, but nothing was really going in. The feeling in the room was very high and intense and the tears just kept on flowing. She gave us some time to regain our composure and then immediately introduced us to a consultant haematologist who was going to take over my care from now on.

Being told I had cancer was the hardest thing I have ever experienced. On the way to that appointment, I had in my mind that it was going to be bad news (just from googling recent symptoms) but no matter how negatively I thought, I was so emotionally unprepared for that diagnosis. I thought because it was cancer, that the prognosis would automatically be irresolvable, however, I have defied the odds and not only now beaten cancer, but suffered minimally in the process.

I have now completed all my treatment and am in remission. My treatment consisted initially of six rounds of chemotherapy every two weeks. Apart from losing all my hair and feeling very fatigued, I hardly had any other side effects. After the third round of chemo, I was told that due to the rare type of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma that I have, I would need to have a stem cell transplant once all the chemo was completed to make sure I have the same outcome as those with more curable forms of lymphoma. The stem cell transplant consisted of the removal of my stem cells which were then frozen. A week later, for six days, I underwent high dose chemotherapy every day and then I received the stem cells back, at this point I was admitted to hospital for ten days until my immune system rebuilt itself.

As I was diagnosed only two days in to the beginning of my fourth and final year of university, I naturally had to put my studies on hold for the year as travelling up and down to Leeds in between treatments would have been too difficult and tiring and I would have had to miss a couple of weeks whilst having my transplant in hospital. On a slightly more positive note, it has delayed me deciding what it is exactly I am going to do once I complete my degree, as I am still ambivalent! The chemo didn’t affect my social life too much. I was still able to go out and do things as and when I wanted but was naturally more tired and bald than I was before. I also had to try and avoid heavily congested places full of people due to my immune system being weakened and compromised from all the treatment. I found telling some of my friends that I had cancer particularly difficult, as I just didn’t know how they were going to react. Most of my close friends I felt it important to tell them personally, rather than them hearing from someone else. My friends were naturally upset, but having a good, strong group of close friends has made the whole process easier and not so scary.

Having cancer put a massive strain on both me and my family. I found that the easiest way to get through it was to keep smiling and always think positively. I think that if I had let it get the better of me emotionally, it would have been much more difficult. You just have to go along with it, take the doctor’s advice, keep your friends and family close and not let cancer define who you are. I would like to express my immense gratitude to all the staff at Barnet General, UCLH and Chai Cancer Care, my amazing friends and family who have all helped to aid my recovery and make it as smooth and easy as possible.