Rebecca lives with her husband and two teenage sons. Thinking she had a chest infection, she was admitted to A&E in May 2016 and a just few hours later she was diagnosed with bowel cancer. She is now undergoing palliative chemotherapy while maintaining her busy, happy family life.
“I was admitted into hospital in May 2016, with what I thought was a chest infection. I had been backwards and forward to the GP for a few weeks with a temperature and some other symptoms, and eventually after various doctor’s visits and an ambulance call-out I ended up in A&E. My temperature was over 40 and I was being extremely sick and vomiting up some blood. I just thought it was due to being so sick over a period of time and I naively didn’t dream it could be anything else. I’d even had an ambulance out the night before as my temperature was so high but they thought it was the flu.”
24 hours later I was diagnosed with bowel cancer. The cancer had already travelled through my abdomen and spread to my spleen, pancreas, liver and kidney. My consultant is Mr Cheetham – who is absolutely brilliant. He explained my test results clearly and with compassion and that I needed to have surgery. They planned to remove a part of my large bowel and do whatever else they could to improve things. He explained it all in minute detail, exactly what was going to happen.
It was a massive shock and I asked if I could go home for the night before having surgery the next day; he told me it wasn’t safe and I was ‘probably the sickest person in the hospital’. I couldn’t work out how this could be; I wasn’t in pain at this point (probably due to painkillers!), I was walking around and it was only then that it occurred to me how serious this could be.
What amazes me about these operations is how quickly you recover; you go from feeling like you’ll never get better, to being up and about within a few days – the human body really is amazing. You lie there thinking “I’m never going to get better” to three weeks later walking around the wards wanting to go home.
Sadly I got an infection post surgery; it was nothing to do with the hospital but when my bowel had ruptured. This meant I was in hospital longer than most people would be and it took me a month to get home. I found this time harder mentally than physically but I was blessed to have an amazing team around me from Nurses to other patients. The support you get from other patients is incredible.
In the April I was getting a pain in my side, in the area of my liver. I was really paranoid about any pain in this area, so I went in for a scan and there was fluid around my liver. They wanted to drain it, but not only was there fluid there, there was also cancer in my lung. The doctor in the AMU had to tell me; he was so sweet and lovely and I think he was as upset as I was.
So, I started chemo again, and I’ve been on it ever since. It started off with a tumour in my right lung, then two or three, then it went into my left lung so I’ve had sections of both lungs removed and we got to the point where I only had a small tumour remaining in my whole body.
I have chemo every fortnight now to manage it, and we fit family life around that. My two teenagers know that I have good weekends and bad weekends and we work around it. I was really struggling for a while and wanted to stop treatment, but my nurses worked with me, we dropped the level of chemotherapy medication to 80% and now I’m coping fine. I have a few bad days after every treatment, but 10 days out of every two weeks I feel fine. It’s all quite simple, really. It’s not half a depressing as everyone thinks, and I’m sick of being patted on the head, having my shoulder rubbed and have people tilt their heads when they talk to me!
I call my cancer ‘the gift that keeps on giving’; it just didn’t want to leave me! We deal with it with humour, and my family have been brilliant. My boys are now 16 and 17 and it’s completely normal life for us all now. I’ve been very open about what’s wrong; I answer any questions as honestly as I can. That might not work for every family but it’s worked for us. We don’t focus on my illness, but we do spend more time together now.
They don’t stop being normal teenagers. The other week my son came in to the house through the back door, and I’m lying on the sofa being really sick in my nightie, and his friend follows him in right past me shouting “Hello Mrs Hudson!” Of course I don’t want them to see me like that but we deal with it well. Yes, it’s horrible at times but there’s good things to be found in it and we do laugh a lot too.
I do have side effects from having so much treatment. Mint toothpaste hurts my mouth too much now, so I use strawberry toothpaste for kids. I also don’t eat a lot of meat any more, because I have so much internal scar tissue that it’s difficult to digest it.
The feeling in my fingers has mostly come back, but the soles of my feet have gone. If I get cold, I can get to the point of not being able to feel where my feet are at all, so I can’t walk straight. If I’m on my own in the supermarket and go into one of the fridge aisles I’ll start weaving, and the general public are really unforgiving. They have no patience for you walking in front of them or taking more time to get change out of my purse because my hands are too cold.
I sometimes use a wheelchair; not because I can’t walk, but because I’m too tired. The fatigue really hurts; some days I can’t even sit up and it’s a really weird feeling. Next time I’m in my chair I think I’ll wear my heels as I can’t walk in them any more.
People do talk over me when I’m in the wheelchair, and ask my husband how I am rather than talking to me. You also get smacked in the face a lot by clothes hanging in shops as none of them are properly set up for wheelchair users. This has been a real education!
The worst side effect for me is boredom, so I’m starting a blog. I can’t work because I don’t feel well often enough and it would be unfair to an employer when I cant offer 100%, but I can do something that’s in my own control to manage. It’s something I used to do, and I need a target to work towards.
Having said all this, there have been far more positives than negatives. I know that sounds weird, and of course I miss my old life and I’d love to not have cancer, but in many ways I wouldn’t change it.
You make friends for life with other patients. You can talk to them about things that no one else really understands. They know how the pain feels and what you’re emotionally going through.
I know I’m terminally ill, but I don’t want to know a timescale. We’re all terminal, but we all think we’ll all be old, and in bed looking serene when we die. But, only the good die young!