That Time I Had Cancer

Your life is your story. Write well. Edit Often. 

In September 2010 I started back at uni ready to smash my 4th and final Honours year at the University of Glasgow. It kicked off the same as the years usually did, with lots of nights out, visits to The Arches and jugs of Vodka Red Bull…

A few weeks before my diagnosis

The fun however was to be cut short a few weeks into term when, after a spate of infections, breathlessness and flu like symptoms, I was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (alongside a rather nasty dose of pneumonia). It was a Wednesday, and by Friday I had been moved to the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre in Glasgow to start treatment the following Monday.

Overnight, I went from trying to pick a dissertation topic at University to being told there was a very real possibility I could die. Funnily enough, that turns your world upside down!

I remember in those first few hours of being told why I was so unwell and the treatment I would have to endure one thing rang loud in my 20 year old head – Would this mean I won’t be able to have a family? At 20 this was not something high on my agenda. Robin and I had barely been together 9 months and that relationship had been long distance as I studied in Glasgow and he was training on the South coast, but still, I knew it was something that I wanted in the future and the thought of having that choice taken away from me was such a shock. My chemotherapy was scheduled to start 5 days after my diagnosis so having eggs frozen was not an option, I didn’t have that long, my blood was useless and even a minor infection could have been fatal.

For the first few days I allowed myself to panic, to cry, to be sad, to be scared. For the hypothetical kids I may have one day had, the final year of university that I was missing and at the even darker points – the life I might lose. Then I started fresh – there was work to be done!

As someone who had never spent even a night in hospital, or had blood taken, or any real medical procedure this was all very alien to me. Being poked and prodded to within an inch of my life before having a Hickman Line fitted (a central line inserted near your collarbone and threaded into a large vein above your heart under local anesthetic). I wrote down questions, I made notes of the answers, I read every piece of literature I had and I equipped myself with as much knowledge as possible as my first round of Chemo commenced… This was followed by one of the greater milestones in a ‘cancer journey’ (eye-roll at the use of using the word journey) – the hair loss. I prepared by cutting my hair short and then when the clumps started to block the drain of my hospital room en suite I took the plunge and got it shaved off by one of my many lovely nurses. It was done and dusted and no where near as bad or emotional as I had expected. Looking back, I think I was quite shy about my wee bald noggin. I wish that I had more pictures + documented it. I may have had one or two, but due to new laptops, new phones and the lack of the wonderful Cloud… I have no idea where/if they exist. If I had them now I would flaunt them proudly because they would be a reminder of a strength in my character that I didn’t know was there.

My wig courtesy of the TCT – not sure what’s happening with my face…

As a permanent in-patient basically living on a Teenage Cancer Trust ward (they’re amazing by the way – if you ever see them fundraising and have a spare quid – chuck it in the bucket) there was ample opportunity to mope, but early on I realised that that wasn’t an option for me. Kinda like when you have a bad hangover and you feel 100 times better after a shower, I tried to keep my days as normal as I could by getting up and ready and slapping some makeup on. I would say I tried to keep active, but by that I just mean I didn’t lie in bed, instead I would watch endless episodes of 24 (to this day, that boxset is one of the best gifts Robin has ever bought me) in the TCT lounge. I actively worked to maintain a positive attitude and developed ways of coping, while focusing on the present – all of which, I’ve since found out are related to Mindfulness (I didn’t realise at the time it was a ‘thing’).

Each of my 4 rounds of chemo wiped out my immune system entirely and I was susceptible to anything and everything (Cue the time they thought I had chicken pox and was put into isolation on an infectious diseases ward – spoiler alert, it was just a spot. Or the time I had swine flu. Oh, or that time I got sepsis…) But with each I felt positive that I would achieve and maintain remission. My friends were such a massive support and visited all the time, this was a stark contrast to a young girl that I shared a room with toward the end of my treatment, and it definitely made me realise how lucky I was. Not to mention Robin, who was there every step of th way to watch ’24’ with me!

And finally, after –

  • 6 Months
  • 184 Nights (probably at least 170 of those actually in hospital)
  • 4 Rounds of Chemotherapy
  • 1 Drug Trial
  • 4 Wigs
  • 10 Bone Marrow Extractions
  • 2 Hickman lines
  • 70+ Units of A- Blood (I did try to keep track… until I lost count)
  • Countless Units of Platelets
  • 3 ‘Roommates’
  • 1 Christmas
  • 1 Birthday (my 21st)
  • 8 Seasons of ’24’

… I was released back into my natural habitat. I had a new confidence in myself and my capabilities and realised, as cliché as it sounds, that life really is too short. Sure, it would have been cool to not have had to go through 8 months of grueling treatment to find that out, but nevertheless, it changed me in so many ways. I am also glad that it happened when it did. It happened at a time when I had no responsibilities or financial obligations. I could focus entirely on myself and getting better. I would like to think if it had happened at any other time there would have been the same outcome, but I don’t know for sure. The thought of going through it again now terrifies me.

The strength that I gained from the experience I used once again when I became a Mum. On the days when I struggle to find any self-love and nothing seems to be going right (and there have been many) I remember how much my body has been battered before managing to create and grow a little human and the positive attitude that had got me through it mentally. All 3 chemotherapy drugs I was given carried “moderate to high risk of infertility” so I know we are very lucky to have Oscar. I hope we will be as lucky again, but who knows. For now I’ll just be thankful I’m here…

Ko Phi Phi Don, Thailand 🇹🇭

Happy International Women’s Day

“Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you; spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.”

— Amy Poehler

I originally started a version of this post a month ago, I couldn’t find the words I wanted to use, and I also didn’t want to sound smug. But I suppose International Women’s Day has just made me think about all these wonderful Women in my life and what they mean to me & I want to shout about them. Because they are Mothers, business women, lawyers, care-givers, artists, wives, teachers, partners, daughters and so much more. They are also amazing friends.

All of this they do everyday and it should be celebrated as such, but I suppose today just gives us even more reason to shout about it + remind us why it’s so important. We’re all raising the Future in some way.

The Lifelong Gang

As we grow and mature, so do our self-styled Girl Gangs. The friendships that I gained through my school life have proved lasting, we have stuck together, at times we may have followed different paths, but emerged with our own individual triumphs that we celebrate collectively. From primary to secondary school and onto university; through gap years, travelling and moving away for work & love; through relationships (good & bad), and more recently, marriages and now into Motherhood… As the first of my friends to have a baby I was worried as to what it would mean for us, for this group of women that were so integral to my life. In the end, it proved to be just another progression of our friendship, a new path that they supported me wholeheartedly on. For that I’m forever grateful because I needed it, I still need it, and I know it’s not the experience everyone has.

Some of my favourite Fierce Women, Arran 2017

The Mama Gang

The internet can be cruel, but don’t let that deter you, there are so many gems to be found. In the new days of Motherhood I was so lucky to meet a vast and diverse group of mothers, who have lifted me on the days that just haven’t gone to plan and I’ve felt like I’m failing – they are all such a massive support. Many of us have met and laughed in person, others haven’t yet (but you probably wouldn’t know because we still know so much about each other and talk daily) and some of us might never meet – although, saying that saddens me, so I shall remain hopeful. They have helped me more than they can know and I love nothing more than to shout about them to everyone I know. Where once I may have (read: did) laugh at the very thought of ‘online friendships’, I am now proud to call each and every one of them a friend.

Sidenote: If you’d like to pop along to one of the meet-ups, the lovely Megan started up a Facebook Page to organise them –Mama Meet-Ups [Scotland]

The Mama Gang – Just some of the Gems to be found, Edinburgh 2016

+ Lastly

Lynda the O.G.

My very own Mama was my original Girl Gang, the one that had my back since she brought me into this world on Day 0. She dropped me off on my first day of school in 1994, held my hand during chemotherapy in 2010, and in 2015 beamed at her new Grandson with all the love in the world just hours after he arrived in this world, as well as being there every day in between. You’re the absolute best Mother + Woman I know.

My Super-Woman Mama & I, France 1990

What started life as an appreciation post about my closest friends had made me realise just how many amazing women, mothers & girls I know – from my amazing friends (old + new) that I laugh so often with, to my Fierce Great Aunt Rose that I’ve grown up around (actually to all my wonderful aunts and cousins who are doing their own thing daily), to the wonderful women I work with (both now, and previously) that never fail to amaze me with candid snippets from their lives. Why don’t we use International Women’s Day and every other day to shout about our Gang(s) and the amazing Women that have, and continue, to shape our lives? Let’s shout about our own successes and support others in theirs. Let’s continue to teach our little ones to love equally, know their worth, be proud + unite. 

Lou x