Everyone had a bad year in 2020, but for my family it seemed like everyone was out to get us.
Late in September, my husband Matt complained that his stomach was acting up. He initially believed it to be severe indigestion, but as the day wore on, it worsened.
He was calling 111 when I returned from putting the kids to bed that evening. He spent a painful 24 hours in A&E before being given medicines and sent home.
We decided that he should visit a specialist solely for peace of mind because he has private insurance through his place of employment. We never gave it a thought that it might be cancer.
He was given a small intestinal neuroendocrine cancer diagnosis a week or so later, and despite not being connected at the time, the ultrasound scan also revealed spots on his liver.
He was stage 4 as a result. Stage 4 indicates that the cancer has metastasized, or spread, to different places of the body. The spots on his liver were in fact like these.
I was aware that the prognosis for stage 4 was poor when I heard the news.
In contrast, neuroendocrine cancer often grows slowly and there are numerous treatment options, so people can live with it for a very long period.
Scans, treatment schedules, and intestinal surgery filled the following few months like a haze. I believe that the entire time, I was in “fight or flight” mode. He did not require chemotherapy, but he did require monthly injections and the restoration of pancreatic enzymes when he ate.
Matt handled everything really well; he simply put his head down and carried on. He had to alter his diet to lessen the possibility of experiencing another obstruction, so he ate lots of soups, yoghurt, and low-fibre foods.
In order to be as prepared as possible for surgery, he continued to exercise while drastically reducing his weight.
Beginning in December 2020, he underwent surgery. Everything went smoothly, but the recovery period was challenging, especially the initial weeks. But by the middle of December, he had returned home and was able to move around, giving the impression that perhaps some stability was on the way.
How mistaken we were.
I noticed a fairly noticeable lump in my right breast a few weeks later while taking a shower. How was it possible for me to feel that before?
As I walked to show Matt, I had an oddly tranquil feeling. Strangely, we both remember instinctively knowing that it was cancer. We knew it could happen. Life had already turned on its head, and it could do so again.
My general practitioner sent me to the breast clinic. I noticed a shift in the mood in the room when they performed the ultrasound.
I sobbed as I told the consultant performing the biopsy that I couldn’t have cancer because my husband also had the disease and our two young children depended on us.
I believe they all knew when I finally took a deep breath and asked directly if it was cancer, but the consultant stated it was difficult to say because of my circumstances. Despite her best efforts, her body language didn’t reassure me. She was unable to meet my eyes directly.
The days that followed are mostly forgotten to me. I merely followed the script. I returned to the hospital a week later to get confirmation of my worst suspicions.
Breast cancer was found in me.
Both Matt and I were in disbelief. I refrained from crying since all I wanted to know was how to get rid of it. I believe that it seemed inevitable to both of us.
I began chemo after a bone scan and a full body CT scan, both of which were happily negative.
I shed a lot of tears, all of my hair, and a lot of myself over those four incredibly difficult months, but I managed to get through it, and I’m so proud of myself for that.
Without Matt, my mother, and his parents, I would not have survived my chemo treatment. They all contributed, whether it was by cooking me food or managing my medication.
My reduced lump was surgically removed a month later, and I underwent a biopsy to see whether the procedure was successful.
In the tissue, they regrettably discovered aggressive malignancy.
In order to remove all of my lymph nodes, I returned to the operating room. It worked this time!
My four-week radiotherapy and targeted chemotherapy treatment, which will end next month, began after that.
I also began hormone therapy, which entails an injection to inhibit the production of oestrogen by my ovaries and a daily pill to stop the production of oestrogen by any other cells in my body. The medically induced menopause I’ve experienced as a result isn’t ideal for a 37-year-old woman. A much has happened.
But despite everything, there were plenty of joyful times in between, mostly brought on by my two wonderful boys, who were six and three at the time of my diagnosis and lift my spirits every day with their grins and cuddles.
While keeping it age appropriate, we have made an effort to be as transparent and honest with children about what has been happening.
However, since Matt’s cancer hasn’t had a significant physical impact on his life since then, we have refrained from referring to it in those words. Instead, we told them that Matt needed a lump in his stomach removed.
When we think the moment is right, we will bring up this subject.
In regards to myself, we informed my eldest that I had a “naughty lump” in my boob and needed to take medicine. I explained that while doing this might make me feel lousy and cause my hair to fall out, it would also improve my condition.
As my need for treatment persisted over time, I gradually started to suggest that the lump might be cancer. Although I believe my eldest has handled it well, I am sure they will both ask concerns in the future.
My youngest found it difficult to not have me around as often as I used to, but he realized that Matt would occasionally snuggle with him at night and that I might not always be well enough to play.
Although cancer has permanently altered us, I genuinely think we are now enjoying life more. Practically speaking, life isn’t any different; I just don’t worry as much about the little things. It feels really freeing!
Additionally, it has allowed me to connect with other beautiful women going through similar circumstances and experience some awesome new things, the most amazing of which is yet to come.
I’ll be hiking 100 kilometers across the Sahara Desert in November of this year for CoppaFeel in an effort to earn as much money as I can for this wonderful organization that encourages people to get to know their breasts in order to detect breast cancer early.
I am the only one who truly understands how crucial that is given the time we have spent together as a family.