"Cancer didn't bring me to my knees, it brought me to my feet."
~ Michael Douglas
Wow, it's certainly been a while, hasn't it?
I will begin with saying this:
I MADE IT!
I made it to five whole years in remission, which in medical terms means I am cured.
I know this doesn't mean my cancer will definitely never return, but it means that I have a lot less chance of it returning now after having five years of all clear check ups.
Five years ago seems like forever ago, I feel like what happened to me, happened to a different person.
I can still remember a lot of it but thankfully the bad memories get replaced by new memories. Your life (and your families) is consumed by cancer when you are going through treatment, every memory I guess has something related to having cancer. For example, I went shopping with a friend of mine. I can only remember that day now because when I handed my clothes to the assistant, my hair got caught in the hanger and a bunch of my hair went with it. (It was funny though!)
When I look back and think about that time, I always try and use my sense of humour. I don't really see any other way about it, if I think of it sadly then all it does is make me feel sad. Life happens, it's short so we have to be grateful for what we have and what we had.
I remember the time I was in hospital over Christmas and I went to the toilet. This was 12 days after my first cycle of chemo. I was told by the nurses that my hair would probably start to fall out around day 12. Well lo and behold, I pulled my underwear down and let's just say there was nothing left. I called for (whispered, rather!) my Mum because for some reason when you think of hair loss, you don't always think of hair loss. It was hilarious.
I'm glad we have memories of that time that aren't morbid and depressing. Yes, there were times where I felt so ill I wanted to sleep until I was better, yes I was annoyed that mine and my families lives were disrupted by going to the hospital pretty much every.single.day for so long - but it was what was needed to make me better. I always knew that I would get better, I don't know why. Maybe it was just my instinct, but only now can I realise how horrible it must have been for my family. Especially my poor Mum who certainly got the brunt of my 'roid rage' and my general nastiness. She didn't know that I was going to get better, the Doctors didn't know I was going to get better. Only I did.
So, what has changed since I last wrote in this blog over three years ago?
Firstly, my hair is long. There was one time I had a haircut and the hairdresser got waaaay too scissor happy. She cut it really short (for me anyway!) and I was gutted because it took so long for my hair to get back to how it was before I lost it. But it's grown back and I'd say now, it is just as long as it was before.
After my last blog post (in 2010) I had a barium swallow test and the Doctor told me that he thought there was an "abnormality" in my oesophagus. Cue me shitting myself (excuse my language) - I was put under general anaesthetic by my consultant and as I woke up he was standing at the end of my bed and just said "there's nothing there Hayley" OH THE RELIEF! I had to keep asking him if he was sure, apparently I cursed the Doctor who pretty much said the cancer was back. Oops.
My check ups are becoming less frequent (thank goodness, no one loves a camera shoved up their nose and down their throat) - my last one was in February or March and I saw the original consultant who told me I just had a polyp on my vocal cord. It was the first time I hadn't seen Mr Pace so I wasn't too keen on this consultant checking me, but he was happy. I see Mr Pace again in August and then I am hoping he will change me to YEARLY appointments. People don't tend to be asked to go back after they reach their five years, but I am only 23 now and being so young it's probably for the best that I'm checked once a year.
I have a full time job. No matter how much I don't always love it, I am very grateful to have it. It has helped me 100% with my confidence. My voice was a big issue in my life, I hated to talk to strangers because I hated them asking questions/making comments. etc. But now with the job I'm in, I don't have a choice but to talk to people all day. I get questions still, mostly "have you got a sore throat?" or "what's wrong with your voice?" but I have learnt to deal with it. I just brush it under the carpet and move on. There are a few times when people have peed me off. For instance, one man came up to me and looked at me and shouted "Ugh, what's wrong with your throat?" so (me being in a bad mood that day) I just blurted out "I had throat cancer" and he literally jumped back and said "Ugh, you can't catch it can you?" Let's just say I wanted to go and lick him alllll over his face to make sure he walked away very scared. Most of the time I just tell people that it's a long story because I don't want to embarrass them, but sometimes people go on about it for weeks so I end up just telling them.
My voice has improved so much, I think having my job has helped. I get days (especially when tired or in the summer) where it is really rubbish, but they are so much less than they used to be. I drink a lot of water because this helps with how dry my mouth gets, I can sort of shout. I am just used to my voice now so I don't really listen out to how it's changed but people say that they can hear me a lot more than they used to. If I'm in the pub/somewhere with loud music it is pretty much impossible to hear me but it's such a small price to pay!
I get neck cramp where my neck has been weakened by the radiotherapy. My teeth are slowly but surly giving up on me and I still have dodgy marks on my neck from the burns. Tiredness wise, I still get tired but maybe I'm just lazy! I don't have great circulation in my fingers and toes thanks to the chemotherapy but I don't care. I am here, these side effects are just a reminder that I just had to have some crap given to me to get me here today.
Then & Now
I can't really say specifically what else has changed since the 'cancer days'. Honestly, everything has changed. I am a different person. It changed me dramatically but I think it's changed me for the better. Of course I wish I never had cancer and had to put my family and friends through it, but that's life. We can't control everything (which is hard for a control freak) so we just accept it and KICK ARSE.
I will always live with cancer, I will always have certain things that remind me of those times, but I don't think it's a negative thing. I guess I sort of feel proud that I have beaten cancer and I have come this far. When I talk about it with people it's never something I'm ashamed of, or not willing to talk about. Awareness is a huge factor that I think there still isn't enough of. Especially in the situation I was in, 18 years old and diagnosed with advanced throat cancer which had spread to my neck. I think one day, maybe next year, maybe in twenty years, who knows, I will use my experience with cancer as a way to raise awareness and help people. I hope to God that by the time I have children, or my children have children, cancer will be something that is rarely heard of anymore.
If I hadn't have had cancer, I wouldn't have met so many wonderful people. A lot of those who sadly aren't with us anymore, but some that are still with us. Without them I wouldn't have had people who I could relate to and vice versa. It's so important to know that you are not alone and I am so thankful to every single one of those people.
Mel, Jools (my second Mum), Penny, Emily, Stephanie, Anne, Aunty Gok (Diane), Kate (my adopted Nan) and Maria. I miss you all so much.
Steffy, Debs, Nigel, Val, Chloe, Ian and Julie, Kt, Kelley, Carole, Mayte and Rosie. Thank you for everything.
Also, I want to say thank you to the wonderful doctors and nurses who looked after me, thank you to my oncologist Dr Tahir and consultant Mr Pace Balzan for working together and coming up with the best treatment plan which aimed to reach a cure for me. I guess your work is finally done.
And lastly, thank you to my family. Especially my Mum and Uncle Pete, without you two I'd be nothing! And of course my friends, you know who you are. I love you all soooo much.
I won't say goodbye forever. But hopefully this is the last time I ever have to write in here! You never know, I may treat you all to a '10 year' cancer free anniversary blog post if you're lucky.
One more thing, thank you to my readers, those who commented and those who didn't. I wouldn't have kept writing if you weren't all there. So thank you.