A family trip to scarborough a phone call and a routine check up
October 16th, 2014, was the day my life as I knew it and my life as I thought it would be, changed forever.
No matter how supportive you might be, how understanding you think you are; you can never comprehend how someone who has been diagnosed with Cancer feels. It's not possible.
The Doctor facing you with sadness in their eyes; hearing the words
We've found Cancer, and suddenly the feeling of being pulled into a sink, drowning in water, desperately trying to grab onto anything to give you hope of not sinking to the bottom: can you really tell me you understand?
I say this with as much respect and love as I can. I don't mean it negatively… I'm just being honest. In a split second, your life can completely unravel. The control you thought you had dissolves into a memory. All I remember was feeling light headed, my heart was pounding, and I wanted to be sick.
So many questions filled my mind... What did you say? Why? Who has Cancer? Me? No! I looked at Jay. His face said it all.
Two months prior, my life was very different. I was in Scarborough on an annual trip with my Parents, Niece and Nephew. We visit each summer as it's my Dads home town and he sees his siblings. We spend the day by the seaside as a family, eating bad food and enjoying time together. Precious.
I remember, as I stood on the sea front wincing with pain, and my Mum asked
is it your lumps again? Now, let me explain. Since I was fourteen, I had a cluster of lumps in my stomach which randomly shot pain across my tummy often making me double over. Do you remember as a kid giving your friends Chinese burns on their wrists? Well imagine that feeling in your stomach. That’s the closest way I can describe it. I had seen various doctors and even sports specialists, in the hope that someone knew what they were and why I had them. I never had any luck. It became a normal question for Mum to ask as they had been there for so long. When you think of lumps in your body, you think of the worst. As positive as I am, it's hard not to think bad things when you constantly hear in the media or from friends and family, of people they know being diagnosed with cancer.
When I say my Mum can be a little fiery at times, I mean it in the gentlest way. Although those two words can completely contradict one another, I mean it because she can get so angry with a situation due to caring so much. Seeing me in pain isn't a way any mother wants to see her daughter, and to see me like this for years, was too much for her.
Call that bloody doctors of yours and demand to be seen, this is too much now! she said, in a loud voice.
At 31, stood on Scarborough sea front, the last thing I wanted in front of my Niece and Nephew and everyone else around us, was to be shouted at by my Mum! I laugh now, but at the time I remember thinking like most children do at times;
Please Mum, say it quieter!
Then, something changed... I still don't know what it was to this day but I stood there and admitted she was talking sense and that I had a right to know what was wrong with me and it's wrong to just live in pain. So, at that exact moment, I made a call that changed everything.
The lumps in my tummy actually had nothing to do with my cancer diagnosis. In fact, they turned out to be connected with a blocked nerve tumour, but they are the initial reason why I made the call and an appointment. Whilst on the phone, I remembered another reason why I needed to make an appointment.
Hello, my name is Victoria Eames, I am a patient of yours and I need your help. I have some lumps in my tummy and I've been trying to get an appointment. I've called daily and since, given up. I have been trying to get a smear test too for months now! It's just not on! Something could be wrong and I don't know... I carried on like this for a couple of minutes, forgetting where I was and wondering why people were looking at me funny as they wandered past eating their 99 ice-creams.
I had received three letters from my doctors since moving into the house I now live in, reminding me to book in for my smear test. Each time I got another letter, I made the call. Now, my doctor’s surgery is one of those doctors where you have to call up at 8am and make an appointment for that day. Nine times out of ten it's engaged or they have no appointments. I understand they are super busy, but it does get frustrating! So I would try for the next day or so, with baited breath that I would be seen. Then I would tend to get caught up with work or life in general, and forget to make the call until another letter came. When I made the call that day it was mid-afternoon so I knew that there was no chance of me being seen that day, but to be honest, I didn't care. Something needed to be done.
The lady was very softly spoken and looking back I must have come across quite abrupt.
Did you know you can make an advance appointment, Miss Eames? came the receptionists reply.
Well of course I didn't! But not wanting to appear rude, I said,
No, I didn't! If I had known this I would have done it months ago. Thank you for your help.
I booked an appointment for the following week. Little did I know that would be the first of many that would make a huge impact on the rest of my life.
Looking back, as a woman I used to worry about having a smear test, now, I am so used to being examined; a smear test is nothing to be embarrassed about. Trust me when I say, the fifteen minutes of feeling uncomfortable that you might feel when having it done, is nothing in comparison to hearing the words,
I am sorry, we have found Cancer. If you are due a smear test but keep putting it off, stop reading this right now and make that call! There is no time like the present and like my Mum told me that day,
Make yourself a priority.
This is something I have always found hard to do. I am always too busy running around after others, I put myself last on the ‘things to do’ list that I often forget about myself. I have told you already that I am engaged to James, aka, Jay. Well, we rarely argue, we are both of the opinion that it’s a waste of time but this is one thing that to this day, annoys Jay! A night or two before the Scarborough trip, we had a huge argument, to the point of separating, all over me not taking care of myself and putting everything and everyone else first. The thought of losing him, has taught me to say no occasionally, and the main reason I made the phone call that day.
Everything seems normal today, Miss Eames, but we will obviously send your test away to be looked at and we’ll be back in touch within fourteen days, I wouldn’t worry though. I remember these words the Nurse spoke to me like it was yesterday, and I left the surgery feeling positive and happy I had been seen. I had no need to worry or feel anxious. All previous smear tests were normal, I was healthy and fit and no signs at all that anything was wrong. I was also booked into see a specialist in regards to the lumps in my tummy – so I felt happy and content at the thought of starting to look after myself.
I came home from work one night to find the post, like normal, on the kitchen table. An official looking letter that was addressed to me sat amongst the pile. It must have been about a week or so since my smear test, so I wasn’t expecting anything just yet, however, it was the results. It stated I was required to go to Pontefract Hospital, for a Colposcopy appointment. I could hardly say the word let alone know what it meant! Reading further down, it told me that the smear test had concluded some irregular cells and this needed further investigation. Lots of words I didn’t really understand, then something to do with high grade CIN3 and CGIN –
What the hell does that mean!? I asked myself. I had no idea! Now, I knew irregular cells were quite common, so yes I felt a little anxious, but as I always do, tried to remain positive and not worry too much. I made the common mistake of looking on the internet and was overwhelmed by how often the words ‘Cervical Cancer’, came up. As you can imagine, my mind started running wild. I later learnt from a good friend, Kenny Marland, not to google anything to do with illness! The results can be terrifying and often inaccurate. So I would like to pass this lesson on. Listen to your doctors and as hard as it is to wait, you need to wait for your results. Every single case is different to the next. Yours is unique so you cannot look on Google at someone else who might have similar symptoms to you. It doesn’t mean you have what they have! Are you a doctor? – No! Listen to your Doctor only!
The appointment was for the following week. I hadn’t been to Pontefract hospital before. Jay came with me for moral support as we had spoken a little about how anxious I was and he was understandably concerned too. My parents knew what had been said in the letter so they were also in the loop. I spoke to a few girlfriends and close friends who had had experience of smear tests themselves and surprisingly, a few of them had been told the same outcome but they all assured me not to worry. It was even more common than I thought, so although I was eager to see what the doctors had to say, I tried to keep calm.
The hospital itself was lovely. We were directed, at reception, to the first floor. The lady who greeted us was very friendly and offered us a seat in the waiting room. I remember looking around and there were a lot of posters to do with cancer. I held Jay’s hand and I read every one of them, as I waited to be called through to see the Doctor.
Now, Miss Eames, as you know your smear test showed some irregularity in your cell sample and today we have been asked to take a closer look. The Doctor was calming, and reassured me that she didn’t think I would need any treatment that day as that was very rare. All they wanted to do was to take a Loop Biopsy of my cervix and that would be sent away for a
closer examination. As I prepped myself in the second room, alone, it suddenly dawned on me that I hadn’t actually ever been in hospital. I hadn’t ever broken a bone growing up - except a finger in hockey at school that didn’t warrant a hospital visit. I hadn’t ever been that ill, that I needed a hospital stay, but yet I found myself here today: I started to worry a little.
Jay was allowed in the examination room once I was ready and he sat by my side and held my hand. I think he could tell that I was nervous. James is known for asking a lot of questions, he’s always so inquisitive, but that day, he just sat there, absorbing the room. The doctor talked me through all she was doing and tried to make me as comfortable as possible. She told me the solution she was applying to my cervix would turn white and tells them of any affected areas; if there were any. I could see the screen and a lot of it looked white! I remember looking over at Jay and he looked as baffled as me. She stopped what she was doing and gave me an option of sending the sample away for a look under the microscope and waiting for the results, or she could perform a procedure that burnt away the affected area of my cervix, as she felt the biopsy would come back with that needing to be done. It seemed silly to wait when I was already there and she wouldn’t advise something that wasn’t needed. I was still a little embarrassed at this point about being examined like most girls are, so the thought of coming back another day and going through the embarrassment again wasn’t appealing, so I agreed to have the treatment there and then. Whilst it was happening, I squeezed jay’s hand, and I remember saying how it was just our luck that I was a rare patient who needed treatment there and then. When I get nervous I tend to make jokes - typical me - and I tried to make everyone laugh by almost brushing it all off.
After the Loop Biopsy and the unplanned treatment, I had to go back into the first room and we talked through what would happen next.
For those of you reading this who don’t know what a Loop Biopsy is, let me give you a definition.
The abnormal cells will be removed, which usually involves removing an area of the cervix about the size of a fingertip. The type of treatment depends on the number of abnormal cells in your cervix and how advanced the abnormalities are. The aim is to remove the abnormal cells while minimising damage to healthy tissue. Treatment has about a 90% success rate.
It’s very doubtful it’s anything more sinister, Miss Eames, so please try not to worry. You will hear from your doctor’s surgery in 7 – 10 days. This became a phrase I heard quite often… everything became 7-10 days!
I was assured I could still have children and not to worry. So I tried not to. To be honest it was all a little blurry. Two weeks before this I was eating ice-cream, then I was laid in a hospital having part of my cervix removed! A little overwhelming… to say the least. I was told; I needed to refrain from any physical exercise for a week. This was upsetting; I love the gym! I had to cancel work plans and arrange cover for the performances I was involved with. I didn’t understand. I felt ok. A little sore may be, but more than capable, of dancing around and going to the gym. Jay looked at me and gave me ‘the look’ – something I’ve got used to seeing now every time I did too much. He would look at me like a disapproving father would. Nevertheless, I listened, and rested up.
I called my parents and updated them on my day and what had happened.
On the 9th day following my appointment, on my way home from work, I made a call to Danielle, one of my good friends who had been through similar situations. I was getting anxious for the results. Danielle assured me not to worry and it
would be nothing, again, emphasising how common irregular cells are.
I walked into the kitchen and there on the table, sat the post, like normal; just one letter, for me - another official looking letter. This one telling me, the results from the Loop Biopsy, meant I needed to go back to the Colposcopy Ward at Pontefract Hospital, I had to be there the next morning, and it was urgent.
Hang on a minute! I said, out loud. I raced up the stairs, two at a time, shouting Jay’s name, gripping the letter in my hand. I handed the letter to him in his office.
They said I wouldn’t hear from them… I shouldn’t be going back there, she said. Something’s wrong Jay, it must be!
I could see the fear in his eyes, but he just pulled me close, hugged me, and said nothing. I could feel Presley and Dexter, my two little Shih Tzu’s, scratching at my legs like they do every time we hug. I bent down and hugged them both and couldn’t help but cry. I was scared. So many questions were racing through my mind. I looked up at Jay, holding the boys tightly and I made him promise me that whatever the outcome the following day, he would keep me positive. He promised me he would, and he has kept his word. He kissed my forehead and hugged me so tight, as we sat on the bedroom floor in silence.