One for the ladies… but men take note!

Cancer has to be one of the scariest words in the world. Just the mention of it causes people to immediately think that they need to begin planning your funeral. The possibility of it, is enough to send you in to a dark place where you feel like your world is falling apart around you.

I know that it’s a scary thing, but what about all the things we can do to help ourselves?

I’m talking about tests and regular check ups. If something doesn’t seem right, what do you do? Put it off? Wait and see what happens? It’s strange really, when you look at the number of people who go to the doctors for a cold or flu, when it would probably go away with the help of over the counter medication. But how long do you leave a lump? Or bleeding? Or other things that aren’t quite normal, but we get too embarrassed to talk about?

Even worse, what if you’re supposed to go for a regular check ups (ladies, I’m talking Smears in particular here) and put them off? Work was particularly busy that week or it was the wrong time of the month. Maybe you get caught in traffic and have to cancel, promising to reschedule?

That last one was me. I kept putting it off, for what I saw as a legitimate reason. Work was mental. I was working in London (or somewhere else) and finding it almost impossible to get to my Smear test. Then, when my Grandfather got seriously ill, I decided to wait as I couldn’t handle two things going wrong at the same time (ever the optimist). I was also very nervous. Ok, scared.

When my Grandfather died in October last year, I made a pact with myself. I wouldn’t put it off any more. I saw, thankfully not in all it’s technicolor although I know the detail of what cancer does to the human body and to be honest I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

Anyway, I went along to my appointment in the middle of November and it was fine. In fact I have no idea what the fuss is all about. Yes it’s uncomfortable and in no way a fun experience, but it’s a couple of minutes and frankly worth it. Honestly, would you rather have 5 minutes of feeling embarrassed (when the nurse/doctor has probably performed 10 of them already that day), or just leave it so you end up dying slowly and painfully? Just wondering.

The week before Christmas I had the results that every woman dreads. I had an abnormal result and was being referred for a Colposcopy.

I’d love to sit here and say I was calm and rational, but I wasn’t. All that went through my mind was the thought of pre-cancerous cells and the threat of chemo/radio or even death. Yep, I was in full on panic mode. Thankfully (for me rather than her), a close friend had been through all this (and quite a bit more!) so I called her at once. She was brilliant. Calming me down and talking me through everything. From that point on, I wasn’t quite so afraid. I just wanted it done.

Come February, I still hadn’t had my appointment through and I was getting annoyed. After all, time is of the essence isn’t it? I harassed the hospital a few times… ok, quite a few… and eventually I got a cancellation.

I was frightened at the appointment. To make matters worse, they were 30 minutes late taking me in and then produced someone else’s notes! One of the nurses was lovely and we managed to have a laugh about the situation although everyone was mortified at the error. I was taken back out and sat down, waited another 10 minutes and then was called in again. The nurses were great, the doctor was still annoyed at the paperwork error earlier I think.

A few laughs, a bit of uncomfortable ‘prodding’ (it’s the only way to describe it) and the procedure done. I’d had to have a biopsy and I was informed I’d get the results in time and then they’d decide what to do. I was sent on my way with a list of things I couldn’t do. The worst one, was not being able to exercise for a few days. I had the Edinburgh Marathon on the horizon! I was mortified. But, I was pleased I’d had the procedure and that the results would be back soon.

When I say soon, I mean May. The week I moved house in fact. This time, the results were conclusive. I needed treatment. I didn’t have cancer, but the biopsy had concluded that the issue was advanced enough to require treatment.

I now lived 45 minutes away from the hospital, but there was no way I was risking changing the appointment. It had been sent through with only 10 days notice, so I was going.

This time, I only had to wait 20 minutes to be called and they had the correct notes. The nurse looked at me and said ‘sorry, you look really familiar’. I said I’d been here before and she said ‘did something happen?’. I recalled the experience of the wrong notes and she laughed. ‘Oh yes, of course, with Dr ***, of course’ and laughed again! I went into the waiting room for the doctor and thought back to my last trip there. This time, I wasn’t nervous. I knew it wouldn’t be fun, but I also knew it had to be done. I was told I would have a Loop Diathermy in order to remove the affected cells. I won’t go into the details here but it was not pleasant.

It also meant no training for a couple of weeks, no swimming until I healed and I wasn’t allowed to go abroad for a month (in case of complications – more for insurance reasons that anything else I believe).

What upset me most, was that I had planned to get back to sessions with my PT and to go rowing but that was all out for at least a week. I was left with people thinking I wasn’t doing my training due to injury or a lack of time to train.

The comments from a few people really did hurt. There was no need to pass judgement on why I was or wasn’t training. Frankly, it was no one’s business. I’m normally very open about why I can’t do something. If I’m being cagey, it’s for a reason. No need to push it. I certainly didn’t care for the comments about how I needed to take better care of myself. I’m 30, I’ve lived alone for a number of years, been training for a number of years and been through a couple of nasty health scares to boot. Oddly enough, I’m still breathing. Get a grip people and sort your own lives out 😉 Moan over.

Anyhow, I won’t lie, the Loop hurt. I had a local but it still hurt. The only thing that stayed with me throughout it all, was that the pain I experienced that day is nothing compared to what those fighting Cancer go through every second of the day.

The one thing I wasn’t quite prepared for was the emotional change over the two weeks or so that followed. Let’s just say that it wasn’t a good time for me to make decisions… or to be talked to… or try to make friends. It was like PMS. But worse!

Two weeks ago, I had confirmation that the treatment had been successful and that I just need to go for 6 monthly smears to keep an eye on everything. I was thrilled and frankly felt like I had been let out of jail free. It could have been so much different if I’d continued to ignore the reminders or cancel appointments.

I had no symptoms that anything was wrong.

Please don’t wait until you notice something ladies. It’s not worth it. And guys, encourage your lady to go and get checked and remember, if you do have an abnormal result, it doesn’t mean the end of the world or that you have cancer. Just means your body needs a bit of help to keep it healthy.

My reason for writing this is to share my experience. Yes it’s been frightening and daunting, but it’s also been good for me. I’m stronger for it, obviously healthier for it and best of all, I feel back in control of my life. Plenty of women go through Colposcopy’s every day, it’s nothing to be scared of.

Oh and I wouldn’t recommend looking on the internet for information about it. Unless it’s off the NHS website. Far too much scaremongering around 😐

If you have a friend who’s been through it, speak to her or if not, speak to your doctor about it. Don’t worry about it on your own.

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The morning after…

Tuesday ended on a bit of a ‘downer’. I’ve not been feeling like myself for the last couple of days, feeling alone and more than a bit doubtful on whether my life is going in the right direction. I guess seeing the stress that my family is under due to the illness of my Grandfather, is probably the cause. I hate feeling useless and in this situation, that’s exactly what I am. Other than providing support, I can do nothing.

For the last four months, I have felt the same helplessness about my own health. I originally started feeling ill in May and ignoring it cost me four months of rowing training, the entire winter head racing season and could have cost me my long term health.

Last Thursday, I was given the support from my doctor that I had been dreaming of. Despite not having the test results from a hospital visit a few days before, the doctor said, with a smile on his face, that he was happy for me to start some graduated training. I couldn’t believe my ears. Ok, so I have to wait another couple of weeks for the all clear, but this was the best news I’d had in a long time.

I got home that evening on top of the world and immediately started the plan for light/recovery training, from Monday. My plan consisted of swimming, a gentle jog, light ergo (rowing machine) or dancing with at least one ‘recovery’ day in between which is to be completed for the next 4 weeks.

With Monday’s early start I abandoned the plan for Monday and instead decided to start on Tuesday night.

Heading home last night and talking about it with a friend on the train, I realised I was incredibly nervous about doing any exercise. Don’t get me wrong, I walk to the train station most days and at speed, so it’s not completely alien to me, but this was different.

The plan for Tuesday was a 10 minute jog. One minute walking, one minute jogging. In order to do this I had to take my pulse first thing in the morning, when I got home from work and then at intervals during the training. This was to ensure that my body was in the right state to be able to cope with exercise. I had already established that if my resting heart rate in the morning was above 55 or above 65 after work, then I wont train. With my pulse at 52 in the morning and 59 after work, I decided to go for it. I set out and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

My illness over the summer had resulted in some concerns over my heart and it scared me to death. Everyone around me keeps commenting on how I must ensure that I don’t overtrain. To those people, I ask if they think I have a death wish. One Wednesday in July I was left not sure whether I’d see Thursday. I’m not saying that for effect. It’s true. I found myself unable to speak, slurring my words and in a lot of pain, it’s something that I will remember for a long time to come. Maybe this gives an insight to why I was nervous about a bit of a jog.

I had planned for the exercise to be in my cardio zone and after 5 minutes, my pulse was just a little over my target.

When I got home I wanted to cry. I’d never found 10 minutes work so hard. This was the first time I realised just how unwell I’d been and how much work would be involved in getting me back to competition fitness. I just wanted someone to hug me and tell me it would be ok. I’m a strong person, but maybe the summer took more of my strength than I realised.

This morning, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Part of me thought that I would wake with a headache, as I’d been doing before I got sick, or maybe even feeling like I had flu – a good indication that I’d done too much.

As the alarm went off I felt groggy. But after 15 minutes or so, it passed and although there was the feeling that I may develop a headache during the day, I couldn’t believe how much better I felt. And I was so hungry it was ridiculous!

I know the road ahead is going to be one of the hardest of my life, but standing on the train platform this morning, I felt that buzz coming back.

Yesterday may have ended feeling down and unsure of my abilities. But I have definitely come back fighting today!