Tom and I drove to the hospital on Tuesday 20 April 1999 to get to the 13.30 appointment. We were called through. I was not sitting next to Tom in the examination room. The consultant checked my details, confirmed who I was, then had a good feel of my neck. He then gave me a pat on my back, which made me know instantly there was something terribly wrong. It was a pat of sympathy.
'You have a tumour'
I asked if this tumour was cancerous. His response was a simple, yes. I looked out the window, then to Tom then back to the window. I immediately burst into tears and starting crying. All I kept thinking was 'Cancer, cancer, I've got cancer'. The consultant then started to real off what I would need to have done to get survive it. I had what is known as 'Papillary Thyroid Cancer'. The most 'curable' thyroid cancer! The reason it had taken longer to detect
I just stared out of the window, trying to comprehend what I had just been told. I was to become a victim of cancer, at nineteen years old. My life had changed forever. I knew this was something I would have to learn to live with and was going to be a very long road to recovery. I can still remember so clearly how it feels to be told those words, like yesterday, though the rawness has long since faded along with my scar.
Caroline explained that this cancer was not life threatening if treated, it had a high success rate. It was not an aggressive form. Once the thyroid was removed and all the cells killed off, the chance of it coming back was very small. Due to the size of the lump I was informed that I would need a neck dissection to remove the malignant tumour, my thyroid and check the neck for lymph nodes it may have spread to. This would leave me with a large scar over 30cm long from along the front of my neck to behind my ear.
I needed to call my parents, they hadn't come to the hospital because they too thought this was not going to be anything serious. I called my dad to let him know what I had just been told. I can't believe I told him at work, no, 'are you sitting down' etc, I just blurted it, perhaps the reality of it hadn't sunk in at that point. I made him pick my mum up and tell her at home, there was no way I wanted her to know at work as I knew how she would react due to loosing her own mum to cancer.
The rest of the day seems a blur, I remember crying whilst standing in the room having my X-ray taken and sitting in the car with Tom not wanting to go home. I was worried about my families reaction especially my mums. I guess I couldn't cope with others peoples emotions, it was hard enough coping with my own.
I finally made my way home to face my parents, which on looking back, I now realise that they were purely going on how I was acting. If I cried I know they would have, but because I was trying to be strong in front of them and I was numb inside, they kept their tears behind closed doors. I telephoned a few friends and close family to let them know what had happened. This was how I needed it, just a few people to know. If I needed someone's shoulder to cry on or someone to have a chat with, they would be there, unconditionally.
A few friends came round, we all just sat that not really saying much, we were all pretty much stunned.
That night I cried myself to sleep.
Waking up, I had hoped it was all a very bad dream, but no it wasn't, so I cried some more.
For the next few days my life was in limbo, I didn't know what to do. I was waiting to hear when my operation would be. I remember feeling my lump and thinking my god, there is cancer in here. It was too close for comfort. I had a couple of days off work, which didn't help. I found it was better to keep myself busy and get on with life, yes, I had had some bad news, but life goes on. My employers and colleagues were fantastic, there support was what I needed. I think they were amazed at how well I was coping.
I managed to get a few days away, just the change of scenery helped me relax. I managed not to think about it much. I think this is a defense mechanism I have learnt that I use to help me through difficult times. I learnt this by mentally stopping myself thinking about what was happening to me and consciously changing my focus to something different. It was the only I could cope with the extreme emotions I was experiencing.
I went back to the hospital for my MRI scan. It was a painless but very boring procedure. It involved lying (very still) on a bed in a magnetic tube. This would then take images of the inside my neck which would produce a loud hammering sound in the machine. I wasn't given music to listen to, so after an hour my patience began to waiver and I did become just a little frustrated.
They day before my operation was a bank holiday monday and I needed to do something normal, so my parents, sister, Tom and I headed out for the day.
That was my last normal day before my image changed forever. Or, looking back, it was my last day of having cancer!