THE BLOG

Celebrating Life Helped Me Face the Prospect of Death

28/05/2015 17:40 BST | Updated 28/05/2016 10:59 BST

My life changed irrevocably one day in August. I had been planning a dinner party with friends. I had sent out invitations and been planning the menu for weeks. I like to plan and I like to make a gathering a real event, something special for my friends and me to treasure long after the party has passed. But I had to cancel.

I had been suffering with back pain for months but dismissed it. I had a stressful job and two young children to look after so, like many mothers, I had side-lined my own health to keep everything going. I had decided to take some time out of my career to spend it with my children, perhaps even expanding my family.

That day in August I couldn't dismiss my pain any more. I lost control of my body and went to the doctor, afraid of what this might mean. I was right to be afraid. The doctor told me he would not let me leave until I had a hospital appointment. I was lucky he was so firm with me about that.

I went to hospital for a flurry of tests and waiting rooms. A few hours later I was sitting opposite a doctor who was telling me that I had a Ewing's Sarcoma - a rare and aggressive form of bone cancer. I needed an operation straight away. That was when I cancelled my party.

I survived the operation and discovered that a longer delay would have left me paralysed. Then I had to start chemotherapy, just three days after diagnosis. Somehow I had to tell my children what was going to happen to their mummy when I didn't really know myself. Somehow I had to reassure them when I was in desperate need of reassurance.

Over the next year and a half I lived through three spinal operations, months of highly aggressive chemotherapy and weeks of radiotherapy. Being ill and dealing with the pain of treatment was difficult but worse were the changes I saw in myself. I lost my hair, which was very hard to cope with. I'd always been proud of my thick black mane of hair and now it was gone. I always considered myself as strong, lucky and positive but at times I felt like the mirror image of that.

Then I heard that what I needed to save my life would prevent me from ever creating new life again. I would go through the menopause before I was 40. That was too much for me to take. I wanted to curl up in a ball on the floor and howl. But then I remembered my two beautiful girls and recognised how blessed I already was to have made a family with the man I love. They were the reason I kept going when it seemed impossible, they are the reason I keep going now.

I knew that I might not survive. The cancer was highly aggressive and the surgeries were very risky, carrying a 50% percent paralysis risk. At times I was tempted to focus on the injustice of it all. I'd done nothing to deserve this, but no cancer patient ever does. So, instead of staring hopelessly at the bleakness of my situation I determined to be positive and focus on what was important to me: my family and friends. However ill I was I still had the chance to make memories with them that they would be able to treasure, no matter the outcome.

I made a memory book for my husband collecting all the wonderful moments we have shared together. Then I saw the advert for Macmillan Cancer Support's Night In fundraising event during my last round of chemotherapy. As I had reached the end of a major stage of my treatment and was feeling a little stronger than before, this was the perfect opportunity to bring together those who had supported me on my journey, thank them and the fabulous Macmillan nurses for giving me some of their strength when I had none.

It is no exaggeration to say that the party saved my life. The planning was a perfect distraction from the frightening surgery that was to come and the possibility that all this effort would not have eradicated the cancer. I was able to welcome 50 people into the home I shared with my husband and children. I invited them to share what they had to celebrate in their lives that night, and in that moment I felt as if I had much to be thankful for and I wanted others to feel as wonderful as I did. We raised over £5,000 that evening which was a great boost to have as I went under the knife for a surgery that lasted the best part of two days and left me learning to walk again.

I am now cancer free. I look back at the experience and I cannot always believe I did it. I discovered an inner strength I didn't know I had. I now realise how important it is to focus on the positive aspects of life. Making memories and planning celebrations for the future keeps me hopeful and keeps me smiling. Not every party will go as planned, some may be cancelled but others will be more of a celebration than you could expect.