It's funny how just when things are going well life decides to throw in a major curve ball. Well that's just what happened to me, and this is my story. On June 13th 2012 my life as I knew it changed forever. This was the day that I was diagnosed with colon cancer.
As a 39 year old mother of two I would never have thought in a million years that I would be told that I had the 'C' word. It all started when I began experiencing a number of unexplainable symptoms; nausea, stomach pain, fatigue, weight loss and a general feeling of being unwell. I'm not normally a person who gets sick very often, even bouts of cold and flu are a rarity but the pain and weight loss was becoming so severe that I knew I had to take action. It must have been a few weeks until I received my first appointment with the gastrointestinal consultant and after being in constant pain this appointment could not have come soon enough. I was swiftly referred for a series of tests and procedures and through a process of elimination (blood tests, ultrasound, endoscopy, and finally a colonoscopy), it was identified that I had a cancerous tumour in the large colon.
Even now it's hard to describe how I felt the day that I was told the news. It was literally like being hit with a sledgehammer and I remember everything just like it was yesterday. As I left the hospital that day with my husband by my side, I felt my world crumble before me. Not only was I desperately trying to make sense of the news but I was heavily consumed by fear - fear of the unknown and the path that lie ahead. I had so many unanswered questions and the devastation of receiving a cancer diagnosis was crippling. What if this is it and my time is up? How do I tell my children who are too young to really understand that mummy may die? How do I tell my siblings they may be losing a sister? Or my parents that they may be losing a daughter and how will my husband cope without me?
I had three weeks to prepare for major abdominal surgery, so busied myself spending quality time with family and friends and for a short while I was able to forget. It was only after surgery that I was informed that my cancer was stage three so I knew that chemotherapy would be the next step to ensure that I had a fighting chance of survival and I made the decision to face it head on. After all I had no choice, my family needed me.
I've learnt so many things during my journey. Cancer is so much more than a physical disease and I saw my relationships change before my eyes. I lost many friendships in the months that followed and it was a very dark time. People around me didn't know what to say or how to act, and many avoided me altogether. Despite feeling hurt at the time, on reflection I realise that it was not me and my cancer that pushed people away, but the fact that they too were scared, frightened and unable to comprehend the enormity of it all. I also learned that I'm not the superwoman I thought I was. That I need people around me to lean on, to be there and listen and to reassure me that no matter what the outcome they would be there to support me. It's true when they say that you find out who your friends are in a crisis, and I am so lucky to have the most wonderful friends and family in my life who rallied round during my time of need. To all those people I will be eternally grateful. Without a doubt the biggest lesson I learned was that early diagnosis is key, so it's important to know your own body, trust your instincts and take action when you know that something isn't quite right.
So where am I now? To be honest I'm still trying to figure that one out. People automatically assume that once you're given the all clear it's time to pop the champagne cork and celebrate. I don't know how many times I've heard the words 'you can put it all behind you and get back to normal'. What people don't seem to realise is that I'll never be that 'normal' person again. I've faced my own mortality and it's scary. I still panic at every ache, pain and twinge and I still experience the symptoms of treatment; neuropathy, intermittent memory loss and increasing levels of anxiety. Every day is still a challenge but what has changed is my outlook and the realisation that life is for living. I embrace every opportunity with both hands and as a result I have accomplished more following diagnosis than I ever have done before. I've no idea what the future holds for me, but I'm determined not to waste precious time contemplating what might be and enjoy every moment. The past few years have been a rollercoaster, but I chose to buckle up, enjoy the ride and be thankful for every day that passes. I have learnt to accept that my cancer may be part of me, but it does not define me and I am still the master of my own destiny.
Amanda Adams is supporting Cancer Research UK's Test Cancer Sooner campaign to help save 11,000 more lives each year by 2020 through early diagnosis. To sign the petition for more investment into early diagnosis, visit cruk.org/testcancersooner
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