“In December 2015, I had a routine mammogram. Since I ate a healthy diet, was fit and healthy, I thought nothing of it and went on vacation to France shortly thereafter. When I got back, an urgent letter was waiting for me – inviting me to return for a biopsy – and I’d missed the appointment! They fitted me in on 22nd December. The procedure was painful and uncomfortable and lasted an hour. Not good for a coward like me who is needle-phobic. I spent that Christmas with my family forcing smiles and trying not to think about it.
My family all acted as if nothing had happened and I didn’t want to spoil their Christmas by making a fuss. The grandchildren were just 4, 7, and 10, and I did not want to have to explain anything to them. But I was in another world. The only person who knew how anxious I felt was my lovely husband, Gordon.
My results were delayed further because of the holidays. I thought my head would burst. But Dr. Patel came into the hospital on 30th December to let me have the news. This was the same doctor who runs the local breast cancer charity. The very charity I’d supported just a few weeks earlier when I spoke at their annual dinner. I was like a rabbit in the headlights. I knew nothing about breast cancer. By the sixth of January, I was admitted to the hospital for a total mastectomy and reconstruction of my left breast using fat from my belly.
I spent 4 days in intensive care and had the most awful backache and migraine from being stuck in bed with 8 tubes coming out of my body. If anything makes you feel totally powerless, try being strapped to a bed, peeing into a tube, not being able to move with a thumping headache, smelling your own stinking breath and sweat. I looked and felt dreadful and certainly didn’t want visitors. But Emma, my eldest daughter came on the second day. Gordon said he could hold her back no longer. Kim came on the fourth day when they’d finally allowed me out of bed. She’s usually pretty tough but broke into floods of tears when she saw me. And I thought I was looking better!
Throughout all this, I thought I would be cured and so I bit my lip and got on with it. I then endured 15 sessions of radiotherapy. By this time, I was getting very physically weak. It was an hour’s journey each way every day to the center and so I booked myself into a hotel with a spa nearby. I pretended for the last week that I was on holiday. At the end of the treatment, the oncologist told me, ‘Go home, you are cured.’ My reaction and my family’s reaction was, ‘Of course you are. After all, you’re Linda – superwoman.’
My next appointment was not for 18 months. For some unfathomable reason, I asked for a CT scan of my chest. I genuinely thought it would all be fine. The same day there was an urgent message on my answer phone. There was a tumor on my lung. I just couldn’t believe it. I was in a trance. Numb. In shock. Once again, I was operated on. When I woke from the operation I felt fine and ordered everything on the breakfast menu even though I was in yet more intensive care. That was a huge mistake. More vomit – more headaches. I was told they’d got it all, but just to be sure they wanted me to have a course of chemotherapy. I had one session and was so ill that I told the oncologist that I’d rather just die than have any more.
So yet another PET scan and this time the new lung cancer had metastasized on my liver. Oh, joy. This time, I refused surgery after the surgeon described an incision from my sternum to pubis. But the oncologist said I could try some medication. I’m now on some biological tablets that attack the dermis of tumors – it’s working but it’s not a cure. I began to feel totally powerless.
My life had become an endless list of hospital appointments, where people were deciding what to do to me. My husband, Gordon has been my rock throughout. He’s always on hand with a kiss and a cuddle and has spent hours and hours sat in hospital waiting rooms. My lowest point was when I rang the McMillan cancer helpline and when I tried to speak, I just cried. The poor person on the end just listened to me sob for about 15 minutes without a break. I thank that person because it couldn’t have been nice for them. But I needed to get it all out of my system. It was the turning point for me I hated feeling so powerless and that the cancer was taking over. I decided to take back control. The only way I could think to even to begin to do this was to control what I put in my body.
I ordered every book that seemed to hold a clue and, while I was still weak from the operation, I read every research report I could find; the objective was to research my own diet. I don’t think it will cure me, but my aim is to make my body as strong as possible to hold back the cancer. As for my family…they all love me to bits. But they are all in denial about my prognosis. I’m the breadwinner and matriarch of our family. I’m slowly trying to prepare them for when the cancer mutates and I am taken by it. Until then, I’m going to enjoy every day. I live next door to my two daughters and four grandchildren. Today Emma (my eldest) and I went to a Zumba class for the first time and giggled at each other going wrong all through it. I’ve chosen to not make my life all about cancer. My grandchildren have been great fun helping me with my Get Well diet.
I know I have stage 4 cancer. But I’m not letting it be the focus of my life. I’ve taken back control of my life. I’ve researched gut rebuilding and cancer-fighting foods that suit me. Now, I’m trying to make recipes from them. I’ve set myself a target of posting 100 recipes before Xmas. I’m not a doctor, a scientist, or even a good cook, but I can try!”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Linda Stoker Smith. You can follow her journey on YouTube. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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