Although most of this story will not be in chronological order, I thought it would be useful to start off by explaining a little about what life was like BC (Before Cancer – which seems almost unthinkable now!). And even if you don’t want to read about it, it will be nice for me to think about it as I write.
Without giving my whole life story… I live in a small flat in South West London with my boyfriend. We are lucky enough to spend most of our time with our close friends and family – eating, drinking and generally making merry. A year ago we even adopted a little cat, Ida, from Battersea Dogs & Cats Home. Not much to complain about!
Two years ago, whilst working for an education-related social enterprise, I decided that I would like to be more on the front line. I got a place to train as a primary teacher with Teach First and began the programme in June 2013.
From September 2013 I had my own class in a large school in South East London. To say it was exhausting would be an understatement! But it was also humbling, inspiring and above all, incredibly rewarding. Although I wouldn’t like to do that year again, I certainly wouldn’t undo it. What a year, I thought! Things can’t get much tougher than this!
September 2014 brought a new class and new confidence – I felt sure that my NQT year would be a breeze compared to the previous one. The Autumn term was long and draining but I was delighted to feel so much more at ease, freeing me up to try a smorgasbord of new schemes and approaches (thanks mainly to my long-suffering and excellent TA!).
I was even so bold as to book a holiday to ZANZIBAR with my boyfriend for the WHOLE of October half-term. This was a brilliant idea because:
- it was the first holiday where I didn’t have to write an essay and I felt reasonably confident I could be on top of my planning and marking;
- suddenly lots of friends were having babies – we weren’t so why not do something a bit wild;
- a good friend had recently moved to Africa and could meet us out there;
- it was my boyfriend’s 30th birthday;
- Zanzibar looked nice and we’d never been there.
While the trip was amazing and genuinely like being in paradise, it was during it that I wondered if something might be a little bit wrong with me. However, it wasn’t until December that I actually got round to booking an appointment to see the GP – up to that point I just felt too busy and I didn’t want to make a fuss over what was probably nothing. (On a reasonably crucial side note, I had also been called for a routine smear test about three months before, but hadn’t quite got round to it yet).
The GP referred me for an appointment with the practice nurse for swabs and also the smear I was slightly overdue for. She also booked me in for an internal ultrasound to be on the safe side. During the appointment with the nurse she told me that I had a cervical polyp and would therefore need a follow-up with the GP which was booked in for 2nd January. I was reassured that it wasn’t anything serious – and the ultrasound also didn’t show anything abnormal.
However. I was a bit taken aback when I got a call from another GP at the same practice just before Christmas saying that the smear had come back abnormal and so I was being referred for a colposcopy at St George’s Hospital in Tooting. I wasn’t given any more details and know lots of other people who have had abnormal smears which turn out to be nothing, so I wasn’t overly concerned. In all honesty, I did have the odd “What if it’s CANCER??” moment, but I always dismissed the thought quickly and scolded myself for being a morbid hypochondriac.
The Spring term started as normal although I had this hospital appointment hanging over me. It was the afternoon of Monday 12th January (the first day of the second week of term). Leaving my class with strict instructions to behave for the afternoon and discussing what we would do in the morning (ha!), I set off for Tooting. I remember sitting in the waiting room surrounded by MacMillan Cancer Support posters and feeling sorry for people who had cancer.
The first surprise in my appointment was that I was about to have a local anaesthetic and procedure. The consultant was very apologetic that I wasn’t aware that that was what I was coming in for – apparently I should have been informed. (It is possible that I was sent information but had recently moved and the GP still had my old address, so that is my fault!) He explained that my smear test had been severely abnormal and that they would be doing a large loop excision of the transformation zone (LLETZ) to remove the cells as they were pre-cancerous.
I was pretty shocked at the word “cancer” being used in my appointment. But this sounded like it would be something quick (if not very pleasant!), and then that would be the end of it.
Surprise number two! The consultant told me I could get dressed again after about one minute – which didn’t seem as bad as I had feared… But when I joined him at the desk with an optimistic “Is it over?”, he showed me a screen full of images he had just taken of my cervix. I didn’t know what I was looking at but I did know it didn’t look pretty (and unfortunately those images have appeared to be etched into the back of my eyelids ever since).
He reassured me that as one of the leading cervical cancer specialists in the world I was in good hands (in fact, he invited me to Google him, and I did, and he really is!) and that he was fairly confident that what he could see was a tumour, Stage 1B1 at the least. There were lots of other words used after that – trachelectomy, hysterectomy, chemoradiation – I heard him but couldn’t make much sense of it.
“Any questions?” (Always makes me feel that job-interview panic of HAVING to ask a question.)
“Erm… should I go into work tomorrow?” (Priorities!)
“Well – I’ve just told you that you probably have cancer… so I would suggest calling them and letting them know you will be having treatment and won’t be back for the foreseeable future.” (Very wise. Work were amazing then and have been ever since.)
After that I was introduced to my “Key Worker”, a very friendly MacMillan Clinical Nurse Specialist. She took me into a different room and pushed a big box of tissues towards me, saying lots of kind and reassuring things about how I must be feeling and giving me piles of “Dealing with Cervical Cancer” leaflets. I wanted to get away – out of the hospital and back home, but nodded and smiled and hoped I looked like I was listening politely.
“Any questions? You must have lots.” (Must I??? Aaarrgghh! Can’t think of ANY!)
“Ummmm… is there a cashpoint in the hospital because I don’t have enough money to pay for my parking at the moment?” (Success! A question I really wanted to know the answer to! Now please let me GO HOME!!!)
And that is the true story of how my life changed on Monday 12th January 2015.
Caroline Crimson x