When our lovely daughter Louise died, aged 21, I really felt I didn’t want to go on living. But, gradually, through the love and support of my husband Ross, son Tommy and my fabulous friends, I came to an understanding with life, and realised that I could re-discover my old zest for it.
Since Louise died we have travelled the world – from Bhutan, where we erected prayer flags in her memory, to Kerala, Zimbabwe, Kenya (where we interred her ashes with those of her grandparents), Switzerland to ski and walk in the mountains, and then a move to Singapore with Ross, where we have been capitalising on the delights of the Far East: India, Malaysia, the Philippines, China and Indonesia. All in 9 months!
Suddenly all this recovery is catapulted into outer space. Yesterday I was diagnosed with a soft tissue sarcoma of the calf, and here I am today in hospital having had a biopsy and a PET scan, waiting to hear the prognosis. Our 30th anniversary dream diving holiday to Wakatobi in Sulawesi cancelled – we should be there right now!
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The tumor began as a suspected hematoma in the calf, which would not go away: I had a couple of weeks of ultrasound and massage, with lots of stretching but it seemed to get increasingly painful. By Monday this week, I was beginning to have difficulty walking without limping, so decided to go back to the GP. Suddenly I was being rushed to a vascular surgeon, having an MRI, followed by a consultation with an orthopedic surgeon and, finally, today into hospital to have a PET scan and biopsy.
The last 36 hours have been very dark indeed. Reading up on Soft Tissue Sarcomas (STS) of the calf was hardly comforting: not only is it extremely rare, but also the treatments include chemo, radiotherapy and excisions, sometimes all three, and often two of the above. Then there’s no guarantee that the excision will not affect your nerve, and you might be unlucky enough to lose your leg; at best your calf muscle will probably be damaged.
But the worst scenario is that it could have spread to the soft issues of the lung, liver and pancreas. In that case it is usually terminal.
Last night I could not sleep, hardly surprising really. ‘Why me?’ As Louise would have said, ‘Its not my fault’. What have we done to deserve all this bad luck: the deaths in close succession of my mother, Louise, and then father, with Ross’s prostate cancer in-between? He at least is now clear. I have never believed in God and I certainly would not be tempted to do so now!
At 3 am I am sitting on my lounger overlooking our softly-lit pool, all calming turquoise and gently fading pinky/mauve lights, the palms gently rustling in the breeze, and breathing in the scented tropical air. Out of nowhere a big storm rolls in, forked lightening and soft rain. I begin to think how much I love my life, my husband, son and friends, and I am not ready to go just yet. So much travelling to do, so much laughter and joy to be had…but later in the darkness of the bedroom as I toss and turn and remember my maxim, Carpe Diem, I can see that elusive day flitting away from me like a will o the wisp, tantalisingly out of reach.
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The worst moment today was when I was recalled to the PET scan: ‘We think we have seen something on your pancreas and liver and need to re-check it’.
As I lie in the tomb-like scan, tears roll down my cheeks, my whole body trying not to convulse – you have to keep very still – silently shouting out, I don’t want to die!
And maybe my time has not yet come: the radiologist confirms that while there was indeed ‘hot spot’ ie tumor in the calf, what they had thought were shadows on the other internal organs turn out to be my gut. Phew!
But we are not out of the woods yet; the precise nature of my tumor has to be diagnosed and treatments agreed. I will come back to England for those, at least 6-7 weeks of horridness. I will probably lose my calf muscle – no more mountain walks – but should be able to ski again in due course. These are small but meaningful mercies if one can at least continue to live.