For the first time reality hit and I’ve had to face I might not survive cancer hell

I ALWAYS knew this day would come, the drugs keeping me alive have stopped working.

Blood tests have shown my tumour markers are creeping up, and at the same time my liver has started to fail.

I have a tumour that’s growing rapidly, wrapping itself around my bile duct, and obstructing my liver.

My only hope is chemo to shrink the inoperable tumour – but my liver isn’t strong enough to withstand that brutal treatment.

So, I’m writing this from my hospital bed, having just had my 13th operation.

Ever since I was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer four-and-a-half years ago, I have been lucky.

The stats said I wouldn’t survive a year and my chances of making it to five years was about 8 per cent.

That five-year milestone is just six months away, but today it feels further away than ever before.

Where once I had a string of options, now they feel like they are running out.

For the last two years I’ve been on a cocktail of drugs that have kept me alive.

I was one of the first bowel cancer patients to access them, as part of a trial and the hope was they would extend my life by six months.

HOPE IS EVERYTHING

It doesn’t sound much, but when you’re living with incurable cancer anything is better than nothing – and hope is everything.

They weren’t plain sailing and I suffered awful side effects, severe skin reactions and even temporary loss of vision.

But my response to these drugs had been phenomenal. So good in fact that I was told not once, but twice, that I had ‘no sign of any active disease’ – that’s the best it gets when you’re stage 4, like me.

The extra six months they gave me quickly turned into a year, 18 months, two years.

Each and every single day was another 24 hours seeing my kids Hugo, 13 and Eloise, 11, grow up, time with my husband and rock Seb, our family and friends.

But, as with all good things, sadly they have come to an end.

The signs have been there for a while, my cancer has been bubbling away in the background.

I’ve had flare ups that resulted in two major operations in the last six months alone.

I’ve had weeks of radiotherapy, as well as a new procedure called NanoKnife.

Then there were the blood tests showing my tumour markers were rising – a sure sign my cancer is growing again.

Doctors say, 'Don't write yourself off just yet'. I'm clinging onto this with all I've got

It’s confusing, I know. I regularly get asked, ‘but I thought you were cancer free, has it come back?’.

The truth is it never went away.

At best my cancer goes to sleep for a bit, lying dormant until it grasps a new opportunity to reignite.

For two years or so, my drugs have kept it at bay.

But now they have stopped working, my cancer has seized the chance to strike again.

So far, I’ve had five different types of treatment, and as soon as my medical team realised the drugs were losing their impact, my oncologist decided it was time for more chemo.

It worked when I was first diagnosed, so I felt relieved that we had the option again.

But it wasn’t that easy, it never is.

Just as chemo looked like the new plan of action, my liver started to pack it in.

Blood test after blood test showed my liver function was getting worse and worse, until I reached a critical point last week.

I was going more jaundiced by the day, my skin was itching and my pee was the colour of Coke.

I felt sick and for the first time since being diagnosed I felt like my body was starting to shut down.

For the first time, I had an option – a good option in the form of chemo – but my body wasn’t strong enough to take it.

For the first time, I started to see that I might not survive this.

Just a few months ago I was looking forward to my 40th birthday in October, and planning for my five-year ‘cancerversary’ in December.

Now, I’m hoping I get to see my daughter Eloise start secondary school in September.

Death has always been at the back of my mind, but it’s felt comfortably far enough away.

I’ve always had a series of options, and that’s helped keep my fear at bay.

Last week, I asked my doctors to be straight with me and tell me if I need to start getting my affairs in order.

I am clinging on to their reply, with everything I’ve got: “Don’t write yourself off just yet, Deborah.”

MORE TIME

On Monday I was back in hospital to have a stent fitted in my liver, to try and clear the obstruction that's causing it to fail.

If that works then the hope is I will be able to have chemo to try and blast that tumour.

And if chemo works, the hope is I might get a bit more time.

It means the next week is critical as we wait to see if my liver function improves.

The earliest signs are good, my pee is starting to look less like Coke and my jaundice is easing up.

I’ve been guilty in the past of slipping into a false sense of security, living life to the full and dancing my way through life with stage 4 cancer.

Right now, no dancing, running or positive vibes feel like they are going to help.

BOWEL CANCER: How to spot the signs

BOWEL cancer is the fourth most common form of the disease in the UK – but the second deadliest, claiming around 16,000 lives a year.

Yet it can be cured, if it’s diagnosed early enough. 

Fewer than one in ten people survive bowel cancer if it’s picked up at stage 4, but detected at stage 1 – before it’s spread – and more than nine in ten patients will live five years or longer.

There are two ways to ensure early diagnosis, screening and awareness of the symptoms.

Brits have been subjected to a postcode lottery when it comes to bowel cancer screening, with tests sent out in Scotland from 50, while people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have to wait until they are 60.

That’s why The Sun launched the No Time 2 Lose campaign, calling on the Government to lower the screening age, to save thousands of lives a year.

In the summer of 2018, Matt Hancock agreed, in a victory for The Sun and campaigners – yet three years on and screening at 50 has yet to be widely rolled out.

While screening is an important part of early diagnosis, so is knowing the symptoms and acting if you spot the signs.

The five red-flag symptoms are:

  • Bleeding from the back passage, or blood in your poo
  • A change in your normal toilet habits – going more or less often for example
  • Pain or lump in your tummy
  • Extreme tiredness for no real reason
  • Unexplained weight loss

If you’re worried, don’t be embarrassed and speak to your GP – doctors see and deal with bowel problems all the time.

This is a healthy dose of reality that’s slapped me square in the face.

One minute I was dancing, now I am fighting for my life.

That said, I feel relieved and incredibly grateful that I was able to have this operation so quickly.

Watching your blood results get worse and worse so fast is horrifying.

I’ve watched close friends like my best cancer pal Rachael Bland and Kelly Smith go through this, and they didn’t survive.

When their livers started to fail they were told nothing more could be done.

So, I have to hold on to the fact that we have done something, I have an option and it’s not a bad one.

Without this operation, my future would be very bleak, I know that.

I still have a lot of ‘ifs’ hanging over me, but if this stent works that’s a big one out of the way.

As always with cancer I have to take it one step at a time, it’s just these steps are starting to get really scary.

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