Faiths Story

Faith's Story

I was told on 23rd September 2004 that I had breast cancer and needed an operation.  I had the operation on 30th September and came out of hospital on 5th October.  Had good news on 8th October that they got out all the cancer and it hadn’t spread.  PRAISE THE LORD!  Started Tamoxifen tablets on 9th October for 5 years.  Went to Southampton Hospital for planning day for radiotherapy 16th November and started therapy on 29th November for 5 weeks.  I was able to spend Christmas with my daughter, saw one sonand spent New Year with my other son.  I came back to Guernsey on 7th January 2005 all red, bruised and sore.

In the following pages I am going to expand in detail that brief summary of my life with Cancer – My thoughts, my feelings, my reactions and my emotions, so turn the page and I’ll begin-

The reading for Monday June 12th 2006 from The Word for Today is Phil 4 v 13 –‘I can do everything through Him who gives me strength’ which is the most appropriate verse I could have because I wasn’t ready to write this before.

This is going to be the ramblings of a lady in her mid 70’s who had to cope with breast cancer.  I call it ramblings ’cos I’ll probably not remember everything chronologically (that’s a big word, isn’t it?  I’ve had to look up 2 dictionaries to find out how to spell it!) but I think that way it might be more personal.

It all started in 2004.  I had a routine mammogram at the P.E. Hospital in August and then at the beginning of September I went on holiday with Age Concern to Blackpool. I’d never been there before – I’d led such a sheltered life! – and had a lovely time, the Tower Ballroom, kiss-me-quick hats and the illuminations, proper grockles we were.  When I came back home I found a letter waiting for me from the X-Ray Department at the hospital.  Apparently they wanted to see me again and I’d missed an appointment when I was on holiday.  I made another time to see my surgeon, the surgeon.  I wasn’t in the least worried that I was going to see him for so many people told me they’d been recalled and it had been a false alarm.  So off I went without a care in the world to see my surgeon.  Fortunately my daughter-in-law took me for I don’t know how I would have coped without her by my side.

When I was called in to see him I started to go there on my own but something – or someone –made me go back and ask my daughter in law to come with me.  It’s just as well I did for we had no sooner sat down when my surgeon told me I had CANCER in my left breast.  As soon as I heard that I felt as though a big curtain had come down and completely hid my feelings and emotions.  It remained like that for most of the next 18 months or so but very gradually that curtain has started to disintegrate (another big word but I know how to spell it!) with the result I can now begin to tell my story of how the Lord helped me to deal with this crisis in my life.

It’s just as well my daughter in law was there to take in all the details because the only thing I clearly remember is my surgeon saying it was a small lump and it had been caught early, and that was what I held on to.  I was told I would have an operation within the next fortnight and that they would remove some lymph glands at the same time to make sure the cancer hadn’t spread.  In actual fact I had the operation 6 days later as there had been a cancellation.

In the meantime I had to tell my friends and family what was happening.  In most cases I didn’t get the sympathetic reaction from them I was expecting, in fact it was me comforting them by telling them it was a small lump and had been caught early and that in my mind it was cancer with a small ‘c’.  I can’t blame them for their reaction because it’s an illness that’s not talked about.  I have to own up and say that I’d felt the same when I heard the news about a couple of friends but it would have been good if some people had spoken more positively about my situation right from the start.  As time went on I had letters and cards and ‘phone calls of support but I think that was one of the most difficult things I had to do.

Now that I’ve got that off my chest (excuse the pun!) I can get on with my story.  Once I had the date for my operation – 30th September 2004 – there were a few things I had to do like seeing the anaesthetist, cancelling the milk and papers etc. but because I was working on auto-pilot I just got on with it.

Eventually the day of the op. came.  My eldest son very kindly took me to the hospital and I was very grateful for his support.  He didn’t stay long though for as soon as the nurse started asking me some ‘female’ questions he was off like a shot!  Still, he did bring me in.  I had a lovely surprise when I got to my bed for there was a letter waiting for me.  Inside there was a card and a book from a friend from church.  The book was called ‘The Bedside Book’ daily readings and prayers for those in hospital and it had been written by my friend’s brother-in-law.   It is an excellent book and I would recommend it to anyone going into hospital. If I remember rightly there was also a lovely little pink cotton bag filled with ‘smelly’ things from the Body Shop which had been given to me from ‘The Pink Ladies’.  I thought they were both lovely gestures and made me feel I wasn’t on my own.  Another lady had come in to have the same kind of operation but her bed was in another part of the ward and I couldn’t see her.  Karen Leach, Breast Care Nurse, asked her if she would like to meet me but she declined the offer so I respected her wishes.  I knew the lady in the bed next to me slightly as she sang in the Choir and I was able to chat to her.  She was having a hip operation.

I’ve just realised this is going to be a long story because this is page 8 and I’m just about to tell you about the operation.  I hope you’re not too bored yet but there’s plenty more to come!

Anyway it’s now the 30th September 2004, the day of the op.  I think I had the op. about mid morning and I came to about 2 pm.  When I realised it was all over it was then that the cancer turned into Cancer with a capital C.  I was all bandaged up with a tube coming down to a bag on the side with ‘gungy’ stuff dripping in to it.  That’s a lovely word ‘gungy’ isn’t it?  I don’t think it’s a medical term but it should be!  I was in such a lot of pain I couldn’t think of anything else.  A lady from church and my daughter in law and grand daughtercame to see me in the afternoon but I don’t know what I said to them, if anything, because I was just engulfed in this pain.  Fortunately by the time evening came the pain had subsided a bit and I was more coherent.  They had given me morphine to help with the pain but they had to take me off that ‘cos it gave me hiccups – what a shame!  My son and daughter in law came in the evening and I was able to chat to them sensibly this time.

The next few days passed in a bit of a blur but I know I had quite a few visitors, even the Vicar came to see me, plus flowers and cards as well.  My dressing had to be changed everyday and I was encouraged to walk about as long as I took my ‘little bag’ with me.  I had a strip wash every day but after a couple of days I was told I could have a bath.  What excitement that was but also what a palaver.  I had to sit in this chair which was then lowered into the water then the nurse washed me and finally they wound up the chair and I was helped out.  What a treat that was.  I forgot to mention that at night I had to wear these special stockings which had electric pulses going through them.  Every time they ‘pulsed’ they made me jump so I was glad when I didn’t have to wear them any more.

Something else I forgot to mention – I told you I was going to ramble, didn’t I! – was the fact that I had to comfort my own doctor.  In between being told I had cancer and having my op I went to see my doctor to get some tablets and also to have a ‘chat’ about what was happening but unfortunately he hadn’t been told about the result of my mammogram etc. and so hadn’t a clue what I was talking about. At first I thought it was because I was seeing him in a different room and he wouldn’t have my notes on that computer (silly me) but it wasn’t that at all.  He hadn’t been told that I had cancer and was going to have an op and he was naturally upset that he didn’t know.  I began to re-assure him by saying that these things do happen and slip-ups do happen but it seemed to me he was more concerned about not being told than he was about me having cancer!  Anyway the upshot was that every time I saw my surgeonafter that he would end the consultation by saying “I’ll pass that information on to your doctor” so some good came out of that situation.

Where was I when I so rudely interrupted myself?  Oh yes I was still in hospital.  After a few days they took the draining tube out which meant I didn’t have to carry my little bag about.  I felt some progress was being made although it was still quite sore having my dressing changed.

To condense this story a little bit I was able to go home on October 5th so I was only in hospital 6 days.  My daughter in law very kindly picked me up and gave me tea and about 8 o’clock she took me home.  I brought so many flowers and cards home that I nearly ran out of space to put them out.  I was very tired but was glad the operation was over and all I had to do was to find out what would happen next.

I didn’t have long to wait as I had an appointment to see my surgeon on October 8th when I was told he had been able to get out all the cancer.  He’d also taken out 10 lymph nodes and they were all clear.  PRAISE THE LORD!  He then said to make sure every trace of the cancer had gone he advised me to have a course of Radiotheraphy in Southampton General Hospital.  It would take 5 weeks and I would have to wait for 6 weeks after my op to have it done.  By then, it would be coming up to December but my surgeon assured me it wouldn’t start till after Christmas so it was a shock when I received a letter from Southampton Hospital to say my treatment would start on December 5th.

That letter came on a Friday – I remember it well! – and it came just before I was going to Age Concern so I took it there and opened it before I started playing Scrabble.  Needless to say my mind wasn’t on Scrabble after that!  I didn’t go straight home afterwards ‘cos I’d been invited to my eldest son’s house for tea.  Just bear with me when I explain that my eldest son and daughter in law were away on holiday at that time and had very kindly said that my brother in law and his familycould stay there whilst they were away.  So – picture the scene – I marched into the house all het up about going for my treatment in December instead of January when I realised there were other people there.  I turned round to see my grandson and great grandson  there, said hello to them and carried on talking about how awful it was I had to go away so soon.  It turned out that they had come over from Cardiff on a surprise visit and I’d just greeted them as though I saw them every day.  I don’t think I ever apologised to them properly so if you ever read this – I’m very sorry!

I’m now going tell you about a new journey on my life with Cancer, a journey that friends of mine had walked along but, never-the-less, was quite daunting for me.  At this stage I was still feeling nothing emotionally so I just went ahead and did everything I was told to do without question.  The first thing I had to do was to go to Southampton General Hospital for a planning day.  The States of Guernsey paid for my flight so I went with several others (none of them I knew) to the hospital.  When we arrived at Southampton a bus was laid on to take us to the hospital.  When we got there we each went our separate ways cos we were all going for different kinds of treatment.  I was like a lost soul for it’s a big place and a lot of building was going on as well.  I looked at signs and arrows without success and then I came across a lady with a badge on saying ‘Guide’ – I told you it was a big place! – and I explained I’d come across for a planning day and she said “Oh you want the Oncology Department” and my first thought was oh no I don’t for that’s for people with cancer and then my second thought was oh yes that’s me for I have got cancer.  That was quite a shock for me to realise which department I was going to.  Fortunately I hadn’t said anything out loud so she didn’t know how silly I’d been thinking.  She said she would take me there so I followed her along corridors, down lifts, round corners and down stairs until we got to the ‘planning room’.  It was in the new part of the hospital and it was like stepping in to a haven of quietness.  The room was large with a bed in the middle of it and at the back of the room was a glass screen with equipment behind it.  A coloured gentleman came forward to greet me and explained what was going to happen.  He was a nice man, a very, very nice man and soon put me at my ease.  I got undressed (only the top part) and laid on the bed.  Two nurses came to my side and after asking a few questions they began measuring me very precisely and making marks on my chest, they went behind the screen and looked through a machine to make sure everything was all right and after more measuring and checking it was time for me to be permanently marked.  If only they had told it would be painful I would heve been more prepared.  I thought they would use an indelible marker pen but, oh no, they came at me with a gun!  At least it looked like a gun and it was very small.  They put a marker on each side of my chest with this machine which stung a bit but the one in the middle of my chest really hurt.  I was well and truly ‘marked’ and 2½ years later I’ve still got that mark.  That was my treatment finished for the day and as I had several hours to spare before the bus came to pick us up I looked around for somewhere to eat.  I came across a restaurant but when I looked inside I realised it wasn’t for me.  It was very posh and I know my place in the grand scheme of life and it’s definitely much lower than that!  I eventually found a café which suited me fine and I had my lunch there.  As I was trying to pay at the till without dropping anything a man carried my tray to a table and made sure I had everything I needed.  I was very grateful to him and he was another very, very nice man.

Once I’d had my lunch and had a rest I thought it was time to find the shops.  There weren’t very many but it helped to pass the time.  After a while my thoughts went to food again so I bought a ‘cuppa’ and a cake and when I’d finished I got my book out to read a few pages.  I was very self-conscious about doing this, by the way, ‘cos it was entitled ‘The Lord our Shepherd’ by J Douglas Mac Millan.  I looked around to see if anyone was watching me but needless-to-say they were all too engrossed in their own thoughts so I relaxed and carried on reading.  It’s a wonderful book and I’d recommend it to anyone now but then I didn’t want anyone to see me reading it in case they thought I was a weirdo!  I’m embarrassed writing about this but I’m being honest and there’s a purpose in telling people this which I’ll make clear to you in a moment.

To cut a long story short as I made my way back to the entrance I popped into a ‘Boutique’ spending about 10 minutes there when I felt some-one tapping me on the shoulder.  I was scared to turn round in case a shop assistant thought I was shop-lifting, but instead there was a lady with a smile on her face who said to me ‘I saw which book you were reading in the café and I thought I’d come and tell you that I too am a Christian’.  You could have knocked me down with a feather I was so surprised but once I’d recovered my composure we had a lovely chat.  It turned out her cancer was much more advanced than mine but she was still praising the Lord.  We hugged each other as we parted and as I write about that meeting today – 15th July 2007 – I can genuinely thank the Lord for sending me that angel in disguise.  There’s a bit of a story about my thoughts on angels and if anyone is interested I can explain it to them after they read this.  As I made my way back to the bus taking me to the airport I felt much calmer inside because I knew the Lord was with me.

I’m now starting a new chapter ‘cos this part is going to be about my radiotheraphy treatment and the time I stayed in the Manor House in Southampton.  Within a fortnight of my ‘planning day’ I went over to start my radiotheraphy for 5 weeks.  25 treatments in all.  My flight was for 2p.m. on Novermber 29th and my good friend from church took me to the airport.  The weather was perfect for flying so I thought there wouldn’t be any problem.  How wrong I was, for I was told my flight had been delayed due to technical reasons.  Well 3 o’clock came and went and so did 4 and 5 o’clock.  Shestayed with me all that time but I told her to go home then.  When it came to 6.30 pm I ‘phoned my eldest son  to keep me company which he did and I eventually got off about 7.30 pm.

My flight over was uneventful and I expected to be met by someone who would escort me to the Manor House.  Because my ‘plane was so late there was no one to meet me.  In my naivety (sound like an Innocent Abroad, don’t I?) I didn’t realise this so I waited and waited – and waited until I realised the Airport was about to close.  I then went up to the lady at the Reception desk and explained my situation.  She very kindly ‘phoned the Manor House to tell them I was coming then she tried to get me a taxi.  Apparently all the taxi drivers that dealt with the Airport had gone off duty but she was able, eventually, to get one.  He didn’t exactly fill me with confidence ‘cos he asked me where about this place was and other than being able to tell him it was in the West End area.  I said I hadn’t got a clue.  I told him why I was going there and that seemed to ring a bell with him for he said ‘You want the old Maternity Home’ looking at me as if to say I should have known that.  I was so glad to get there as by this time it was 10 o’clock at night and I was cold and hungry and so-o-o tired.

When I rang the bell the night staff nurse ushered me in to her office and after she had dealt with all the paperwork she began to tell me all the rules and regulations of the House.  She also explained about the fire precautions and what to do and where to go in the event of a fire but it all just went over my head so I prayed that there wouldn’t be a fire – and my prayers were answered!  By this time every-one had gone to bed and the place was very quiet.  It turned out I had to share a bedroom with a lady from the Isle of Wight who was very nice, very quiet and she smiled a lot.  Her cancer was much more advanced than mine and was in a different part of the body.  She never complained and was so grateful for being looked after.

Perhaps I ought to explain about the Manor House here.  It took in people from the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man who were having Radiotherapy at Southampton General Hospital.  It was more of a guest house than a nursing home although there was always a nurse on duty, day and night, but not the same one, obviously!  They could take up to 24 patients, both men and women and when I was there it was usually about half and half.  Before I go any further I just want to say how impressed I was with the place and the staff.  Coming back from having your treatment it was like stepping into a haven of love and peace.  Nothing was too much trouble for the staff and the only things we had to do were to make our beds and wash up our cups if we made ourselves a drink.  I don’t know how many of the staff were Christians, if any, but the Sister-in-Charge was and she oozed out Christian love to everyone.  It was a real privilege to be looked after there and I look back at it as an ‘oasis’ amongst all the trauma we had to go through.

It’s now 1st June 2008 and I thought it’s about time I got on with my ramblings before senility sets in!  I felt like a ‘new girl’ at a boarding school that first day but I needn’t have worried because everyone was so helpful, staff and patients alike.  I had a room on the ground floor and on my way to the dining room I saw where patients could make themselves drinks.  It was very small but perfectly adequate for our needs.  There was a selection of teas, coffees and biscuits with a little fridge for milk, yoghurt, etc.  We could make ourselves a drink anytime, day or night, to take back to your rooms.  In the dining room there were 5 or 6 round tables and you could sit anywhere you liked.  There were plenty cereals to choose from and if you wanted anything cooked you only had to ask and it was provided.  You then had to fill in a menu form for the other two meals that day.  Sometimes it was a bit difficult to choose ‘cos you didn’t know how you would be feeling after your treatment but the staff were very understanding and they went out of their way to help us choose something else.

Because there were so many of us the Manor had their own mini-bus to take us back and forth to the General Hospital for our radiotherapy.  The night before we were told which time our treatment was for the following day.  Fortunately I was seldom asked to go in for the first lot.  The bus took about ¾ of an hour to get to the hospital and then, of course, the same time back again.  Our bus driver was absolutely wonderful, full of jokes, but he could also be very caring when the need arose.  We had to go through the conservatory to board the bus but the peculiar thing was the room was a designated smoking area and so you had to go through all those fumes to get to the bus and it was the same coming back!  Health and Safety wouldn’t allow that now.

Although I’d been given leaflets about Radiotherapy which meant I knew the rudiments of what was going to happen but it’s not the same thing as actually having it done to you.  When I arrived at the hospital for the first time I was quite confused but fortunately a couple of people guided me to the right reception area which was a great help.  As time went on I was able to help other newcomers and so the system went on.  Eventually my name was called and I went into the treatment room.

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