“Newman’s first law: It is useless to put on your brakes when you’re upside down.”
My name is Sara – 25, final year medical student. Diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL) on the 9th of December 2014. Now 77 days later, having undergone two cycles of chemotherapy, two bone marrow biopsies, five lumbar punctures and a whole host of chemicals being pumped into my body, can I say I feel any better? No. But did I even expect myself to? Again, no.
For those who aren’t aware Leukaemia is basically (I use this word too much for my own good) cancer of the white blood cells. The cells we all rely on to fight off the baddies in our body; but somehow, for some reason unknown to me mine decided to give up and let non-functioning immature cells take over. These immature cells are essentially having a party in my bone marrow, and not letting any of the important cells be produced – red blood cells, platelets, and white blood cells. Everything I lacked when I went into hospital on the 8th of December. My disease hadn’t shown itself to me, and never in a million years would I have imagined I would be dealing with something like this. Feeling extra tired for a few weeks was probably what stood out the most, it wasn’t till the day before I went to the GP that I came up with a rash, a sore throat and a fever. Monday morning off to the GP I went, not sure what to expect, bloods were taken and I was ordered to call in the next day. 8pm that evening I received a phonecall – before I even picked up the phone my heart had already sank; I’m not saying I’m a clairvoyant but I just knew there was something wrong with me, so I panicked. Called over my sister and heard the Dr say I needed to come into hospital as soon as possible, my platelets were severely low at only 7 and my neutrophils (white blood cells) were at 0.25.
The night was spent waiting, sitting with my best friend listening to the lady in the corner of my ward talking to herself. The phone would ring for the nurses and this poor little lady would pretend to pick up a phone and have a conversation. (I won’t deny we had a bit of a giggle at her expense.. Yeah we’re going to hell.) After a chat with the doctor I was attached to a bag of platelets and told the haematologist would be there in the morning. So as I slipped in and out of sleep I was going through a whole host of diagnoses in my head – Leukaemia was never an option.
Morning came, and went, by that time the fact that I was a medical student had already gotten around the ward staff – won’t deny it did make me feel like the staff were being a little more careful around me – is that really a bad thing? Around 5.45pm, my sister and I were taken into the family room, laughing and joking talking about the patients on the ward (Could I make myself look worse here? Probably not.) You would think being a medical student, and well versed with ‘breaking bad news’ and the etiquette behind it that I would question why the Dr’s weren’t coming to see me at my bed. I sat as the doctor introduced himself – Gleb Ivanov, Consultant Haematologist, He started to speak and within a minute we’d reached the “I’m afraid we have some bad news” moment. That’s pretty much where I switched off – I could hear the panic in my sisters voice, the questions, I could even hear myself speak but I just felt numb. “I’ve looked at your blood today and I sent it off for analysis and I’m afraid I have to tell you, you have Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia” “You’ll be transferred to the Royal Marsden tomorrow to begin treatment” “I’m afraid university will have to be put on hold for now”
I still feel numb thinking about it now. The nurses looked at me with sympathy, some kind words, but also words of encouragement that I will never forget. The Dr left and I listened as my sister called my brother and eldest sister. I wanted my Dad, miles away on holiday, I wanted my mum, so far away in a place she could never come back from. I think saying I was in shock was an understatement, and I don’t think I realised the weight of what was happening until I was walking down the corridor, hand in hand with my brother, crying continuously whilst he told me everything would be okay.
No matter what I never want to forget that day because my eyes were opened to the real gravity of my situation, that no matter what you think or what plans you have Allah’s plans are bigger, and you can never fight your fate. What was a burden on my mind that moment was not that I had been diagnosed with the fearsome ‘C’ word, but how would I tell my dad? How could he go through this all over again after doing it with my mum? How could I manage this without her? But I am so grateful to Allah that I had sisters, a brother, friends that were there at that very moment and the time that passed after to get me through the shock.
I’ve never understood why this happened, what caused it, the doctors reply was ‘it’s just one of those things’, and no matter how hard I fight it that’s it. That’s all it is. Sometimes you don’t have a choice in life and you just have to get on with it, and I wish I could say I have changed my life completely around since then – I can’t, but I don’t know what the future holds yet. I am just one big question mark.
So the moral of the story so far is, no doubt we will all be placed in situations where our lives are turned upside down, but stopping is not the answer. If I had a pound (or 50) for every time I have given up in the last 11 weeks I would be a very rich woman right now; and natwest would probably not be breathing down my neck as my overdraft decided to disappear during my first 2 weeks in hospital. Courage, bravery and strength is what gets any of us through difficult times; and I am the last person I would imagine has shown that, but putting the brakes on and making life come to a standstill is not the answer. What you can and can’t achieve is all in the mind, and coming from a pessimist like me that’s a big statement to make.
I wish I was this wise in real life.
Lastly, as I get back to finding ways to move myself to the Shire, I’ll finish on this note.
“I wish none of this had happened.” Frodo
“So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” Gandalf