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I joined the 'cancer club' just before Christmas

The Bloodwise logo. Bloodwise appears in black text against a white background
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12 Dec 2019

Treatment made Hannah feel like "the Grinch" last year. But that experience has made this Christmas all the more special.

At 3am I did what they say you shouldn't do...

I Googled my symptoms, and up popped leukaemia, at the top of the results page.

The TOP result! In fact, the L word was EVERYWHERE on the first page. Every. Single. Result.

They were all linked to blood cancer.

That, and my THIRTY bruises prompted me to go to my GP. I entered the consultation room and just went for it – told them about the bruising, the bleeding gums, the sore throat, the mouth ulcer, the joint pain. But I didn't mention the L word.

I mean, as if it could actually be that.

Cancer is something that happens to other people, right?

On Friday 14 December 2018, I joined the club nobody wants to be in. Some horrid cells had set up camp in my bone marrow without permission. I had suspected acute promyelocytic leukaemia. Cry, scream, stamp your feet, I did all that. And in my head were dramatic declarations like, ‘this is it, this is the end… and I haven’t even f****** lived’!

Everything happened so quickly. I was rushed to the haematology ward, attacked by needles, blood products and endless drugs. The urgent care was spot on. And it's true – before my diagnosis I had so many problems, but from that evening onwards, I just had one problem: cancer.

Round one of treatment was poop. I was admitted for five weeks, missed Christmas and New Year, and just one week into treatment won a trip to the High-Dependency Unit due to organ failure.

A life-threatening complication caused by ‘all-trans retinoic acid’ - the most important drug in the initial treatment.

I was basically the Grinch

A poorly, smelly and mardy one. My head soon represented an egg, and my appetite... that was too good.

But everything tasted like metal. I had horrific sickness, a proper sore mouth and if I wasn’t constipated…it was the opposite!

I’d attempt small portions of plain food and sometimes my favourites – cheesecake, rice pudding or cold quiche. It was the little things like this that made my day.

December without mulled wine…can you even begin to imagine the added heartache? Apparently alcohol and chemo don’t go together. They’re not like the toe to your nail or hair to your head! Instead, my alternative was Vanilla Yazoo milkshake. Pills and vanilla shake – a pretty good combo to be fair!

But compared to what went before, round two was a breeze. Round three was a little more intense. And round four, as an outpatient, the body was still getting over rounds one, two and three. Leukaemia treatment kills the bad and good cells and shuts down your immune system, so patients are often isolated in a room with filtered air and strict hygiene rules.

Looking forward to Christmas at home

This is my first Christmas since finishing treatment. However, it sucks because this is my first Christmas without my best friend, comedian and queen…my nan. And last Christmas with cancer will stay with me forever. The cancer that ruined Christmas…but could have done more damage!

I will NOT be spending Christmas day in my PJs. That’s a fact. You will find me talking, walking, eating, drinking and horse riding. My taste buds will be on point, nausea non-existent, appetite more than good and…I hope, a Christmas free of medical advice and jabbering judgment from cancer muggles.

This time of year can be emotional, even when you’re in remission. We often take stock of the year and our lives and it makes us reflect on what’s important. This Christmas, I’m giving myself plenty of me-time. I’m aware that it’s totally okay to acquire an exit strategy from certain situations – parties and gatherings.

My hair is growing and I’m getting stronger. And I made promises to my bod during treatment. I’ve left my marketing job and joining the ambulance service.

I’m still waiting for the new normal to actually feel normal, but things are coming together.

I’m putting my life back together – like a jigsaw…one piece at a time.

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