Hello seems a nice place to start!
I’m Shiv Meaker, I’m 34 and last year I found out I had Hodgkin Lymphoma by accident.
Last spring I was a passenger in a car that got hit at some traffic lights and I came away with a nasty case of whiplash. After a few weeks, the pain from the impact had gone but my physio could still feel a swelling. I went private for a Ultrasound in mid April, to check that I didn’t have a ruptured muscle. The doctor was taking a long time over it, asking lots of questions and I got a funny feeling all wasn’t right. He told me it wasn’t anything to do with my muscles. I said ‘well it isn’t twins is it.’ ‘No’, was the unsurprising reply. So I asked ‘are you telling me it’s a tumour?’ ‘That’s certainly one of the options’ he said.
There followed 5 weeks of limbo where a heavy ‘query over lymphoma’ hung above my life like a crazy, fizzing cloud. I tried very hard to hold things together and luckily had the support of some incredible friends both in the UK and over in Australia who took the night shift when things were tough. When I had my biopsy and was told I had cancer it was almost a relief. I had spent so long not being certain and now the health team was kicking into action with the aim of curing me.
I was officially diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma stage 2A in the middle of June and started a course of 4 months of ABVD chemo at the end of that month. I wasn’t working by this point and took this time to assemble what became known as Team Meaker – friends and family members who I hoped could share the road with me. There was a strapline for the Team which came about thanks to an amusing autocorrect on an email from a friend who hoped I “would just beat it” but instead asked that I “just be a tit”. I had badges designed by a pal to make it all feel more official – in fact at my first treatment one of the nurses said they didn’t usually see patients with their own brand!
Me dressed as Native American back in August 2012, midway through ABVD treatment, showing them How…
Cancer isn’t all jokes and badges though and treatment wasn’t always easy. The drugs really do wipe you out the day you get them and I had some problems with moveable, tiny veins. Also, the last drug in my chemo regime dacarbazine – which has to hide its face under a black bag – was particularly unpleasant in that it hurt going in and would leave me feeling really ropey. And some of the side effects are not pleasant. But it was doable and after a few days of feeling a bit lacklustre, I’d be back up the gym, going for walks and generally trying to make the most of things. Key to getting through was without doubt the support of my friends. And I was also determined to make the most of when things were ok. I would check in with how I felt hour to hour, never writing a whole day off, and if I felt good in the moment, then I would try and make the most of that time. Going to the gym became a really key part of the battle for me, it gave me a focus and it felt like a positive step I could take to try and keep as fit as possible.
A lot of people asked me about hair loss – I hadn’t had short hair since I was 12 and was quite attached to my curly mop. When I knew it was likely I would lose it, I booked in a haircut the next day. My hairdresser came to my house and gave me a pixie crop. I couldn’t quite face looking in the mirror at first, and when I did, I didn’t really recognise the lumpy necked short haired specimen staring back. However, rather than staying downbeat, I seemed to find myself drawing on a beard in eye-liner, putting on my beanie hat and pretending to be Craig David (left). In fact, dressing up and wearing all sorts of crazy headgear to my chemo sessions became a huge part of the journey. I roped most of my ‘chemo comrades’ (pals I had take me to each treatment session) to join in too – we had among others a Native American chief and squaw; a top hat and bridal veil at my cancer centre ‘wedding’ and we ended with the nurses’ running a sweepstake on what I would dress as for my last session. I went as Father Christmas. Most of the money seemed to be on Miss World. I mean come on, get serious – it was October!
Cancer isn’t a fair battle, because you haven’t got a choice whether you win or not. It is all down to whether the treatment works and that really is out of your hands. However, adopting a bit of fighting spirit can certainly help you push through and help you ‘own it’ in your unique way. I found that staying positive doesn’t mean you’re unrealistically upbeat all the time. It’s being honest. You will have days when it feels too much, unfair, scary and very, very lonely. And I have made many a friends’ shoulder soggy. But it’s knowing that these down days don’t run together into weeks. You can get through and there are always people or organisations like LLR to turn to. Even in the middle of the night.
Just don’t ask ‘Dr Google’ at 3am. Take that one from me.
May I wish you much health, happiness and courage.
If you've recently been diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma and have yet to receive treatment you could be eligible to take part in a new clincial trial. Read more here.