One day in January 1999 I was sitting at work and rubbed my hand over my neck. I felt a lump, just a gland was all I thought it could be. A couple of weeks later I felt it again. My stomach turned this time. I asked my mother what she thought it was. The usual response was, 'I am a nurse, not a doctor, you will need to make an appointment'.
I often kick myself thinking I waited three weeks from booking the appointment to see the doctor. If I had said I had a lump in my neck I would have been seen instantly, but seeing as I had already decided this was nothing, what harm would waiting three weeks do? I continued as normal, not really thinking about it. Why would I?
In the meantime I booked and paid for flights to Australia to go backpacking for a year.
My appointment with the doctor was painless, a few blood samples were taken, various
Ten days later my partner, Tom and I were seated in the ENT (Ear Nose & Throat) outpatients waiting room at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, UK. On our way in, we accidentally walked down the inpatients ward where I thought to myself how I wouldn't want to stay in there. Little did I know.
My appointment was not very pleasent with the senior registrar attending to my needs. Questions were asked and a camera was put up my nose to look for any signs of blockages in my throat (which thankfully there were not). Perhaps, the most unpleasant aspect of the day was the needle aspiration. This is where a needle is inserted into the lump and extracts some cells for further analysis. This hurt like hell for me, which I think was down to the registrar rather than the procedure. I was told this might have had to happen, so at least I was a little prepared. More blood tests were taken, as the hospital had said they had not received my previous results from my doctors surgery. I jokingly said to Tom that I would not like to become a 'pin-cushion' and have lots of blood tests.
I made my next appointment for two weeks later for when the results would be ready. I was still not worried at this point. I did tell a few close friends about my tests, but there was never any mention of cancer, why would there be? I didn't know any nineteen year old who had cancer.
Two weeks later we were back in ENT waiting for my name to be called to see the consultant about my results. I sat in the examination room with Tom, the consultant, a trainee doctor and a nurse. I was informed that once again my blood tests were normal but the needle aspiration results were inconclusive. This procedure would have to be performed again. This time I was terrified as I knew how much it hurt. However, it didn't hurt at all. The consultant knew what he was doing and managed to get what he needed without making me wince once. I was advised that I would need an operation to remove the lump, whatever it was.
An appointment was made for an MRI scan. I believe this was required to find out the exact position of the lump and what it had attached itself to. Once I received this date, I was to phone and book an appointment with ENT for two weeks later to discuss the results. Within a few days I had the MRI scan appointment booked for the 26 April 1999.
The following week I was getting ready to take my theory driving test that afternoon when the phone rang. It was my consultants secretary asking me to come in for an appointment the following Tuesday, (only 6 days away). This was the first time I began to worry. I phoned my mum in tears as all I could think is that something was wrong if they wanted me to come in a see the consultant before I had my MRI scan. I managed to pull myself together and sat my theory exam which I passed (results came whilst I was recovering from my op).
The following few days were a blur, I managed to get to work and not burst in to tears. When I think about 'judgment day' I often think about the night before my future changed. Tom and I went to a bar and drank and chatted for hours, ignoring what was going to happen the next day. It felt like we wanted one more day of normality before things changed, my life changed, our lives changed.