In 2007, at the age of twenty five I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in my right knee. To say that being diagnosed with cancer came as a thunderbolt would be an understatement; it was more like an almighty bulldozer that came crashing down right in the middle of my life, smashing it apart.
At the time of my diagnosis I was a Police Constable and had just over three years service when I started suffering with a deep, stabbing pain in my right knee during October 2006. By November that year the sharp pain had become constant and I made my first appointment with my GP who told me it was ligament damage and recommended ibuprofen. However, the pain got progressively worse, my knee became deformed, locked permanently in a bent position and I began to limp. I tried to carry on as normal at work, I loved my job and the last thing I wanted was to be stuck in the office. I used to strap my knee up, dose up on ibuprofen and wrap heat pads around it during night shifts.
Over the course of January 2007 I experienced pain like never before. I didn't sleep for a month, I felt completely helpless, frustrated and quite frankly at my wits end. I actually remember that time as being worse than the chemo itself, purely because no one seemed to understand how much agony. I began to think that maybe the pain that I was in was normal when in fact it was anything but normal.
In total it took four months for me to finally get diagnosed with cancer. During that time I made three trips to my GP, about four visits to A&E, had a session with a private physio and also an appointment at a private knee clinic. After paying privately for an MRI scan I finally discovered I had a fast growing tumour in my knee.
And so on February 6th 2007 life as I knew it came to a grinding halt and changed forever. I was home alone when I received a telephone call from the surgeon who had performed the biopsy. Up until then I had never heard the word osteosarcoma before and had no idea what it was. Once the call was over, I remember sitting on the sofa wondering what on earth to do next, a million questions running around my head, top of the list being "Am I going to lose my hair?" If only I'd have known that a few weeks down the line, my hair would be the least of my worries!! Every time I said the words "I've got cancer" I burst into tears and couldn't finish the end of the sentence. The day felt surreal and six years later it is one big blur. Apart from feeling shocked, devastated and scared to my core, I also felt relieved that at last I knew what was wrong with my knee. Deep down even before I was diagnosed, I just knew within myself that the constant pain I was living with was the result of something serious.
I was terrified of how ill the chemotherapy would make me feel, I was scared of losing my hair and seeing myself bald for the first time, I hated saying the words "I've got cancer" and I feared my life would never be the same again. The mind has a clever knack of erasing dark, painful times although I will never forget the sense of fear and complete terror of the unknown that crept into my life that day. There is no right or wrong way to deal with a cancer diagnosis, but for me trying to focus on staying positive, looking to the future and shopping certainly helped.
Within five minutes of my first meeting with my oncologist it felt as though my world collapsed around me. Apart from being told about all of the usual side effects of the chemotherapy, I was also told that there was a chance that the treatment would make me infertile, that my mobility would never be the same again and that I was unlikely to return to my job as an operational police officer. Everything that I had worked, aimed and hoped for seemed to literally dissolve within seconds. I felt that cancer was quickly and aggressively starting to rip my identity apart. I left that meeting feeling scared, confused and helpless. I had always taken it for granted that one day I would have children and that I would fulfil my 30 years in the police service as a front line police officer. The fact that two of my aspirations for the future were now in doubt, left me feeling devastated.
My treatment consisted of eight months of chemotherapy and limb salvage surgery to my right leg. I was very lucky that my leg was able to be saved and I had a full knee joint replacement which means I now have a titanium endo prosthetic replacement that always sets off airport alarms! A large proportion of my right leg is metal and I now walk with a limp. Today my walking isn't great, my right foot has never fully recovered from the operation, it is permanently numb and I suffer with constant nerve pain. As predicted by my consultant, due to my walking disability I'll never return to being an operational front line police officer, so I have to accept that life has changed for good.
I spent seventeen months in remission rebuilding my life, enjoying having luxuries like hair again and naively thought my cancer nightmare had come to an end, when my world was turned upside down all over again. In March 2009 at one of my routine check ups I was told that there was something suspicious in my left lung. Four days later a CT scan confirmed my worst fears, I had tumours in each lung. The cancer was back and this time it had spread.
I find it impossible to put into words just how devastating it was to hear and later say the words 'it's back', having been in remission for so many months. Shock and anger were my immediate emotions, and thoughts of being attached to a drip machine, long nights in hospital, more chemo and the idea of losing my hair again made me feel physically sick. This can't be happening all over again I wanted to scream. It seemed so cruel that just when I'd begun to enjoy being back at work, rebuilt my confidence and was relishing having my independence back, that cancer seemed intent to ruin everything for me all over again.
I had all of the tumours removed successfully in April 2009 and so far, so good. I now have scans and x-rays every twelve weeks. I haven't had to have any more chemotherapy or radiotherapy and life has once again returned to some sort of normality-whatever that is! I've learnt to live day by day, week by week and to be honest having cancer has taught me that there is no other way to live life.
Since returning to work in 2008, I have passed examinations meaning I am qualified to the rank of Sergeant and am now a Detective Constable; I have actually achieved more career wise since my illness than I did before my diagnosis. I’m determined that my mobility issues will not stand in the way of promotion or future career prospects.
In 2016, I also became a Trustee of BCRT- the charity closest to my heart and the one that supported me during my illness.
Life often doesn’t turn out the way we planned; I’m not an operational police officer, I walk with a limp and I can’t wear my favourite high heels, but life goes on and I’ve learnt that you can’t wait for things to happen, you have to make things happen. I am about to turn 37, am happily recently married and hoping to start a family and cancer feels like another lifetime ago. Since my illness I’ve fallen over and broken my wrist and at Christmas 2012, I fell over outside my oncologist’s office and broke my right ankle in three places which has required two more operations….so I really have learnt that you have to pick yourself up, dust yourself down and carry on! I truly believe we’re here for a good time, not a long time and if you take only one thing away from my story let it be this; make the most of every single day and seize every opportunity that comes your way.