In February, our lives were turned upside down when my eldest son began suffering some health problems. A huge lump appeared on the top of his right leg, which left doctor after doctor perplexed. The not-knowing was unbearable. We went from believing it was benign to thinking it was malignant several times over. Numerous hospital visits, MRI scans, CT scans, X-rays, blood tests and two biopsies followed.
He was finally diagnosed with fibromyxoid sarcoma, an extremely rare, drug and radiotherapy resistant cancer. Even though it had been suspected, having the diagnosis confirmed was brutal. At 27 years old, my son was fighting cancer.
Cancer had always been a word that I avoided saying or hearing. Cancer took my big sister from us back in 1995. It's cruel, indiscriminate and it tears families apart. Giving voice to the word 'cancer' almost felt like tempting fate. But here I was 21 years later with the word cancer becoming an everyday part of my vocabulary. It literally became my first conscious thought of the morning and the last thought I had at night. 'My son has cancer.' It was all consuming. The fear. The uncertainty. The false hopes. The disappointments.
At first, when cancer was mentioned, I had a crushing pain that felt as if my heart was actually physically breaking, but that eventually gave way to a constant gnawing in my chest that peaked and troughed in its intensity. The helplessness was soul destroying. When your children are little and they are poorly or hurt, a cuddle from mummy can make them all better. But this was something I couldn't fix with a hug and a teaspoon of Calpol. This was cancer.
I had to dig deep and be strong, not only for Joe but for my girls and for Freddy who were just as crushed as I was. Ian and I lent on each other for support as we worked on practical solutions and made plans to help our son in any way we could. At the same time, Ian's dad was (and still is) fighting his own battle with bowel cancer, compounding our worries and our concerns. Cancer takes no prisoners.
My son is so positive. He always finds the humour in even the bleakest moments. He makes it so much easier for everyone around him to cope. He has made me laugh when I've felt at my lowest. He is an inspiration. He has taken on everything with dignity and courage, from the invasive tests to two major operations. So although we were immersed in a black cloud, we were also blessed with this huge emotional awakening filling us with love, pride and the strength of being a family. It has bonded us, making us even closer. It has reminded us to live everyday to its maximum potential, to focus on the good. We have seen the kindness of strangers and the warmth, compassion and love of friends. There is so much light in this world, even during your darkest hours. You just need to be open to it.
Thankfully, as I sit and write this, my son is recovering.
A successful surgery two weeks ago to remove the tumour, along with a margin of healthy flesh, has taken the cancer away. A huge scar is his battle wound running through his buttock and down the back of his leg to just above his knee. The muscle was stripped to the bone, but the cancer is gone. There have been complications, pain and a readmission to hospital, but the cancer is gone. The huge tumour that was a part of my son for the past four months is gone.
For years to come, every lump or pain or cough will be served up with a side of worry, but regular scans will become a part of his new normal. Offering peace of mind. Keeping him safe.
Joe has been lucky. His cancer diagnosis came relatively quickly and the surgery to remove it was done shortly afterwards. The operation was a great success thanks to the skill and care of his medical team. His recovery has been good, and although there has been a recent set back, he will get back on his feet again soon. The pathology of the tumour they removed showed that the cancer cells were low grade, minimising the possibility of it spreading or recurring. That is the best result we could have hoped for. No further treatment is required. At this moment, my son is cancer free and I can breathe again.