Heidi Heath HeidiCancerJourney

First post: Jun 19, 2020 Latest post: May 17, 2022
It has been a rather trippy week for me: going from what I thought was a back injury to a widespread cancer diagnosis in two days.  I am blessed and grateful to have so many people in my life, across the world, who care about me and want to know what's going on.  Rather than answering everyone's questions by email or text every day (and forgetting who knows what) I thought it would be easiest to just update this blog as needed.

Note: this is not a GoFundMe or a request for money.  I'm lucky enough to live in the UK where everything is covered.

How it all began (the part that I know about): on 8th April I tried to carry too many groceries back from the supermarket and put my back out.  Thinking back, my back _had_  been  stiff for a while and the groceries weren't _that_ heavy.  But I woke up in the middle of the night with horrible back spasms which a dear PT friend in the States talked me through (luckily it wasn't the middle of the night in Spokane).

The spasms lasted about a month, on and off.  They would last 4-5 days, ease off for a few days, and then I would cough or flush the toilet or something and my low back would all seize up again.  Finally (thankfully) the spasms went away but the back injury didn't.  I couldn't walk without leaning on hiking poles, and I couldn't get far.

Of course, this was all in the middle of lockdown.  Physios and osteopaths weren't meeting in person and most of them were only videoconferencing with existing patients.  GPs (General Practitioners for non-UK friends--all medical practise starts with a 10-minute visit to your GP who then referrs you for further treatment) were only doing phone calls and even then only for emergencies.  I called my GP four times in 3 weeks but could never convince the Receptionist that my back pain was bad enough to have a 10-minute phone call with a GP.

In the meantime, it was literally getting to the point where I couldn't walk.  I have a friend who would meet me at the supermarket across the street to help me shop and then would drive my groceries back to my flat while I hobbled back (social distancing).  He could see how things were deteriorating every week, but he was the only friend I was seeing in person--you all know what lockdown has been like.  I thought I just needed to exercise some more and build up muscle.

Finally on 10th June (my birthday)  I participated in my online book club where half a dozen horrified friends took a look at my Skype picture and told me I looked horrible.  They said something had to be done NOW (and yelled at me for a half hour to pay attention).  I stepped on the bathroom scale later and it said I had lost 30 pounds since the beginning of lockdown; I assumed it was malfunctioning.  An hour later my close friend Eileen and her daughter Grace came by to drop off some birthday gifts, since lockdown restrictions had lifted a bit.  Eileen's eyes almost popped out and her jaw dropped when she saw me (it was kind of funny--last time I had seen her we had gone for a 2-mile walk through the park).   She stumbled her way through a Happy Birthday and then said, 'You look terrible!  What happened?'  I also noticed then that I was shorter than Grace and eye-level with Eileen, which meant that I was a good 2 inches shorter than I had been.

Between book club friends and Eileen it was decided that I should go to Accident & Emergency at the hospital early the next morning.  I did, to (mostly) no avail.  They didn't see anything wrong with my back so didn't do X-rays or scans.  They swapped my hiking poles, which I had been using to walk, with heavy-duty crutches, told me to stop doing any other physio exercises since they weren't working, and wanted me to concentrate on pelvic tilts, at least a hundred a day.  And...that was it.  It was the first time I had seen an actual medical professional in person which felt great, but their diagnosis that I was fine was just not believable.

I had had zero appetite at all for 8 weeks; I only ate so I could take ibuprofen.  And starting last Thursday (seems like so long ago) I was starting to throw up everything I ate--including the ibuprofen.  It would take me 3-4 painful minutes and several false starts before I could stand up--at which point I was so out of breath I usually had to sit down again to recover.  I could walk about 300 steps at a time with the crutches.  And there seemed to be no way to make it better--all the medical people just said there was nothing wrong.

There was one more trick up my sleeve which gradually came to mind over the weekend.  I had noticed that one of my breasts had been swollen since just before the back injury, but I didn't pay much attention.  There was no lump or pain, and and breasts sometimes swell.  But then the breast had started looking distinctly pitted and thick.  So I called NHS24 on Monday night, a number that's not really an emergency number but which gives advice and next steps.  I told them my breast was swollen and pitted, I had lost 30 pounds in 3 months for no reason, there was a history of breast cancer in my immediate family, and that by the way, I COULDN'T WALK!  They said to call my GP in the morning, and I told them I hadn't been able to get through to my GP for months.  They sent a fax to my GP saying I needed to be seen urgently face-to-face.

Note that I didn't suspect at all that this was a cancer issue.  At all.  I just wanted someone to take a closer look at my back.

The next morning I called the GP and the receptionists were expecting my call.  I got a face-to-face appointment for later that afternoon.  The GP, who was wonderful once I finally saw her, only had to examine me briefly and then said I needed to to to hospital immediately, only stopping to get toiletries in case they kept me overnight.  To be continued.