Back in August, I finally set to work on my first novel, which is yet to be named. Firstly, let me explain what I hope to achieve…
I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia at the age of 7 back in 1992. Following treatment at the RVI in Newcastle, I was given the All Clear on April 19th, 1994, almost 20 years ago. Following treatment, my family and I raised funds for Leukaemia research, to help others affected by the disease and to work towards a cure.
20 years on, here I am! I’ve luckily had no long term health problems, I am married with two beautiful daughters, a degree in English Language and Literature, plus a PGCE in English Secondary Education from Durham University; I’m the happiest I could be.
I decided to write my story for a number of reasons, firstly, my love of writing and of reading. Having given up my job as a teacher to watch my girls grow up, I now have time to read and to write…my favourite things! Secondly, to raise awareness. I’ve done research into leukaemia, including all the medications I was given, their role in treating the disease and their possible side effects, as well as leukaemia genetics, to explain how the disease manifests itself. With this research, come memories from the perspective of both myself and my mother, who kept two diaries spanning almost three years.The chapters in the voice of my mother fill the gaps in my own childlike understanding of the events that occurred, giving the reader a clearer indication from an adult’s perspective and deepening their understanding and empathy.
So here we go…a selection of extracts from the first four chapters, which take the reader from pre-diagnosis and symptoms, through to that fateful night, when my parents were told that I, their youngest daughter, had Leukaemia.
Chapter One – From my own perspective. The Appointment
What a trek to be seen by a Doctor! The surgery had always been a few minute’s bus ride away from our house, but since the practice expanded, The New City Medical Centre had been based in Sunderland Town Centre; in all honesty it wasn’t in the centre at all, it was placed directly in between the two bus stops that the number 16 and the number 19 would drop us at.
Because the appointment was an emergency end of surgery arrangement between the receptionist and my mother, she decided that we would get the number 16 into the main bus station and walk downhill towards the surgery; it’d be easier on my knees at least!
As usual, we were early. All booked in, here we were sat waiting for our names to be called – Mam had an appointment for something herself, so they had squeezed me in with her to have my bruises looked at. I now had many more than I’d had the week before and now they were also different. I felt a fraud, feeling under the weather rather than ill, which I don’t suppose was out of the ordinary for May! Mam always said that May was a ‘funny month’, up here in the North East in the month of May, we could expect anything from the sun cracking the pavement to a foot of snow. Today on Tuesday 26th May, the weather was nice. It was making its journey into summer warmth and we’d even sat in the park before continuing our walk to the surgery, watching the ducks paddling in the lake, the sun glistening over its surface. We hadn’t said a lot.
Now, tired from the walk, I can see that Mam isn’t in the mood for discussions; she seems to be deep in thought about something, so now here we are…waiting.
Chapter 2. From my Mother’s Perspective – The Appointment
I knew I should’ve brought her sooner. I can’t seem to sit still, my whole body rocks with worry and fear as I recall the conversation with Dr Hick only a few moments ago. Anaemic. That must be something to do with the iron deficiency I’d suspected a couple of weeks ago? I clutch the envelope given to me by the doctor, anxiety urging my fingers to open it. The paper beneath my trembling hand begins to crinkle and I find myself thinking up excuses in my head, like a child who has been caught out doing something they shouldn’t. It just ripped. I thought it was for me. I wasn’t sure which hospital to take her to. Kelly seems unsettled now, perhaps sensing my unease.
Dr Hick had always been one of my preferred GPs to see, she was one of a panel of doctors, but the only female. She was extremely easy to talk to and very thorough. I’d made the appointment as a routine visit to pick up a prescription for tablets I was taking; it was nothing out of the ordinary. It had been my intention to quickly visit the surgery, pick up my prescription and return home in time for bath time, putting Kelly to bed and relaxing at home. That wasn’t to be.
Chapter 3. From My Perspective – Hospital
The conversation between him and my parents is similar to that had by my Mam and Dr Hick only a few hours previously. The doctor speaks in a low tone, his words obviously only meant for my parents to understand and all I can do is judge through their eyes what his utterance means. Before long, Mam turns to me; she has those glazed eyes again.
“The doctor wants to have a look at some of your blood, so he needs to get some from your arm.” Her tone is smooth, controlled and calming as her words stroke my skin.
She touches my arm softly and her eyes shift to the portrait on the wall to my left, my eyes take a natural shift to the direction of her gaze.
Mam talks about the rainbow, about the little hedgehog and how he likes to hop in the grass and as her words soothe me, almost into a sleep, I feel the sharp, immediate scratch of the needle as it punctures the inner side of my right arm. The room seems to become brighter and my instinctive response is to close my eyes as tight as I can, stars appearing behind my clenched eyelids as my body is shaken by the unusual invasion. I feel the smooth, intense slide of the needle being retracted and this is immediately followed by pressure on the area, making me believe that my skin was bruising already, as it had done that weekend under the pressure of just a plaster.
I work hard to control my breathing. My crying struggles to cease as my body jerks breathlessly, turning me towards the wall where I cannot bring myself to look at the portrait again. The rainbow and hedgehogs were lies. Struggling to gather my thoughts, I lie limp and heavy with pain and disappointment so raw, I feel exhausted and worn.
This isn’t the end of my ordeal.
Chapter 4. My Mother’s Perspective – The Hospital/Diagnosis
At somewhere between eight and nine o’clock, a man arrived at the door of the room, accompanied by two nurses. He said hello and spoke to Kelly, but it was us he had come to speak to, myself and Alan.
He was dressed in ordinary clothes, no uniform or doctor’s coat and appeared to be rushed and flustered. He introduced himself as a doctor, which confused me.
“Sorry about this,” he said, gesturing towards his attire, “I was actually out this evening when I received the call to come in and see you.”
He became restless, unable to judge what to say or do next.
“I think I’ll have the parents in another room,” he explained to the nurse to his left and she nodded in agreement.
My eyes met those of the nurse and I saw at once that the night had now reached its pivotal moment. This was it. I felt it. Anxiety, nerves and worry bubbled in the pit of my stomach, radiating through the entire surface of my body, up to my skin.
I asked the nurse to stay with Kelly. She nodded and strolled slowly over to sit at her side.
I’d made a promise to Kelly. I’d said I wouldn’t leave her for a second and here I was, strolling off at the request of a man, to another room, leaving her with a complete stranger. But this conversation had to happen. We were here. This was happening…I had to keep telling myself.
As we took our seats in a room further down the corridor to where Kelly lay, the man introduced himself properly, in a more formal and controlled manner, as a consultant.
I’m still unsure whether the words he spoke first reassured or terrified me.
“This is serious, but it is treatable.”
What came next was a stream of words, flooding around my body and occasionally into my ears, although I struggled to make any sense of his explanation. My thoughts were drawn back to Kelly’s symptoms, the events of the last few weeks played like a film in my head…the window at school, the trip to see the football team, the freckled marks appearing over her skin. My memories were punctuated occasionally by the words he spoke: platelets, red cells, white cells, bone marrow and blood.
“So, have you gathered anything from what I’ve been saying?” he asked.
I was blank. My head whirled and seemed to buzz between my ears as I shook my head.
“She’s got Leukaemia,” Alan stated. Just like that. It was out there now, in the room, in the open air around us.
More importantly, it was now in my head, firmly planted there.
“Yes,” replied the consultant in acknowledgement of my husband’s attentiveness, “Leukaemia.”
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