I’m Jasmine, a 35 year-old busy mum of four little boys. We moved abroad five years ago and I have thrown myself into building a life in our new country, and raising the kids in unfamiliar surroundings and without support of any family. It is a frenetic existence but I am someone who gets bored easily, so I love the daily chaos.
My life turned on a pin-head on the 12th of October last year. The previous week I had been back to London to organise a small cosmetic procedure when the doctor noticed some enlarged lymph nodes under one arm. I realised that there was a small possibility of this being a sign of breast cancer, so decided to finally prioritise a trip to my GP.
I had been having a lot of diffuse symptoms in the past few months, but as always, put it down to being run-down, somewhat anaemic, and chronically tired from looking after the kids. Who wouldn’t be tired given four kids under 7 to look after? Still, I had been concerned, as I had been running a low grade fever, with flu-like symptoms and mouth ulcers, every month as regular as clockwork, and recently my hair had begun to fall out in clumps.
I normally am full of energy, but for the last six months, I would wake up in the morning lacking the energy necessary to do anything much. My diet had always been relatively healthy but now I was drinking up to six cups of coffee a day and craving sugary snacks in a vain attempt to stave off the tiredness. I had also wondered why my urine was a strange colour, and (sorry cos I know it is gross) quite frothy, but put this down my rampant coffee-drinking! My low-grade back pain was from carrying my two hefty babies, and my strangely three-month pregnant looking stomach was of course the natural shape to be expected after four pregnancies! I did wonder why even when I dieted it just seemed to be getting very gradually larger. I even noticed back in the spring time that what I thought was my spleen was enlarged. I could feel its outline when lying on my back. I just thought I was overreacting to some infection. This really should have triggered a trip to the doctor but the trouble was that nearly all of my symptoms had another, more benign, explanation. More than three years ago I had had a period of extreme stomach pain, cramping and diarrhea, which went on for months. That was the last time I had visited the GP, but we never arrived at any diagnosis.
Anyway, the doctor immediately found my ‘enlarged spleen’ and two days later I had an ultrasound. I could tell the sonographer was concerned but he kept the screen turned away from me the entire time. He could not tell me whether it was my spleen or kidney that he was looking at, only that it was something extremely large. I jokingly began to refer to my mutant organ as the Royal Megaspleenokidney, or Ralph.
A few days later I had had a CT, and it was indeed my kidney, but the neoplasm was supposedly benign. I decided a 2nd opinion would be valuable as our little town hospital probably doesn’t see many 18cm large kidney tumours every day. The doctor confirmed straight away it was almost certainly cancer. I learnt very quickly the importance of a second opinion.
On the way home from the “second opinion hospital” after the diagnosis I organised my friend who is a family photographer to come and take pictures of me with my family the next day. I was acutely aware that I needed the kids to have pictures with me whilst still healthy as there was a good chance things wouldn’t be so rosy again. I am someone who loves to make plans, and was inwardly bricking-it because suddenly I had no idea what to do next, how to manage my kids, how they would manage without me, both in the short term, and potentially for much longer. I felt completely blind-sided, like someone had just wrenched me from my normal existence and plonked me down in some horrendous alternate reality.
I asked a few girlfriends to come out for dinner so we could have a giggle before I went under the knife. One of them pointed out how much I enjoy a project, and that I should just treat this the same way. This approach has served me well. I made a plan to go and get everything double-checked with a good oncologist with an interest in kidney cancer. I now have a point of contact should anything ever arise in the future, and therefore I wouldn’t be left floundering if I had any problems again – this was definitely one of the most disconcerting things about the initial diagnosis. It also allowed me to clear up the last few niggling questions I had. Although I had found it too upsetting to think about the kids whilst in hospital once I got home and fulfilled this plan it was much easier to relegate Ralph to the back seat and make them my priority again.
I have been bloody lucky that my cancer is a relatively indolent variety, and despite some initial concerns it doesn’t appear to have spread anywhere else. I know that I will always worry when it comes to my scan date, but other than that I am acutely aware how fortunate I am to be able to get on with things. I am not going to waste a moment of my time worrying until those check-ups as the cancer never had a right to steal those minutes of my life in the first place. I am actually quite proud of my great big scar as it stands as a testament to what I can endure and come out the other side.