Today is a very special day for me, it has been 15 years since I awoke in hospital to hear the words “Im sorry Mrs Elliott but the lump was malignant, you have cancer”!
As I sit here on my Balcony in Mexico I am allowing myself what is now a rare reflection back over the journey from Feb 8th 2001 until now.
Those who know me well, know it has been a hard fought 15 years, taking my husband and I places we had not wanted to go. From healthy, fit and active to crippling pain and disablement. I say it took us both because Mark was always there with me, never complaining, always supporting and as I was forced to give up activity after activity, so did he.
Enduring the horrific treatments however awful, was not the worst part of this journey, it was the devastation caused by them that left me in agony, no longer able to live life as I wanted. The cancer was gone but the long term effects lingered and worsened year after year. I was having Brain Stem Migraines, Absent Seizures, Numbness & Muscle weakness, and worst of all my spine was twisting so badly my vertebrae would not stay in place, causing my ribs to displace. I also lost control of my left thigh and buttock, so I started falling.
With no doctors able (or willing) to identify the root cause of my suffering, it was a bleak time indeed.
However, fortunately for me I am one stubborn person and I refused to give up or give in and year after year, doctor after doctor, test after test I kept pushing for answers. I researched and read about Cancer and Post Traumatic Stress, about Chemotherapy damage to the brain and central nervous system, about Radiation damage to blood vessels, about the lasting effects of Tamoxifen. I sucked it all up, slowly piecing together the complicated relationship between all these things and the pain I was in. In 2005 I was also incredible lucky to come across a wonderful RMT in Toronto who was able to help me in this quest and I will forever be in her debt.
Judith Neilly literally saved me from a wheelchair.
I could no longer sit in the car and so my husband Mark had to drive me, laying down, 3 times a week into the city to see her; later we added spinal adjustments by a activator Chiropractor and acupuncture for the pain. Our sessions were painful but slowly I began to get back some of the movement I had lost, slowly we started to understand how the cancer treatment damage to my CNS was sending my spine into a twisted mess, slowly we pieced together the stressors for the Migraines and slowly we found a way to manage things.
I could still not walk without pain or indeed do much I wanted to but with regular visits to Judith and careful avoidance of any of the stressors, I was able to exist at a manageable pain level for much of my day. But as with any degenerative issue (and yes the late effects of Cancer treatment can worsen with time) more problems started to arise and debilitating headaches, became a problem as nerves were damaged and my weaken body started to tear and rip.
First it was my retina which tore, then my calf muscle snapped. Once again I was wondering where this was going to lead. I was referred to a chronic pain clinic for nerve blocks and started having injections into the nerves in my head and neck to ease the pain……these really help.
But when my calf tore in Panama on vacation, I was more than a little concerned. It was taking so long to heal in the cold of a Canadian Winter so I headed to Mexico for a month. We had noticed previously that I was much improved when in the warmth of the Caribbean so it seemed like a good place to go. And indeed it was. Not only for my poor healing muscle but also my face seemed to shrink and my headaches diminished. I now know this is because in this warm tropical climate, inflammation caused by an old injury in my neck reduces and lessens the pressure on my brain stem and nerves. I started to feel much better. So we began our search for a winter home in the lovely community of Puerto Aventuras, Mexico
I then really got lucky and for the second time in this story, I happened across a wonderful RMT by the name of Nelly in Mexico. I went to see her as my spine was once again causing me a lot of pain and I needed help. She gave me what must be the deepest tissue massage I have ever had. She did not speak much English and I not much Spanish so her fingers had to do the exploring. At one point she finally got to a ligament / tendon under my shoulder blade that made me cry out, she did however not stop until she made this rod like connective tissue give up and relax. I felt my vertebrae shift in a strange way and then settle as if in total relief. Since that day much of the spinal twisting caused by my cancer treatments has eased, my arms and shoulders move again freely. I can walk better, dance some and even swim again.
My Central Nervous System was starting to let go. Shock of Chemo had thrown it into a permanent state of fight or flight but it was at last, relearning how to be calm.
It truly feels as if I have at last been given my life back; 15 years after those dreaded words awoke me from anesthesia, I feel whole and healthy.
I now spend all my winter here in Mexico where my family, including 5 beautiful Grandsons whom I would never have known, visit me. I am able to play and swim with them, to enjoy walks and a social life that I thought was lost for good. I still need to manage my conditions but it is now doable and life is wonderful.
My aim today in telling my tail is firstly to remind myself of the struggle, so I appreciate every moment of my life now and live it fully, taking nothing for granted.
But also to give hope to many of you out there who I know are struggling. Not just Cancer patients but all who have a burden they carry that feels too heavy. You have to keep on fighting day after day because you can not know what lie ahead, you think you do….but you truly have no idea what awaits.
If you need help to stay in the fight…….find help! Find that person who is out there waiting to be asked, don’t let circumstance or others deter you from doing what you need to do. And I truly hope you take away from this article courage and the kick-arse attitude needed to keep on going, until you too are well and happy.