May 6th - Our Daughter Jessica rings to let us know she has a pain in her chest. She goes to the A&E department and they diagnose it as a form of tendonitis ( she had been diagnosed a few weeks previously with tendonitis in her shoulder and then a week later in her hip )
I an not happy with what the doctor diagnosed and urge my daughter to speak to her G.P and ask for a blood test to rule out low iron or anything nefarious going on. Thankfully the doctor requests full blood tests on May 11th and we are waiting for the results.
May 12th - 5.pm My husband and I receive a phone call from the consultant haemotologist at the hospital where my daughter works ( my daughter works in theater ) to inform us that our daughters blood tests have shown an issue. Jess has been told to present herself at Bart's at 9.30am the following morning to have further blood tests and also a bone marrow aspiration. The consultant tells us " your daughter is going to need you to be with her " I already know it is bad news and realise it is likely cancer, We pack our bags, sort out our three children at home and prepare to leave the next morning.
May 13th -5.30am We leave to get the train from Yorkshire down to London, where we meet our very scared daughter outside of Bart's hospital and spend time having a hug outside and a few tears from us all. I have a moment of clarity where I realise the next time we walk out of the doors it will be with a cancer diagnosis. I realise Jess's future, her hopes and dreams are about to change, realise our lives as a family are about to change as well. We take a deep breath and go to the lifts, we have been told to go to floor 7 which is Oncology and the chemotherapy day unit. We can't kid ourselves anymore that this is a mistake or something else, it is now in black and white on the floor plan and we head upward in the lift, all three of us feeling sick to our stomach and anxious over what is to come.
Jess is taken straight onto the day unit and given a reclining chair, everybody else around us is much older and Jess looks very much out of place and also looks so young again that it takes me back to the times she was poorly as a child and my heart breaks for her over what is to come. The ward sister has been assigned to look after my daughter and introduces herself to us. My husband is not allowed on the ward due to covid concerns so he sits by himself in the waiting area. The ward sister Pat cannot divulge much to us, she only tells us that the doctor will be along to talk to us shortly. She gives our daughter a name bracelet and begins taking bloods and putting a canular in her arm. 17 phials of blood later the doctor arrives to take our daughter for her bone marrow aspiration. Jess and I follow along behind the doctor until we get to the room where what looks like instruments of torture are already laid out as are glass slides ready to receive her bone marrow. The doctor injects my daughter in her hip to numb the area and then takes what looks like a thin long corkscrew and does what she needs to do to get her bone marrow, it is not a painless procedure and it is very hard to watch Jess go through so much discomfort, all I can do is hold her hand and stroke her hair and do my best to reassure her.
Jess is sent for an X-ray and more bloods downstairs, my husband goes with her and I sit in the waiting area trying not to cry and trying to come to terms with what I know we are about to face, it is already 3pm and the waiting area has been steadily emptying out. One lovely lady who is there with her elderly father has noticed us and starts telling me " your daughter is going to be okay, I will pray for her and she is so beautiful, God will keep her safe " I thank her for her kind words, I am not ready to have any sort of spiritual discussion or ask why God would give her cancer in the first place, this is the first of many times to come over the next few days where, I will find myself biting my tongue and thanking people for their kind words, thoughts and prayers.
5-pm We are called into a room, the consultant introduces herself to us and suggests my husband comes in as well, so there we are all three sat there in a room full of people the consultant looks straight at us and then tells us Jess has leukaemia ( Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia ) to be precise, she then produces booklets the size of a shakespeare book for us to read through in our own time and explains that Jess needs immediate treatment, thoughts are rushing through my brain, I blurt out about fertility as I know Jess wants children in the future, the consultant is honest and explains it would take at least three weeks to harvest eggs and kindly explains that Jess doesn't have the luxury of time on her side but she could speak to somebody if it was really important to her, it isn't a choice the way she has worded it means we are all aware that three weeks may be too late and agree to start treatment immediately.
Jess is admitted onto Ward 5 the oncology ward and is given her own room, the only treatment given on the first day is steroids to help prepare her system for what is to come with the chemo. The consultant has told us due to her age Jess is eligible for a bed on a Teenage Cancer Trust Unit and they begin to look for a bed for her either at UCHL or at our local hospital in Yorkshire so Jess can be close to us and also her sisters. We realise she will need lots of support in the coming months and think being transferred back to Yorkshire is probably going to be the best option but if a bed comes up on UCHL first then we will take it.
We have been told she will be an inpatient for much of the next three months and we realise we have so many practical things we need to sort out but by now it is 10pm we haven't eaten and need to leave Jess to get some sleep. Thankfully my Mum lives in Camberwell so we leave the hospital and hail a black cab to take us there, we don't talk in the cab, both of us are just lost in our own thoughts but we hold hands the whole journey and have a big hug before we go into my mum's we just need physical contact right now.We eat a late dinner mechanically, food at this point has become mere fuel to us both. I cannot eat much due to the pain I am feeling in my stomach. It feels like a literal gut punch has happened. The end of a nightmare day. My husband remarks "what a sh*t Friday 13th" and I realise for the first time it is indeed a Friday 13th. I have never liked the date and will always hate it from here on in. By this point sheer exhaustion overtakes our bodies and by 1am we are falling asleep. The end of our first day with cancer in our lives. Tomorrow will bring new problems to deal with but for now they will have to wait, we both need the oblivion of sleep for a few hours before we begin the horrible task of telling everybody in depth exactly what are dealing with and what her treatment is going to be.