‘NO evidence of any cancer’.
Three years after I was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer, they are five words I had only dared whisper in my head.
Saying them out loud felt like I was tempting fate – it still does.
But last Friday, with a huge smile on his face and shaking my hand, my oncologist took that giant leap for the both of us.
He told me: “There’s no evidence of cancer anywhere on your scans.”
I know I’ve already said that but sitting in hospital on treatment as I write this, I want to see it in black and white just once more.
Three years, ten operations, too many bouts of chemo to count, some fancy drugs, lots of tears and my cancer is in hibernation.
I fell silent. I had no idea what I was meant to say, so I told him that, before bursting into tears.
I had run to The Royal Marsden to get my results, it’s my way of proving I’m not dead yet.
I went on my own, I always do, so I can give myself time to process the news – good or bad – before I tell anyone else.
So I found myself sitting in a room with my oncologist and my nurse specialist Toni, crying and hugging her while she cried with me.
It was the sheer shock of it all.
I get really, really nervous before any scan results because the reality was and still is, I am only one away from being told I’m dying.
I’m re-writing the cancer textbook
I had thought through the hundred different scenarios, convincing myself the worst would happen.
Hearing that somehow we have managed to postpone that eventuality again is hard to comprehend, let alone express with words.
I asked my oncologist what happens next, as I tried to work out in my head what it all meant.
Three years, ten operations, too many bouts of chemo to count, some fancy drugs, lots of tears and my cancer is in hibernation
Then he said a phrase that I love, one that gives me so much hope.
He told me: “We’re not going to find you in a textbook, let’s just keep re-writing it.”
The truth is there is no protocol, there isn’t enough data out there to tell us what to expect.
We have to be realistic.
My cancer could come back in a month, a year, five years. Maybe, just maybe it won’t come back – but that is very unlikely.
I can’t be complacent… for the sake of my kids
Part of my refusal to be complacent is my two kids, Hugo and Eloise.
They were nine and seven when I was diagnosed and my husband, Seb, and I have always been honest with them.
But three years on and my cancer has just become a part of all of our lives – it’s our new normal.
From the days after I was diagnosed and the first of ten operations – a bowel resection – we have had to learn to deal with the disease, in our own way.
I’ve taken the kids with me to chemo, we’ve dressed up and danced our way through my post-treatment drugs haze.
Last Christmas they held my hands as I lay passed out on the sofa, convinced that I was dying (it turned out to be a drastic reaction to my new drugs).
So when I told them at the weekend that I have “no evidence of cancer”, they honestly didn’t bat an eyelid.
It sounds bizarre I know, but it’s their coping mechanism.
While they didn’t say anything – my daughter was more bothered about what she was wearing – they did hug me that little bit tighter before bed.
I don’t get complacent, because I know one day this situation I am in will change.
My cancer is in hibernation, just because it hasn’t produced any new tumours there are tiny cancer cells somewhere in my body.
Full of hope… but I’ve been here before
While I celebrate this milestone, like all those before it, I have already worked through the alternative in my head.
I get to feel this excitement, and for that I am so grateful – many others don’t.
I am full of hope right now, and I refuse to let that go entirely.
But I have been here before. This is the second time I have been lucky enough to be told there’s “no evidence of disease”.
Last time it happened was in April 2018 and yet 12 weeks later my gut feeling was proved right, my cancer came back.
That moment was actually worse than when I was diagnosed for the first time, days before Christmas 2016.
At that stage no one thought I’d live to see the next Christmas. My expectations were low, I had no hope.
Cancer free – on paper at least – and while I know it will come back sooner or later, life is too short not to celebrate the small wins
Fast forward to April 2018 and being told I was “clear of cancer” – technically in remission – I was suddenly brimming with hope.
What I didn’t realise then was, I had so much further to fall.
I knew my cancer would come back, but when it did I was floored. All that hope was whipped from under me, and I crashed.
From such a high, I have further to fall
This time is no different – in fact I fear it could be worse.
It’s happened again, I’m looking forward to a future that’s more than just a few weeks away – something I’ve not let myself do for three years.
But once again, from this high, I have further to fall.
Right now, I believe in miracles – I might just be one.
I shouldn’t be here, I was diagnosed with metastatic bowel cancer three years ago at the age 35, now I have no evidence of the disease.
Cancer free – on paper at least – and while I know it will come back sooner or later, life is too short not to celebrate the small wins.
15 tumours later… here I am
After six months of changing bowel habits, and finding a 6.5cm tumour in my bowel – seven more were found in my lungs.
This cancer continued its march to my liver, pelvis and even wrapped itself around an artery.
Fifteen tumours later and I, well my team at The Royal Marsden, have been playing a game of ‘splat the tumour’ to keep me as stable as possible.
I’m ploughing on, living with cancer when I should be dead – accepting that in itself is hard.
Life goes on
My challenge now is nothing changes. Treatment goes on, the side effects continue, and with them the rollercoaster of emotions that follows.
But right now, I am holding on to this feeling.
Hope that I am part of a new generation, a group of people who are living with – and will get to live beyond cancer.
Hope that my good news might give others a glimmer of light in their dark moments.
I have seen the darkest of days, I’ve fallen in the deep pits of despair. When I was diagnosed, there was no me to look at and hope.
It’s not the end of my rollercoaster – right now I’m at the top and I plan on staying there as long as I can.
THINGS CANCER MADE ME SAY
Sun’s Deborah James thanks NHS medics after scans show she’s ‘cancer free’
Sun’s Deborah James ‘blown away’ at support as scans show she’s cancer free
My 11 tips to deal with ‘scanxiety’ – after latest show I’m cancer free
Forget New Year’s resolutions, I’m putting my mental health first
2019 was about surviving cancer, 2020 is all about positivity & living life
It’s my 4th ‘last Xmas’ since cancer struck & for 1st time I dare to dream
It’s 3 yrs since my cancer diagnosis & I’m still standing – against the odds
Cancer’s made me a tree hugger & it’s worked wonders for my mental health
I’ve got cancer-induced insomnia and it’s breaking me physically and mentally
One day, I hope my story will be the norm – and we will live in a world where cancer doesn’t destroy lives or define us.
None of us knows what the future holds, but I am just holding on to the chance that I will now get a future.
We’re only scratching the surface, but I hope I my cancer textbook has many more chapters to come.
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