The End of the Biggest Chapter of Them All

It’s been almost two weeks since a very big chapter, if not the biggest chapter of my life, finally came to an unexpected and abrupt ending. This ending, in fact, is something I’ve been waiting for since 2009; a time where our unacquainted ears were blessed with Pitbull’s Hotel Room Service for the very first time.  

But like any great Pitbull song, my story needs Context! Let’s throw it back to 2009, where I, a fourteen-year-old, had just been diagnosed with stage 3 blood cancer (acute lymphoblastic leukaemia). As if choosing Team Edward or Team Jacob wasn’t enough choice for a teenager, I was now riddled with even more choices, albeit less important than Twilight politics but: Should I shave off my hair myself, or let it fall out naturally (in chunks) through chemotherapy? Should I still go to school to keep myself focused, or make a bucket list in case my body doesn't react well to treatment? Should I research the ins and outs of my diagnosis and treatment, or leave it to my consultant so I can act like a normal fourteen-year-old?

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When It All Goes T*** Up

There were a lot of choices to be made over the next two-and-a-half years of treatment, which were mostly made by my dear German consultant, Josef.  Basically known as the Beyonce of childhood leukaemia research, I was incredibly blessed for this man to have decided my treatment path.  I never asked questions about my diagnosis or treatment, and instead accepted every decision, even if it led to negative side effects (as chemotherapy usually does). One morning I woke up completely paralysed from the waist down, and was bed-bound, all because of one aggressive drug: daunorubicin. Whenever I needed the toilet, or a shower, my mum had to carry me to and from the bathroom, whilst we both hoped I would regain the feeling in my legs. Luckily, Josef's decision became a gradual success and as the weeks went by, I slowly found myself being able to move my legs. However, the nerve endings were so damaged in my ankles, I could no longer stand or walk flat footed and would fall over as my balance was almost as shoddy as Phil Mitchell on the drink. My consultant requested for two casts to be moulded around the full length of my legs, leaving me looking like bloody Optimus Prime. After six weeks, the casts finally came off, and I was referred to a physiotherapist, so I could learn to walk again. You should have seen me by the end of the sessions – you’d have thought I was competing on Ru Paul’s Drag Race, where of course, my theme song would have been ‘Jesus Walks’ (side-note: I was Jesus as Josef had performed a bloody miracle).   

After retraining myself to walk, my mum took me out for a celebratory meal however, mid-entrée, I had a massive fit in the middle of the restaurant. The whole room went black before I opened my eyes for a fraction of a second, only to find myself back in the ward. Time had stopped. I found myself going in and out of conscience with the whole thing being as much of a blur of Pitbull’s 2009 – 2011 fame, briefly shadowing in and out darkness. I eventually gained full conscience after Josef stabbed me with some sort of device, and I was told I had had an allergic reaction to my blood. How extra. 

Then there was also the time a nurse had contracted swine flu, and accidentally gave it to me -  a blood cancer patient with no immune system. I was immediately rushed into intensive care, where tests were undertaken, and again the room fell hazy, but this period lasted a couple of days. My haemoglobin, which was supposed to be at 12 – 15.5, was at 0.2, and my mum was informed I was nearly brain dead. I don’t remember much of this time-frame but shock, Josef, performed a miracle and regained my haemoglobin levels.

A Reality Check

Gosh, my fingers have begun quivering as I type all of this out. These very fingers, which were once paralysed from that dreaded daunorubicin, are now allowing me to reflect. My life today couldn't be further apart from that period.  I’m now a twenty-two-year-old graduate (with a First Class Honours, may I bloody add!), and am career focused. I pay tax and have bills. I've been travelling around Thailand to "find myself." I'm even able to go to the cinema, without having a fit, well unless it's to see 'It' but that's a whole new blog post in itself. My bucket list has extended to 'buy a cordless Dyson hoover.' Can you really get more settled than that?

But every year, a bit of a reality check hits me as I head for my yearly check-up with my consultant.  This consists of a general body MOT – being weighed, having my blood pressure taken and speaking of any concerns, if any. Then there’s the cheeky schmoozing about what I’ve been up to in the past year before Josef tells me his shenanigans: saving children’s lives and running marathons. The bog standard. But this year, he won the biggest top trump of them all. He told me that he had been approached to work as the Head Consultant of all of the children and teenager oncology ward, in the Netherlands. As if in, the ENTIRE country. And that’s when the real Mr. Worldwide said, “and because I am leaving in January, Bekki, I want to personally discharge you from the ward today.”

And just like that, time stopped again. But this time the only fit came in the form of my eyes as I started sobbing. I mean, what do I say to that? Just half an hour prior, I had been sat in a manager’s meeting at work, discussing retail strategies, and now, here I am, unexpectedly closing the biggest chapter of my life. A chapter I had rather shamefully become so out of touch with.

And Josef – what do I say to the man who saved my life, not once, but countless times? This very man, who made a series of decisions, which in turn, has allowed me to live the life I have today. Albeit one that gets excited over Dyson hoovers.

The rest of the check-up was a blur. I remember saying (sobbing) my gratitude’s before thanking him for everything, and joking about him, the established, Josef, endorsing me on LinkedIn. Now because of this guy, I get to listen to Pitbull’s ‘Time of Our Lives’ in a non-ironic way. Could it be anymore fitting?

big chapterBekki RamsayComment