OUR INSPIRATION

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Diagnosis

At the beginning of July 2006 Candice developed a bad throat infection. Our usual course of action for things like this was rest and plenty of fluids and the usual array of painkillers and cold medication. After a few days it wasn’t getting any better, in fact it was getting worse and Candice went to see the GP. He thought it was Glandular Fever and told her to come back in a week for blood tests (apparently Glandular Fever doesn’t always show immediately). By this stage we were getting really concerned and phoned the GP ourselves. He confirmed that he thought it was GF and that it would be bad before it got better.

On Tuesday 10th July Candice went for blood tests and in the afternoon the GP rang to say that she needed to go into hospital for more tests. He mentioned that there was a problem with her White Blood Cells and that I should phone him. I phoned and he told me that they Candice’s White Blood Cell count was too high and that they would be doing a Bone Marrow Test. We took Candice into the hospital and she was admitted to Ward 30 at Arrowe Park where they started doing tests. She was extremely ill at this point and we were spending most of our time at her bedside.

It was lunchtime on Thursday 12th July and we had just gone home for an hour to eat lunch when Candice phoned us and said that the Consultant wanted to see us. We rushed back to the hospital and I remember a crowd of people; the Consultant, Specialist Nurses, the Haematology Pharmacist, all in this little room while Dr Butt told us that Candice had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL). Her bone marrow was producing too many immature White Blood Cells and they were crowding out all the good cells, she had no good White Cells to fight infection, she was very anaemic and her Platelets, which help the blood clot, were very low. What we later found out was that Candice had been bruising really easily for a few months before but we didn’t know and she didn’t realise anything was wrong.

Our lives completely turned upside down that day. Candice was so ill that she needed to start chemotherapy straight away. There were so many things to take in but Candice’s first question was “Am I going to die?”. It was a question that nobody could really answer.

Treatment

Candice was put on the standard treatment protocol for ALL. We were told that this is the type of Leukaemia usually found in children and for them there was about a 90% cure rate. Unfortunately, the odds are not as good for adults but we were determined to be positive and fight this disease. Candice made the decision that she didn’t want to read up too much on her illness. She needed to focus all her attention on getting well again.

There were so many things to think about; the loss of her hair, the changes in lifestyle, the long treatment program (24 months at least) and the biggest blow for Candice, her almost certain loss of fertility. Ever since Candice was a little girl herself she had always known she wanted to have her own children and the news that she probably wouldn’t be able to was devastating. We asked about the possibility of harvesting and freezing her eggs but there wasn’t enough time (it takes 3 months of boosting fertility before they can harvest enough eggs) and even if there was time the nearest place that could have done it is Manchester.

Candice decided to cut her waist length hair short so that it wouldn’t be such a terrible shock when it fell out as a result of the chemotherapy. In fact, because she had such thick hair Candice managed to keep hold of it during the first 6 months of chemotherapy, it was only when she was sent for radiotherapy on her head that it eventually came out.

Candice had a PICC line inserted in her arm. This is a line that goes near to the heart and allows chemotherapy to be delivered efficiently and effectively. The line is also used to draw blood – an almost day occurrence when you are being treated for Leukaemia.

Candice started chemotherapy and everything went as it was supposed to. The side effects weren’t too bad and she actually achieved remission (less than 5% of the disease present) after her first month of chemotherapy.

And so this awful journey began…

Lifestyle Changes

There are so many things that change when you are diagnosed with Leukaemia. Food becomes a real problem, certain things like seafood are off the menu, eating becomes difficult because of nausea so weight loss starts, then steroids increase the appetite and we spent so much time in supermarkets looking for tasty and allowed treats. Microwavable and home-cooked meals were best because we knew what was in them and they could be heated to kill off any germs.

Cleanliness becomes paramount and anti-bacterial products became our best friends. Lots of families in our situation get rid of their pets but we felt that wouldn’t be helpful for Candice on an emotional level. Socialising became very difficult for Candice as she was advised not to be in crowds – so no pubs, parties or shops. Finding a balance between being careful and normality was hard at times but we had to still let Candice live her life her way.

Radiotherapy

In February 2007 Candice started the radiotherapy to her head. It is an essential part of the treatment for this disease as Leukaemia cells can lie dormant in the brain. The treatment is intense and causes extreme nausea. It also caused Candice to lose her hair for the first time. She had a little cry about it at first as it started to come out but dealt with it in her usual amazing fashion. While I was out shopping one morning she sent me a photo – she’d shaved all the remaining bits off and she looked gorgeous with a big smile on her face. Although Candice did make use of the wigs provided by the NHS and sometimes wore hats, she was just as confident going out with her head bare as well. Even the scars from the various Hickman lines didn’t seem to bother her – she saw it all as a small price to pay for health.