Cancer affects us all differently

My diagnosis of widespread thyroid cancer hasn’t been an easy one to navigate. Even now, almost two years down the line, some issues are ongoing. I hope by sharing my story it may help you seek the support you need, wherever you are in your cancer journey. Mostly, I want to shout from the rooftops that it’s OK to ask for support if you need it.

My rollercoaster journey through cancer

There are so many strands to the ‘Big C’. The shock, the treatment, the side effects from meds, the scars externally and internally, the not knowing, the ‘scanciety’ (what will they see on the scan, and waiting months for results), the effect on those around you. It can take your life and shake it like a snow globe.

After experiencing symptoms for about eight years, I was referred to a consultant in 2014 and was told it was a simple goitre (swelling that causes a lump in the front of the neck), but didn’t have a follow up and no other treatment, and struggled so long with the symptoms. They had a big effect on my life. I felt constantly tired, put on weight, felt cold all the time, was sensitive to heat and could tell the lump was getting bigger in my throat. I was told to eat more vegetables, that it was all in my head, to start running to lose weight.

Over time, the lump continued to grow in size and I found it increasingly hard to swallow. I was seen again in May 2020 and diagnosed with a larger goitre needing surgery. I ended up under the brilliant care of consultant surgeon Mr Kirkby-Bott at Southampton General Hospital. A few minutes before surgery, I persuaded him to remove all of the thyroid. I was due to have just half removed but had a feeling something wasn’t quite right. The study of the tissues and cells led to a diagnosis of widespread papillary thyroid cancer alongside right vocal cord palsy. This means my vocal cord doesn’t work properly, affecting swallowing, my voice and, in fact, every aspect of my life.

The main treatment has been having specialist injections directly into my throat while I’m awake. It feels almost barbaric – being awake and feeling you can’t breathe with these long injections going into your throat whilst a camera is up your nose and in your throat moving about.

Cancer has affected all areas of my life

I had surgery to improve the nerve supply to the vocal cord last October, but it can take a long time to see if it’s made a difference. The injections wear off – I can’t always be heard, my speech can be patchy and quiet, sometimes my voice goes completely, sometimes I need to draw up more air to speak which makes it exhausting to have a long conversation and even be in a group of friends. I tend to avoid noisy places and its knocked my confidence as I haven’t been able to socialise as I used to. Not being able to get out and about has felt very isolating.

I sold my flat and shut my business of creating big sculptures out of mosaics because of the glass, mirror and grout dust. I’m now looking to the future with new plans of retraining to be an art therapist and help others.

I’m part of a club that no one chooses to be a member of  – the cancer ‘club’. It’s a club of strength, twists and turns and everyone has a tale to tell, either personally, a loved one or someone they know and the power of support is immeasurable.

The power of personalised support is immeasurable

At Wessex Cancer Support I’m simply Natalie and I feel heard. I’m not just a statistic of my type of cancer or a sticker on a blood form. The charity has been here for me at so many stages of my cancer journey and supported me in so many ways.

From that first warm welcome from Steffi (the Manager of the Bournemouth cancer Support Centre) during the height of Covid-19 to now being able to visit the Centre in a safe and friendly environment, it’s all been invaluable. I’ve had to be really careful about going out over the past two years because I’ve struggled with a swollen throat and the side effects of voice treatment, as well as doing my best to avoid catching Covid so I could continue treatment. It’s been really isolating at times, so Zoom meetups have been a lifeline!

I’ve had many Zoom sound therapy and meditation sessions that give me a sense of peace and calm, with amazing ladies whose friendship has been invaluable. I’ve been given a safe space to share my deepest feelings and it’s a blessing I feel so grateful for.

Complementary therapies have played a vital role in my recovery because they work alongside my medical cancer treatment.

I’ve had amazing Reiki sessions before and after surgery. The positive, healing life force energy has made me calmer, sleep better and aided the recovery process.

A time to heal

I’m now at the point in my journey where I’m facing the trauma with the support of Wessex Cancer Support’s professional counsellor, trying to comprehend, cope with and heal some of the really tough moments I’ve had. It’s an ongoing process and I’m working on it, but the future is looking much brighter.

If I could, I would hug each and every one of you

I want to say such a big thank you to everyone who is part of the Wessex Cancer Support team. From the caring befrienders, dedicated admin staff, trained therapists and volunteers who selflessly give their time; to the supporters, fundraisers, businesses who donate and everyone that gives time to be part of this amazing charity and helps to create such a supportive community – thank you, thank you, thank you!

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