Love conquers all: Planning a destination wedding - a heartbreaking diagnosis
02 Jul 2018
Bridal blogger Becki Morphus continues her blog series and in this instalment shares further details about the devastating news that put her destination wedding on hold
That day in August 2017, when my fiance Gary and I were back in Spain and received the phone call from the hospital in Norfolk, to inform us that my breast cancer had spread to the lymph node I’d recently had removed during my lumpectomy operation, was one of the worst moments of my life. Having to phone my two adult children to share the awful news, came a close second.
My oncologist continued talking about the required treatment, but to be honest, I couldn’t take in what she was saying and had to tell her that we would ring her back the following day, once we’d had a chance to process the news. My stomach was churning as Gary and I just looked at each other in horror, then we both started hugging each other and crying, trying to reassure each other and later, my children Cara and Tyler, that everything would be ok in the end, while, at the same time, feeling a sense of total dread and fear that kept rising up inside of us.
Ironically, just an hour after we received that phone call, Gary received another that he’d been waiting for for weeks, in relation to a potential exciting business opportunity in Spain. My heart broke listening to him having to turn it down, when he’d worked so hard to get to this point and when I knew he really wanted to be able to accept the offer.
But we both agreed that we just had to grit our teeth, put all our Spanish plans, including our dream beach wedding, on hold and return to the UK for the 6 month treatment plan. I had planned to return to the UK for work in mid-October anyway, to work over the winter, but now Gary had to abandon his plans and return with me. We both made arrangements to return to work in the UK and, after a final lovely few weeks in Spain, when my son flew out and we all spent a couple of days at Benidorm Gay Pride, we flew back at the end of September, in time for the chemotherapy schedule starting in early October 2017. We were both very lucky with our employers, who remained flexible and supportive throughout this difficult period.
Once back in England, we met with the doctors to discuss my treatment plan, which would consist of 4 rounds of intensive chemo every three weeks from October to December and then 15 intensive daily radiotherapy sessions between January and February 2018, for which I would have to commute daily to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge. I also decided that I would try the ‘ice cap’, which freezes your head, to try and minimise hair loss, apparently having an approximate 70% success rate. Although I was warned it could cause awful migraines, I was prepared to put up with that, if it meant I had a chance to save my crowning glory! In the meantime, I was also fitted for a NHS wig, just in case I did lose my hair. We also started researching cancer information, to be better informed, and I made several changes to my diet, for example trying to eat fewer processed foods and more organic fruit and veg. I also started taking vitamin supplements, turmeric and CBD oil, all of which I had read could help fight the cancer, and to get my body as healthy as possible for the chemo, which I knew would take its’ toll.
Throughout this time, I tried to take a ‘chemo warrior’ approach of ‘I’m going to beat cancer’s ass!’ and was helped by supportive gestures from my loved ones; for example, Gary cooking lots of tempting delicious meals to try and combat my loss of appetite, my son taking up the burden’s share of the housework and the numerous messages of support and thoughtful little gifts from my friends, work colleagues and family, all of which bolstered me during some really awful times. One particularly thoughtful gift was a ‘chemo kit’, that my sisters and children had put together, packed full of items to help fight the cancer and make my time in treatment easier, such as an anti-nausea band, turmeric tablets, skincare products and a special hair care system, which my sister Kathy had read was recommended to minimise hair loss. I also received lots of pampering Lush goodies from Gary’s mum and some flowers and home-baked healthy goodies from my childhood best friend Helen. One of the unexpected side effects of the cancer was that it really showed who was there for us in life – some ‘friends’ drifted away at this point and others really reached out - showing what invaluable friends they are - and we became closer as a result.
I also began a cancer blog on Facebook, which I tried to make humorous and positive. I particularly relished special family events during this time, such as my grandson Gorgeous George’s first birthday party on Halloween (which was extra precious as he’d been a prem baby, who was born with chronic lung disease and remained in hospital for the first four months of his life, but was now doing really well and had recently been able to come off long-term oxygen), my sister Kathy’s baby shower in October and the subsequent birth of my niece Robyn, who is a long-awaited IVF miracle baby, in the November.
Although I tried to stay positive, the chemo made me so ill that my immune system fell to almost nil and I was warned that any infection or illness could prove fatal. I then caught a chest infection, my body temperature rocketed and my infection markers were so high that I had to be hospitalised for 10 days and pumped full of intravenous anti-biotics and steroids, also receiving daily blood cell count booster injections to try and improve my immune system. I can only describe how I felt at this time as wretched – I felt like a shell of a person, who wasn’t even capable of forming thoughts or sentences, or to be able to focus on a TV programme or book. And because the impact of the chemo also meant that my fibromyalgia symptoms were triggered, I was in a lot of pain and couldn’t sleep, despite total fatigue. I could even feel the chemo poison fizzing through my body like a soda stream. I hated being in hospital; at one point I was even wrongly diagnosed with sepsis blood poisoning and I felt so wretched, it was hard to imagine ever feeling ‘normal’ again, despite trying to keep focus on our dream beach wedding as the end goal, once all this awful time would be over. The good news was though, that although my hair thinned quite a lot, I kept the majority of my hair and didn’t need the wig after all – a small silver lining in the grand scheme of things.
I continued trying to work as much as possible throughout this time – as I had left my permanent job in Probation to take up agency Probation work earlier that year, for us to be able to spend more time in Spain, this meant that I didn’t get paid if I couldn’t work. Some weeks I was only able to work a few hours, but every little helped, especially as we were trying to save for the wedding, so I was really lucky that my employers were so flexible and supportive.
In the end though, during my midway chemo review, my oncologist explained that there are a small percentage of people who have a severe adverse reaction to chemo and as I appeared to be one of them, she recommended stopping the treatment and progressing straight to radiotherapy instead. Although this was a huge decision for Gary and I to make, in terms of the overall success rate of the treatment plan, I was told that had an 85% overall chance of full recovery and abandoning the chemo after two rounds would actually only affect this rate by about 3.5%, as the main aspect of success was apparently in the lumpectomy, radiotherapy and ongoing hormone suppressants that I would have to take for 5 years. Ironic then, that the chemo is the most invasive part of the treatment with the biggest health impact, in my view! So, after a great (and poignant) family Christmas and me and Gary spending a fabulous New Year in Spain with our La Manga friends, I was finally starting to feel a bit more myself, but then it was time to return to England for the intensive radiotherapy schedule to begin in January 2018.
Just to give an idea of my daily commitments during the 3 week radio schedule, I would catch the 6.51am train every morning from King’s Lynn to Cambridge, then the bus to Addenbrookes Hospital, to get to my radio appointment for around 8.20am. After the 20 minute treatment, I’d get the bus back to the train station, hopefully in time for the 9.35am train back to King’s Lynn, where I would then get to work for around 10.30am and work the rest of the day. I also suffered really bad radio burns (apparently the curse of having big boobs!) which took ages to heal. It was relentless, painful and exhausting, but I just kept telling myself that needs must and that it would all be over soon, then Gary and I could return to our lives in Spain and resume planning our dream beach wedding. Gary and I had agreed that I would take 6 months off work to recuperate on the beach and I was looking forward to planning the wedding, spending time with the family in the sun and having time just to chill and relax. I also wanted to start an exercise plan, as the chemo and steroids that I had taken (and Gary’s cooking I’m sure!) had meant I’d put on some weight and I needed to achieve a beach wedding body again. I couldn’t wait to put the last 8 months behind us, celebrate the end of the treatment and embrace our new lives in Spain. However, what I didn’t expect was the huge emotional impact of the cancer and treatment and that it would continue to significantly affect both me and Gary in the aftermath of the treatment for some time to come.
To be continued… In my next instalment out in August, I will share how the emotional impact of cancer affected Gary and I emotionally and how we managed to overcome these issues, our time enjoying family celebrations in Spain and at last, how we could finally start planning for our dream beach wedding in 2019.