My latest scans show I’m still ‘cancer free’ – after my terrifying Covid blip

THIRD time lucky? I really, really hope so.

This week, for the third time in as many years I have been told I have no evidence of cancer on my latest scan.

What does that mean? Well, without getting into the semantics, you could say I am cancer “free’ right now.

Am I cured? No way.

Still on treatment? Yes, 100 per cent.

Is it likely to rear its ugly head again? For sure.

But am I in a good place right now? You bet! I’m beyond grateful and feel very, very lucky.

I was one of the really lucky ones who got treatment during the Covid pandemic. 

And I feel even luckier to have seen a good response to that treatment, I know it could have gone either way.

As good as it gets

Where I am right now is as good as it gets for a metastatic cancer chick. I’m a fully fledged member of the stage 4 cancer club – there’s no such thing as stage 5.

When I was diagnosed in 2016, I was told less than 10 per cent of people in my situation live for five years or longer.

I have an aggressive mutation called BRAf, which means the first rule is don’t Google BRAf.

That’s followed closely by, rules two and three: start to pray and find a really good team of medics to back you.

So, here I am three and a half years later, having just been told my latest scans show a full metabolic response to recent bouts of radiotherapy.

For the first time ever, I have a scan that is telling us, “it’s shrunk” and that all recently active cancer is no longer active.

The truth is mine is a very long and really complicated cancer story – they all are.

It feels a bit bonkers

In January I was over the moon to discover that I’d “got to a place I never dreamed of”, that I was “cancer free”.

It was a place I never expected to be, and it was thanks to some new targeted drugs, a LOT of operations by some brilliant people, radiotherapy and careful monitoring by my wonderful team.

I went from having 15 tumours – some that were inoperable – and planning my funeral, visiting a hospice and refusing to plan beyond a few weeks in advance, to suddenly being told I had no active cancer in my body.

So to get that again feels a bit bonkers.

Once again, I feel like I can look forward to the future, even if it’s only months ahead.

It feels almost a bit rebellious.

I can't get carried away

I had a brief moment in 2018, when for four months, I was allowed to enjoy that “cancer free” status. 

But it was short lived, and it’s been a fairly scary ride since then.

I, like so many other stage 4 cancer patients, know you’re only as good as your recent scan.

So, while I am celebrating my latest results, I can’t get carried away.

My reality is that while I am technically “cancer free” right now, I am still someone who has to live with cancer.

I don’t get to pack it up and forget about it – filing it away into my past life.

Like type 2 diabetes or other chronic health conditions, it’s something I live with.

It’s something we will hopefully start to see more and more.

That cancer – even stage 4 cancer – doesn’t have to be an immediate death sentence.

That new treatments, like mine, can mean you live through periods of no active cancer as well as darker times.

I know how aggressive my cancer is, I am realistic.

But research gives me so much hope, and at the moment I still have options.

Lockdown gave me my own cancer blip

I’ve spent most of lockdown, worrying with the rest of the country, about my health.

For me, it's not just about Covid and catching it, it’s the impact it might have on my cancer treatment, and the impact on the rest of the cancer community.

Half of cancer trials were stopped, treatment was stopped, chemo put on hold and operations bumped.

I had my own cancer blip in lockdown, a monitoring scan back in April showed my cancer was active again.

The problem areas were a few lymph nodes, four inoperable ones to be exact – around my windpipe and behind my liver.

What are the red flag signs of bowel cancer?

BOWEL cancer can be cured, if you catch it early enough.

Catch it at stage 1 and you have a 97 per cent chance of surviving five years or longer.

But catch it at stage 4 and that chance plummets to just 7 per cent.

Early diagnosis saves lives, so it's important to understand the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer – and act if you notice something unusual.

What are the signs of bowel cancer?

  1. Bleeding from your back passage or blood in your poo
  2. A persistent and unexplained change in your toilet habits – going more often, or any change to your stools
  3. A pain or lump in your tummy
  4. Unexplained weight loss
  5. Extreme tiredness for no obvious reason.

To find out more visit Bowel Cancer UK for info.

It was an early warning sign that my cancer was on the march again, and if we didn’t act quickly I faced the real possibility of lots of new tumours cropping up all over my body before lockdown was lifted.

Had I not been having treatment at The Royal Marsden, one of the 21 Covid-free cancer hubs, my treatment would likely have been delayed and I might be writing a very different update.

Sounds dramatic? Maybe, but it’s happening to other people I know and love.

Cancer crisis is very real danger

A few months is a really long time when you’ve got an aggressive cancer growing inside you.

We are facing the very real danger that cancer patients will end up being the collateral in all of this.

Thousands of lives are at risk due to the delays caused by the Covid pandemic, it could be catastrophic.

So what now? For me, nothing actually changes. I am still ploughing on with treatment.

In fact, it’s likely I will actually be increasing my treatment now, having bigger doses more regularly.

But I am ploughing on full of gratitude and hope.

It’s hard to put into words how grateful I do feel. I know things could be very different for me, right now.

I’ve lost friends, including my fellow “bowel babe” Kelly Smith who died at the age of 31, leaving her son behind, after her treatment was put on hold.

I’ve watched friends have their treatments paused and their hope fading away. 

While I will celebrate my milestone, I can’t help but wish I was the rule, rather than the exception.

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