My Story by Aaron Rackley - (Part 1) Diagnosis

In 2013 I was sitting in a little room at the hospital waiting to hear the results of some blood work taken while at the doctors a few days earlier.

The journey to this room started even further back; a few months earlier in fact whilst I was away on a family holiday. We were out exploring the island of Tenerife on one of those typical day excursions and I found myself struggling to do things I usually find really easy - like walking up a big hill. To put that into context, I was at a stage in my life where I would regularly go to the gym and take part in runs.

When I was back home from the trip I visited the doctor as I thought my asthma from childhood was playing up and the doctor also concluded this was the problem.

As nice as the doctor was, I did get the impression he was just trying to rush me through the 5-minute time slot allocated to him by the government. He prescribed some steroids and sent me on my way. For the next 10 days or so everything was good and I was back to the gym and working out again.

A few days after that round of steroids had finished I started to notice that I was beginning to have breathing problems again, and this time it was worse: I couldn't even walk up the stairs without having to stop and was starting to feel really tired from going about a normal workday (I worked in an office so nothing too strenuous).

I booked another appointment with my local GP to discuss the problem in more detail to try and figure out what was going on. This time I was not met with the same doctor; I was met by a trainee GP. He asked if it was OK that this appointment would take longer than usual and asked if I minded being seen by him. I had no problem with this knowing that to even start working as a GP you have to had undergone a lot of training.

I sat there for a good 10 minutes telling him the same story as above but in a lot more detail. He eventually stopped me and started the examination. He spent a lot of time listening and re-listening to all areas of my chest and lungs.

After about another 5 minutes of this, he said he needed to discuss something with one of his colleagues and left the room. It was quiet and seemed a while before he returned and told me that he believed that one of my lungs was not giving 100%. He said that I needed an X-ray as soon as possible and luckily for me, he had just finished a 6-month rotation at the local A&E, so was able to quickly make an appointment for me. Within the hour, I was sat there in the emergency room awaiting an X-ray.

The X-Ray did not take too long but the wait after for the results was long and tedious. My partner and I do our best to entertain ourselves but I was exhausted and coughing uncontrollably. After a few hours, a doctor finally came in and said that the results were back and that my lung did not look good and that they needed one of their specialists to look at it but he was not starting his shift until later that evening. I was given the choice: Go home and await the news or sit here and wait. I was so worried I waited in the hospital.

Later on that evening the specialist doctor started his shift, introduced himself and told me he would look at my case as quickly as he could after catching up with the emergency intakes.

When he did come back he told us he had managed to look over the X-rays and confirmed that it was not looking good: My lung was operating at very low capacity (I can't remember the percentage ratio). He described it in a way that meant I was effectively functioning on one lung. He also said that on my X-rays he could see that my lymph nodes were swollen which explained my breathing difficulties.

I remember seeing my partners face. She looked worried. I was too but not in the way she probably was. I know that she is a worrier and immediately knew she had all the worst ideas running around in her mind. I am a logical thinker by nature; black and white as she likes to remind me daily. I was immediately thinking of what we would need to do to sort this out and get it fixed.

The doctor talked through the issue and said that in order to fully diagnose the problem I would need some blood tests. I was booked in for further appointments and then sent away with some more steroids to combat the problems until the results were back.

Side Note! When I finished my first draft of this post, I asked my partner to give it a read through. It was only then that I came to the realisation that the part that happens next took place over the course of a week and not a day in which I had remembered it.

Friday 13th September 2013

I had been called back to see a doctor who had my blood results at the hospital. I do not fully remember this conversation at all but my partner informs me that during this conversation I was informed that he suspected it was blood cancer.

It was not a diagnosis, but it was somewhere for them to start investigating. He ordered me up some more blood test, a biopsy on my lymph nodes and one on my lung. We left the hospital holding hands and not really knowing what would happen next. We were no closer to it being fixed but we were close to knowing what the problem was. I took the next moment to call my mum and let her know. It's not a conversation you ever expect to have to have with your parents. You are supposed to outlive them. I don't remember everything we said, but I know I asked my mother to stop driving and sit down.

My partner informs me that I slept straight away when I got home from the hospital. I do not remember this so I assume the stress and the exhaustion of the day had finally got to me.

Wednesday 18th September 2013

Wednesday was the day of my biopsies and I was joined this time my mum and my partner. We were once again back at the hospital and I was really starting to struggle with my breathing; no matter what I could not stop coughing. It was hurting my chest, abs and lower back from all the straining and I was so tired, I could just sleep all day.

I was afraid for the biopsies because ever since I was a kid I have had a massive fear of needles. The fear of needles and my now non-stop coughing was causing the technicians troubles and at one point I thought I was choking. We managed to get through the biopsies with success. The first was taken from a lymph node on the right-hand side of my neck and the second was taken through my back into my lung.

Friday 20th September 2013

Friday came quickly and the biopsy results were in. This time our appointment was in the Macmillan suite at the hospital. We sat in the nice waiting area where we were offered tea and biscuits. I could tell that the staff here really cared about trying to keep everyone happy and as comfortable as possible; looking around, you could see various people in different stages of treatment and care.

After what seemed like an age it was our turn, and once again we met with another doctor. She sat us down and told us that the results had shown that I had Acute Lymphoblastic Lymphoma. Even though the previous Friday the doctor had said he expected cancer it was still a complete shock when the doctor finally said those dreaded words. The weight on my shoulders grew rapidly. My chest already struggling from breathing felt tighter and all I could see was my partner sitting in the chair getting whiter by the second.

The doctor started to explain what the diagnosis was and what the next stage of the treatment would be, but I was in a daze. I could hear every word but it was not processing. I still do not remember what she actually said in that room. The only part I remember is what happened next when we were sitting with a woman in another room taking it all in. I do remember that they offered my partner some whisky to help with what I guess was shock.

In the previous conversation with my doctor (which I do not remember) she had informed me the prognosis was 50% success rate, a place had been booked for me at The Royal Marsden Hospital in Sutton, and I had to get there as soon as possible. I remember then thinking it was time to call my mum and let her know that it was solidified. I was a cancer patient now.

During that phone call, we had arranged that she and my dad would leave work and meet me at the flat I shared with my partner so I could prepare for what I was told would be an extended stay in the hospital.

Later on that same day of diagnosis and with my family beside me I was admitted, gowned, cannulated and sitting in a hospital bed ready to start my treatment. The future was truly unclear.

At the time I was not thinking about the worse outcomes, the only thought I had was 'let science do its thing and you will be fine. No Worries right...'

Thanks for taking the time to read the first part of my story of battling cancer. I am currently putting together Part 2 so please keep an eye on the social media sites for the link soon.

You can also follow me personally on Twitter here if you want to talk about anything you have read here.

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