When Debbie, 37, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma three weeks before her wedding day, it was a shock to both her and her family. Having previously had IBS and endometriosis complaints, she suspected that the hard lump she had found near her belly button was probably related to one of those or, at worst, a hernia. Instead her GP told her that it could be cancer.
"You’re never made to feel like just another patient. If anything, you feel like family. They really care"
“I work in the city and have private health insurance which thankfully meant that I could book an appointment with Dr Jasani, a consultant haematologist who specialises in blood cancers, within three days. He told me straight away that the chances of me having lymphoma were high and immediately referred me for a punch biopsy and bone marrow scan. Nine days later he confirmed the diagnosis.
"Luckily it hadn’t spread but as the lump was quite large and was attached to my stomach and bowel it was inoperable. I would need a course of at least six chemotherapy sessions.”
With the wedding just days away, Debbie decided to go abroad as planned, to get married and enjoy the celebrations with her family and friends. Two days after her holiday she began her treatment.
“I think at that stage I was running on adrenalin so the first course of chemo didn’t really make me feel ill. My second and third sessions hit me a little harder, with fatigue and nausea making me feel as though I had a massive hangover. I’m not really one to make a fuss and I didn’t want to dwell on it and go round telling everybody how rough I felt so I just carried on with life as usual as best I could. With my age and general fitness on my side, I just told myself 'This is just a blip – I’ll get over it'.
"Halfway through the course, I had a scan to see if the chemo was working. I was amazed when I was told that the tumour, which had been about 9cm across, had already shrunk to the size of a grape! Of course, even if it had totally disappeared I would still have had to complete the course, but knowing the impact the chemo had already had made it more bearable.
"I felt progressively worse after my last three sessions. The steroids made me very puffy with a ‘moon face’ and I felt so sick. I didn’t even recognise myself. Spire Hartswood Hospital has a helpline you can call at any time and this was the only time I used it. Sue talked me through my symptoms and put my mind at rest. She called back half an hour later to make sure my anxiety had passed, and Brenda also called me the next day to see how I was doing which was so comforting.
"My biggest hurdle was the psychological effect of losing my hair. You’re told what to expect but nothing prepares you for that moment when you run your fingers through your hair and it starts coming out in handfuls. Again, the oncology nurses were there to help and put me in touch with a wig specialist able to make a wig almost identical to my real hair. Even some of my closest friends and family haven’t noticed which is brilliant.
"The nurses really are such a great support throughout the whole process. I couldn’t have asked for more. They keep you smiling and laughing throughout, and are so compassionate and upbeat; always rooting for you. By the end of it you’re great friends, not only with them but other staff at The Hartswood too.
"Dev who does the CT scans would always make me laugh, and even the ladies that do the teas and coffees and lunches get to know you. You walk down the corridor to your room and everybody says hello. You’re never made to feel like just another patient. If anything, you feel like family. They really care.
"Dr Jasani was the same. I thought I’d probably see him at the start and end of the process but he came to see me whenever I visited the hospital. He kept an eye on my weight, my side effects, always checked me over for any new lumps and bumps. He has been there every step of the way, telling us what’s what, why, and exactly what to expect. No messing.
"I can’t speak highly enough of everything the team at The Hartswood have done to make this journey easier for me. They are all great at their jobs and communication between them all is fantastic. The right hand always knows what the left hand is doing, which, as a patient, gives you so much confidence in them. Their knowledge and compassion really comes across.
"I am happy to say that after my sixth chemotherapy session, I have been given the all clear! So the road to normality begins, thank goodness.
"I’m so grateful for my private medical insurance, and I simply can’t fault the treatment I’ve received from Dr Jasani and all of the staff at Spire Hartswood Hospital."