A New Dawn

by Reija Sillanpaa 10 months ago in family

Some moments in life are perfect, no filters required. This midwinter sunrise was one of those moments. For me, it wasn’t just a stunning sunrise that I captured on my mobile; it was also the most precious moment with my family. 

A New Dawn
A mid-winter sunrise in Iso-Syote, Finland

Some moments in life are perfect, no filters required. This midwinter sunrise was one of those moments. For me, it wasn’t just a stunning sunrise that I captured on my mobile; it was also the most precious moment with my family. 

To say that 2019 wasn’t a good year for me would be a gross understatement. 2019 was a year when I had to battle a serious illness and the thought of death was often on my mind. 

I was diagnosed with womb cancer in the spring of 2019. It was at stage three and required urgent surgery. Within a few weeks from the doctor delivering the C-bomb, he had scheduled me for a radical hysterectomy. This meant they needed to remove my womb, the cervix, the ovaries, and the fallopian tubes. They also had to remove several lymph nodes where the cancer had spread to. 

I was lucky to have a top surgeon operate on me and he was able to get all the cancerous growth out. When womb cancer is diagnosed at an early stage (stage one) the hysterectomy is often the only treatment needed and the survival rate is 95%. However, since my cancer was at stage three when diagnosed, my ordeal was far from over after the surgery. I was to have six rounds of chemotherapy (drugs called Paclitaxel and Carboplatin) followed by 25 sessions of external radiotherapy and two sessions of brachytherapy (internal radiotherapy). Up to this point, I hadn’t even known radiotherapy was used to treat cancer! Talk about a sharp learning curve. 

One of the worst things for me was the unknown. Everyone has heard about the horrible side-effects of chemo but everyone’s reactions differ. How would I react? The only certain side-effect was that I would lose my hair. 

I was lucky; I didn’t have many side-effects from chemo. The hair went after about three weeks. I shaved off what little hair I had left after the second round of chemo. When the hair went, my scalp became extremely spotty. Nobody had warned me about spotty head! I mean I had every type of spot you could think of. It was impossible to rock the bold look when my head was covered in black heads, white heads, yellow heads, the whole range. Thankfully, they cleared after a few weeks. 

Other side-effects I got from chemo were early menopause, red, swollen face on the days I had to take steroids, and a weird ache in my legs during the first week after each round of chemo. The drugs also lowered the level of platelets in my blood and twice we had to postpone my treatment by a week. Platelets make your blood clot. When the level of platelets gets too low, it can cause nose bleeds or worse, internal bleeding. Since the treatments finished, the levels have slowly been returning to normal. 

I would also become easily tired during the chemo treatments, but it was nothing compared to the fatigue I felt during radiotherapy. My oncologist told me about the side-effects of radiotherapy, which are as many as those from chemo. For the first couple of weeks, I felt no different. It was about halfway through when the fatigue hit. I would need a couple of shorter naps or one two-three hour nap to get through the day. I was physically tired but also mentally. My normal state became sluggish and foggy brained. It was difficult to focus on anything and I became very forgetful. It has taken months for my energy levels to return anywhere close to normal. And at least I didn’t get some of the harder side effects, such as uncontrollable bowels. 

But despite it all, I count myself one of the lucky ones. I didn’t get any long-lasting effects from the surgery and other than the early menopause and some joint pain; I have had no long-lasting side-effects from chemo or radiotherapy either. Some side-effects can appear months or even a few years after the treatments have finished but I’m keeping my fingers crossed. I am lucky because I was treated at one of the best cancer hospitals in the world, the Royal Marsden, and by the best doctors and nurses. Also, having just had my three-month post-treatment check, everything is well and there is no sign of the disease. 

The year 2019 was a challenge. My family, partner and friends have been amazing throughout and with their support, and with faith in God, I remained positive. Most of the time.  

But there have been low moments when the fear has crept in and the future has looked uncertain. Moments when I wondered whether I was going to see the end of the year and the dawn of the new decade. Moments when I thought of death. Soon after the surgery, I spent money like there was no tomorrow. I know that is a cliche, but it is what happened. I thought I might as well max out my credit cards because then, when I die, it would be the bank’s problem, and in the meantime I could enjoy new clothes, great food, trips to the cinema. Luckily I came to my senses, decided I was going to survive and stopped spending before I had spent it all. 

Though the year was tough, there have also been positive outcomes. It made me realise that I had to stop procrastinating if I was to fulfil my dream of becoming a writer. I am now editing my debut novel. It has also made me appreciate my body and my health a lot more. It has made me appreciate every day and every moment. I feel grateful each morning when I wake up to those who supported me and those who treated me. It has made me realise how truly precious life is. 

And moments like the winter sunrise in Iso-Syote, Finland, are the moments I value most. To share that moment with my family after everything I - and they alongside me - have been through was priceless. 

It wasn’t just a perfect sunrise and a perfect photo opportunity. It was a perfect moment with the people who matter to me the most. And a new dawn, a new day I can be grateful for.

family
Reija Sillanpaa
Reija Sillanpaa
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Reija Sillanpaa

Writer, reader, blogger, charity fundraiser. Find me on: https://cyclingforcancer.co.uk/

10% of what I earn on Vocal goes to Royal Marsden Cancer Charity.

See all posts by Reija Sillanpaa