Cancer… … on her 1st birthday
It was her beautiful babby’s first birthday. But the bumps were about to ruin it for Chloe
Squeals of delight roared from the mass of multicoloured balls.
‘Tickle attack!’ I laughed, rummaging in among them to find a chubby leg. Then another.
I plucked out my toddler, Dyllan, followed by his little sister, Emmi.
Wrapping them in my arms, I tickled their wriggling bodies to peals of giggles.
My fiancé, Lee, laughed along with the kids.
Well, it was a special day. 1 October 2015 was little Emmi’s first birthday.
And looking at my beautiful family – Emmi just learning to walk and Dyllan, two, such a proud big brother – I could’ve pinched myself. To think they’d all said it would never work!
I’d been 18 when I met Lee Wood, 20, through friends.
We’d been together just 10 months when I’d unexpectedly fallen pregnant. We were shocked, but determined to make the best of it.
On Christmas Day that year, Lee had got down on one knee.
Then we’d moved into our own place, a month before baby Dyllan had arrived in May 2013.
I stayed home, finger-painting and singing nursery rhymes, while
Lee went out to work.
Just 17 months later, Emmi, our second surprise, completed our family, and Lee got a better-paid job with the Water Board.
So now we were splashing out on
Emmi’s big day, just because we could.
That morning, I’d scooped her out of her cot and whispered, ‘Happy birthday, princess.’
All morning, Lee had snapped pictures while Emmi opened her mountain of gifts, laughing as the wrapping paper scrunched in her hands.
The baby doll, toy horse, bag, hairbrush set, teddy bears, clothes and beaded bracelet we’d bought her sat untouched!
She’d been much more interested in an afternoon at Freddy’s Play Kingdom, this soft-play centre nearby.
Now, I hopped out of the ball pool and winced. That lump again!
A golf ball-sized bump on my left knee had been hurting for months, ever since I’d slipped on the stairs. I’d been for an X-ray, MRI and CT scan, but it seemed doctors couldn’t get to the bottom of it. ‘Would you mind taking over?’ I asked Lee after lunch.
For the rest of the afternoon, he played with the kids while I rested my knee.
Around dinnertime, we headed home. Opening the front door, with Emmi in my arms, I heard a letter scrunch under my foot.
Handing Emmi to her dad, I took it to the kitchen.
My eyes scanned the typescript: Appointment... consultant... Royal Orthopaedic
Hospital, Birmingham. Then they
snagged on a word… ‘What does “onc… oncology” mean?’ I called to Lee, who was in the other room with the kids. ‘Dunno,’ he shouted back. Pulling out my phone, I typed the word into Google. The results turned my blood to ice. No. Please, no.
With shaking hands, I phoned the number on the letter.
‘Can you help?’ I whispered. ‘I’ve got this appointment and I think… I think I have cancer.’
‘I’m afraid the clinic is closed. You’ll have to call back tomorrow,’ the woman explained.
It was already past 5pm. Stuffing the letter into the drawer, I pasted on a smile as I walked into the living room.
‘How’s my birthday girl, then?’ I breezed, sitting down to play with Emmi’s dollies.
Lee looked at me. He wasn’t fooled for a second.
‘Oncology. It means cancer,’ I admitted to him under my breath.
The children were too young to understand, but Lee wrapped his arms around me.
Just like he had years before, he promised me it’d all be OK.
‘They’ll be looking at every possibility,’ he said.
But, after putting the children to bed, I sat up, sobbing. Was I dying? Would I ever see Emmi have another birthday?
At 9am on the dot the next morning, I called the hospital.
They put me straight through to someone from the Teenage Cancer Trust.
‘Are you sure you want to hear this over the phone?’ the woman asked.
‘Yes,’ I insisted. My appointment wasn’t for another two weeks. I couldn’t wait that long for information.
She explained that I had bone
“Oncology. What does that mean?” I asked
cancer. Parosteal osteosarcoma. ‘Will I die?’ I asked. ‘You’ll need more tests to investigate the severity of the cancer,’ she said. ‘But it’s likely very curable.’
Next day, Lee’s family came over for Emmi’s birthday party, and I put on a brave face.
‘It’s not a bad type of cancer,’ I parroted. ‘Very curable, apparently.’
Two weeks later, a biopsy confirmed the cancer was diagnosed as low-grade.
‘I don’t even need chemo,’ I smiled to Lee.
Just a quick op.
In December, I was admitted to hospital to have part of the bone in my leg removed.
‘Mummy will be home in just a few days,’ I promised the kids, squeezing them tight. But days rolled into weeks.
Tests showed the cancer wasn’t low-grade after all.
After spending Christmas away from the kids, I was transferred to Nottingham City Hospital on 8 January to start chemotherapy.
The four different drugs I was put on ravaged me. One made my face swell up. Another gave me constant flu.
My long brown hair fell out in chunks, until I pleaded with a nurse to just shave it off.
After having the kids, I’d become a hefty 18st at 5ft 5in. Now, my mouth was so full of ulcers that I could only eat tiny pots of custard.
In less than two months, I lost more than 8st. Bones jutted from my pale flesh.
Icy cold gripped me, making me shiver all the time.
Lee brought the kids in most days to see me.
Emmi was oblivious to what was going on, but Dyllan looked terrified at seeing his mummy changing so much.
‘He’s been throwing up a lot,’ Lee told me.
‘Take him to the doctor,’ I insisted.
The GP diagnosed stressinduced reflux.
My poor two-year-old was so worried about me that he was being physically sick.
Some days, I’d lie in my hospital bed and just want to give up. But then I’d think of the kids.
Emmi, our social butterfly, happy to chat to anyone she met; Dyllan, my reserved little soul, mad about cars and always keeping an eye on his little sister.
What would they do without me? I had to fight. I had no choice.
In August 2016, I was finally allowed home. Being on chemo, though, meant I couldn’t start physio to build up strength in my leg.
Instead, my limb sat in a cage of pins. Useless.
When Lee lost his job for taking time off to watch the kids, we had to dip into our £2,000 wedding fund to get by.
Still, I insisted on taking the children out every day. Lee wheeled me around, with Emmi perched on my lap and Dyllan holding my hand.
We didn’t have the cash for big day trips, but just getting the sun on my face told me I was alive.
Last October, we had a tea party when Emmi turned two.
‘I wish this day didn’t remind me of cancer,’ I whispered to Lee.
‘Let it remind you of all you’ve got to live for,’ he replied.
Last December, I was finally given the all-clear. My cancer was gone.
My leg was still useless, though. Where it hadn’t been exercised after the op, I’d lost all feeling in it.
This April, I had it amputated above the knee.
I still need a lot of help getting about, and the cancer treatment has left me needing hearing aids and glasses, as it has weakened my sight and vision – but the important thing is I’m alive.
Me and Lee are getting married this October, just days after Emmi’s third birthday.
Dyllan will be page boy and Emmi our flower girl.
I’m going to walk down the aisle on a prosthetic, with my dad and my brother on either side.
My baby’s first birthday went from one of the best days of my life to the worst.
Finally, we’ve got something to celebrate again!
Me and Emmi before disaster hit our family
That lump on my leg was a tumour on the bone As told to Kelly Strange & Miyo Padi (email@example.com)
From happiness to tears – two very different birthdays
I may have lost a leg but I still have Lee and the kids