Dying from a cancer I ate
Something Danielle Smalley, 23, from Basingstoke, had eaten as a toddler was now slowly killing her…
Sitting on the side of the bath, I let out a groan.
‘Are you OK?’ my boyfriend Jack, then 24, called from outside the bathroom door. ‘I don’t know…’ I started. But I couldn’t finish my sentence, because I had to lift the toilet seat to be sick again.
For months, I’d had terrible abdominal pains and attacks of vomiting.
‘You really should see the doctor,’ Jack said when I eventually staggered out. ‘I know,’ I sighed. Actually, doctors were very familiar territory for me.
Born at 26 weeks, I’d been in Intensive Care and had tummy problems my whole life.
So eventually, I made an appointment with my GP.
‘It’s probably just IBS,’ my GP told me. ‘But we will do some tests.’
It was September 2016, and I was sent for a transvaginal ultrasound to examine my pelvis.
Two weeks later, I went back and was given some shocking news. ‘Your liver, intestines and bowel are on the wrong side of your body,’ the doctor explained to me.
They were all on my left side, which meant that I could have blockages later down the line.
I was given an appointment for corrective surgery for the following April. Now I just had to wait. So I carried on with my relationship management job in Basingstoke as normal and took painkillers when the cramps got too much.
But, by January last year, the
I had suffered my whole life
agony was unbearable.
A laparoscopy at Frimley Park Hospital revealed some strange nodules on my bowel, intestines and just behind my womb.
Taking biopsies, they called me back the following month to see a bowel consultant.
‘I’ve got a very bad feeling about this,’ I told Jack.
He was holding my hand when the doctor told me the news.
‘You’ve got a cancer known as mesothelioma,’ he said. ‘More commonly known as asbestos cancer.’ ‘What’s that?’ I stammered. The doctor explained asbestos was a building material, outlawed in the UK back in 1999, because it caused cancer.
Mesothelioma normally affected male builders over 75. ‘So why
me?’ I gasped. Turns out, the type of mesothelioma I had meant that I would have ingested it. Neither of my parents – Amanda, 47, or Simon, 51 – had ever worked with asbestos. We looked up my primary school, too, but couldn’t find anything. It can take 20 to 50 years to have an effect, so I’d have been two or three years old when I came into contact with it. I could have eaten something at a friend’s house, or ingested something from an old shed at the park I used to go to. ‘So for all these years, it’s been inside me,’ I shuddered. I’d been a ticking time bomb for two decades… Horrifying. I was then referred to a specialist in asbestos cancer in September last year. Further biopsies revealed the cancer was mainly in the tissue that covers the uterus, bladder and rectum. Then, last November, I was back in hospital to have major surgery to remove it. Warning me of the risks, the doctors said there was a one in 50 chance of dying during the operation. It was
so terrifying that it was hard to actually take in. I was in theatre for 13 hours. When I woke in Intensive Care, doctors explained that the cancer had spread to my diaphragm, liver and bowel.
Originally, they were going to do an operation where they would strip the cancerous tissue from my bowel, stomach and intestines.
But they had to strip it from everything and take out every organ I didn’t need – like my gallbladder and appendix.
Before they sewed me up, my organs were also washed, using special chemotherapy drugs.
When they stitched me up, there
were 56 staples going all the way from my breast bone right down to my vagina.
But, luckily, they’d saved my ovaries, so I’d still be able to have children one day.
Staying in hospital, I had more chemotherapy.
I didn’t lose my hair, but my skin became very dry and the pain was almost unbearable.
But now, nine months later, I’m in remission, but need to have check-ups every three months.
I can’t believe I’ve been through all this because of a childhood brush with asbestos.
I’ll never really know for sure what happened.
But, rather than looking back, I’m looking to the future.
I’m just glad I still have one!
Somehow I’d ingested asbestos
It had given me cancer
I’m looking to the future