Terminal to terrorist
Mandie was facing the thing that most. scares us all she But why was spreading the terror?
Blooper that wasn’t on my bucket list
Peering at the nice, fat total on screen, I sighed with satisfaction. I’d always been a good saver, diligently stashing away part of my wages every month.
Now, there was a tidy sum of spondulicks, ready to be splashed on my favourite thing – a great big holiday.
That night, I lay in bed trying to work out where I’d go. America again, perhaps? The exhilaration I’d experienced staring up at the soaring, neon-flashing towers in Las Vegas stirred in my memory.
And the bustle of Miami… Yes, maybe America again, I thought as I snuggled down.
I shifted on to my stomach. I always slept this way. What was that? Up there on my chest… on my left breast.
I sat up and gently fingered my boob. It was a lump.
Mum and Gran sometimes got cysts there.
Me, too, by the looks of it! Two months on, a week after I turned 26 in August 2015, I went for a doctor’s appointment and was referred to the Forth Valley Royal Hospital, Larbert, for tests.
Slightly nervous, but still expecting to be told my lump was a cyst, I sat before the consultant with my mum, Pauline, 53.
But the consultant’s face was sombre.
‘I’m sorry, it’s cancer,’ he said. My head reeled and I grasped Mum’s hand tightly.
‘I’m afraid it’s aggressive,’ he continued, ‘and there is another secondary cancer, which we need to find.’
Numb, I listened as he outlined more tests.
Me and Mum clung on to each other as we left the hospital.
The cancer in my breast was the primary cancer.
I knew the rates for surviving breast cancer were good. ‘There’s hope,’ I said to Mum. But, the following week, we sat before the consultant again.
Any optimism I had drained away as he spoke.
The CT scan had shown that the secondary cancer was in my liver and had spread to my lymph nodes.
I wasn’t going to recover. And there was worse to come. ‘If we don’t start chemo straight away, you won’t make it to Christmas,’ he said gently.
I could barely believe the words I was hearing.
My life was nearly over!
The immediate concern was the tumours in my liver.
If the chemo was successful, I’d likely have two to three years… five years at the most.
My head in a whirl, two days later, I began chemo.
And I was given injections to put me in menopause because the type of cancer I had was caused by hormones.
Slowly, I reined in the crushing shock and focused on my future.
What could I do? I remembered my savings sitting ready in the bank. Now was the time to use them!
‘I’ve got some time and I’m going to see some places,’
I said to Mum. ‘I’m going to cram in as much as I can.’
Poring over an atlas with my mate, Debbie, 36, I pinpointed places in the globe to add to my bucket list.
‘This might be a living nightmare,’ I said to Debbie, ‘but I can set myself small challenges.’
Getting through chemo was the first challenge.
The poison managed to control the
tumours in my liver and shrank the tumour in my breast from 5cm to half its size.
But, once the chemo had stopped, the tumour in my breast began to grow again.
I decided on a mastectomy. I knew it wasn’t a cure, but it would give me some extra time.
But first, I was going to start on my bucket list.
So, a week before my op, in July 2016, we took a family holiday on Lake Garda, Italy.
I walked along the lakeside with Mum, my dad, John, my twin brother, Gary, who’s 15 minutes older than me, my younger sister, Nicola, 21, and my sister-in-law, Laura, 26. Here, I wasn’t a cancer patient. ‘It’s good to feel like a normal tourist, just like everybody else,’ I said to Mum appreciatively.
I’d always felt an affinity with Italy – my grandad was halfItalian, although he’d been born in Scotland.
A week after the holiday, I underwent a one-hour op to have my breast removed.
As I recovered, I began to plot my next destination.
Four months later, I clinked glasses with my sister, Nicola, and my friend, Laura, 28, with the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the background, as the sun bounced off the sea.
I ticked off Perth, drinking in the dazzling colours of the tropical fish while snorkelling on the coral reef on Sunday
Island. and squealed with laughter as we raced in jeeps along the sand on Fraser Island. My life was good! After ChrLstmas. I took another look at my list and made a trip down to London to see The Shard in January 2017. Round and round I walked. looking into the distance and spotting the landmarks. Big Ben... Tower Bridge... St Paul's Cathedral. By now, the cancer had spread to my breastbone, but I still Mt fit enough. One Sunday afternoon, I'd been at an event for Maggie's, the cancer charity, and had ended up in the North Star pub in Falkirk for drinks. A friendly looking guy with blue eyes and a beard stood before me, and we began chatting. Ross Malcolm worked offshore on the oil rigs and was three years younger than me. I'd been single fora while. I decided to be honest with Ross straight away 'I've got cancer,' I said, 'and I'm not going to get better.' He didn't make a swift getaway. He didn't chat politely and then leave. He stayed... and staved. 'Do you want to go outT he asked. By December 2017, we were a couple 'To a certain extent. I can offer you a future, but not a long-term future,' I said careflilly. 'I know exactly what's round the corner.' he replied. T11 be therefor the hard times.' Ross explained that his mum had died a week after his 21st birthday. I shuddered. History would repeat itself for him. let's concentrate on making some good memories,' be smiled. So we did. e Ill A I looked at my bucket list again. Last June, me and Ross revelled in heat of Dubai, \ • Iran :4 the baking then had a weekend in St Andrews. Where else? 'I really want to go to New York,' I said. So, I booked flights and a hotel for last September. Now for my visa. I never booked too far ahead, in case my regular 12-week scan showed up anything that needed immediate treatment.
The most recent scan had showed my cancer was stable.
Propping up my ipad, I brought up the visa on my screen.
Scrolling down, I Iaboriously answered all the questions.
No… No… No again...
On and on they went, until I got to the final one.
I clicked No… and was about to submit payment when the screen crashed. Aghast, I jabbed at it. Everything I’d filled in had been wiped!
Irritated, I went to bed and decided to fill in the visa form the next day at my workplace, where
I was a customer services specialist.
In my lunch break, I brought up the website.
Rapidly I clicked through the questions – I’d remembered them all from the day before – and clicked Submit. NOT AUTHORISED
flashed up on screen.
Why not? In the past, I’d had no problems getting a visa for the States.
Then I noticed a message at the bottom, advising that, if my circumstances had changed, I could try to apply the next day.
I went through the whole rigmarole again, but still
NOT AUTHORISED beamed up on screen. I had one week to go before the trip! I made a flurry of phone calls, trying to stay cool and calm. I mustn't get stressed -I had to keep as healthy as possible! 1th me As I heard an urney 1 explanation of why I couldn't get a visa, I went pale. Had I wasted £3,500? I wondered how to tell Ross. Later that night. I cleared my throat and said I hadn't been able to get a visa. 'Why?' he asked, immediately thinking It was something to do with my cancer 'I ticked the box to say I was No wonder my a to engaged espionage, visa had been rejected! 'Eh?' said terrorist,’ Ross. A smile I’d engage began to curl at the side of his lips. A giggle escaped... ticked followed by a loud guffaw. 'What if we can't go?' I saki, really waffled. in 'We'll get it in sorted,' said Ross. But sabotage, I wasn't terrorist so sure. Two I Yes days or later, we arrived with admitted. our bags at Edinburgh Airport... have but we weren't to jetting off on holiday! Instead, we were flying Do down to London to make a special plea activities, you to get a visa or forme. We were you on our way to the American Embassy genocide? to try to convince ever officials I wasn't a fiend seek and I was safe to be let loose in the Big Apple. I'd had to take two days off work and book us into a hotel. Next day, I sat in front of the serious embassy official and explained how the gaffe had happened. I went through several questions to prove who I was, how I'd been to the US before... I handed over my passport. The relief! He said the visa would be approved, but it might take up to five days to arrive in the post. 'We need it in three,' I wailed. 'Change your flight.' 'Can't you get It any quicker? 'Change your...' Resignedly. I switched the flights and hotel bookings for a month later It cost £990. And guess what? The day before we'd originally booked to go, the visa arrived! Both of us burst into laughter at the same time. My cancer is still stable and our holiday. when it came, was amazing. The Empire State Building, Central Park, the Statue of Liberty... we ticked them all off. And these ticks were in the right places! Mandle Stevenson, 29, Falkirk
My last round of chemotherapy
Here I am on the Brooklyn Bridge
Ross is with me on this journey