Ter­mi­nal to ter­ror­ist

Mandie was fac­ing the thing that most. scares us all she But why was spread­ing the ter­ror?

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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

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