“My Voice” by Jenny Gray

Jenny Gray - 'Survivor'

I could tell by the look on the doctor’s face! I knew the answer before he had even said anything.

“I am very sorry Jenny but the leukemia has returned”.

I stopped looking at Doctor Caswell and looked at my mum, she started to cry and all I could think of was how hard it is going to be this time! I have had cancer before but that was back in 1991!

I was worried about my hair falling out again and all the embarrassing side affects to come from the chemotherapy. I had leukemia when I was two years young and then again at the age of five.

When I was five years young I underwent three treatments, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and a bone marrow transplant.

I almost lost my life during my bone marrow transplant because my central line became infected and Doctor McDowell pulled it out immediately. This was very dangerous because a central line is fitted into the main arteries!. When I was in remission my family and I took a trip to Disney land Paris which was funded by the make a wish foundation, I also took a trip to Lapland with the Anthony Nolan Bone Marrow Trust where I got to meet the real Santa Claus!

“So what now”? I asked Doctor Caswell. He told me to go home get some clothes and toiletries enough at least for a month, and that we are going to start treatment the next day.

All I could think about on the way home was what is going to happen to me this time? I knew I had cancer but never knew why it kept coming back? This time I was even more scared because my body had already taken so much chemotherapy etc in the past and wondered how it is going to work this time around, if it has not done its job so far!

We returned home to my sisters and told them the bad news, we cuddled and cried but I just wanted to get back and get started.

I wiped my tears and said “right positive thinking now we have to get on with It”.

When we arrived back at alder hey the nurse showed me to my bed were I would spend the next couple months.

Morning came very quickly and I was off to theatre to have my fourth central line fitted, the smell of the anesthetic spread through the whole room and I felt a little scared but I was used to it because I had been having bone marrows and lumber punctures since the age of two. I soon relaxed when my friend the anesthetist came in with a Thunderbirds hat on.

He put the mask over my face and the anesthetic slowly drifted me off to sleep!

I woke only to find the long white tube sticking out of my chest, it hurt a little but I soon got used to it.

I was a little scared starting chemo but I knew what to expect!. A couple of months after I started chemo it was my seventeenth birthday and mum had just shaved my hair off, I couldn’t bare to wake up seeing it on my pillow or having patches of hair around my head so we just took one step ahead and shaved it off, I wasn’t ashamed to be bald because I had been several times in the past but for a young lady it was quite embarrassing.

The nurses and my family had all planned a party for me in the den up on the teenage ward and I was totally overwhelmed. Even though I was very tired and poorly I still had a great day.

A couple of weeks past and I was not taking chemo very well at all,  the intense chemo was to much for my body to handle so I had to take a much smaller dose which meant even longer in hospital!. I became highly neutropheunic so I was moved to a cubicle which was isolated from the main ward.

A couple of weeks later I ended up with pneumonia and it made me even worse, I was six stone in weight and didn’t want to eat or drink so I had to be put on a drip to do that for me!. The pneumonia took a bad turn on my heart and lungs and I found it very difficult to breathe let alone do anything else, at one point Doctor Caswell told my parents he didn’t think I will pull through. I was on so many drugs and machines.

I was weak and frail and on an oxygen machine, I couldn’t speak much and found it hard to keep my head up.

If all this was not bad enough I became diabetic and the nurses had to come and take blood from my fingers every hour, everyday even when I was sleeping.

Even though I had only pajamas that would fit me, a bald head, could hardly eat and had no fingers left I stayed as positive as I could I made the nurses and myself laugh, I cried, I smiled, I tried to act as normal as anyone. Nurses would come into my room and I would be putting my makeup on!

I always rocked the pajama look with my shiny head and big black eye lashes!

“She’s not having a good day today” mum explained to my family! I was having severe nose bleeds! I mean horrible, blood was coming out of my mouth and I looked a complete mess I didn’t want anyone else to look at me apart from my mum.

My mum was so perfect through it all she would always reassure me that everything is going to be ok and she would cuddle me when I was upset, she would carry me to the bathroom when I needed the toilet and she would change my bed if I had an accident, she did everything right and sometimes better than the nurses!

Mum made me laugh telling me about the hallucinations I had from the morphine, I was on a drip which contained morphine sulphate, it was for the pain in my legs and all I had to do was press a button and it would instantly run through my body and make me pain free but also high as a kite! It was great sometimes I would press it just to feel good.

I was alone one afternoon while my family where at work and school etc and I thought I was finally strong enough to walk to the drinks machine to get a drink, but when I got there I collapsed and wet myself! I wanted to call for help but felt really embarrassed so when I finally got up I went back to my room and tried to sort myself out! I was so tired! I once fainted on the toilet too on the old c3 ward, I must have some sort of curse!

I was finally allowed home for good in October 2006 after being diagnosed in March. I was seventeen and taking maintenance chemotherapy and coming back to alder hey for regular health checks every fortnight.

I am twenty now and have been diagnosed with leukemia again, it is under control and nobody knows why it keeps returning but scientists are researching to see if leukemia may at all be genetic!

I am living my life as normal as anyone else, you could say I am a regular patient at alder hey and yes I am but a little more than just a regular! I have seen children arrive after being diagnosed and watched them leave in remission, I have seen doctors, nurses and even anesthetists retire after meeting them the day I started!

I couldn’t be more thankful for the care and kindness I have received over the years.

I still remain a strong, happy and positive person.

I don’t look at cancer as a problem I include it as part of my life, and even though I still have leukemia I believe it makes me stronger as a person everyday.

I have been a cancer patient at Alder Hey Children’s hospital for nearly nineteen years and I want to inspire young cancer patients and there family’s with this short story of my life so far! With a little bit of faith and optimism we can all get through it!

Always keep your chin up!