I’ve been to hell and back again, first cancer and now with sepsis

FIRST the drugs keeping me alive stopped working and my cancer started to grow.

An inoperable tumour wrapped around my bile duct meant my liver started to fail.

A few weeks ago, for the first time since I was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer I really believed I was facing the beginning of the end.

I questioned if this was it?

I was lucky enough to be strong enough to have my 13th operation, to stent my liver – and stop it failing.

That meant I could have chemotherapy again, to try and shrink my cancer.

Now, I am writing this from my hospital again, having had a terrifying few days battling sepsis.

After finishing chemo, I managed to muster enough energy to enjoy a few days out at Wimbledon, the circus and on Monday I was dancing in the rain at the Hampton Court flower show.

On Tuesday morning I woke up, took the kids to school and recorded a podcast before getting home about midday.

It was then I hit a brick wall. Within two hours, I was shivering viciously, I couldn’t get warm.

I just wanted the whole world to swallow me up

I was curled up in a ball and couldn’t move. I just wanted the whole world to swallow me up.

My heart was racing, and my temperature had soared to over 40.

Paracetamol wasn’t even touching the sides and I realised I was really, really poorly.

I knew I had an infection, but had no idea what it was.

I knew I needed help and fast.

I was meant to be going to my daughter Eloise’s last school assembly. She’s 11 and is leaving her wonderful primary school this term.

It’s a milestone I never thought I would live to see, when I was diagnosed and given a seven per cent chance of living five years or more, four years ago.

Despite my liver failing and chemo, I had managed to make her last sports day and school play. I was determined to make her last assembly too.

But, cancer stopped me.

I insisted my husband Seb had to be there, and as he left I was rushed back to hospital.

At that point, unbeknownst to me and my doctors, my body was attacking itself and I was quickly becoming septic.

When someone has sepsis, I have since learned time is of the essence and hours can be the difference between life and death.

While I am still devastated I missed Eloise’s assembly, thank goodness I listened to my body.

She was upset I missed it, but I just keep thinking that she could have been dealing with much worse right now.

I’m writing this five days later, and it’s the first time I’ve been able to think straight, communicate properly or even start to comprehend what just happened.

I’m the last person to call my hospital’s hotline, and I hate spending any more time there than I absolutely have to.

I called and explained how I was feeling and was told I had to be at the hospital – or my nearest A&E – within an hour.

I listened to my body

I was so weak my son Hugo, 13, had to rummage around and put a few things in a bag for me.

In classic teenage style I got an iPad and charger, a few snacks and one pair of pants. Nothing else.

But my brain couldn’t compute anything so it was better than nothing.

The taxi ride to the hospital now feels like a blur.

By the time I got there, my heart rate was so high and my blood pressure was plummeting, I could barely stand up,

I had test after test, a critical care plan and they pumped me full of fluids and ‘nuclear ‘antibiotics.

Tests confirmed I had septicaemia.

My doctors told me the problem was that being relatively fit (minus my cancer) and young, my body was essentially overcompensating, so I looked and felt much better than I was.

That is, until it all got too much and I fell off another cliff. This time it was sepsis.

The next challenge is trying to find out what’s caused it. 

Writing this, we still don’t know. Lots of things have been ruled out, but my doctors are still waiting to find the answer.

To have chemo I have a port inserted, and then there’s the stent too. They are both prime suspects.

The positive news is I am now stable, and the antibiotics are starting to look like they’re working.

I’m hoping to be allowed home later on today.

I’ll be honest, until now I didn’t know much about sepsis. What I’ve learned is how important it is that everyone knows the symptoms.

Because, like with cancer in so many cases, catch it early and it can be treated.

I have been utterly terrified at how quickly it all happened, and just how ill I got. 

If I hadn’t got to the hospital in time, I hate to think what might have happened.

While I am physically broken, and have another long road to recover, a plan and some stability is giving me hope.

Like with cancer, this hasn’t just broken my physically though. Mentally, I have been to the depths of hell, and back.

I went a bit mad in my hospital bed.

At first I was too ill to care about being totally isolated. But three days later I was on the verge of discharging myself for the sake of my mental health.

I’m lucky I had a room, but due to Covid I wasn’t able to leave it. I wasn’t allowed any visitors, due to Covid guidelines.

I lay there on Wednesday night watching thousands of people pack out Wembley, hugging and cheering together while I sat crying, desperate to see my Mum or husband.

I went a bit mad

It’s crazy that people are allowed to cheer on the football team but I couldn’t have someone to hold my hand.

The wonderful nurses looking after me said they have missed patients have visitors – they are now playing the role of nurse, family member and carer.

I had to ask for help to go for a pee, find my bag, work the TV, wash myself.

Sometimes I’ve been too tired to even ask for help, and just curled up in a ball and cried.

I get we need Covid guidelines, but they need to be revised. 

My Mum has had both her jabs, if she does a test why couldn’t she come into hold my hand and sit by my side?

In the end, I was so poorly and distressed that the team did allow her to come and see me.

Again, the incredible staff here went above and beyond.

Know the signs

SEPSIS is life-threatening and can be hard to spot.

If you notice these signs, seek medical help immediately.

Call 999 or got to A&E if you baby or young child has any of these symptoms, they don’t need to have them all:

  • Blue, pale or blotchy skin, lips or tongue
  • A rash that doesn’t fade when you roll a glass over it – the same as the meningitis test
  • Difficulty breathing – you might notice grunting noises, or their stomach sucking under their ribcage, breathlessness or breathing really fast
  • A weak, high-pitched cry that’s not like their normal cry
  • Not responding like they normally do, or not interested in feeding or normal activities
  • Being sleepier than normal, difficult to wake

If an older child or adult has these symptoms, seek help immediately:

  • Acting confused, slurred speech or not making sense
  • Blue, pale or blotchy skin, lips or tongue
  • A rash that doesn’t fade when you roll a glass over it
  • Difficulty breathing, breathlessness or breathing very fast

This is no criticism of them, I love the team at my hospital. They keep me alive, and once again have brought me back from the brink.

But they are bound by the rules, and have a duty to protect their patients and staff as well.

I broke down and sobbed and actually believed I would be better off going home to die than remain there on my own, frightened.

That doesn’t mean I wasn’t so grateful to be getting the very best care. I was just so low, so seriously ill I thought I was spending precious days stuck alone in hospital.

My rationale went out the window.

I’m not alone, I shared my agony on Twitter and reading all the responses I realised just had hard it is for people in hospital right now.

Surely we can now use testing to keep patients and staff safe? Surely we can start to allow them vital access to their loved ones in their darkest times?

When I hit rock bottom, special permission was granted from the top, on mental health grounds.

The transformation was like night and day, she started feeding me. I didn’t feel alone.

It made a world of difference and, with the incredible care and treatment, it pulled me back from the brink.

My mum reminded me I could carry on and I could do this.

But I shouldn’t have to hit rock bottom to make that happen, none of us should.

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