ADRIENNE'S HIV BLOG – Hivine's Weblog

HIVINE is written by HIV positive women but still with a sense of humour

Radioactivists – Where there’s a Willo there’s a way -1

Willo’s response to Viv-Lives


Hello Viv


I read with envy your beautifully descriptive account of your coastal tour around the lanes of North Wales.


I also read of your trepidation regarding your forthcoming visit to Christies. Well, on that account, I am a seasoned patient and hope to allay your fears. Unfortunately my trips to Christies were rather prolonged due to recurring colo-rectal cancer, tumours in various ‘woman’s bits’ and latterly secondary bone cancer. My first ‘internment’ was on April Fools Day 1986, where, a few days later (after much preparation) I had a radium needle implant. The 10 ‘needles’ (resembling 2 inch nails) were to be inserted and stitched into place for the specific time of 132 and a half hours, during which time I was to be confined to bed and had the radioactive sign placed at the foot were no visitors were to pass and their visiting time was limited. The staff only entered my bed area to administer drugs, count the silks which were attached to the needles (so that they couldn’t entirely disappear without being retrieved), bring meals, drinks and water for washing.


By the allocated time arrived for the removal of these needles I realised my ‘good-healing’ skin had indeed started to heal around the needles, making their removal difficult, so I fearfully approached that time. No problem – the sister organised a massive intravenous dose of Valium and I immediately went off onto cloud cuckoo land until it started to wear off. By this time she was on the seventh needle and I was still hazy by the time the last one was removed.


Sadly my cancer was to recur again some 18 months later. I had been living in Zambia which had no facilities for treating cancer and so I had to return once again to the UK and this time decided to stay, in doing so, leaving my second husband, who I felt was giving me far more stress than the cancer. Christies welcomed me with open arms, though this time I had to have the dreaded colostomy. This was November 1987 and in the New Year I decided I needed to go back to college and re-educate if I was going to eventually support myself.


I enrolled at Liverpool Polytechnic on a three-year degree course (there’s optimism for you!), but attending the ‘Well Woman Clinic’ it was discovered that I had carcinoma in situ of the cervix, so was admitted to my local hospital (Ormskirk) for a cone biopsy. Unfortunately they were unable to perform this procedure due to everything being displace because of my previous surgery. They decided to just send me for regular smears to monitor the situation.


About a year later I started being ill again and was referred to st Mary’s hospital, Manchester, with bladder problems. More surgery followed, but by the end of the year 1990 I could hardly walk, but my GP and doctors at St Mary’s were largely ignoring my symptoms and although I phoned Christies, I couldn’t get back there as I was still under referral to St Mary’s. On Monday 17th December I had an appointment to see the professor of gynaecology at St Mary’s, whereupon he was to inform me (which I already knew) that my recent tests showed carcinoma in-situ of the cervix. I explained I already knew that, had told his staff, but nobody was listening to the fact that I could hardly walk, even though his staff had been having to lift my left leg up onto the examination couch in order to examine me over the past months. He listened intently and examined me, paying attention to everything I had told him. Examination complete he immediately got on the phone to Christies and arranged for me to have a scan on the Friday (there had been a cancellation). Both he and my consultant radiotherapist attended the scan and when it was finished they came in the room to tell me that the original tumour had thrown down secondaries which had eroded and fractured the pelvis, which accounted for the pain and the difficulty in walking. They asked me to come in on the Monday to start a month of radiotherapy. I refused, as my son was going to be home from Hong Kong for just four days over Christmas and, as they had ignored my symptoms for the best part of a year, I would rather spend the four days with my him, but as he left Manchester airport to return to Hong Kong on the Thursday, then I would return to Christies. They were sympathetic to my argument and agreed.


After my month of radiotherapy I was told that I could have a month off and then start six months of chemo, however I had to return a few days after the radiotherapy for further exploratory surgery and that is when they found the cervical cancer had spread. After that biopsy I was staying with my new partner for a few days when I started haemorrhaging and was admitted to hospital in Blackburn, where, after being given blood, I had a weird reaction and nearly died. Three weeks later I started the chemo.


As you can imagine I missed most of my final year at Liverpool, only really attending tutorials. They gave me the option of deferring a year, but as a mature student – and under the dire circumstances, I didn’t want to do this. The staff at Christies, realising my situation and the need for me to study during the month of radiotherapy, had let me use the interview room in which to concentrate on the notes for my dissertation and I graduated on schedule in 1991.


Apart from various bits of plastic surgery to repair damaged caused by repeated radiation, I have (thus far) been in remission and was discharged from Christies many years ago. Mine was a rather protracted encounter with cancer, but I have many friends who have overcome it after the first period of treatment and I hope this will apply in your case. I know I am lucky to have survived secondaries, but I read lots about cancer, took advice and wanted to be proactive in my recovery. Complimentary therapies have recently had bad press, but I am in favour and would recommend all sorts of things. I still take extra vitamins and minerals daily and believe they help me and, apart from the cancer, I don’t suffer from colds and bugs when all around me are dropping like flies!


I did notice a difference at Christies over the course of my various treatments over some five – or seven years if you include the plastic surgery that I had there, but I put that down to staff shortages and cut-backs. Latterly bank nurses were being employed and I really disliked this, as there was/is less continuity of care. Perhaps by now they have improved on this problem, I hope so. Otherwise my care at Christies was nothing short of excellent and over that period of time I got to know the regular staff very well, loved them and felt very safe.


I wish you well, Viv, you can get through this – and you will. If I can help you in any way, I’m only a few seconds apart from you in cyberspace, so do contact me.


All the best




  watcat wrote @

Hi this blog is great I will be recommending it to friends.

  Radio activist- Viv wrote @

Hi Willo
Thank you so much for telling your story and very sincere apologies for seeming to ignore it for so long. I was out of the country from the beginning of Feb to mid May and as we were travelling any internet access was via pay in a slot computers on campsites and it proved impossible to write anything more than fairly brief messages home.

What an ordeal you’ve been through! or should I say, what a lot of ordeals you’ve been through but you’ve lived (brilliantly) to tell the tale. I found my brief stay at the Christie hospital to be a positive experience. The treatment (brachytherapy) was not comfortable but it was bearable and was over with in a relatively short period of time. Like you, I found the staff to be lovely and kind and very competent. What amazed me about the place were the vast numbers of patients who were milling around. It was like stepping into the check in lounge at Heathrow. I couldn’t believe that so many people had cancer.

I wish you well and good health. My saga pales into insignificance besides yours. You are an example of triumph over adversity and a testimony to the fact theat a cancer diagnosis is not an automatic death sentence.

Good luck and my best wishes to you,

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