In October, Ill be running the Manchester Half Marathon in memory of my sister-in-law, Nikki Ridehalgh.
Nikki passed away in 2016 after battling breast cancer. She was diagnosed in 2011. We were afforded 4 years of her company thanks to the treatment she received at The Christie Hospital, hence the reason Ill be looking to raise money for them as part of this challenge.
I was still at university when Nikki was being treated. Friday was a study day and happened to coincide with her treatment day. I acted as designated driver for much of this year. Shed attempted to do it alone, which was typical Nikki. Tough as old boots and not one to be stopped by something as trivial as Stage 4 Inflammatory Breast Cancer. Fatigue made the drive home hairy. Shed struggled to concentrate in rush hour traffic over Barton Bridge. I volunteered to accompany her. I could get some revision done whilst listening to her tell the same story for the 6th time. She was good at that.
The pattern of the day was always the same: –
- Check in at reception using the automated machine??Id always joke about her birthday being the 13th being apt as she had some of the devil in her.
- Get bloods done??Nikki was a reluctant donor. It would take a few stabs, setting the tone for the troubles shed experience with her cannula later in the day
- Doctors consultation??wed then go in to see the doctor. Id act as translator, parsing the jargon for Nikki when the doctors slipped into medical-speak, and interpreting Nikkis humour for deadpan medics. We experienced the ups and downs in this room. Days when tumours had decreased in size mixed with days of growth and spread. Nikki was always concerned with how the doctor was feeling Are you OK? shed ask. The doctor would be dumfounded. You could see they were thinking Ive just told you your cancer has progresses yet you are asking me how I am? But that was Nikki. Her rationale was that it must be difficult giving people bad news, so she was concerned about their wellbeing. She was also the master at asking daft questions, deliberately, with a serious face. Are my toes going to fall off? and the like. The doctors could never read her.
- Starbucks for a toastie??Id order a coffee, Nikki would order a mocha-choco-loco-frappuciono or whatever it was. Invariably Id order it wrong.
- Wed then sit around for a while waiting for her treatment to be delivered to the ward. This never seemed to be a straight forward. Miscommunication abounded. This was the only time of the day Id see frustration. Shed been ready to walk out on a number of occasions, but Id manage to persuade her to stay.
- Called up to the ward??wed then get the call that her meds were ready and wed be off up to the ward.
- Cannula time??Nurses would then try to insert Nikkis cannula. Some would be lucky and strike gold first time. Invariably it would be more. 4 or 5 stabs was not uncommon. Nikki would sit like a princess, unmoved and compassionate for the nurse.
- Treatment time??wed then move to a chair where shed get hooked up to a drip. The composition of this varied over the years as her treatment protocol varied. Our situation changed too. We started out in conventional Christies and eventually moved to the trials section, where new drugs were beginning their journey to approval. This shift occurred when regular protocols ceased to work.
Cancer is a clever bugger. The way I understood it was that it consists of a population of cells. Some are the same, others different. Nikkis version had a certain receptor the doctors were able to target with a a certain drug. The drug targets the cells with this particular receptor, but, over time, other cells without this marker become stronger and become the predominant cell type. Cancer evolves as you treat it.
Its at this point you have to change treatment. Scans come back reporting growth, which is a sign protocols must change. This happened to Nikki a number of times. Doctors exhaust conventional treatments and then move onto trial drugs whose efficacy is less clear.
Nikkis trial was a huge success. It added at least a year to her life. She was on the news as a result.
Funding is a barrier to accessing new and better drugs. This is why it is extremely important to raise money for the Christie, whose research arm is world class.
Eventually, Nikki succumbed. The turning point occurred at a time I thought she looked as healthy as shed been in a while. I remember going round to her house with her sister just after Christmas. The house was SWELTERING hot. I sweated walking up the stairs. The radiators whirred on full blast. Nikki was bed bound. She couldnt get out of bed to turn the boiler off. We called the ambulance immediately.
Our next trip to The Christie involved a consultant telling her there were no more options left. She checked into Bury Hospice not long after.
Nikki remained a warrior until the end. I sometimes admonish myself for complaining about situations, reminding myself that Nikki coped with cancer with dignity, grace and an ability to still care for others. Her best trait was her ability to make other people feel great about themselves. Anyone who spent time in her company was made to feel special.
The extra time we were afforded with Nikki was a direct result of the treatment she received at The Christie. We are fortunate, as residents of Greater Manchester, to have a world-class cancer facility on our doorstep. Like Bury Hospice, we can take these facilities for granted, until we need their services. It is at this point we realise that were extremely lucky. Their stellar work is facilitated through charitable donations.
Sharing small slivers of Nikkis ordeal has taught me that theres little in life truly under our control. The small parts that are include our attitude and contribution. Whilst running 13 miles isnt going to save the planet, it provides me with a small feeling of control and contribution, as well as a small token of gratitude for the care Nikki received.
If youd like to contribute to The Christie, you can do so through my Just Giving page here https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/phillip-hayes1.