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  • Writer's pictureNikki Stock

CANCER, CARER, COMA SURVIVOR - A Story of Resilience

Valentine’s day is often a day of mixed emotions for many people, and I am one of them. This is a story about a woman who is in the two clubs that no one would ever choose to become a member of, as I am both a Widow and a Coma Survivor.

By the way I rarely tell my story; in fact it is something I have shied away for years from. But today marks the 10 Year Anniversary of a sequence of events that literally changed my life forever, and that of my children too.

We need to start at the beginning, in January 2011. My now late partner received the news we were dreading over Christmas, that he was suffering from a rare, incurable but “treatable” blood cancer. He was diagnosed on the Thursday and by Monday was admitted to hospital to start the most brutal treatment regimen imaginable.

Six months earlier, not realising what was around the corner, we had bought a business out of administration and 2011 was our year for gearing up to turn it around. But instead our lives became a never-ending round of hospital visits. We literally stopped work overnight and left our staff to keep the ship afloat.

The following month in February my mother was diagnosed with womb cancer and in the March my father was diagnosed with psychosis. It was like the universe had decided it was going to really pile it on. I spent one day in May ferrying them to three hospitals in three counties over a 12-hour period, and this went on for months.

Fast forward to January 2012, and my partner had enjoyed 3 months remission and we decided to take our children (who were then 14 & 17) skiing at Christmas. We had a magical time, and even though I was mentally and physically exhausted we all felt 2012 would be our year.

But our hope was short-lived when 2 weeks after getting home, my partner started to feel unwell again. Sure enough the cancer had returned and this time it was even more aggressive. Although we were aiming for a stem cell transplant, I knew from all the research I had done and conferences I had attended on this lymphoma that it was going to be a long shot.

On Valentines Day I dropped my partner off at the hospital for his regular top up of platelets and as I was leaving one of the nurses asked if I was OK. Me being me I said I’m alright, just a bit tired. She took me by the hands and told me I didn’t look ok, that my lips were a little blue and that I should to go straight to my GP to get checked out.

I had been feeling under the weather for a few weeks but when I had seen my regular GP previously she put it down to “carers fatigue’.

But luckily this time I saw a locum who didn’t know the full story, so treated what he found. He asked for an ECG to be done, and as I walked back into this office I could hearing him saying that he was sending someone in as an emergency. So I said “Oh it sounds iike you are a bit busy…I’ll come back!” To which he replied “No it’s you, YOU are going in.”

In the space of an hour, I arranged for the kids to be picked up from school, someone to get my partner, and was checking in to Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Huntingdon.

From the get-go it was clear they were all quite worried about me. I spent a couple of hours in MAU where I had a barrage of tests, and it was then that I knew I wouldn’t be going home that night.

My lungs felt like two breeze blocks and were barely working. I was admitted to a ward and put on oxygen, and the first couple of days were a bit of blur. Friends came to see me, but not my partner who was neutropenic and couldn’t risk coming in. So we communicated by text.

By the Friday I was seriously ill, struggling to breathe. Like I was drowning, gasping for air. Luckily a friend of mine was a Resus Officer at the hospital, and within 10 minutes of coming to see me all hell broke loose! She got a consultant from another department and the next minute I am being wheeled down to intensive care by this amazing doctor who was saying “Don’t worry, we will look after you….”

All I can remember is pleading with them not to knock me out as I hadn’t seen or spoken to my dying partner for days……… but I had no choice, they ventilated me.

My partner was having chemo that day and broke down when his nurses asked where I was. His consultant was fantastic, contacted my consultant and they arranged for him to visit me in hospital late at night, coming in through the back entrance so he would not have to come in contact with anyone.

They told him I was very ill, that I had pneumonia and multiple other infections on my lungs.

By the Sunday I had deteriorated so rapidly they knew they didn’t have the knowledge or technology to keep me alive at Hinchingbrooke. So they rang home and told my partner they had called for the ECMO retrieval team at Papworth Hospital.

For those of you who don’t know ECMO is the last chanced saloon, where you are put into a medically induced coma with your eyes taped shut. The machine basically does the work of your lungs, and has widely been used throughout the COVID pandemic for the sickest of patients. At the time there were only about 6 ECMO centres in the country, but we were just lucky to be living on top of one… and they had a bed.

On Monday a neighbour took my partner to Papworth where he was told I was critically ill. I had 17 lines of antibiotic going into my neck, I was receiving 1-2-1 nursing care and they basically said treating me was like shooting satellites out of the sky. They would throw everything they had at it in the hope that something would work.

However, by Monday evening things got even worse. My partner received a call to say that it would be better if he bought the children in to see me on Tuesday morning as they didn’t expect me to last another 24 hours.

My poor teenage children had a desperately sick father at home, and a critically ill mother in a coma in the hospital. Even now my heart breaks for them and what they had to go through. Throughout the day friends and family came to see me for what they thought would be the last time. And then they waited, and waited… and waited.

10 Days passed in a coma and I was holding my own. The consultants warned my family that they had no idea how much “damage” had been done, and that if I did come out of this there would be months of rehabilitation.

Eventually, the consultants rang and said they were going to take me off ECMO, lift the sedation, and “See what we have left”.

When my partner came to visit me that day, I opened my eyes and said “What the hell are you doing here, you should be having your chemo!” With tears in his eyes he told the consultant “She’s back”.

I was transferred to Addenbrookes Critical Care, then Intensive Care, and High Dependency. In fact I did 11 wards in 3 hospitals over that month alone. Some days I was lucid, others not so, but I knew I had to get better for the children and my partner.

I came home the day before my son’s 15th birthday weighing 6 stone, barely able to walk.

And just 10 weeks later on 3rd June (the Queen’s Jubilee) my beloved partner and father of our two amazing children died.

And that’s when the enormity of what I had faced and was still facing hit me. Here I was in my late 40’s, a widow with two children taking GCE’s and A’levels, recovering from almost dying. And with a massive mortgage and a business that was on it knees with 5 staff to support. I should add that my partner and I were together for 23 years but not married, so none of his state pension came to me – it died with him.

I felt as it the whole weight of the world was on my shoulders and had no way of shifting it.

I dug deep and worked 6 days a week for 18 months to turn the business round, and managed to sell it to one of my suppliers for a reasonable profit. The relief was enormous I could pay a bit of the mortgage and take some time out to heal.

But my relief was short-lived, I hit the wall. I had the worst panic attack ever, so much so I ran to a friend in the village who worked for the Samaritans begging her to help me. I told her I couldn’t do this anymore, it was relentless.

Fortunately, my consultant at the hospital had been keeping a keen eye on his “walking miracle” as he called me and arranged for me to see a counsellor. I was diagnosed with PTSD an put on anti-depressants. If you had said to me 12 years ago I would be on medication to get me through my life I would have said No Way, but they literally saved my life.

Life took on a steady rhythm, and I knew that I didn’t ever want to be employed again having been self-employed for over 25 years. So I started working in marketing with solo entrepreneurs and SME’s. Despite all the trauma the kids were doing well and I began to plan a future. I had some great clients and also joined the Women in Business Franchise.

Life was beginning to look OK again, and I had practically paid off the mortgage, and had a property in Spain as well. But I was always asking myself “Why Me? Why Didn’t I Die?” What was the reason I was saved?” (apart from the obvious one that my kids would have had no parents).

And then… the Pandemic hit. I lost 80% of my clients practically overnight, the network lost members, and running a limited company I was part of another Club: the 3 Million Company Directors that were #EXCLUDED financial support by the government.

But rather than give in I retrained and set up my web design & doodle business, and inadvertently started mentoring people I came across while networking. It would seem I have a gift and the more people I helped, the more came to me. One of my client’s called me her “Crisis Manager”, another her “Voice of Reason”, and another her “Creative Inspiration”. I guess when you’ve been made to live your life one hour at a time it gives you a certainly clarity!

And so in the last 6 months coming out of COVID it dawned on my what my purpose is.

I am here to serve all those amazing solo entrepreneurs who have set up on their own. I understand how scary it is being the one in charge. Making decisions everyday, second guessing ourselves, while navigating the uncertainty that we are faced with on a daily basis.

I want to help you create profitable business you absolutely love, that work with the life you live - without overwhelm or stress

Being left financially vulnerable I particularly want business women to be on top of their finances.

Suffering from PTSD, & Depression I want to share with you the tools that will help you transition to become a “Healthy Happy Entrepreneur”.

I will be running peer-to-peer mentoring groups on a regular basis, sharing all the tools in my toolkit that I used to turn a business that was in administration into a going concern, and helping you thrive and survive

I am so excited to share this with you, and on Valentines Day this is a reminder to love yourself & love what you do. Find your Purpose and your Passion, and live each day like it’s your last (as one day it surely will be).

Most of us only have one life - unless you are me - and we have no road map, and we cannot predict the future. We will all hit bumps in the road, and find mountains in our path. Life tests us, and just when we think we’re getting there, tests us even further. I’ve certainly been on a rollercoaster that took me to some very dark places.

But as a Coma Survivor and a Widow I can tell you that you never move on from such life changing events, but you CAN and you WILL find a way to move forward.

And if we share our experience and find a tribe that sings to our soul, we will get through this together. For me it’s not the life I had planned, it’s different. And now I can even say that it’s exciting.

I look forward to learning more about you and helping you on your journey.

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