In this short video she shares her story with us and explains how she decided to 'live life and not the cancer'
My name is Christine Palfrey. I was diagnosed in 2013, with adenoid cystic carcinoma in my lower left submandibular. It did come out of the blue, as I think it does for all people that go through a form of cancer or any illness. And it was a huge struggle, with my daughter who at that point she was 12, and her dad and I weren't in a great relationship. So, we had challenges there as well. But we worked through it and I'm nearly nine years on, and there has been more treatment as recent as this year.
What were your symptoms?
So back in 2013, when I felt a little bit ill, I had a cold that just wouldn't push past. I also was feeling quite fatigued. I put that down to exercise and I also felt some discomfort in my lower left jaw. And being an ex-qualified dental nurse, I just thought it was a wisdom tooth. I woke up one Sunday morning in absolute pain, went to see a dentist that morning, took the X-ray and we could see there was an abnormal area. Having been working in that field, I knew and the dentists face pretty much said it all. When I got home, I went for a run. It was the only way I could actually deal with it at that point. From that, I then went into surgery for 12 hours, then had six and a half weeks of radiotherapy, which was, that was, the hardest. I have to say, if I have to radiotherapy again, I'd have to seriously think about it.
What was the treatment like?
With the radiotherapy, the toughest part are the stages where it builds. So over the six weeks you feel OK and you're OK, and then suddenly 'wham' it's like a juggernaut has hit you. Is just hits you, you can't taste, you can't eat, weight just fell off and I looked like a skeleton by the end, pretty much. And it took every ounce energy just to get up every day to go to radiotherapy because it was five days a week over six and a half weeks. But we got through it. My mouth was full of ulcers. People tell you, 'I've got an ulcer' and I'm like 'that's not an ulcer! that's nothing'. So, yeah, I remember crying because I couldn't eat lasagna which is my favorite food. So yes radiotherapy was the toughest out of all of it. With the surgery, seeing my face change, they never prepared me for that. So I went in with one face that I'd known for 30 odd years and came out with a different one. Seeing my daughter after surgery, that was extremely tough because I couldn't talk, I couldn't actually walk and I couldn't eat. And she walked into the room and the only thing I finally had the emotion at that point was energy to cry, which still gets me now.
What advice would you give to someone about to start treatment?
If I met someone, which I recently have, she was only diagnosed this year, but she'd had the treatment for the ACC. If someone was to ask me the questions around it, I think the way they played it, the oncology team was correct, because if they had've told me the in-depth of what was going to happen, I'd never have gone in. I think less is more sometimes, for me. But some people, they want to hear the good, the bad and the ugly. I must admit, when I went for the radiotherapy, so I got through the surgery, and they told me my nodes were clear. I found out years later that wasn't factually true. But I said, well, my nodes are clear. I'm not going to go in for radiotherapy.
What happened after your treatment?
So radiotherapy finished in 2013. I then had a suspicion with no real symptoms that something wasn't quite right and I went back in. I was going back every six months for the scans, PET and CT and then in 2015, I did have the full scan and they found that there was mets in my left lung. We went and removed that. And since that, I was having scans again every six months, moved to nine months. And then two years ago from this year, they found more mets in my right lung. We decided to see how that developed as they were small. There were only three of them. And then this year, I was diagnosed with mets in my right lung. It was one specific cancer cell tumor growing, but it was right near my heart. So we decided to go ahead. So this year I've had eight years, or four treatments, I call them, and this year was probably the biggest one since the original cancer developed.
How to you live on a day to day basis?
So I think through any illness anyone gets for this cancer, etc., you deal with it in very different ways. I pretty much made the decision right at the start that I was going to live life and not the cancer. You do see people who live an illness, which is sad, but they have to deal with it in their way. I do my exercise, my running, rowing, weight training, etc. and that does help massively, but in all honesty it is living day to day. I am in eighty percent of pain most days. Today's a good day. So, it's dropped a little bit, but you can guarantee by the end of the day it will be back up. I don't take any over-the-counter medication or doctor's medication, I try and do everything natural as much as I can, and I eat a healthy diet. But one of the good things through all this, I'm actually getting married at the end of November, so good things can happen even in dark times. So my famous saying to people is 'carpe diem'. One of the really key things I do, like I said, don't touch smoothies while you go through radiotherapy, I do religiously have fresh fruits and fresh veg every day. I do use green tea, but I do use a high level of powder in it, and I do use Manuka honey. And again, I use a very high level. It's not cheap. I am fortunate that I can afford it, but I think if you can't, you could make small changes. But all our DNA is different, so it's just finding your own path. There's no real answer for anyone, but definitely don't have tomato soup.
Did you do research into your cancer?
I don't really research it. I have to be honest, purely because I think it would cause me my health and wellbeing worry, if I kept researching this information. I know it would to be perfectly honest, but my partner does. He'll come to me if he thinks there's something I need to see, and we will look at it together at that point in time. But what has helped is a lady that I've met this year, who was diagnosed, she had nothing, similar to me as I had no way of knowing anything about it. But Salivary Gland Cancer UK has really helped her. So, I can see already it's going to make a difference to so many people out there that sadly are going to come into connection with this cancer.
What is your advice to others?
My biggest thing to everyone is don't just don't live the illness, but everyone's going to be different. If you let it do that, I've seen people it's consumed and sadly, we've lost them a lot sooner. And so I think try and embrace as much as you can, but do have you down days. Everyone has them. I had mine on Tuesday. I cried for no reason. So, yeah, you're human at the end of the day.