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How It All Began

I have noticed in my own grim perusal of cancer blogs that what I always want to start with is the Story Of How It All Began. I guess because we all wonder whether it could be us, whether we are missing something our body is trying to tell us, and in my case just to compare notes. So here’s my story. Apologies for the bottom and poo references. I guess it’s kind of inevitable.

I think I’ve had a bit of a dodgy bott since my early twenties. I like to think it stems back to some particularly virulent bugs caught in India when I worked and travelled there. But really, even before that there were the signs of something like irritable bowel syndrome, I just called it Keble gut-rot, since that is what all my other friends seemed to have after eating college food.

I got to 29 before doing anything about it. I stopped working at No 10, moved to Cambridge and with all the time I now had I vowed to sort out some long-standing health issues. So,  smear tests (and removal of some of those little polyp-y things in my cervix), and some tests at the doctors when I told them about blood in my poo. I can’t quite remember how but after this I also ended up at Addenbrookes having a camera up my bottom. Sadly only half way up – a sigmoidoscopy. If it had gone the whole way up (a colonoscopy) then they might have seen and been able to chop out the little polyps which, over the next 4 years, grew into my massive Nuisance. Anyways, they didn’t spot anything and just told me to eat more fibre.

So, in those intervening 5 years I relaxed about my weird poo, and got preoccupied with having twins and then work. But last June or so I started to feel weird. I got terrible migraines for the first time in my life. I was so much more tired than I could remember having been. Usually I could go into work after an overnight flight, but that didn’t seem possible anymore. I found myself snoozing on Saturdays, my usual energy gone, though I put this down to getting old (by the way, there was none of that weight loss you hear about with cancer – I barely lost 3 kilos and that was with going on a HUGE and boring diet over the same 4 months). But then in September I just stopped poo-ing. First time for about 10 days. And laxatives just put me in bed vomiting and heaving with pain for 2 days. Visit 1 to Doctor. She is reassured by the colonoscopy I stupidly tell her I had 5 years ago (because I don’t know that I haven’t had one). Apparently these are valid for 5 years so she won’t refer me for another one. She inspects me and gives me stool softener. This works for about 5 days and then my bowel just seems to close over like a massive stone had rolled into its’ path – that would be the tumour, I later find. I get more stool softener from the Docs. It doesn’t work.

And at this crucial moment I go on a work trip to California and Chicago. Can’t poo, can’t eat. But otherwise not ILL, in fact feeling pretty awesome. Running on the beach at San Diego, driving a combine harvester in Decateur (yep, my job was fun as well as hard work). But then I got to Chicago airport and just faded. The flight home was me alternately vomiting and restlessly sleeping with a fever. I don’t think I was a popular passenger, but then again the air hostesses on United weren’t exactly Florence Nightingale. I got in my taxi at Heathrow and went straight to A&E in Cambridge. I arrived at 7am and by 7pm I was in emergency surgery. At some point on that dreadful afternoon the bowel surgeon (who is a hero in this story, believe me) came to see me and told me the CT scan had showed I had a blockage in my bowel and shadows on my liver. So, he was very sorry to say, he suspected the worst: cancer. He would know after the op. I woke up about midnight to find Billy next to my bed saying yes, it was cancer. I can only begin to imagine how bad all this was for him. But at that stage I was morphined-up and strangely, crazily ecstatic to be alive and not to have a colostomy bag (if I had had one of those, my blog would have featured poo more heavily, so we should all be grateful).

Then, out of hospital. 4 weeks of getting used to this new normal. A CT scan, an MRI, a PET. All confirm I have Stage 4 cancer – i.e. it started in my bowel but has now spread or metastasised to my liver, but no further. We discover more disease in the liver than we hoped. No immediate curative operation. And so begins the chemo, the search for physicians I like and trust, Billy’s role as Chief Scientific Officer, eventually my liver op in Houston in March, more chemo, and in December the news the Nuisance was back, had spread to my bones, and was now incurable.But you know all that.

20 Comments

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  1. Tracey Okonkwo / Apr 9 2014 11:22 am

    Hi Kate, my sister forwarded your story to me. Have you heard of the healing power of raw plant foods? Tracey

  2. emma harrison / Apr 13 2014 2:46 pm

    This blog is brilliant

    • Kate Gross / Apr 13 2014 5:35 pm

      Thanks Emma – I’m pleased to hear that it resonates with someone in the same crappy situation – Kate x

  3. emma harrison / Apr 13 2014 2:53 pm

    I am in the same situation (bone plus adrenal glands and lungs), thank you for writing this blog – it’s good for people to know that us terminal girls are not all doom and gloom.

  4. Louis Casey-Gibbs / Apr 26 2014 1:28 pm

    Kate I was flying yesterday from London to France and bought a copy of vogue to read to pass the time. I read your story and it touched me so deeply, I want to tell you that you inspired me in a way that I have never experienced, I enjoy painting and sat down today to destress and relax but I felt myself thinking of your story and wanted to do something beuatiful to make you smile, I am not sure how to get this to you but I would like to send it. Please contact me you have my email (I think)???

    • Kate Gross / Apr 28 2014 8:15 pm

      Hi Louis – I don’t have your email but if you put it here I will reply. Thank you! Kate

  5. Monique / Apr 29 2014 1:46 pm

    Dear Kate, please could you email me at monique.rivalland@the-times.co.uk

    We’d like to discuss an opportunity at Times Magazine with you but I’m not sure how to get in touch!

    All the best
    Monique

  6. Yvonne / May 1 2014 12:37 pm

    Hi Kate
    I doubt you will remember me (we were on happy people
    Working group together!) we worked together at no10, I am still there – in dcu- I read an article you wrote and is published in vogue whilst in the hairdressers. I am so so sorry to hear what you have been going through, I also have twins (boy and girl – age 5) – you really are an inspirational person.
    I lost my mum when I was 22 and my brother was 12 – the love she gave to us and the memories never fades –
    there is not a day when she is not in my thoughts and I miss her – everything just now you do for your boys will be the most important part if their future life’s – the grounding for them,
    Much love and many thoughts to you and your family x

    • Kate Gross / Jun 4 2014 12:03 pm

      Of course I remember you and the rest of the HPWG with much fondness! Thank you for this lovely message. So pleased to hear of your twins. Bet ythey are gorgeous. Love Kate xxx

  7. Mark Davies / May 27 2014 1:52 pm

    Hi Kate

    Your story is remarkably close to mine, all be it I am male, a fit 49 and had a full colonoscopy 14 years ago and since then been on 2 yearly follow ups. A year ago I was diagnosed as you were, with stage3 tumour, now chemo, radio, colon removed and with no backside I am having final chemo. I was lucky, am lucky and plan to stay that way.

    Your powerful article, from the Saturday Daily Telegraph, made emotional reading on my chemo bed this morning and your fabulously worded blog kept me further occupied whilst they pumped the poison for 3 hours.

    Your use of the written word is second to none, your frankness, honesty and language reminded me how important it is to keep things simple and in perspective, whilst focusing on the now and looking forward.

    Thank you and good luck.

    Mark

    • Kate Gross / Jun 4 2014 11:59 am

      Thanks for your lovely message Mark. Good luck with the rest of your treatment and beyond. Glad the blog provided some respite in chemo tedium! X Kate

  8. chriselliott334 / Jun 13 2014 12:03 pm

    Hi Kate – I wonder if you might ring me – 01223 434449 – I am writing about you. Chris Elliott, Cambridge News

  9. sevenskyes / Jul 24 2014 4:32 pm

    Hi,

    You are an outstanding woman.

    Reading your piece in vogue earlier today made me proud of you. I don’t know you but your courage and the way you are dealing with your situation is breath taking. I wish I could be half as courageous as you.

    Just beautiful.

  10. Sophie / Oct 21 2014 11:32 am

    I read your blog, thank you for writing it. I think of you and you family a lot. I am sending my love and strength to you all.
    Xxx

  11. Andrew carnegie / Dec 11 2014 8:18 pm

    Hi Kate. I’ve read your piece in the Times 11 dec. I wish you strength. Good luck. Andrew

  12. Tony Pike / Dec 15 2014 11:20 am

    Kate
    I read your beautifully crafted article in the Times last week. You are a beautiful, caring, loving and highly intelligent lady – I admire you so much and Billy and your two sons are so very lucky to have had you as friend, wife and mother – sadly for far too short a time. God Bless xx

  13. Randi Ferraro / Dec 24 2014 3:54 pm

    Kate: I haven’t spoken to you for some time, but I read your blog and it went straight to my heart. It doesn’t seem fair that you should have to undergo such a terrible trial. I will send my best wishes to the universe and your family! Take care, Randi Ferraro
    (Jenny and you visited me in the States a long long time ago, and I have followed your wonderous career through the Norths)

  14. Carlos daly / Jan 3 2015 11:56 am

    Hi Billy, I am sorry to hear of your lovely Kate leaving this world. I lost my wife Holly to cancer 4 years ago when my 2 girls were 4 and 6.
    If you want to contact me for a chat please feel free as there is light at the end of the tunnel
    Yours
    Carlos

  15. dorothykerstin / Jan 16 2015 4:29 pm

    I am struggling to write through tears after reading extracts from your book, and then after searching for more info reading your blog. I am so so sorry you have lost your battle, you were – are – a truly brave and inspirational woman and I admire you. Someone like you will never ever be forgotten, not by your family and friends and not even by me, a woman who has never met you or even heard of you before today. I will buy your book, and I am sure that reading about your strength and courage in the face of such a terrible fate will be something that will inspire me to be a better person for me and for my son, it will teach me not to dwell on annoying trivialities and be grateful for every single day, as you were. I have been depressed lately and I feel ashamed now, my problems are nothing in comparison. You have had to deal with so much worse yet you remained positive and put others first until the end. Rest in Peace brave beautiful Lady, and my deepest heartfelt condolences to Biily, Oscar and Isaac. xxxxxxxxxxx

  16. J M / Jan 16 2015 10:00 pm

    My thoughts are with you Billy…I lost my husband when our son was a baby…….life does go on, but you never ever forget. When the boys are in bed and you’re sitting on the sofa in shock and despair, know that there are others who understand and feel your pain. Hang in there…..we did….

    J in Cambridge

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