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Walking back to happiness
Published 04/08/14

A WOMAN who was told she was unlikely to walk again and then diagnosed with cancer has made a remarkable recovery.

Aideen Jones, 45, completed a 5km charity walk from Henley to Shiplake on Sunday together with family and friends.

Yet less than 18 months ago the former Henley pub landlady thought her life was effectively over after being paralysed from the chest down.

She said: “I never imagined I would be able to walk one kilometre, never mind five. It was an absolutely amazing feeling.”

Mrs Jones, of Ryecroft Close, Wargrave, woke one Saturday morning in March last year unable to move. Her husband Kevin, 52, rushed her to the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading where she was given a CT scan.

An hour later, she was told the double bad news. Mrs Jones recalled: “Two consultants came in and proceeded to tell me that I had a spinal cord compression and I needed to prepare myself as I was unlikely to walk again.

“They said I would have to have emergency spinal surgery and then continued by saying, ‘unfortunately, that’s not the main bad news’.They said the scan had shown that the compression was being caused by a cancerous mass and that in fact the cancer was showing in seven different places in my body.

“It took about six minutes to have that conversation. We still now refer to it as ‘the six minutes that shifted our world’.

“Life as we know it, we thought, was finished. It’s still imprinted on my mind and will be forever. I didn’t cry when they told me that I was unlikely to walk again but when they told me it was cancer — and possibly terminal — I did start to cry and so did my husband. The two of us were sobbing for about 10 minutes.”

Mrs Jones, who used to run the Bull pub in Bell Street, said she had no idea of how seriously ill she was when four months earlier she started to have back pain and sought treatment from a physiotherapist.

The pain would subside but then return weeks later. When it became so unbearable she took the advice of her physio and had an X-ray at the Royal Berks.

Mrs Jones said: “They weren’t clear about what they could see but they said it wasn’t right. They wanted me to have a CT scan but for that I needed a referral from my GP at the Hart Surgery in Henley.” On March 22, she felt a tingling sensation in the back of her legs which felt like pins and needles so she went to bed early. The following morning she woke up partially paralysed.

Mrs Jones said: “I couldn’t feel anything and couldn’t stand up. Blind panic was the overriding thing. I just sort of screamed out and woke Kevin.

“He had to drag me down the stairs and get me into the car because he didn’t want to wait for the ambulance.”

Mrs Jones didn’t discover what type of cancer she had until after she had undergone spinal surgery and her tissue was analysed.

The cancer was in her intestine, stomach, left kidney, right lung, spine, pelvis and left hip bone.

She recalled: “The difficulty was there were so many intangibles at this stage. You can’t formulate a plan of action when you don’t know what you’re dealing with.”

Mrs Jones said she and her husband had some “difficult conservations” about the possibility of her being terminally ill and they created a “bucket list” of things they’d always wanted to do.

The following day — a Sunday — she underwent hours of surgery.

Mrs Jones said: “I became quite calm towards the end of Saturday evening and I actually slept during the night. I think my attitude at that stage was ‘there’s nothing we can do about it’.”

After the operation, she woke to find her husband at her bedside holding her hand.

“It was a huge sense of relief that I’d survived it — it was a big risk operation,” she said. “It was then a waiting game until we got the diagnosis. I was still paralysed.”

Four days later, she was told she had stage four aggressive non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a type of blood cancer that can be treated successfully.

Mrs Jones said: “I sort of punched the air and said ‘brilliant’ and the doctor sort of looked at me as if I was crazy!

“Out of the two options, that was by far the best news I could have had because it was something I could fight — it was not a foregone conclusion.”

Soon afterwards, she began chemotherapy treatment with a cycle every three weeks and also had physiotherapy that enabled her to stand.

Mrs Jones said: “That gave me some hope but the doctors were very cautious. I basically refused to accept what they said.”

She spent two months in the hospital with her husband by her side almost every day. He even took his laptop to the hospital so he could continue his job as a director of customer support for a US-based company.

Mrs Jones said: “I had amazing support from my family and friends while I was there.”

Towards the end of her time in hospital she was able to move with the help of a Zimmer frame with a physiotherapist supporting her from behind and another two moving each of her feet.

This process is known as re-patterning. Mrs Jones said: “They were basically teaching my brain how to walk again.”

She left the hospital at the end of May and then spent two weeks in rehabilitation at Lynden Hill Clinic, near Wargrave, where she had two intensive physiotherapy sessions every day, six days a week.

Her progress improved dramatically and by the time she left in mid-June she was able to move with the frame by herself.

Mrs Jones returned home to her husband and their two dogs, Staffordshire bull terrier crosses Cara and Riley. Later she was able to achieve a target she had set herself of being able to walk the dogs in Bowsey Woods near her home.

Mrs Jones said: “It was amazing to be back in familiar surroundings with Kevin and the dogs. Everything was easier to face when I was back home.”

A hospital bed was set up in their sitting room and the couple’s dining room became a home gym.

She had physiotherapy at home four days a week and also did it on her own, determined to walk again.

She also moved on to a Rollator, another walking aid, and by the end of August last year she was on crutches and then by late autumn was able to use just walking sticks.

But February this year she was able to walk with just one stick and by May could move around the house without any support.

Furthermore, after six cycles of chemotherapy she had another CT scan and was told the cancer had been eradicated. She is now in remission.

Recalling the day she was able to walk independently again, Mrs Jones said: “I was in my parallel bars with the physio and I got to the end of them and she said, ‘keep going’. I did three or four steps with no support, no one holding me or helping me. It was incredible, I was laughing and smiling.

“The physios have said my recovery has been incredible but it’s down to the fact I was so bloody-minded. I was so determined to walk again. I just refused to lie down and give in.

“I bought a canvas which I have behind my desk which says ‘the greatest thing in life is doing what others tell you you cannot do’. I look at that everyday and remind myself and it’s up to me — I can do whatever I put my mind to and the walk was one of those things.”

Mrs Jones, who now works from home, led Sunday’s walk from Henley Rugby Club to Shiplake, which took an hour and eight minutes.

She was joined by Gilly Wise, her NHS physiotherapist, while Carol Adkins, her neurological physiotherapist, met them for lunch afterwards.

The walk was in aid of Cancer Research UK and has raised 2,600 so far. Mrs Jones received donations on the walk from passers-by.

To make a donation, visit www.justgiving.com/aideen -jones1 or text 70070 using the code CGBN67 and the amount you would like to contribute.

Published 04/08/14

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