Part Two: Finding the Fleek - Emma's Story

I moved abroad when I was 20. I’ve always been ambitious and when I started working for a well-known tour operator it was no different. I loved the job, always wanting to excel, and I did. By the time I reached 25 I was managing 250 staff and climbing the career ladder faster than I ever thought possible, I had a good group of friends and just met my boyfriend, but although it may have seemed perfect on the surface my work-life balance was so skewed that I hardly ever saw my friends, my boyfriend lived over 4 hours away and I could on commute to see him for one day a week and I was drowning from the self-induced pressure to achieve unobtainable goals, so much so that the stress actually made me ill.. Before I go any future I need to let you know that my illness wasn’t serious, it was, in fact, a thyroglossal cyst, which was basically a 6cm by 5cm lump that would pop up on my throat when I was running on empty and made me look like one of Frankenstein’s distance relatives. But I didn’t know that at the time.

Like most things that change the course of your life, it came completely out of the blue. I was working at the airport in Turin, overseeing the flights schedule and making sure all our guests ended up where they needed to. It had been an easy day, as far as airport days went, we hadn’t had any cancellations or major delays, and no one had yelled at me, well not badly anyway. Winning.

I was just about to say goodbye to my team, and had popped to the toilet ahead of my 4 hour drive home when I noticed the lump on my neck, I pointed it out to my best friend and boyfriend, making the standard Frankenstein jokes, but they weren’t laughing and the look on their faces was pure horror. It must have looked bad. They demanded I went to the pharmacy, who immediately told me to go downstairs and see the on-site medical staff. Upon arrival at the medical centre, I tried with the bad jokes again, but the paramedics weren’t laughing either.

Does it hurt? They asked prodding my lump.

No. I said. I feel great.

Ok. They said, looking at each other. You need to get to A&E now!


Thinking of all the things I had to do that day I asked them if it could wait. They were adamant it wouldn’t. Suffice to say, that was not what I was expecting

I recall that I still wasn’t concerned, so bundling myself back into the car, which I spent more time in than my actual house, off I trotted down the road to the hospital.

After explaining to the receptionist, the reason for my visit I was called in for an ultrasound.

Hmmm. The nurse said. I’m not sure where it is, it looks from this that it could be in your lymph nodes.

I had to take a second. Sorry what?!


As an aside, my grandfather passed away from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma when my mum was still a toddler. That complied with the doctor telling me it was a bad sign for a painless lump to appear, on what she thought was my lymph node, definitely made me listen.

She told me she was fast-tracking me through the system based on my age and I would have a full examination by the specialist the following day, with an MRI and CT scan thrown in within the next few weeks. The good thing about Italy, they take this stuff seriously.

Now I’m not going to go through the whole process but after some fun tests, including having a camera shoved up my nose and down my throat (never trust a doctor who tells you to just relax!), I got the almost-all-clear. The hospital told me, that although harmless, I would need a simple operation to remove it, or it would continue to appear and get a little bit bigger every time.

The doctors said it wasn’t associated with stress and it was just something that I had since birth, however, I knew different. When I was run down I could feel it start to tingle, a bit like just before a cold sore appears and that was when I decided something needed to change, my body was telling me, it was giving me a warning and saying ‘you were lucky this time’.

I took quite drastic action. I left my job.


I was lucky however, a friend offered me the chance to freelance at an events company for a few months whilst I took a step back. So with two suitcases, no apartment and no idea what being a freelancer would be like, I moved back to London.

It was weird, that in one of the busiest cities in the world, I discovered slow-living. It wasn’t something I sought out or looked to do, it just happened. I started by sorting out the basics, eating well, making sure I had dates in the diary to fly back and visit my boyfriend in Italy (Ryanair was a godsend for cheap flights that summer), I worked hard at my job, but my boss looked out for me and if I was starting to get swallowed whole with work she would give me a gentle reminder to take my bum home and get some rest!, my boyfriend came over about 6 months in and persuaded me to join the gym, and by the time my operation rocked around the following spring, I officially had the spring back in my step. My confidence had returned, I was happy with where I was, what I was doing and looking forward to the future. Life isn’t always plain sailing, but by living-slowly I started to appreciate things again, the little old lady who fed the stray cats across the road, the Director who all but root marched me to the hospital when I thought the lump was coming back (a few weeks after I’d got back to the UK), the chitter-chatter of the daily street market, which I would pass on my way to work. These little things moved themselves to the forefront and instead of running aimlessly and blindly forward, I was starting to cruise at my own speed and take in the view along the way.

For me, that year was the turning point. I worked on a little bit of myself every day until I got to the point when I was confident in the decisions I was making, and these choices were making me happy. I know people go through much worse, and to some, this tale can seem very much #firstworldproblems , but my brush with Dr Jekyll was enough for me because that was what made me want to find my fleek.

Next Friday we will be sharing with you Lucy's story so remember to check back in! Have a Fleek Friday!

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