I'm not one for getting stressed. I've certainly had stressful experiences. There was the time I decided to tell my Mum I didn't like her outfit just before she went out. There was being trapped in a Ford Focus with psychopath Len, my driving instructor. And there's chubby 11 year old me deciding to attempt pot holing in the Mendips. But beating all those is waiting to hear the results of my CT scan.
But before we get to that there were a few more milestones. My PICC line was a bell-end again and had to be replaced a third time, my good veins were used up in my left arm so we switched to the right. I did a poo the size of a baseball bat that wouldn't flush in a shopping centre toilet and was well enough to flee the scene of the crime. I think it's still there, being carefully observed by scientists. They daren't poke it, lest it detonate like a dead beached whale. We also managed a short family holiday in a Forest Lodge (massive thanks to the extremely generous Dianne and Roger 'Big Rog' Gooding for that) with my Mum and my brothers family. It was great to forget about things for a few days, even if we ended up rounding things off with a visit to The Carnival of the Damned, aka Peppa Pig World. Look, here's a nice picture to prove it.
But lurking in the background was the spectre of my CT Scan results when I returned. I heard nothing for 2 weeks while my Oncologist was on holiday and dutifully went in for Chemo round 7. Karen knew nothing so she texted him. The response was 'he needs to book an appointment to see me this evening'. My shocked noise was akin to a gobbling rooster. What the flying eff does that mean?! Karen booked me an appointment to be seen in his clinic that night and I went home to sweat my balls off, try to sleep and generally panic. The tumour markers might look positive but he would have just said something if the news was good.
I arrived back at the hospital in a mild state of hysteria. If the disease had spread it would be game over. I was such a mess Kerry could literally measure my heart rate by looking at the movement of my shirt. If I remember correctly it was roughly 346 bpm. To add an air of theatricality to proceedings my doctor was running half an hour late (he's a fine Oncologist but timekeeping is not his strong suit). I remember the consultation well. For starters it took place at the height of summer in an airtight room, just the ticket for a man battling the Chemo McSweats. Most importantly, my Dr seemed to have decided to break the news in the style of Simon Cowell procrastinating and toying with a jelly faced warbler like a cat with a mouse. For some demented, sadistic reason he kept asking me questions. How have the last few rounds been? Tell me about your bowel habits. Why do you look like you want to kill me? He may have forgotten I was awaiting CT results.
Then it came. 'On balance I believe your disease is showing a response to your treatment'. Come again?
The tumour certainly hadn't spread and may have even shrunk slightly, it was difficult to tell. My tumour marker results were outstanding. This was good news, but because I felt like a sweaty turd and was pretty cheesed off that he'd kept me hanging for , I think 14 years, my response was a little subdued. He told us to celebrate with champagne. But we didn't, because a) we had no champagne and b) in my current state I'd have projectile vomited it like I'd been suddenly inhabited by the Demon Pazuzu.
His parting shot was that it might be time to consider surgery. There was a very unusual and controversial type of surgery that might benefit me should I continue to respond to Chemotherapy. He was very cautious but said it would be worth considering, and he'd write to the specialist team who performed the surgery - one of only two centres in the UK that did it - to see if they'd consider me as a suitable candidate. The operation was a brutal one involving tumour removal along with any infected organs, followed by 'Intra-Peritoneal Chemotherapy', a process which involved rinsing the peritoneum with super-heated chemicals whilst on the operating table. Blimey.
So my goal was clear - take the next 6 treatments the same way as I'd taken the first 6 with the goal of being accepted for this crackers Sci Fi operation.
I threw myself into the remaining treatments with gusto, and it's here that I need to say a huge heartfelt thank you to everyone who helped me out with getting to and from my treatments. So, drumroll please....
My middle brother, Tony (tried to avoid me for a while because he hates illness, couldn't do much about that when he was trapped in the car with me for 30 minutes); my father-in-law Paul (not much point in saying no when he offers help, will probably just wait outside your front door, shouting through the letterbox at night until you let him help you in some way); Chicken Shah Jahan (choice of EuroPop as soundtrack on the way to hospital makes Chemotherapy seem reasonable, may never have taken driving test); Del (Northern, angry, once unfairly called a dictator); Frenchie (shouldn't really have touched me that way that one time); Jallen (my autocorrect instinctively puts his name in capitals, surfeit of beard); Sharon (sister in law, may beat my brother if I say anything cheeky, will move on) and Sara (cousin in law, which isn't a thing but there you go, immune to my sarcasm, this is unusual for my wife's side of the family).
All of you have played an integral part of my recovery. Knowing you were there to support me at the drop of the hat made such a difference to my ability to cope. Special mentions to Chloe and Michelle too who more than once offered a lift even though they live 90 minutes away, the crazy ladies! Also to Hon, a school friend who selflessly offered help when I hadn't even seen him in 15 years!
I'm sure I missed someone (Mrs. Nicky gets ongoing credit, in case you wondered) - sorry in advance and tell me off in the comments section!
There were only three real setbacks during the second half of my treatment.
Firstly, for some reason, whenever I was in for Chemo 'The Drugs Don't Work' by The Verve kept coming on the radio. This was unnerving - I think Clarkson was climbing out my belly when I wasn't looking and doing phone ins.
Secondly, Karen went on holiday and on that occasion her partner in crime, Sarah, insisted I eat before I left the treatment room. Considering it was only a single mouthful of omelette I made an awful mess. THANKS A BUNCH, I CAN'T EVEN BE IN THE SAME ROOM AS OMELETTE NOW.
Lastly, the side effects of the chemicals were cumulative. With each round I became more sweaty, more tired, more nauseous. Whilst the symptoms lasted the same amount of time they became increasingly debilitating and frustrating.
But good things happened too. In October we had the honour of visiting the wedding of our dear friends Lizz and Terry - possibly the wedding of the century and one of the finest examples of true love I've ever seen. A few weeks later we also got to spend a night in London in a swanky hotel and seeing the fantastic Matilda in the West End. This was courtesy of a lovely charity called The Willow Foundation who specialise in 'Special Days' for seriously ill people under 40. The work they do and the care they put into these events is an inspiration, and I'd urge you to visit their website. Events like that evening and the wedding remind us why we fight. They don't necessarily distract but they act as a reminder that life can be good, that life is worth living, and that has to be as vital as any medication.
In November the letter I'd waited for came through - the surgeons and the clinic wanted to discuss my case with me. December 6th was the date. I had renewed purpose. I could get through the last few Chemo rounds. There was hope. Maybe I could even go back to work for Christmas while I awaited (hopefully) surgery. I had so much to look forward to. Surgery, Christmas, Ethan's upcoming Mr. Men birthday party.
On November 23rd I awoke at 4am. It was 3 days after my 12th and final round of Chemo. I awoke because it felt like a grenade had gone off in my pelvis. I instinctively went into the foetal position and couldn't move. The pain was impossible, all consuming. I shook with the pressure of trying to absorb the pain. I didn't know it then but I know now. This is what it felt like to be dying of Cancer.
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