Too Upbeat for Cancer - Detailing A Rubbish Year And A Bit

Chapter 4 - Enter Clarkson


After a week in hospital and being diagnosed as having a serious illness, I find the best way to recuperate is to fly to Scotland for a week with a grumpy toddler and stay in a flat with your in-laws and Great Aunt In-Law (it's complicated). In the snow.

But it was my sister-in-laws wedding and Scotland's pretty civilised these days so I was determined to be there. I may have been a shadowy, pale figure that only cropped up in a handful of wedding photos, but I made it! I also had the honour of trying to wrangle Ethan into a kilt for the wedding, which apparently is the final level in The Cube.

My memory of that week isn't great as in hindsight I was very poorly. I kept sleeping in the day and getting these terrible grinding stomach pains in the evening. I wasn't the best company, really just a surly, narcoleptic creature that had to have 30 tablets inserted in it every day, lest he explode. Out of the 30 I only remember 2 - Pentasa, mistakenly prescribed to me when normally, judging by its size, it's only use is to be administered anally to elephants; and iron tablets. Oh, the iron tablets. To make up for my blood loss. Take enough iron tablets, and when it comes down to it you shit unflushable iron bars. I lose count of the times my wife came across this dark, furry creature squatting at the bottom of the toilet pan, defying all laws of nature and daring her to try and destroy it. To her credit, she was up for the challenge, armed only with a standard issue bog brush.

I made it home, kanckered, but pleased to find a hospital appointment letter. They'd booked me for a flexible sigmoidoscopy in 3 weeks. It was meant to be a colonoscopy. I phoned the hospital to explain the mistake and was offered a colonoscopy in 2 months at the end of May. I couldn't cope with the increasing grinding pains in my guts and the medication seemed to be doing nothing. In hindsight, if I'd continued down the NHS route I fear I may not still be here. I'm fortunate enough to have private healthcare with my company so I kicked this into action and before I knew it, crucially, a colonoscopy was booked with the exact same consultant I'd seen in hospital for within less than a fortnight. Funny that.

I had an initial consultation with the consultant and voiced my concerns around cancer and the constant pain I had in my lower right abdomen, the small of my back , and my groin. Guess what? I was too young for cancer. It was much more likely (and I'll never forget the Jedi master hand gesture he made as he said this, waving his digits over me) a 'Pan-Colitis'. Oooo. Mysterious. Off I went ready for my Colonoscopy, Moviprep in hand.




A colonoscopy is a Sigmoidoscopy but where they keep going until the camera comes out your mouth. Or so it seems. To get a full view there can't be any poo anywhere in your entire colon, which is where MoviPrep comes in.

Thank Christ Al-Qaeda haven't learnt how to weaponise it.

The day before you have your procedure you need to combine two sachets of powder with a litre of water and drink it over an hour. Shortly after, you repeat with a second one to finish up the clearing out. I duly locked shut myself away in the bedroom with the ensuite, told my wife I loved her, and settled down with a book and a bumper pack of bog roll. To aid things along the makers had given it a lemon flavour. Only problem was, the makers must have come from a country where 'lemon' means 'tramps piss'. But I gamely quaffed my first glass. If you've ever seen the Harry Potter where a sobbing Dumbledore is forced to drink a seemingly never-ending bowl of water, you get the idea. But I finished the concoction.

Nothing happened.

So I overcame all natural survival instincts and weakly chugged the next mix shortly after.

Still nothing happened.

I went 6 hours.

Something terrible happened.

You know those experimental 60's/70's jet packs? My backside turned into one of those. I just made it to the loo. Like a 21st century Jackson Pollock obsessed with brown, I sprayed my unique art like there was no tomorrow. The lavatory needed a seatbelt. Then, when nothing more could come out, my bowels travelled forward in time to bring back more for me to shit out. It was the Hindenberg of toilet visits. I'm pretty sure I'd been cleared out comprehensively. I went to bed, ruined.

My procedure was early that Saturday, and we arrived in good time. I said goodbye to Kerry and waited to be brought in. Because it's rather more invasive you're given local anaesthetic which I'm pleased to report had no effect at all. I lay on my side, thought of England, and in she went. I won't bore you with the details - it's pretty much a directors cut of a sigmoidoscopy, but I remember the moment everything changed. The camera was on its way out, having seen nothing untoward, when suddenly an excruciating stabbing pain went through me and I screamed.

"Hang on, this is strange", said the consultant, then went quiet. The pain continued. "I'm going to take some photos and biopsies". The pain got worse and I begged him to stop. "OK" he said, sadly, "I think I got enough". Back I went to my room. He said he'd stop by shortly when Kerry was with me.

I lay in my room with tummy ache, part of a corridor full of fellow colonoscopy patients. A nurse advised me it was trapped air and to roll from side to side. I obliged, as must have the rest of the corridor, because it turned into what I must only describe as a Windypops Large Hadron Collider. A symphony of bottom burps danced down the corridor, forming, I think, Trumpet Prime at the end of it. Nurses must have dodged this parping assault course like ninjas. God knows how they coped - it sounded pretty bad from my room. But also, strangely satisfying.

Kerry arrived with Ethan to take me home. Shortly after my consultant arrived with some photos. He looked serious. Finding nothing seemed to be worse than finding something. He began to talk about there being an ulcer in one of the Haustral Folds in my bowel, and showed us the photos. To me it looked like a small red blister in a vacuum cleaner tube. Because of the pain I felt he wanted to get a surgeon to look at it under General Anaesthetic as a matter of urgency to rule out 'anything nasty'. That was when the colour drained out of Kerry's face. I was expecting it to be a cyst or something but too much knowledge is both a good and a bad thing. She grabbed my hand. My overwhelming thought was I wanted to go home and not let Ethan hear any more of this conversation. I was bewildered at how things had suddenly progressed, but accepted I needed further investigation. Until then I had to get on with life. But the like on my wife's face filled me with dread. But everyone said it couldn't be cancer, right?

Just days later the colorectal surgeon called me. He wanted to investigate one evening that week. Things were moving at a dizzying pace. I duly consented and the date was set. If I hadn't moved to private treatment I'd have been 3 weeks away from a colonoscopy still. On the day of the procedure I decided to take my mind off things I sensibly went to see the Evil Dead remake at the cinema, because before having a surgeon go at you it's good to see people dismembered in various grotesque ways. To add to the fun I couldn't eat or drink anything on the hottest day of the year so far.

I made it to the hospital around 4, got settled into my room and gown and waited, looking forward to some answers. Everyone was lovely and chatty. A nurse came to squirt stuff up my bum again, the results were the same as before. Me and my bottom were dab hands at this.

Of all the procedures, this was the easiest. And, I'm glad, because I dread to think what the rummaging round was like. They administered the general anaesthetic after smacking my hands around to find a vein, I felt a warm tingling sensation, and next thing I knew I was in a different spot in that same room, someone calling my name. It was about an hour later.

They returned me to my room and my frazzled looking wife. Then the surgeon appeared. The news was weird. Kerry's reaction was horrifying. She looked like her world had ended. I wasn't very bothered. I was being naive. He didn't know what he'd found, but the ulcer was 17cm into my bowel and caused by 'a large pelvic mass' putting pressure on the outside of the bowel wall. It needed removing. He'd do it in a fortnight, when he got back from the US. 2 weeks wasn't a big deal, and they needed further tests to uncover the nature of this 'mass'. With that he left, and Kerry squeezed my hand tight and wept. Too much knowledge and all that.

They'd finally found Clarkson. He wanted me dead.

Chapter 5 - Medical Test Bingo »

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