This post is my way of gathering together my thoughts over the last 8 months since being diagnosed with a rare type of cancer.
So I’m a mid career, married Head of Science with three beautiful sons and a hectic life. I had slowly become more busy over the years and worked longer and longer hours, something I promised I wouldn’t do at the expense of my family and health.
So when I started feeling unwell in mid February I was too busy to take is seriously. I put my loss of appetite and stomach ache to a bug and kept telling myself it would pass. A week later and I finally see my Doctor who can’t explain it and sends me away.
Another week passes, I even manage to take a science trip to see the team working on the 1000mph Bloodhound car but all through the day I’m going dizzy and slumping on chairs.
I sit in front of the Doctor a week later and I’ll never forget his look when I describe passing blood in my stool.
Dr: “what are you worried it may be?”
Me: “Bowel Cancer”
Dr: “me too, go straight to hospital”
24 hours later and I’m waking up from 4 hours of surgery. I smile as the Sun shines on me in recovery, “it’s all over, couple of weeks and I’ll be back at work and have a few weeks off in Easter”.
The surgeon visits me about 10am the next day. My wife has not yet arrived and he looks grave. He quickly explains he will return later when my wife is present as it is complicated and needs us to hear his news together. A lovely nurse called Linda stays 2 hours past the end of her shift knowing that the news is not going to be good.
“When we opened you up we found a tumour in your appendix and it has been creating a jelly like substance that has leaked into your abdomen. We have removed as much as we can but there are lots of tumours in your abdomen lining now that will keep making the jelly.” It sounded pretty final.
You always wonder how you’ll react to the big C news. For me it was a numbness, a heavy cloud pushing down on me. As a scientist you are always looking to break a problem down and start looking for solutions, this didn’t happen to me. It was a blank wall.
I cut off the world with sedatives, ear plugs and a sleeping mask. Alone in my head the ramifications to my wife and children running through my mind. I had seen kids at school who have experienced the death of a parent. I swore this was not going to happen to my children so whatever it was going to take I would do it for them.
I think it happens to most families that live far apart that over the years you drift apart. My mum, brothers and sister all live 8 hours drive away (one in Portugal). We spoke on rare occasions, not because of any bad feeling, but as parents we got caught up in daily life. “I’ll call tomorrow”, “I keep meaning to call” the usual excuses.
Well after my news the family where all by my bedside the next day. They had read up on my condition which is called (ready for this) Pseudomyxoma Peritonei (PMP for short). Tumours of the Peritonei tissue. It turns out it’s a pretty rare condition, affecting about 1 in 250,000. Lucky me!
Within 3 days I was discharged with a 6 inch scar and a plan. It turns out that, while this is a very rare type of cancer, it had a famous patient Audrey Hepburn. Her foundation helped kick start research into this condition and now it is pretty well understood.
The next three months were some of the best I’ve ever had. My family stayed with me on and off & we grew closer together. We spoke about everything and got to know our nephews and nieces. My children are 3, 7 & 10 and we decided to explain my condition without using the cancer word. A parent had recently died at my childrens school and we didn’t want them worrying.
Now for the good bit!
Basingstoke Hospital is one of two specialist units in Britain for treating this condition. Cutting it out isn’t enough, to really kill it off you need heated chemotherapy. So on June 16th at 7.30am I underwent 8 hours of surgery. Out went my spleen, gall bladder, peritoneum and stomach fat (yeah) and in went hot chemo for 90 minutes.
At 11 pm I woke up and my wife and brothers rushed to my side. The two things I remember are my wife saying I don’t have a colostomy bag (a big worry of mine) and my brother blowing on my face and me whispering “fag breath”…
Morphine. Turns out that I trip out on Morphine and most of the time it is visions of1980’s transformer cartoons . They were pretty entertaining, but after 4 days I needed it to stop so they put me on something else. Turns out the radio I was listening to for 3 days was also in my head, good stuff these drugs.
2 weeks later and I shuffled out of the Hospital with a beauty of a scar from my sternum to my lower abdomen, 40 staples and lots of small scars. My biggest worry was the reaction of the boys. The oldest glanced and looked worried, the 7 year old said “cool”!
It is now coming up to 3 months later and here I sit. Apart from a little soreness I’m 100% my old self. I’ve had some amazing experiences, driving a Ferrari F430, meeting a celeb, taking a long promised holiday to my brothers home in Portugal and reconnecting with all my family and friends.
Will it return? Who knows. I may have Bowel cancer as well, I’ll know more at the end of the month, but now I know I can take it.
The thing I take away from this is that something as big as cancer is easier if you focus on the present, break it down into a series of steps. An injection one day, surgery the next, don’t dwell or try to look too far forward.
When you’re rushing the kids for school, stressing about work, worried about money, take a breath. Strip it back to basics, Family & Health…
Links: There is some amazing work carried out by the following people;
My brothers company that has enabled him to take so much time off work and support my family. If you’re moving to Portugal buy a house from him, he’s brilliant! http://www.idealhomesportugal.com/
The first port of call when you get the diagnosis. Provides support and information.
101 things to do when you survive. A blog by a twice cancer survivor. His articles help with life after cancer. http://www.whenyousurvive.com/