I'm a 52 year old husband and father. Another privileged white bloke, but one who realised just how blessed I am during aggressive cancer treatment in 2009 (that I later learnt nearly killed me). In June 2016 I had a second diagnosis and surgery to remove and replace part of my tongue.
We lost the whole of Tuesday. I woke on Wednesday in Marsden's ICU. Still high on whatever they had pumped into me!
Some really good things happened last Wednesday
July 10, 2016
They took all my stitches and sutures etc out for starters. It took nearly an hour. I had a lot
in my neck and up my forearm (where they harvested blood vessels – I hate that word used
in this context!) The inside of my left wrist is now the only thing that remains covered and
dressed. It’s the site they took the flap for my tongue from. I accidentally caught sight of the
area whilst it was undressed. It was a little bit ‘Hammer House of Horror’ if I’m honest, but
I’ll get over it!
They also confirmed that I was making really good progress – with my recovery, with what I
am managing to eat, even with my exercises. I’m clear that they probably tell everyone
that. Which isn’t to say that I’m not making great progress – I clearly am! I certainly feel
like I am.
There were no pathology results available yet. These will tell if there has been any spread of
the cancer from the tumour in my tongue, into the lymph nodes/neck nodes, a number of
which were removed and sent away for analysis. In accordance with my normal practice, I
won’t be expending any effort thinking about what those results may mean until we have
the results in front of us. I’ll be proceeding on the basis that the scans done pre-op showed
nothing, so currently there is nothing to focus on.
The conversation that I have returned to over and over was the most important one in
reality. My original tumour in 2009 was HPV related. So is this one. They both developed
because my body reacts in a particular way to hosting the Human Papillomavirus. In 2009
this was a good thing. Because there was evidence that such tumours reacted well to
treatment (as mine did). And because I didn’t want my cancer to be related to ‘lifestyle’
reasons: my smoking and drinking.
The question we never really asked or pushed back then was ‘will it recur?’ My doctors
were never going to say ‘no’ were they? A friend who is also a doctor who sees quite a lot
of patients with HPV related cancers was kind enough to say to me: ‘if you were one of my
patients, I’d be thinking ‘that’s it then, no reason for that to come back.’’ It’s on that basis
that I have approached the last seven years. My cancer is something that has enriched and
improved me greatly. Every single day is a bonus because I so nearly died last time. But I wasn't expecting it back any time.
But it has come back. It’s not the same cancer, not at the same site. It’s a new one,
somewhere else in the head and neck area (where you find the particular type of cells that
these cancers attack). But it comes from the same root. And the question; ‘is it likely to
reoccur?’ prompted the response that I had been expecting. It could and there is really no
way of predicting when. There is the reassurance that the very best people will be
monitoring me closely henceforth. They will almost certainly pick up any recurrence quickly.
But this requires me to change how I see myself. Not as someone who has had cancer and
learnt from it, but as someone who could develop it at anytime.
Macmillan talk about people living ‘with’ and ‘beyond’ cancer. I had previously thought of
myself as someone living ‘beyond’ cancer. I think that the reality was probably, and
certainly how I have to see myself now, is as someone living ‘with’ cancer. How much of a
change is that? I honestly don’t know. I think the fact that it’s taken me five days to write
this simple piece probably suggests that I’m treating it as quite a big thing.
It probably isn’t! The big thing is probably that they will find the next one like we found the
last one. That my life will be punctuated by incidents like the current one. If I lived in Syria
or a refugee camp somewhere, then it would probably be a big thing. But I’ve got the best
people at the Marsden on speed dial (not literally because anyone who knows me knows I’m
not that technical, but.....)
It would be niggardly to end this post on anything but a positive note. So what if I may have
to go through this again? I’m still (as I saw so clearly last time) one of the most privileged
blokes on the planet and this living with cancer thing changes little.