Some really good things happened last Wednesday

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.


Matt Dean 

We lost the whole of Tuesday. I woke on Wednesday in Marsden's ICU.  Still high on whatever they had pumped into me!

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