Aside from living with a potentially lethal disease, our summer wasn't too bad, all things considered. My going-to-Brighton-every-single-day-for-five-weeks became a touch repetitive but the repetition was brilliantly broken up by big-hearted friends and family who so kindly did much of the driving. But aside from that, I have been taking things pretty gently (on my doctor’s orders!), the sun has shone and there were times when it felt, however fleetingly, like there was no cancer.
The actual radiotherapy finished in early August but one then has to wait for five or six weeks while it works its magic before a further scan is performed and we get an update on progress. The radiotherapy phase was somewhat akin to being in the eye of a storm. In the build up there were scans, consultations, meetings, more scans, a dose of chemotherapy, a two week stay in hospital, yet more scans and everything was very real. But during the radiotherapy, all that was brushed aside and instead I spent a few of hours in a car and quarter of an hour on the radiotherapy table each day. For several weeks, slightly bizarrely, cancer went comparatively unmentioned. And that was something of a relief. Now we’re out the other side, it’s very much on the agenda again. I am in touch with my oncologist regularly and things are slowly moving forward, more of which later. So you see – I feel like I’ve been into and out of the eye of this particular storm and it was a welcome relief while it lasted.
I was warned of many side effects of radiotherapy from the palatable to the distinctly unappealing but I am pleased to say that, thus far (and some of these side effects still have a good chance of making an unwelcome appearance), I’ve got away largely unscathed. There could have been “discomfort” as they call it, or “pain” to you and me, but fortunately I haven’t suffered too much on that front albeit recently the pain has returned at night which is unwelcome but is, fortunately, easily dealt with through Paracetamol for the time being at least. Tiredness has been by far and away the main offender over the last few weeks – not continual but it has certainly made itself felt. Whilst I realise it’s no great hardship, at least one good snooze a day is required to avoid becoming even more of a vegetable than usual by late afternoon.
This, combined with my oncologist’s orders, has meant that a return to work has not been possible or permitted, although to stave off cabin fever I’ve been doing whatever I can from home with a visit to the office every few days. Incidentally but by no means incidental, while I don’t believe the powers that be actually read this, I am eternally grateful to my employer, Batcheller Monkhouse, who are continuing to look after me despite my having been AWOL for 4 months now. It is not until one is beset by misfortune that one begins to appreciate many things in life, and their kindness has been vastly appreciated. Knowing that my job is, for now at least, secure and that things are continuing more or less normally without me in the office is a monumental weight off my mind and the removal of that stress is immeasurably valuable right now.
So what’s the latest news? Well, at the beginning of September I went for MRI and CT scans of my pelvis and liver, all in one day which left me positively glowing...
Bekky and I met the oncologist a couple of weeks ago to discuss the results and she appears to be fairly happy with my post-radiotherapy progress – as she pointed out, she can be pretty gloomy if needs be and she wasn’t. The tumour has shrunk further but not by a huge amount. Frustratingly they remain unsure about the lesion on the liver. There is still a chance that it is a metastasis (spreading) of the primary tumour although they cannot tell definitively. BUT she and her team feel that I am now ready for the operation to remove the bowel tumour which is the best bad news we could have hoped for.
There is, however, always a “but”. And on this occasion it is that they were not 100% sure I am ready for the op – the operating margin between the tumour and the sacrum (my tailbone) is very small, and as a result we have sought a second opinion privately. The NHS has been wonderful – speedy, efficient, kind, generally amazing and practically impossible to fault. But I am in the extremely fortunate position of having private health insurance so obtaining a second opinion from a completely different source prior to opening me up makes a lot of sense.
So on Monday, I duly tottered off to The Hampshire Clinic in Basingstoke to see what they had to say about the situation. The chap I met, Mr Cecil, was great, very knowledgeable and full of insight. Bekky was in bed at home with a lurgy so couldn’t come along but she joined us on speakerphone for the meeting. After a brief chat, Mr Cecil invited me to lie down so he could feel my stomach and, obviously, stick a finger up my bum – while Bekky listened at the other end of the telephone line and did only moderately well at not giggling. We sat back down and after looking through my most recent scans, he basically agreed that I am indeed ready for surgery. He also suggested that we remove the dodgy bit of liver whether it is cancerous or not, but that will come later, after the primary tumour has been removed. But (see?!) he said that the operation on the bowel would require a surgeon even more specialised than him and referred me on once again, this time to a fellow who specialises in “complex colorectal cancer” which sounds impressive and “enhanced recovery” which sounds promising.
The reason for this is that, while it may have shrunk back a bit from my sacrum, the tumour is still very close to it and as a result he would recommend removing the part of the bone that faces the tumour as a precaution. I made the schoolboy error of asking how they might go about removing this part of the bone, and I was met with the response that this specialist, this guru among colorectal surgeons, would use a chisel. Oh joy. At least I’ll be asleep.
So we’re making progress. It’s just slow. I meet the colorectal guru, Ian Jenkins, on Thursday next week and I am told that, if he feels he can operate successfully, surgery may happen by the end of October. I’m not sure it’s normal to look forward to an operation, but I am kind of looking forward to this one. It will likely be followed by another operation on the liver, and I’m going to have to live with a stoma bag but hopefully only for a few months and, if it is a complete success, I won’t even know until I’ve had countless further scans and tests and fingers up the bum. But hey, it’s a journey to which I am now committed and I shall fight for a happy ending.