You find me, once again, in post-chemo recovery mode. This was my 23rd round in almost exactly two years. Indeed, exactly two years ago I was currently in the early and least pleasant days of my two-and-a-half week stay in semi-solitary confinement in the Surgical Assessment Unit at The Conquest Hospital following that fateful first dose, from which I emerged, in the words of my wife, looking like a crack addict. Not a happy memory.
Bekky said recently how much that whole ordeal traumatised her. I was, at some points, so unwell that she genuinely thought I was going to die. In fact, in those first days I was pretty close to death. The experience has, understandably, left her with an innate fear of hospitals and, more specifically, chemotherapy. While I am being poisoned, she worries constantly that something is going to go wrong. It's deeply horrid for her, given we find ourselves at the hospital at least twice a fortnight, but she is supremely brave and largely faces her fears mostly without comment. She's a little wonder.
However, in recent times we have perhaps discovered the most ideal antidote to chemo. It's not one we'll be able to use often, if ever again. The most ideal antidote to chemo requires four nights in a ludicrously beautiful hotel on the shores of an Italian lake, in our case Casa Fantini on Lake Orta in Piedmont. Some fabulously kind, generous and thoughtful friends offered the opportunity to us, all expenses paid, so we leapt at it and had the most amazing, relaxing, happy time - thank you, friends-who-shall-remain-nameless - our gratitude for our hols is as close to infinite as it comes.
Gatwick Airport was admittedly a touch challenging only three days after chemo, (for "touch challenging" read "utter nightmare") but the moment we were on the plane (speedy boarding, legroom seats, no less), both Bekky and I relaxed and any chemo worries melted away.
We were met at Milan airport by a chauffeur driven Mercedes and whisked to our architect-designed boutique hotel (11 bedrooms, opened August last year) where we were welcomed warmly and escorted to our room, only to find that we had been upgraded from a pretty decent room to the best suite in the establishment. It really was utterly magical - a huge room on two levels with the most stunning, tranquil views over the lake to Orta San Giulio; a massive and absurdly comfortable bed; a bathroom the size of a small house; a bath so vast you could do lengths; and the single most amazing shower/steam room I've ever even been near to (who knew horizontal showers were not just a thing, but a totally brilliant thing?!) all found in the most stunning, stylish and contemporary hotel.
Look out, here are 36 of our many holiday snaps...
We had four nights there and spent most of our time when not reading, snoozing, wandering, knitting (her, not me) or eating, giggling at the absurd luxury of it all. We were spoilt rotten and it was beyond words. Hashtag Benefits of Cancer n all that. We are truly blessed in this regard. Thank you, friends-who-shall-remain-nameless. We had the most amazing time. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Anyway, enough of this light-hearted, gratitude-filled frivolity, back to cancer. What's the latest, I think I hear you ask? Well, things are going fairly smoothly at present. I've had 6 more rounds of chemo since this new "season" began and compared to the last season, it's been better. Not great, but better. I still suffer a lot of pain in my bum, but I'm sort of getting used to it, and I have been issued some new drugs to combat the pain. Oh, Scheriproct, you wonder of anal analgesia, where have you been until now?! Anyway, suffice to say that going to the loo is never a highlight of my day and often it is a very low point, but largely it's not quite as eye-watering as it once was. Don't get me wrong, it hurts, every time, but not quite as much as it used to thanks to ointments. One of my favourite words. Ointment. Just say it a few times and you'll see.
Anyway, there is a plan afoot which involves seeing a colorectal specialist who, I am told, favours rectal botox (yes, you read that right) in these circumstances. This will hopefully make itself clearer to us in the coming weeks and with a little luck some bum botox might just see me with a little less pain in future.
My most recent chemo season was adjusted so that I was ingesting the maximum dose allowable of 25%, given my DPD-deficiency. However, the round before this one was followed shortly by a scan which showed, among other things, inflammation of my intestines not dissimilar to when I had chemo-induced colitis. Thankfully it passed without intervention but it sent my team into a spin and we have therefore now reduced the dose back to 20% of the full dose again meaning, hopefully, I should be out the other side of this round a bit quicker.
The scans showed that my tumours are either stable or have shrunk marginally. The one in my liver has not changed and measures 9mm x 6mm, so it's not exactly huge. About the size of a peanut, I guess. Which, when you put it like that, hardly seems worth worrying about. But we are worrying, so next on the list of things to do is more radio frequency ablation. I had a tumour in my lung ablated in January and I shall be returning to the same surgeon at the Princess Grace in London to have my liver tumour ablated as well, potentially later this month. It's not an especially major op, thankfully - I will be put to sleep for a couple of hours again then spend one night in hospital if all goes according to plan.
The lung tumours are the ones that have shrunk - some by a little, others by a bit more and one by about a third which is good news. They were all pretty small in the first place thankfully so a little shrinkage makes a small tumour comparatively tiny in my ever-optimistic mind. Will they ever disappear completely? Probably not, but that doesn't mean we're not going to try.
There are no new tumours, which is definitely good, but the chemo is destined to continue for the foreseeable future nonetheless - there is no end in sight - but if it is doing its job, even to a degree, then that's fine. There will come a time when it will stop doing its job, I am informed, but hopefully not for a while.
And meanwhile, I have been hitting the CBD oil - cannabis oil, to you and me. An old friend suggested I get on it back in March and introduced me to a reliable source who duly provided me with two 30ml bottles of the stuff. It's top notch. I have been taking it ever since - lots during my chemo weeks and less during my working weeks. There is a mountain of evidence that says it has an effect on certain types of cancer in certain people. There's also a mountain of evidence to the contrary, but isn't there always?
Has it been effective though? Well, between the chemo drugs and the CBD oil, something is pushing things vaguely in the right direction so I'm not going to be stopping taking any of the above any time soon if, as a unit, they are working.
And how does it feel? Well, it makes you stoned, if that's what you're asking. You can get CBD oil without THC - the active ingredient in cannabis - but it's allegedly not as effective in hitting cancer. I therefore went for the somewhat illegal one, with the THC.
If nothing else, it definitely helps the chemo side effects so it's worth taking for that reason alone in my opinion. You see, I seem to suffer four main side-effects from chemo:
2. Lack of appetite
3. Difficulty sleeping
And CBD oil leaves you:
1. Without nausea
2. With the munchies
3. Mostly dozy and sleeping like a baby
4. Not grumpy
Like I said, it's worth taking regularly for those four reasons alone. And there's an outside chance it's doing some damage to the cancer. It doesn't help with the bum problems, but you can't have it all. Hopefully botox will do that.
So there it is. The latest. Nothing especially remarkable, which makes a change. Steady and stable is good right now, and more or less all we can ask for. Well, we could ask for a miracle cure, but we'd be unlikely to get one. So for the time being it's chemo, cannabis oil, one week in the office, one week on the sofa (and repeat ad nauseam) and hopefully soon some bum botox and a bit more surgery.
Hasn't life changed.