I blinked and there it was

Will you still need me, will you still feed me / When I’m sixty-four (ack. to John and Paul). Yes, it sneaked up when I wasn’t looking.

I’ve been thoroughly spoilt with presents and seeing friends and family before, during and still to come (Sunday will be fun). Victoria and Charlotte organised a rollicking dinner for all of us at an American-themed smokehouse in London, even the live band were BBQ’d; then the wonderful surprise of a night’s stay at the ‘Shangri-La’ hotel at the Shard. Waking up in the morning (late) on the 49th floor, throwing those curtains wide (ack. to Elbow), then remembering I was as naked as a plucked chicken might have sent feathers flying but as I couldn’t even be seen by the ant-sized people crossing London Bridge I don’t believe any more feathers were ruffled apart, perhaps, from those of a passing helicopter pilot who flew over, pointed in my direction and laughed heartily – a little too heartily for my liking.

Just to put everything back into perspective, it’s chemo day again tomorrow. Yey.

Cancer ninja

In a previous post I mused over what to call myself in my superhero guise. ‘I’m not a cancer sufferer; I’m a cancer fighter, or ninja.’ I discounted ninja but, after a nationwide referendum (OK then, Anne, Victoria and Charlotte), it was decided to Leave ‘fighter’ and Remain with ‘ninja’ (any resemblance to another referendum is purely coincidental). So there we have it, I’m a cancer ninja (who cares? – I care).

PSA of 57 – Going down

Slowly, but the count is going down: 62, 60, now 57 for my 6th chemo session. A good start to the new month and an encouraging meeting with my oncologist, to boot. It’s an easy life for him at the moment because the chemo finally looks to be having a positive effect, so continuing for the maximum of 10 treatments is a no-brainer. In fact, he’s having such an easy life with me that he was off to see Madness in concert at Reading that afternoon.

Before I let him go, I did ask whether my PSA count will reduce to the sub-1 levels of last year’s chemo programme. “No”, as it was the hormone treatment alongside the chemo that brought it right down. As we know, the hormone treatment has stopped working, so it’s a different situation this time.

A slight downer on the good PSA news is that my back pain has increased which, combined with the sciatic pain (which itself is much reduced with the little yellow pills), is proving more than uncomfortable at times. His look of closer interest, or was it concern, led to him request an MRI scan for me, which will happen some time in August. “Come back in 6 weeks and we’ll see the results.”

I’d probably have grinned a lot more during the meeting but I’d broken a back tooth a few days beforehand, ruining my perfect photogenic smile. I have to report any dental work (as well as increased/decreased temperature, nausea, potential infections, diahroeh/diahoera/diarrhoea – well I’d report it if I could spell it!), which resulted in having to postpone my Denosumab injections for 6 weeks, as a precaution. Somewhat unfortunate as these injections help keep the pains in my pelvis and leg bones (femurs) at bay.

I’ll holler when it hurts.

June 25: Our 41st Wedding Anniversary

“What? I don’t believe it!” “41 years? You’re kidding?” “You don’t look old enough; well, Anne doesn’t.” Just some of the comments we received (I can’t repeat some of the others) when telling people Anne and I have now been married for two score and one years.

We celebrated with a lovely meal at a restaurant in a nearby village/town (when does a village become a town?). It’s not that far away but we thought we’d make the most of it and stay overnight at a nearby hostelry. I could tell the age of the pub by the number of ceiling beams I walked into. In fact I was so pre-occupied with avoiding the large beam in our bedroom that I banged my head on the hobbit-sized doorframe instead.

The restaurant was only across the road, so easy to waddle back after 3 courses and a bottle of wine. We both thoroughly enjoyed the occasion, although Anne had to endure watching me demolish my rum baba dessert (remember those?). I only ordered it so that we could wind the years back to the 70s, when rum babas, black forest gateau and Benny Hill were in fashion. Anne would be wearing her smock dress and I’d be in a flowery shirt and flared trousers. In those days we’d be eating a slap-up meal of prawn cocktail, Berni Inn steak (cooked medium), followed by a dessert of rock-hard ice cream in a plastic tub, all washed down with a glass of Blue Nun. Ah, the good old days.

I wonder where we’ll go on our 42nd Anniversary.

June 23: Joshua Mark’s christening

It’s all happening this June, where are the days disappearing to? My diary is usually full of hospital or doctor’s appointments, all for good reasons; pills, jabs, jabs, pills. This month the pages are prodigiously (look it up – I had to) filled with places to go and people to see, plus sufficient gaps in between for me to recover before the next one.
Family do’s are always good fun and a christening covers both ends of the spectrum: a solemn Catholic sacrament of initiation into the life of the children of God, followed by a rollicking old knees-up with friends and family (or in my case knees under a table with a pint in my hand).

A chance to catch up and, because this side of the family know all about my fight against cancer and read these posts, most don’t need to ask how I am because they already know. So no head tilts, just getting on with the business of the day; wetting Joshua Mark’s head, England in the World Cup (it’s coming home), Mayo in the All-Irelands, Cousin Brendan in the doghouse (I made that one up). “How’s work? How’s the family? What’s happening out there in the real world? Who’s doing what? Why, and for how long?”
Anne, my brother and sister leave the celebration with everyone’s best wishes and invitations to get together in the future. It was a grand day out, lovely weather and lovely people.
For the record, I’m not a cancer sufferer; I’m a cancer fighter (I decided against ‘Ninja’ due to reasons of copyright and good taste).
Join the fight, support cancer charities, make a donation – now!

June 13: England vs Australia cricket

Ah, the sound of leather against willow; the sight of two teams, dressed in whites, playing for world domination in the guise of games of bat and ball. To paraphrase Bill Shankly, “Cricket isn’t just a matter of life and death, it’s more important than that.”

Anne and I had been to grown-up cricket matches before, the ones played in proper grounds with seats, toilets and everything. We’d seen England play before, predominantly against India in Test Matches; tickets to one day out of the five, when scores can reach four, even five hundred if the bowlers are particularly misfiring. We’d been lucky to have been gifted those tickets (thank you Charlotte for getting the tickets no-one else can get and Victoria, for giving them to us between you) as we’d never have managed to get them otherwise. A full day at a test match is like a day in the country, with beer and food on tap and with a constant competitive performance as the backdrop. But we’d never been to a one-day game. All that excitement and exhilaration squeezed into fifty overs per team. 1 day, 1 result, 1 winner.

So off Anne and I went to the Oval to see England on a dry and sunny day, tickets again courtesy of Victoria and Charlotte. Of course, if you’re going to see a one day international (ODI), who better to see hammered than Australia, especially after the 4:0 drubbing in the test series in Australia earlier in the year. The anticipation was heightened after England, supposedly the best ODI team in the world, lost to Scotland (who?) only days earlier.

We sat, we cheered, we drank, we cheered, we ate, we cheered, England won, and we cheered.

As it transpired, England won not only our match but the whole series; a 5:0 whitewash. Cheers.

Another story

Nurses are Angels, we all know that. They have the hardest of jobs and I often think that those working in a cancer centre have one of the hardest, emotionally. It must be all-too easy for them to get personally involved, yet they don’t get to see the results of their efforts: who survives and who doesn’t. It is in the power of nurses to influence the patient’s experience of receiving treatment; even the slightest of gestures can make all the difference; a smile, a comforting touch, or just some of their hard-earned time to reassure and show empathy.

Such was the case when I arrived for what turned out to be my abortive 5th chemo cycle. My nurse sat down next to me and went through the usual list of pre-chemo questions but not in a casual ‘I do this dozens of times a day’ manner. She was professional and caring, looked me directly in the eye and clearly took note of my answers. She made me feel like an individual. So attentive, however, that the result was a postponement of my chemo, after advice from a more senior nurse. We agreed a rescheduled date and she even asked a nurse who would be working on that date to examine my eye to compare it when I returned for the chemo.

My return visit was quite different, mainly due to the different, I hesitate to say indifferent, nurse. It was the one who had been asked to check and compare my eye. Maybe she blamed me for wasting the chemo drugs the previous week, as she made a point of reminding me many times and for which I was already feeling guilty. Maybe she was just having a bad day. Maybe it’s me. You could have cut the atmosphere with a blunt scalpel as she, very efficiently but silently, attached the canula, tubes and drugs bag. It was the first time I’ve felt so awkward during all my treatments. It’s a shame as I could do without the added stress and also a shame that I didn’t get the chance to try and remedy the situation but our time together was cut short as she swapped with another nurse, who effortlessly restored the familiar, friendly atmosphere.

What a difference a nurse makes. Yes, they are all Angels; they make us proud and yet, in the words of the late Michael Hutchence of INXS – Never Tear Us Apart:

‘I told you/That we could fly/’Cause we all have wings/But some of us don’t know why.’

Happy 70th Birthday NHS. I don’t know what we’d do without you.


Fun and games with chemo No5

Between all this June activity, my 5th chemo was postponed. It’s fine filling up the days in between treatments with fun stuff but it’s the chemotherapy that could extend my life in order to have, hopefully, lots more fun stuff.

I’d been to see my GP as I had a cyst under my eyelid. He gave me some antibiotic gel and said it wouldn’t affect any of my other medication. Over a week, the cyst disappeared and all seemed well. However, the day before my fifth chemo a small cyst appeared again. I used the gel and it seemed to help, yet when I presented myself at the cancer centre there was a lot of discussion and a final decision that the chemo would need to be postponed to avoid any possibility of worsening the infection. I tried to dissuade the nurses as I was feeling guilty about the cost of wasted chemo drugs but they put my health first and made the point that it would cost more if my infection worsened and then had to be treated.

The lesson here is to contact the cancer centre nurses immediately for advice if there is any possibility of an infection developing during chemotherapy.

The good news though is that my PSA level is still 60, my eye cleared up and I had my chemo the following week – but that’s another story.

June 7: a posh play

Anne’s cousin is in a play in Stratford-upon-Avon. She’s playing the lead role in ‘The Fantastic Follies of Mrs. Rich’ in a Royal Shakespeare Company production, no less. An opportunity not to be missed, so off we trotted ( I say ‘trotted’, more of a taxi to the station and a train to Stratford – trotting remains beyond my ‘scaffolded’ legs). We’d booked a hotel for a couple of nights in order to make the most of the break, checked-in, had a couple of wobbly-pops and were in our seats ready for the performance before you could say ”What’s it about?”.

It’s a Restoration comedy, very wordy but witty, funny and absorbing. The characters draw you into their world of snobbery and social mobility, or lack of it. We loved it. We also loved the two huge wolfhounds who stole the show whenever they leapt on stage.

The next day was our tourist day. We visited Shakespeare’s grave (he’s still dead), had an enormous cream tea, a few more wobbly pops, a relaxing stroll along the river and a delicious Italian meal.

It was one of those trips where all the little things seemed to go right. The trains were on time (always a bonus); people would unexpectedly move when we wanted to sit down on a park bench or pub table (is it me?); a chance chat with a local led to the discovery of more places of interest; we showed a landlady a pricing error on her menu, so she gave us a free drink; we happened upon some great live music.

Who needs foreign breaks?