Saturday, 17 November 2007

Back to reality...

...or should I say, currently relearning what reality is.

News from my end is that physically I am feeling really strong again...probably not physically strong in the sense of athletic fitness, but what's particularly encouraging is that my energy levels seem to be as good as they've ever been.

Sitting in the barber's chair on Thursday, having my first hair-cut in nearly half a year, was another clear signal that things were slowly returning to normal. See the latest snaps...

I've been back at work for the last 4 weeks - on a part-time basis only, working Monday to Wednesday. The mental adjustment proved to be a little more challenging then I expected, as I soon discovered what people mean when they say that "Cancer knocks your confidence". Having to, in effect, reteach myself how to do my job, I feel as though some momentum has returned and that my confidence and self-belief are slowly but surely being restored.

Speaking of work, I received some most unwelcome news on role within the company I work for has been dissolved.

Given the challenges that 2007 has thrown at me, this certainly wasn't the way I envisaged my transition back to work. Sure, there is plenty of room for me to feel down about the latest hand that I've been dealt, but I am adopting the attitude that this new 'challenge-ette' serves to remind me of what is truly important in life. In years gone by I would have viewed the process of cv rewriting and attending interviews somewhat burdensome; now, instead, I choose to be thankful that I am still around to be able to use this as an opportunity to further grow my career and character.

I have another check-up next week Friday at the Marsden - my first in two months. If truth be known, I feel a little bit nervous, but I suppose thats only natural. Its a funny old thing this being in remission: your appointments with the medical fraternity become less frequent, leaving you questioning and feeling a heightened sense of anxiety about every pain and creek that I'm sure is only innocuous. Going through the treatment I had the luxury of having a medical professional at my beck and call, and now these days I have to mentally adjust to planned less frequent check-ups.

For those who don't yet know I will be in South Africa from 7-15 December...hope to catch-up with those of you who are around then.

In the meantime please don't feel as though I no longer need your support, as although I'm cancer-free, this is still a very challenging period for me. Your calls/ sms/ emails are always really appreciated.

Friday, 5 October 2007

The road back

Its been some time, in fact almost an entire month, since my last update. I thought I would give you a few weeks off from having to read my constant ramblings about my post-treatment symptoms and emotional well-being.

I'll spare you the line by line details of each and every physical symptom that I'm still having to come to terms with, but I will tell you this, instead of getting down about the buzzing ears, burnt nerve-endings etc, I have done some DIY mind re-programming so that living with these symptoms will be a reminder to me that had I have had this illness only 30-odd years ago, I wouldn't be sitting here sharing these updates with you. That's not as a result of the internet not having been pioneered then, but rather owing to the lack of effective treatment being available.

Onto the good stuff...

...the last 2 weeks have been a massive turning point in every possible way. My energy levels seem to have really surged...I am managing long walks now without getting out of breath, and I'm even able to have full days out without being forced to take a few days down-time afterwards. All the signs are looking good. I've even started to reciprocate to Debs after she had cooked nearly 5 month's worth of meals for me - yip, the last week or so has seen the household apron slung across a different set of neck and shoulders.

As of today I've even agreed my work start date with my those of you at Amex, you will be seeing 'the face behind the blog' come 22nd October. I will be going back on a part-time basis, as instructed by the various medical bods who have been constantly monitoring my recovery. The thought of returning to work, in this instance, I like to think is another step in the direction of me piecing my life back together.

Last week even saw my first appearance back in the gym since the first week in May. A 15 minutes brisk walk/jog on a treadmill, and a few leg exercises are hardly going to qualify me for Mr Universe '08, but with every journey back to full fitness it all starts with a single step, and I believe that my first gym session on Wednesday was precisely that, my very first step.

Now, to my hair - a subject that is proving to provide me great excitement on an almost daily basis now. Having come from a base where my head resembled a fortune teller's crystal ball for over 3 months, trust me when I say that I notice the miraculous regrowth of every single strand of hair. The initial growth of head-hair has turned out to be a light 'bum-fluff' with the odd sprinkling of darker hairs. As for my facial hair, it to has returned and at quite a rapid rate to - it seems to be getting more course by the day. The best way to describe my appearance at the moment, is one of a 6 month old toddler with a 5 'o clock shadow. For the purposes of this blog I won't be providing an update of my hair regrowth any further south then my neck-line.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go and audit my shampoo supplies.

Saturday, 8 September 2007

Good news all round!

Those bottles of Dom Perignon, Moet, and Laurent Perrier that have been on ice since last week, can now well and truly be popped.

The news yesterday was a confirmation of last week's preliminary results - ALL CLEAR. I'm therefore in complete remission now. I will however need regular monthly check-ups - scans, x-rays, blood tests - for the first year, and then less frequently after year 1.

What's especially positive is that my lymph nodes have returned to normal, and I therefore won't require a further operation (thank heavens for that!). So far everything has gone my way - let's hope it stays that way.

As I say, I will need to be closely monitored in the first year, as a re-occurrence is most likely in year 1, with the chances diminishing after the initial year. So, although a year of great uncertainty lies ahead for me, I am going to celebrate my "return to full health".

Its quite ironic really, because when I say "return to full health", I feel nowhere near full health. I guess that's what continues to baffle me about having had cancer - the illness never made me feel unwell, but its the treatment that's caused all the suffering...

...maybe, instead of saying that I'll be celebrating my "return to health", I should rather say that I am celebrating being "Cancer-free", as I'm still living with the following side effects from the grueling treatment:

  • Still very exhausted - there are days where I feel inspired to leave the house as a result of a sudden burst of energy, and then there are days when I feel so drained I can barely lift myself off the sofa. Its all very unpredictable. With time this shall pass though.
  • Emotionally and mentally, I feel a little unstable right now - my thoughts continually swing back and forth between feeling inspired that I have survived this ordeal, to thinking what happens if it comes back. Despite trying to remain as positive about the whole episode, the negative thoughts sometimes do become too much for me. Here again, time will allow me to come to terms with a future of uncertainty. Another thing that I have started coming to terms with regarding my recovery, is that not only will I have to live with physical scaring, but the mental scarring as well...when my hair and eye-brows have grown back, my scar from the operation appears more faded, and my energy returns, I will still have to live with the fact that I've had cancer.
  • Still a little traumatised by my last 5-day stay in the hospital. The vivid memories, and associations do however seem to be less real with each passing day. Although yesterday, upon my return to hospital, the hospital smells of detergent, disinfectant hand-wash, rancid smelling hospital food, triggered an emotional response that took me back to being holed up in that hospital room for a sum total of 20 long days and nights during this non-existent UK summer of ours.
  • One of my veins that was used to "plug" me into the IV drip, has become hard, and yesterday it was confirmed that this vein will no longer be functional. Not the end of the world, but it will be just another permanent reminder of what it is that I've been through.
  • My ears continue to remain blocked, and my tinnitus still persists. I have been researching the tinnitus, and there may be cures out there that I will experiment with.
  • My skin remains sensitive. Can barely go outside without getting burnt...not that that should be a concern given the summer we've had. I also bruise very easily, and scabs take ages to heal.
  • My nerve-endings in my fingers have been damaged from the treatment, so I have partially lost feeling in the tips of my fingers. Not sure this will ever return to normal.
  • I also get tingles in the back of my hands and on my again, this is a result of nerve damage from one of the drugs - Cisplatin, a platinum based drug.
  • Constant pounding head-aches, worse then I have ever known...these are becoming less severe though.
  • I am still the hair-less wonder, although I can feel the first signs of stubble forming on my head. As for my eyebrows, I can count the number on each side.
  • There are probably many others that I elude me at this time, but I have become so used to living with them, I have forgotten that they are a side-effect of the chemo.
Away from the scarring, and all the unpleasant things, I wanted to say a massive thanks to all of you for your cards, emails, calls, prayers, and every positive vibe/thought that has been sent my way. While the scarring will live with me forever, so will the support that each and every one of you has provided to Debs and I during this challenging period in our lives.

Bless you all.

Friday, 31 August 2007

Hot off the press

The news is that my Oncology Professor's initial analysis of the scans reveal that they are looking normal. Good news, in fact amazing news!

The scans are however subject to further analysis and confirmation by the team of radiographers.

In the words of the Professor, Professor Dearnerly, "The professionals (radiographers) very rarely disagree with me". In my mind, a statement of confidence that the radiographers will confirm his assessment of the scan.

I now need to wait until next week Friday for confirmation of the confirmation.

While I am very happy, I am going to have to leave the champagne on ice for a week longer.

Thursday, 30 August 2007

And so the big day has arrived..

...tomorrow is the day I have had my mind focused on since my treatment started a very long and blurry 12 weeks ago - its CT scan day!

Yip, tomorrow I will be walking into the Marsden Cancer Hospital with a totally different mind-set to every other time prior to it - tomorrow I will be willing on the return of my good health, rather than mentally preparing myself for 5 days of sheer physical torment.

There is a strong chance that I will know the results tomorrow, and to be honest, I am mentally prepared for all probabilities. Still, fingers crossed for the result that would have made the unpleasantness of the treatment all worthwhile.

The last week hasn't been a particularly good week in terms of recovery. I have felt weak, and have had a constant pounding in the head (which, I think, seems to have disappeared today).

The last two days I've been fortunate enough, though, to have had visits from three very close South African friends who are in town for a very brief period of time. To Mark, Kay, and Nicky, thanks guys, you have been a welcome distraction, bringing a lot of much needed fun and laughter at an important time leading up to my big day.

If ever your collective prayers and well wishes were needed, now would be that very time.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

I crawled like a baby... the best and only possible way to describe how I left the hospital this morning at the end of my 4th and final cycle of chemo.

The 4th being my toughest - there were days where the cumulative effects of the steroids caused me to think I was going insane, literally so insane I didn't think my mind would ever recover. I had the shakes 24 hrs a day, and the only reprieve I would have would be when I would take my muscle relaxers before bed. I get the shivers just putting these words down.

Never before in my life did I felt so week as I did today; needing the help and support of the nursing staff and Debs to maneuver me in the direction I needed to go was very scary. To say I felt and looked like a frail old man is probably apt.

I don't have much to say other than being over the moon about having finished my chemo. The next 2-3 weeks will allow for the last bit of chemo to do what it is designed to do, and then from there on, its all recovery time.

I am surprised I've even been able to get the strength to type this blog entry - but it was important that I got my thoughts down on the day of my final treatment.

"This to shall pass".

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Round number 4

Sitting here getting my thoughts down in my blog, and I still can' believe that its the eve of the start my 4th and final cycle of chemo.

If I am brutally honest with myself, I have been feeling incredibly nervous all week about squaring up to my final 5-day stint in the hospital. I would have thought by now that I would be taking it all in my proverbial stride. Not to be. Instead, I've been fretting about it non-stop...

...miraculously I've had a change in outlook today, and I owe it all to a visit to London Bridge to visit Debs for lunch. It was a high risk journey on my behalf, as I ran the risk of, once again, doing more than my body would allow me to, or termed another way, my mind writing cheques my body couldn't cash. As it turned out, it did me the world of good. We had a great lunch at a Chinese Dim Sum restaurant which had a great view overlooking the Thames and Tower bridge. After lunch I let Debs get back to work, and I took a very leisurely walk along the Thames South Bank. The change of scenery did the world of good for my psyche and general attitude.

The walk got me thinking about a philosophy that was shared with me by someone I now like to think of as a really good friend. Someone who has provided me with much emotional and physical support through his proficient application of a healing technique, called the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) - his name is Lior.

Lior believes that we inherently defer our happiness to be dependent on some event or the acquiring of some material possession e.g "I will only be happy when I am a millionaire", or "I will only be happy when I have new car", or in my case, "I will only be happy when my chemo is finished and I am totally cured of my cancer". So, one of my little lessons from this nightmare, and from spending time talking to Lior, is that we only have one life, and that life is too short to defer our happiness to be dependent on something that my never happen. This is not meant as a cliched lecture to those of you who read this, but merely a personal 'Aide Memoire' to remind me of how I have now chosen to live my life, and that is to be happy no matter what my circumstances are.

Now, as tough as the final treatment may be, and as much as my new philosophy will be put to the test in the next 5 days, I will certainly give it a good test-drive. So, in the those early hours of the morning when I get those uncontrollable shakes in my legs, I will chose to be happy.

Right now I do feel a little tired (probably having over done it once again), but that's to be expected given that it was my first time back on public transport in 3 months, and having walked as much as I did. I do however feel content about having had such a great day - the memories of which I will cling to while I am in hospital.