I don’t know why I keep coming back to that Elton John song, but I do. It’s all been a bit surreal since last Monday when we travelled to Basingstoke for what I expected to be a routine visit to Mr.Moran to get the results of my first post-op scan. Having been dancing around for months celebrating the fact that I had recovered from such a major op and was cancer free, I couldn’t quite process the news that the scan showed that the fluid that is characteristic of my ‘PMP’ had returned. It seems that some of those pesky cancer cells survived the heated chemo at the time of my op and are back at it.
How am I feeling? I’ve gone through the full range of emotions and thoughts over the past week – shocked, annoyed, frustrated, determined, sad, scared, positive, belligerent, disbelief, denial, resilient, strong, and combative. But mainly I am smiling and positive and determined to throw everything I can at it.
While there’s not getting round the fact that this is a crappy situation, I’m in the best possible place to take it on. I have a loving family and friends who are all there for me, my team and bosses at ANZ couldn’t be more supportive, and I’ve got a new pit crew member called Dr.Krell who will oversee my chemo. And, my running buddies will keep me fit and healthy jogging in Knole Park.
I start chemo tomorrow and have benefitted from lots of great advice from the amazing Deborah James (known as ‘bowelbabe’ on Twitter and Instagram). Having followed Deborah for the past year and watched her amazing spirit and energy whilst going through surgery followed by chemo, I said ‘I want some of what she’s having’. It turns out that they will treat my cancer like bowel cancer and so I will have a similar cocktail served up in a similar style. My assumption is that I will carry on as normal with a few small adjustments to my routine every two weeks (and I shouldn’t even lose my hair).
So I’m going into it still singing along to Tom Petty’s ‘I won’t back down’ but I also keep hearing the refrain from ‘Tubthumping’ by Chumbawamba – ‘I get knocked down, but I get up again, You are never gonna keep me down’!
It’s funny how things lurking below the surface pop up from time to time and completely take you by surprise – particularly when you had no idea that they were there in the first place.
I woke up in my usual good mood this morning looking forward to my day, despite the fact that my first ‘meeting’ would be a blood test at London Bridge hospital ahead of my upcoming one year CT scan. I planned to get there before the clinic started so that I could be first in the queue and then get on with my day. My only concern was the usual issue about the challenge of finding my veins. I have a track record of emerging from blood tests with a lot of puncture marks and bruises!
I was therefore delighted when Edwin found a good vein instantly and had taken blood and patched me up within 5 minutes. I thanked him profusely proclaiming it to be the best blood test ever and vowed to seek him out personally next time. We laughed and I headed off down the corridor with a smile on my face.
Given that context, I was not at all prepared for the floods of tears that erupted moments later as I walked down the hallway. I realised that the last time that I had been there had been this time last year when I had my biopsies and tests and was diagnosed with cancer. I guess the surroundings triggered the emotions I had experienced there last year and I was completely unable to stop them washing over me. I had to stop and call a friend to make me laugh so that I could gather myself together and carry on to work. Luckily David’s tales of massage therapy for his new dog brought an instant smile to my face and helped me over it.
It’s weird – if you asked me, I would tell you that I feel no sadness or fear. I feel almost fully recovered and very positive about my future. However, just typing this blog has me on the verge of tears. Trend is right when he reminds me that it’s not that long since the surgery and I perhaps need to take time once and while and be kind to myself. A good cry is actually quite therapeutic!
A small Canadian nod to Gord Downie who yesterday succumbed to his cancer.
Well poor old Tom – he saw us through the year and then left us. How sad. Thanks for being Brenda’s inspiration.
Walking through the City in that lovely early evening autumnal light and feeling very calm and peaceful.
I ran into someone at a conference this afternoon who greeted me with a kiss and said ‘You look great – you’ve lost weight, haven’t you? What’s your secret?’ I smiled and said that I had indeed lost weight, and that I was feeling great and that my secret was cancer.’ It’s a tough one. Do I just smile and say nothing? Do I lie and say exercise and eating well? I don’t want to shock people and I don’t want people to feel sorry for me. I took the view that I should just be open and honest but make a big deal of the fact that I am feeling well now.
Back to my autumnal stroll – once again, I feel like I am in a bubble looking out on the world. Unlike last November when I was feeling shocked and scared because I had cancer and I felt different than all of those healthy people around me, this time I feel a sense of nothing can touch me because I am alive and feeling happy and grateful to be feeling well. I feel like nothing can upset me; everything else pales in comparison to the joy of being alive and experiencing life. It’s a powerful feeling and I really want to hold onto it and use it for good. Annoyances at work, minor inconveniences, letdowns, disappointments, disagreements, and so on – so what?
Last week I visited Venice for the first time, and in the morning I got up early and went for a 5 mile run along the Grand Canal. I watched the sun rising with ELO’s ‘I’m Alive’ playing through my headphones as a soundtrack and it was positively life affirming. A big entry in the Gratitude Journal on my return!
Life is good and I will remain in this positive bubble as long as I can…
Early on in the Intensive Care Unit I urged Brenda to picture us in Canada six months hence. Time flies and we’re currently enjoying our home from home in Nova Scotia. Here is our Wonder Woman, looking fab (despite protesting she had no make up on), dropping Teddy and India off at the Lunenburg 2017 Sailfest this morning.
Who’d have thought we’d make it full circle – with Mr Petty singing Brenda’s theme song. Thanks so much Josh and Alex – an amazing evening.
Orange is the new black and it is great to be back in the city.
There has been no need to update the blog lately as we have seen so many of you in person. It has been great to celebrate Brenda’s ‘Not her birthday’, Canada Day and ‘Brenda’s actual birthday’ with so many friends and the odd relation (odd – meant in the kindest way. Soon we will catch up with the folks in sunny (you hear that Canada…sunny) Nova Scotia and the celebrations can all start again.
This evening we have been to Teddy’s second gig at the Grey Lady in Tunbridge Wells. Brenda and I both agree that watching, listening and willing him on has been one of the most stressful parts of parenting we’ve experienced. I’ve attached the raw footage of ‘Blue Skies’ written by Teddy with an eye to the last six months. Rather touchingly India burst into tears when she learned this and listened to it again. It is a lovely tribute to Brenda and quite catchy, too.
I won’t tell the Knole Park Golf Club green keeper if you don’t. As Madelaine (architect of Brenda’s super fitness prior to her operation) says ‘ Six months ago Brenda faced major surgery. Look at her now, you’d never know! Very glad to be doing our 6am runs again.’
As part of my recovery I had planned a trip down to Provence to stay with friends Rony and Grant. Having ticked that off the list and the children back at school I had a meeting with my Surgeon today.
Trend and I made the trip back to Basingstoke today for my second check-in with my surgeon. I was prepared with a list of questions and was keen to show him that I was fit, healthy and positive, and to get a ‘star patient’ rating from him.
All went well. I asked him for a description of the surgery as I now feel far enough away from it to be interested. He explained very briefly what they had done in slightly less technical terms than the letter that he had sent post-op and both Trend and I were once again amazed at how much was taken out of me. I was also surprised to hear that my stomach lining will not all grow back but that I can happily live without it. I asked a few more questions about the hot chemo treatment and the blood transfusions and was assured that it was all very much as expected for such a major surgery and that unless I was planning to become a surgeon, I didn’t need to know any more details. And, given that he does several of these surgeries each week and has probably done more than anyone in the world, I can accept that.
I was surprised to be reminded that yesterday was the 6-month anniversary of the surgery – time flies when you spend half of it on opiates! He thought that my scar was healing well he was pleased to hear that I am up to 10K in my running. I asked if there were any limitations in terms of sports or activities and he said ‘no’ – I’m fine to do all the things that I could do pre-surgery.
I did, however, ask what the odds are of it coming back. He reminded me that he couldn’t give me any guarantees and that I would have a scan on my 1-year anniversary and each year after up to 5 years before they could declare me ‘clear’. He said that 2/3 of his patients don’t have any further problems. My initial reaction was that 2 out 3 sounds pretty good to me. On later reflection I turned it round and realised that 33.33% have recurrence. I’m a glass half-full person, so I’m not going to dwell on that number. I’m going to mentally park myself in the 2 out of 3 camp. I’m going to keep exercising and keep making healthy smoothies with my Nutri-Ninja , and I’m going to try to do some fundraising for the Pelican Foundation Charity that drives innovation in precision surgery for these types of cancer. AND, most importantly, I’m going to continue to treat each day as the first day of the rest of my life – with lots of love and gratitude, hugs, humour and purpose.