THE NEW NORMAL # 7 – A BLOG OF TWO HALVES

I have had a great response to my musings and ramblings on this blog and I would probably have stopped a long time ago were it not for the positive feedback and appreciation so thank you for giving me an audience to write for. One common comment is that I seem so philosophical and positive in my writings given the fact that I’ve got cancer and the diagnosis was missed over 2 years ago when the doctors had their first stab at it. My response has always been that there are people worse off than me and that gets a variety of responses but for anyone doubting my sincerity on the subject I would point them to the news over the last few weeks; children have been abducted and attacked/killed by animals (or abandoned by their parents depending on your outlook), a rare animal has been needlessly shot, a huge number of innocent and fun seeking folk have been needlessly shot dead and that rare thing, a positive politician in Jo Cox, has been brutally murdered in the street – seemingly for standing up for her fellow human beings. Throw in the general nastiness flying around because of the EU referendum, the Trumpageddon on the horizon and the continued insistence of US law makers to ignore the danger of firearms and it’s been a pretty horrible few weeks (and don’t even get me started on moron football ‘fans’ in France). Like I say, there are plenty worse off than me so I’m not going to wallow.

Now, with all that said, it’s not been entirely plain sailing, emotionally speaking. What I’ve found out through family, friends and a little internet research is that there is such a thing as a post operation crash which has to do with your body’s physiological reaction to the general anaesthetic which kicks in around 12-14 days after the operation. So I moped, I got frustrated and I snapped at my nearest and dearest (sorry, Gemma) as the novelty of being the patient wore off and the reality of not being able to dry my feet after a shower or pick up a spoon I dropped on the floor kicks in. I have a big scar which, apparently, chicks dig but I couldn’t feel less attractive right now. At various moments over the last few weeks that yellow lymph fluid has continued to leak out of my leg in a spot that looks like I’ve wet myself, I have had to hold one of my son’s nappies against my leg in the car park of Sainsbury’s (it just gets sexier doesn’t it?) and at one point I pulled some seriously odd shapes trying to put some socks on. It’s a good thing I wasn’t planning on having any more kids.

Frustration aside, however, there’s been the promising news that two new skin cancer targeting drugs have been approved by the health watchdog NICE to be made available via the NHS. This isn’t a cure and there’s no guarantee that they’ll work with me but it’s a really positive indication of the rapid progress being made in an area that directly impacts me and my family. This is work that will, in no small part, be supported by the fundraising efforts of people doing things like running 5km in pink Tutus around the seafront of Plymouth …. which brings me to today.

In a mass of pink, many of my female friends and a family member or two teamed up with a small army of children (and a few thousand strangers) to run the Cancer Research Race For Life in Plymouth, my home town. I wasn’t sure how I would feel being surrounded by all those people who had lost someone to Cancer or who were battling it personally or in support of a loved one. But when you think about it, that’s what we do every day. They might not be wearing pink T-shirts, fancy dress or a label explaining the reason they’re running but walk through any town centre, large office block or shopping mall and the chances are you’ll be queueing up behind or walking past someone who has known what it is to be touched by Cancer in one way or another.

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The Pink Ladies (and boys)

What was overwhelming, though, was that as I stood on the Hoe (look it up non-Plymouth folk) under a lead grey sky and omnipotent rain staring at this mass of smiling faces was the sheer determination of everyone. This was early on a Sunday morning in horrible weather and here were massed thousands of women and children with supportive families (and stoic dads on father’s day) dressed entirely impractically and ready to run five kilometres to raise money in order to support the continuing work of Cancer Research UK. There was no competitiveness, just a supportive environment and the only segregation was whether you considered yourself a walker, jogger or runner (or hobbler in my case but they didn’t have a banner for that). Here were rich and poor, young and old, Labour and Conservative, Northerner and Southerner, fit and…. not so fit, survivors and supporters, battlers and those who have seen the battle lost. And I think that kinda sums Cancer up for me. You can be the fittest person in the world but you can still get Cancer or you can be a couch potato and cruise through life without it even touching you. Sure, you improve your chances of avoiding it by being fitter but being rich, poor, good, bad, honest, deceitful, hard working or lazy makes absolutely no difference. The lottery of Cancer can point its oversized novelty finger at you at any stage so it’s in all of our interests to support the work of organisations like Cancer Research UK in the long run, isn’t it?

As a side note, a few hundred miles away to the north a very old friend of mine was doing his best to upstage everyone by doing an ultra-marathon – that’s 69 miles in 22 hours. Mad? Yes. Ill-advised? Probably. Wishing he had new legs right now? Absolutely. Nevertheless, this is just another example of the lengths people will go to in order to raise money to keep the research going and take us a few steps closer to the holy grail of a cure. Right now, walking to the local shop and back makes me feel like I’ve run a marathon or two so the work of all these big hearted feels overwhelmingly generous and selfless. In light of that, I’m not going to sign off with anything pithy this time, just a big thank you to all of you that ran for me and everyone else today. To Anthony in the north and to Gemma, Jake, Joe, Alfie, Roxie, Eleanor, Mel, Owen, Anna, Julie, Liz, Shelley, Jed, Marnie, Salli, Evan, Roz, Megan, Sian, Sarah, Ebony, Jen, Lara, Biddy, Bea, Lisa, and Clare in the south – you are all heroes and I thank you all.

Oh…. And you can still donate if you feel inspired, guilt tripped or generous;

For the southerners in pink, go to:

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/gemmajoyturner

For the, frankly, mental northerner who can’t walk anymore, go to:

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Anthony-Gladdish

The New Normal #6 – A numbers game

I’ve written a lot of words about this cancer malarkey but during the last few days some significant numbers have cropped up in my mind so this next chapter in my story is all about the digits.

Law-of-Large-Numbers

At 7.15 on the morning of 24th May, I was dropped off at Derriford Hospital in Plymouth to check in for my groin dissection – still doesn’t sound any better, does it? After a wait of only 10 minutes, I was put through my checks, changed in to a surgical gown and handed everything in my possession (apart from my pants) over to a stranger to put in locker 37. I hopped on a bed while 8 medical professionals busied themselves around me; cannulas were inserted in to both hands, ECG monitors attached to various points of my body, my personal details were checked to make sure they were dissecting the right groin and then a friendly anaesthetist from Hong Kong put a mask over my face and repeatedly asked me if my head was ‘spinning yet’ until, well, I passed out.

During the next 5 hours a series of indignities occurred including a stranger removing my pants while I was unconscious (pretty sure there are laws against that) and having various drugs pumped in to me to keep my body pliable. There was also some shaving …. again. Both thighs now resemble plucked chickens and I now seem to have a testicular area that looks like Duncan Goodhew having a passionate smooch with Gandalf the Great. Most importantly, however, the skilled surgeon also managed to remove 100% of my now infamous tumour from the groinal region which is what this was all about, let’s face it. The op was a success and I’ve been told the tumour was so large that it took them 90 minutes longer than anticipated to remove it. Most pleasingly, when I asked how big it was and the surgeon held his hands up to illustrate the size, I suggested about the size of a grapefruit and he just smiled, ‘yes, quite a large grapefruit’ he said. Eat that, courier company of my past.

Coming round in bed F6 of the Lynher Ward, I became acutely aware of the 6 tubes going in and out of me. One cannula with a morphine drip attached in my left hand, one spare cannula in my right hand for emergencies, oxygen tubes up my nose, two drain tubes plugged straight in to my right thigh and, oh what’s this, a ruddy great tube shoved right up my trouser snake so I didn’t go off like a garden sprinkler during surgery. For anyone who has never experienced a catheter (not something I would wish on my friends although my enemies can have 100 for all I care), it is an entirely unnatural experience and thankfully only lasted 24 hours before it was unceremoniously deflated and yanked out by a nurse with the deadest of dead eyes – one tip, don’t google it while it’s inside you, it makes you feel a very special kind of sick.

As the tubes were removed one by one I was amazed at just how ‘OK’ I felt which was promising and visitors coming in were buoyed by my OK-ness. Then I was told I should get of the bed and sit next to it in an upright chair so the gravity could return to its work with my organs and various fluids. Now, you know when you wake up and you’ve slept on your arms and, in trying to give your significant other a hug, you end up hitting them in the face with your ‘dead’ arms? Just me then? Well, my right thigh was suffering exactly the same sensation which meant that while I could wiggle my toes, a la Uma, I could not lift my right leg at all leading to the most ungraceful crotch first slither from bed to chair but I bloody made it.

So, achy, sore and slightly immobile but I was  mentally with it and the morphine had long been abandoned so I was confident of getting home within 24 hours but there was one problem – well, two actually. The cavity left by my groinfruit (it’ll catch on, trust me) was filling up with blood and lymph fluid doing what liquid does in terms of osmosis (we all remember that from school, thanks Mr Widdecombe) and if left undrained that would just pool up inside my groin and turn it in to a bloody, pussy ticking water balloon. If I could drain less than 100ml per bottle per day, then I could go home. Initially, I felt good about this but as the days rolled by I couldn’t get the levels below 400ml between the two bottles and there was nothing I could do about it other than wait and follow advice.

The practicalities of having two 600ml plastic bottles attached to your groin by 1-metre-long plastic tubes means that getting dressed is a pickle. On the first day I passed the 2 bottles skilfully through the right leg of my pants and followed by the tubes before inching my foot in like a caterpillar drunkenly negotiating a branch. With my pants on, I repeated the process with a pair of shorts and, 10 minutes later, felt proud that I’d dressed myself in such circumstances. Pride comes before a fall, though, and I soon realised that my pants were on back to front…… balls to it, no way was I going through that again just to avoid having to sit on a button all day. Showering, walking, not getting stared at in the hospital café and remembering to pick the bottles up every time you went anywhere were all difficult, as was not feeling like I had to justify the Rose coloured fluid I was carrying around to strangers – “It’s not my piss” I wanted to scream.

The nurses and doctors were all great; overworked but always professional and friendly. Family and friends visited to break up the day and I was able to go walk about around the hospital to break up the monotony – I even got ‘day release’ for few days but always had to come back at night which meant I was taking up a bed and felt slightly like an inmate at an open prison. However, even with free wi-fi, the boredom sets in quick once the drugs wear off leaving you craving human company and conversation. The trouble was, all of the 5 other beds in my ward were full of angry, Daily Mail toting folks who seemed to be largely in to moaning about the service they were getting from the NHS or immigrants (the irony lost on them while they extoled the virtues of Brexit as a Nigerian nurse did their observations, a Latvian catering assistant cleared away their plates and a Romanian pharmacist measured out their medication). But, as my ever patient and loving girlfriend kept reminding me, most of my cancer had been removed from my body so I could now concentrate on fighting on what’s left and if that included a few days of boredom then so be it – even if I did feel like an undercover lefty at the UKIP annual conference.

Anyway, I’ve been rambling on for over 1000 words now and the basic message is that the operation went well, I still feel great and I’m back home with my family. I still have 1 drain in my leg (just 70ml today, it’s going down) and some follow up appointments in the diary but my leg is no longer lumpy and I’ve had a free manjazzle of sorts – if a Brazilian is just a strip down the middle then what is one half bald and the other half left wild? I’m going for a Canadian; half French, half English but I’ll leave it up to you to decide which half is which.

By the way, if you fancy sponsoring my better half (Gemma), my son and my three step kids  to run the Race For Life in aid of Cancer Research UK then feel free to do so at: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/gemmajoyturner or not. It’s your call.