THE NEW NORMAL #14 – THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN MONTH ITCH

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As I drove across the Tamar Bridge this morning under a blue sky and above a misty river, my mind did that remembering thing that minds do and gave me a little recap – “Previously on Roland has cancer”, that sort of thing. Now don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a highlights episode but it did get me thinking. A little over 7 months ago I received what was probably the worst phone call of my life (to date) and drove from Newport to Cornwall thinking only dark, morbid and upsetting thoughts about what the future would hold for me and my family. Today, 7 months on, I had a consultation which turns the tables on all of that and gives me and my family hope in at least the short to medium term if not slightly longer. After all the scans, the biopsies, the extraction of the groin fruit and the repeated exposure to radiation, I have today been told that the cancer is, for want of a better phrase, on the run. The lump on my lung is doing nothing, the nodule on my kidney is cystic if anything and my groin is not developing anything new so all seems to be quiet on the Western front. I will admit to shedding a tear or two of relief on the way home but some of that was just due to the fact that they’ve nearly completed the road works around Derriford Hospital.

We’re not out of the woods yet, though, not by a long stretch. To continue the woodland analogy, I’ve been holed up in my shack with my family and friends resisting the attacks of the angry and indiscriminate wolf at my door. Zapping the wolf with radiation and generally shouting obscenities at it through the letter box whilst poking it with a very long stick seemed desperate but, hey, it’s worked. The situation we are now in is that the wolf has gone away tired, hungry and wounded to regroup. There’s a chance, a very slim chance, that the wolf will go home and either die of its injuries or at least think better of ever coming back to my shack. However, there’s more chance that the Wolf will just go home, tend to his wounds, do some pull ups and come back another day for round 2. It’s my job to make sure my shack (i.e. body) is well fortified (i.e. immune) and I keep a watchful eye, day and night, in case the wolf ever does come back (i.e. lumps or marks on my skin that weren’t there before). Sure, it’s a fairly stretched analogy but it’s the best I can come up with OK? Jeez, you’re a demanding lot, get back in the shack.

The last few weeks following the Radiotherapy would have been described as a roller coaster by me a year ago but after the last 7 months this was nothing but a ride on the teacups. The healing process has very much been a case of 2 steps forwards, 1 step back as the end of treatment brought an easing of the stinging pain but also a breaking up of my skin and a loss of hair. No matter how much cream, moisturiser or ointment I applied to my groin I neither felt sexy nor could I stop my skin from ripping apart. ‘Itchy, flaky……balls?’ said no shampoo advert ever. Throw in my new found hairlessness ‘down there’ and I have a new found respect for male porn stars and the special kind of skin care regime they have to follow in order to avoid a sticky wicket situation disrupting your day. There was also an incident with a hair dryer which I’ve been banned from mentioning here but anyone who wants to give me a publishing deal to turn this sorry saga in to a book (and film) has my word that this would be included as it was bloody funny.

And then there was the issue of shoes. After a couple of months I felt it was probably time to stop wearing my one scabby pair of black trainers to work seeing as I have a proper grown up job in an office that commands respect and admiration (I’m just going to pause here to allow any colleagues reading this to have a good laugh)…..Anyway, I thought I should get some shoes that fit my newly swollen right foot as well as my normally sized left foot. Simple, right? Wrong, bloody wrong. I tried a number of shoe shops and discovered that putting new shoes on is incredibly painful when the top of your foot is swollen and the whole leg is 20% bigger than it used to be. Turns out I am not made for normal shoes anymore so home I went (in a foul mood, sorry other half) to look up ‘special’ shoes on the internet. And we found some, quite quickly. The cost was a bit startling for a bloke; £250 for one pair of shoes seems mental unless they’re vintage Converse or a pair of glow in the dark football boots. What was really astonishing, though, was the naming convention this particular shoe maker had used for its variety of styles. As if having to wear ‘special’ shoes wasn’t demeaning enough, having to slip your feet in to pair of Velcro shoes called ‘Alan’, ‘David’ or, wait for it, ‘Keith’ seemed like a kick in the hairless nuts. But then, miracle of miracles, I remembered I had a pair of shoes stashed under my desk at work and the leather was just soft enough for me to get my foot in. Result.

So, what now? Well, more skin care regimes, no more buying shoes online and I’ve still got a tonne of weight to lose (not literally, despite the rumours). Medically, I have to go to the hospital every 3 months for a check-up and a CT scan but that’s no biggie in the grand scheme of things. Work continues, life continues and every day I’m grateful to be alive and to be living where I live with wonderful people all around me. Sound corny? Well, yeah, maybe it is but the older you get and the closer to death you come the more you realise that being cool isn’t anything to worry about and most of life is just fluff so you’re best off seeking out the good stuff, the substance and concentrating on that.

For now, though, I’m due to start post-op physio in a couple of weeks (delayed due to the Radiotherapy) which is, I’m reliably informed, largely attended by the elderly. Therefore, you can expect an update in November about how I’m either feeling ace because I’m the fittest one in the group or about how depressed I am the not only does 90-year-old Keith kick my ass in squat thrusts but he also has a pair of shoes named after him. Bloody Keith.

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