It has been a week of luxuries so far. I spent yesterday afternoon getting a special massage for cancer patients before spending the evening in a beautiful spa. My sister and brother in law got it for me for my birthday. They also paid for Anna and my mum to come along, and Anna also got some treatment. It certainly was a treat. I’ve only ever had sports massages, so I assumed all massages were an exercise in masochism and self-perseverance. Certainly not the case for a chemotherapy massage. I lay there with my eyes closed, listening to a backing track of birdsong and harp. The biggest issue was trying to stay awake. It was lovely. During the middle part of the massage, I spoke to the masseuse about my cancer. “I think patients with cancer should get massages free on the NHS. They need them more than anyone.” I’m sure she was just trying to please me, but it worked. She should run to be prime minister; I’d vote for her.
I should have predicted that something would disrupt the positive wave I’ve been riding. Last Thursday, I learnt that my tumour had shrunk and that the tissue around the artery looked healthy. My case was put forward for discussion at the MDT meeting yesterday. This is where it is discussed with multiple disciplines, including the surgeons. I got the follow-up phone call today. The decision is that I am not ready for surgery. I’ve been sentenced to completing the entire chemotherapy cycle – another 5 sessions (totalling 2.5 more months of treatment). Following this is another CT scan at the hospital, another meeting to review the results, another wait for the MDT meeting to discuss, and another call where I either get the green light or a discussion on the next techniques we’ll be harnessing to get me ‘surgery-ready’. In tune with the blog’s name, I’m experiencing the ebb and flow of cancer. It’s exhausting.
I should have been prepared for this; I’d even convinced myself it was what I wanted. “I’d rather complete the whole chemotherapy cycle before having surgery,” I said this morning as I sat in a cafe with my mum and two good friends. The tone was confident; I thought I meant it at the time. As the oncologist spoke the words later in the afternoon, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed.
It isn’t that I needed to be surgery-ready per se. There is still a certain insecurity about my position with the cancer that I think I’m fighting against on a more personal level. I still want to hear the experts tell me, “It’s going well”, “You’re nearly there”, and “We’re winning”. Medical professionals don’t tend to operate in a world where such colloquialisms are helpful. Today, the oncologist’s sentences came out like he was reading a legal document: plain in tone and feeling, apathetic to the meaning of the words. It’s fine; it isn’t supposed to be a criticism. They want to deliver facts, and they don’t want you to misconstrue the information they’re communicating. These people also do this all day, every day. You must have to numb yourself to the pain and suffering you so commonly witness; even if you don’t do it purposefully, I assume it will just happen regardless. Suppose my job was to steal milk off children. I’d probably start to embrace my inner-Thatcher eventually and look forward to that sweet, creamy taste, even if it was at the expense of innocent, defenceless children.
Maybe I, as the cancer patient, should be given a form after diagnosis saying, “How optimistic would you like your doctors to be with you?” I can then rate it on a scale of 1 – 5. I like to think I’d go with a 3, a nice grounded 3. I’d be tempted by the 5, though. Let’s see how optimistic these doctors can get. I want party poppers going off every time I walk into my appointment. “CONGRATULATIONS, DAN! You still have cancer, but one day you might not anymore!” the oncologist would say. I’d start crying as they cut the cake, with the word “DANcer” written in icing on it. Other doctors and nurses would come into the room in a conga line and call me boring for not joining in. Maybe this isn’t such a good idea…
The phone call was at about 15:00 this afternoon. After 30 minutes of feeling deflated, sending the Comms out about the surgery (or lack of) via the usual channels and wallowing in the news, I did what I always do to clear my mind… I went running. It felt good; I did my first sub 1hr 10K since being diagnosed. Anna ran the first 6K with me too, which was nice. She wasn’t too happy with the route I planned as she said it was too hilly. If I was being cynical, I’d tell her that she would call a route too ‘hilly’ if it had too many curbs that she had to ‘climb’. Luckily I’m not a cynic, so I’d never say that. A shoutout to Lucy puppy too, who provided plenty of cuddles during the 30 minute wallowing period. She’s always there when I need her most. Anna is too, of course. I’m not picking favourites here.
As I ran on my own during the last 2K, the phrase ‘Smooth seas don’t make good sailors’ came into my head. I know the phrase from a song of the same name by the band Neck Deep. They won’t be to everyone’s taste; if you are an avid follower of the blog, you probably realise my music taste is all over the place. Part of the chorus is as follows:
But smooth seas don’t make good sailors,
Jump ship and head for failure,
Find yourself a tragedy,
Slowly lose your sanity
I thought of these lines in my head as I ran along, listening to a completely different song on my headphones. It made me feel better. I’ve already faced so much adversity in my journey with cancer; the news I received last week is highly positive. That is what I need to focus on. Being surgery ready now would have been a total outlier, and I’ve had my fill of positive news for now, back to the struggle.
To refer to this as a setback would actually be insulting to real setbacks in life. I fell into a bit of a trap. Last Thursday I received very good news; news so good that I wasn’t expecting it. That meant some part of my brain, beyond the part I can control, really expected the good news to continue coming. I really felt prepared for anything in my own head and thought I was reserving any preconceptions of what may happen today. Unfortunately, that was a lie to myself. I REALLY wanted to be surgery-ready, and I knew that deep down, but I didn’t admit it to myself. I wanted to be told that the chemotherapy was over. I wanted to finally face the next horrible step towards being in remission, the major surgery. But, this was a reality check. From every survivor that I have spoken to who were inoperable before starting treatment, none of them was surgery-ready before completing the full 12 sessions of chemotherapy. This is the common road to tread; there is barely a disruption to speak of with the news today. Sometimes, the reality of a situation does not stop you from feeling a certain way, though. I felt disappointed as I heard the words. I had to let that feeling simmer.
I feel like I’m bouncing back, though. I’ve had a lovely extra week off chemotherapy after a tough cycle. My birthday weekend, when I was expecting to be having chemotherapy, was full of fun, family and friends. This week I’ve felt the best I have since I first went into the hospital. My energy levels are better than ever, and I’ve been thriving off the positive news last week. Now, it is back to reality. 2-week treatment cycles, mouth ulcers and uncertainty over the future. It’s all good; I just need to get back into the swing of things.
In other news, I recently mentioned that the local paper, The Chronicle, had contacted me about my Run 40 Campaign, but I hadn’t heard anything else about it. It turns out that the story was printed but has not been put on the website. Today, a good friend I met through the blog met me for coffee and gave me a gift. She had framed the article I did not know existed. What a wonderful and incredibly thoughtful thing to do! I’m not sure if you’ll be able to read the article from the picture below, so I’ll also include the PDF for those who want to read it. The author regularly refers to me as Mr Godley, the only taste of being a teacher I will ever have in life. I’m not sure I like it. Good job I have no desire to become one; I’ll leave that to my younger (and far brighter) brother, Greg.