The Road to Recovery
Nothing is straightforward with cancer. I was driving in my car with my brother Alfie this morning when I got a call from an ‘0161’ number… Manchester’s area code. “Oh no. That’s probably the hospital calling,” I said to my brother. My jaw was already tensing up. What is this going to be… My surgery was scheduled for 7:15am on Friday 8th July – tomorrow morning.
I answered it on the hands-free system in the car and immediately recognised the voice to be that of the surgeon. My brother was sitting next to me and could hear everything as we drove down the dual-carriageway heading to the shops to pick up an online order. I always find it hard to recall the exact wording of conversations, especially ones which give me so much anxiety that I worry my stomach may pop out of my mouth. I’ve spoken to my brother about the exact wording a few times since and have landed on what I think is an accurate account of it.
After the usual pleasantries, I approximate the first sentence from the surgeon’s mouth to be this: “We’ve been reviewing your case this morning and we have some unfortunate news… your surgery can not go ahead this Friday,” he said. The brain has an amazing capability to run a million scenarios in a millisecond when it concerns something of high severity. My life is ultimately in the balance here, so I’d consider this to be of pretty high severity with regards to how important it is to me. In that split second that he paused, I had concluded that they had finally reviewed my more recent scans, that they had seen a spread, or determined something was worse than they originally thought, and that I was now destined to die within a week (the last part may be a slight exaggeration).
“There is a national shortage of the NanoKnife needles. We can’t get any in time for the surgery tomorrow. We’re looking to move your surgery to next Friday,” he continued. He was really apologetic. At one point, he even said “I know you will have been looking forward to the surgery, and I was looking forward to it too.” I can’t remember what my response was to this, but it has made me laugh a lot since. I love the idea of my surgeon sitting at home, excitedly reviewing his calendar for all of the different surgeries that he has going on that week. Upon seeing his next Whipple, the procedure I may be having, he gets giddy and says to himself “Yes! I get to do a Whipple on Friday! 10 hours of surgery to kick off the weekend! Woohoo!” He carries himself in such a professional manner in real life – I think that’s what makes the image so funny… and the fact that he described himself as ‘excited’ for the operation, of course. I’m sure that he was looking forward to it for the life-saving potential that the operation could present for a fellow human-being, but it is more fun to pretend that he was looking forward to it because he just loves scalping away at people’s organs. It sounds quite sinister when put like that.
Sinister seems to be an accurate description of the pancreas more generally. Ali Stunt, the CEO of Pancratic Cancer Action, told me that surgeons need a lot of experience before being allowed to operate on the pancreas. Her reasoning for this was that the pancreas is a fleshy, buttery texture, which makes it awkward to operate on. It also has a major artery around it, the one which my tumour has befriended and continuously hugs (to my dismay). As if all that wasn’t enough, it is also in a really awkward place to access during surgery, sitting behind other organs. The head of the pancreas is in a particularly awkward place so, of course, that is where my tumour decided to set up camp.
Ali then described it as a ‘weird’ organ. After hearing what she had to say about it, I thought it was a bit of an understatement. I decided in my head that I hate the pancreas even more than I did before. Not only is it a spiteful bastard, which once inhibited by a tumour stops you from digesting fat or regulating your bloodsugar levels properly, but it is also a creepy texture. Sinister. Creepy. Spiteful. All words that I hope no one ever uses to describe me, and I’m sure you hope no one uses to describe you either.
Most people probably don’t think about what their pancreas is up to even once a year; I wonder if mine is bothering to do anything about once every 5 minutes. I constantly have to assess my own stools to determine whether they are floating or beached, both indications that my body hasn’t absorbed the oil from the food. It is all very undignified. If they are either of those things, I have to think back to what I had eaten the day before and how much of my Creon supplement I had alongside it. I then have to increase it the next time that I eat that food, or something similar. Nothing makes food more enjoyable than constantly wondering how much fat is in it, how many Creon that fat translates into, and whether it’ll be enough to make my stools not float the next day. Perhaps I should start talking about this in detail every time I am eating, with everyone sat in close proximity to me. That’s one way to get yourself scratched off the invite list to every dinner party that you may have been invited to that year. I’d probably still get invited until after my wedding at least – no one wants to start a tit-for-tat invite war when there is a wedding on the horizon… it makes far more sense to stop speaking after they’ve drained me of all the food, booze and good times that they can; before the cancer potentially gets too serious and they have to ‘be there for me’.
Anyway… the surgery has been moved to next Friday, July 15th. It was a relief to hear that there wasn’t any bad news about my cancer spreading or surgery not being a possibility, but it was hard to calm down from the tense, anxious-filled state that I had found myself in since Wednesday morning.
Tuesday evening was the final plan I had before surgery. Me and some of my good friends went out for a meal at a local Italian restaurant. The table was set out awkwardly, making it feel a little like The Last Supper. I’m not suggesting that I am Jesus here, but I guess I would be in these circumstances. That means that someone in attendance was the snake who gave me cancer, if I am remembering and applying the story accurately. I’m probably not.
It was a lovely evening and we all laughed a lot. That night, I struggled to sleep. It was all over; nowhere left to hide. The next thing in my calendar on my phone read ‘Operation Day’. Finally it was coming, but I had another 48 hours to wait before it would. If I could have sold away those 48 hours until I was laying on that operating table and counting down from 10, I would have. All I wanted was to be knocked out. Every minute until then felt like torture if I gave myself enough time to think about it. I was trying to keep myself busy with work, baking and relaxing with family, but it was getting harder. Surgery was on my mind and my mind was on surgery.
Backing down from that place today was hard on me mentally. The tenseness did not go for a few hours. I needed to amp myself up as the surgery was approaching faster. Now I had to deflate myself again. The surgeon knew that, I’m sure. That is probably why he was so apologetic on the phone. It seemed very sincere. Now, I have to reset the clock in my mind. Another 7 days which I need to fill with more plans to distract from the surgery… I’m sure I can have a good go at that. The thought occurred to me that it is another 7 days where my cancer may spread, unabated by any treatment. I’m getting better at fighting those thoughts, but they still come sometimes. Worrying about it spreading won’t make it any less likely to happen, though, and I’m sure the risk of that happening in an additional 7 days is low… if I was warned that the chemotherapy side-affects can last for 3 months after the treatment ends, I’d hope that means that the chemotherapy is still doing something for that time too. Hopefully…
I wanted to keep this post short so all those that I haven’t spoken to personally know that I won’t be in surgery tomorrow, without having to read 3,000 words of me chatting my normal nonsense. Of course, I had to indulge in a little bit of nonsense – 1,600 words of it to be exact. It is disappointing that it was delayed, especially so last minute, but it can’t be helped. There are plenty of bumps in the cancer road; this is just another one of them. At least I get another week to run, weight train and eat as much as I physically can. I made the below white chocolate and raspberry cheesecake to help my weight gain last night, and it should definitely do that.
Thank you for all the lovely messages today and over the last few days – I’ve felt the support coming from so many places, and in so many different forms – from thoughtful hampers to heartfelt messages. They all mean the world to me and I really mean that. If this means that I get a whole second round of lovely messages and hampers next week, so be it. I am a true martyr, I know.