A Bell of Hope

The Chemotherapy Diaries

Saturday was chemotherapy session number 5. More importantly, I baked the nurses a Blueberry Cheesecake that seemed to go down well, but I didn’t hear how it tasted as I left before they went to lunch. I wish I had asked for a slice as the bake looked better than my trial one earlier in the week, but I would have been taking it from one of the nurse’s mouths, which wouldn’t feel good. They deserve it more than I (and I can always make more cheesecakes)!

A lot of baking took place on the Friday before treatment.

I showed up to chemotherapy in quite a chirpy mood this week. I am feeling optimistic about the 3-month scan for some strange reason. Not necessarily because I think it will bring good news, but it will be the first look at the tumour since November, and I want to understand where we are at with the treatment. Anna and I have provisionally booked our wedding venue for September 16th, so I now live in perpetual fear of having a procedure arranged in the weeks before or having to do mop up chemo around the event. Of course, I talk of ‘fear’ here sarcastically – getting to the stage where it is operable is the ultimate goal of treatment and would be an incredible feat. But the deposit for the venue is also £1000… how valuable is my life? Hmm, I guess I could lose £1000 to better guarantee it. Perhaps.

The nurses seemed in good form too. I was chatting away with the team about baking, chemotherapy and working Saturdays. It is usually a sign of a good chemotherapy day when the needle is inserted into my port in my chest doesn’t hurt too much. It didn’t. “Short scratch coming,” the nurse said, and it was just that. The Monday after Christmas’s chemotherapy session felt like the nurse had stabbed me with a dagger, and I got shooting pains up my neck and back. When the district nurse came to my house to disconnect it on the Wednesday afterwards, she had shown me that the end of the needle had been bent, so she may have inserted it into the very fringe of the port. It made sense why it hurt so much. But this wasn’t one of those days.

I learnt something interesting during the delivery of chemotherapy bag no 1, AKA good cop. Around halfway through it, they link up another bag of clear fluid to be delivered simultaneously as the chemotherapy drugs. I always thought this was more sugar water to ensure your body is remaining hydrated and/or to keep the chemotherapy drugs somewhat manageable on your body. The nurse informed me that it was actually a mixture of nutrients that helped the chemotherapy stick to cancer cells. It is delivered through the remainder of bag 1 and then bag 2, AKA bad cop. It made me feel better, and I imagined the little nutrients high-fiving the chemo drugs as they flew through my veins to find those cancer cells together. Unfortunately, the good vibes didn’t last; bag 2 was in a bad mood this week.

Before starting bag 2, the nurse did their usual charm offensive to try and get me to take the injection before starting the treatment. It is supposed to help lessen the negative symptoms of god-awful bag 2. There is a catch, though. Once you accept the injection, you have to have it every session before bag 2. It also means that it has to be administered over an hour and a half period. I’ve managed to work the delivery time down to 30 minutes, and although it might be 30 minutes of overheating, discomfort and nausea, it gets me home damn quicker. I know which I prefer. No, thank you, injection.

During bag no 2, I usually sit forward in the chair with my eyes closed and put on some music to distract me. It’s only 30 minutes of hell; I’ve been on dates that have lasted longer and put me under more discomfort (full disclosure, this is entirely facetious). It’s nothing. Luckily, I sat without headphones on Saturday just as a woman came in for her treatment on the chair next to me. The nurse asked her to step onto the scales, which is part of the standard introductory treatment demands. She stood on, and the nurse emphatically said, “Amazing! You’ve put on 3kgs,” the woman then threw her hands up to her face and smiled in delight. “Only on a chemotherapy ward can someone announce that a woman has put on weight to the room, and it result in a Cheshire Cat smile on their face,” I thought to myself, temporarily forgetting how horrible I felt.

Fast forward about 45 minutes, and I was ready to leave. Anna and my mum were running a bit late due to traffic, so I wasn’t in a hurry. I got my things together and asked the nurses if I could get the bottom of my baking tray back. She did me one better and washed it for me – what a delight! I grabbed a coffee from the catering assistant who was making her way through the ward and packed up my bags. Another treatment day down. I felt a bit nauseous, my body was sweating and muscles cramping, but it was over. I started to make my way down the hall to the stairs, before descending to the main lobby to wait for the car.

As I was leaving the chemotherapy ward, a woman was being recorded by a nurse ringing a bell in the stairwell. This is a tradition when you have beaten cancer for those who don’t know. You ring a bell in the ward, and the nurses and patients cheer. I was unaware of this custom until I saw a video on Twitter of a woman doing it in a hospital in the US. This custom apparently is also followed in the UK, as I learnt in that moment. I didn’t want to walk in front of the camera and ruin her shot or utter a clumsy “congratulations” in the background of her precious moment, so I just side-eyed her and smiled. She was crying to herself. I heard whooping from back in the ward. It was hard not to imagine me in her shoes, feeling that same glee, letting out the pain and suffering of the last 6, 12, 18, however many months. It gave me hope.

Downstairs, I headed to the M&S cafe and grabbed another coffee. Sat in the waiting room drinking this coffee, I started to feel some pain in my abdomen. The feeling quickly changed, and I knew I needed a toilet pronto. Just as I stood up and started darting my eyes around the room for a bathroom, I saw Anna pull up in our car with my mum in the passenger seat. They waved at me, but I messaged them, saying I had an emergency. Diarrhoea at treatment is new for me, and believe me, I wasn’t happy about it. The Christie is an hours drive from my parent’s house – not ideal conditions for someone suffering from this ailment.

After spending 20 minutes in the toilet, I had to make my way back up to the chemotherapy ward to get some of the diarrhoea tablets that I had rejected at the start of the session. “I don’t get it too often, so I have loads of them at home. Don’t worry about it,” I’d said. Now here I was again, tail between my legs. “I was wrong. I’ve got bad diarrhoea. It’s an hour journey back to my parent’s house – would you mind if I got a box of the medication?” 2 of the patients could hear every word I was saying and were staring at me. You stop giving much of a fuck when you deal with this stuff so frequently, to put it politely. The nurse quickly clicked onto the system, got the drugs released and had them to me in 3 minutes. This is why I always bake for them; they’re utterly fantastic.

It took 5 of the 8 diarrhoea pills allowed in a 24 hour period to sort the situation out and get me home. We did have to stop at a motorway service at some point. It isn’t a lot of fun dealing with such situations in the services, and it really was a low point. I had my chemotherapy bottle in my pocket and linked to my chest, my head in my hands and my bum on a grotty toilet. Luckily, I was laughing about it to myself. It was all quite funny, really. I feel like I have a mental cadence where I sit in a situation and evaluate whether it is rock-bottom or not. It shouldn’t have been considering what happened to me recently (such as the diagnosis itself), but this situation really felt like a contender. Only another 30 minutes until home. Doable. I got up, left the cubicle, washed my hands, and went back to the car. Nearly there.

Finally home, but it had taken its toll. I was sitting on my bed upstairs, shaking a lot and struggling to keep my eyes open. I think it was a combination of losing a lot of fluid and my body dealing with the effects of the chemotherapy drugs. Luckily, a couple of electrolyte drinks and some support from lovely Anna and I managed to pull things back. Just in time for a few friends to come over and cheer me up. Robbie, Norah and Drew, 3 good friends of mine, spent a few hours at the house chatting away and taking my mind off the situation. It was wonderful. They came over again on Sunday afternoon to walk Lucy with me.

Lucy after a walk on Sunday afternoon

Now, I feel a bit dodgy, but it isn’t proving to be as bad as initially. I have a few blog post ideas bouncing around my head, which always cheers me up, and I have signed up to Running 40 for Feb, a money-raising campaign for Pancreatic Cancer UK. I’m going to be doing it throughout Feb, sometimes having to walk probably, but I’ll get it done. If you’d like to donate, the link to the page is here. I am currently sitting on a healthy £0 as I have not shared it with anyone, but hopefully, that’ll change soon. I’m going to donate some money myself, too, as I really do respect their work. Their dedicated nurse team are fantastic and so supportive. For now, I’m going to leave you with a song that nicely represents the mood of the article. I hope you have a great start to your week!

Exercise & Me – Written for Pancreatic Cancer Action’s Blog

The below article can be found here on Pancreatic Cancer Action UK’s blog. It’s the first of 2 posts that I have written for them which will be released this month. I’ve copied it below for your ease, but be sure to check out PCA; they’re an amazing charity set up by 14-year survivor and general veteran of pancreatic cancer, Ali Stunt. I have spoken to her on the phone and her knowledge and attitude are inspiring. I hope you enjoy the article!


Exercise & Me- Why Exercise is Key to Healthy Wellbeing

As part of our Jog Jan for Pan Can event, ultra-marathon runner and pancreatic cancer patient, Dan Godley, reflects on how exercise has impacted his life.

Dan Godley

My name is Dan Godley, and I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the age of 28. A week before I first went into hospital with severe abdominal pain, I had competed in the Maverick Adidas Terrex ultra-marathon. The distance was 35 miles in the unforgiving Peak District, starting and ending near the picturesque village of Bakewell.

Two weeks prior to this, I had also competed in the Brighton Marathon, an event which made the news as the organisers accidentally marked the course incorrectly on the day, resulting in the marathon being over half a kilometre longer than the official marathon distance. This is a cardinal sin in the world of marathoners and can cost professionals valuable qualifying points by affecting their finishing time.

Fortunately for me, I am far from being in this category, and the news greatly pleased me, as my time was four hours and three minutes. I could now claim that I would have completed it in under four hours if the course was the correct length (probably). I added that to my excuse that it was far warmer than it should have been during an end-of-September marathon, and I felt vindicated.

I’ve never been the fastest runner, but I have discovered over the years that I seem to have a good mind for exercise. My biggest achievement has been completing two separate 100km ultra-marathon events, one of which was the GB Ultra Scotland route in 2020. It was supposed to be a 100-mile event, and my brother and I had trained rigorously throughout lockdown in preparation. To our dismay, the event had to be cancelled just days before it took place. As we had trained so hard (and spent money on the accommodation), we decided to travel up and do the first 100km of the course anyway, deciding that the full 100 miles would be dangerous without proper support from organisers who knew the route. Our parents drove with us to support us throughout the day, something which proved to be rather pointless, as we struggled to see traces of society anywhere in the scarce Scotland wilderness. It was just beautiful scenery and pain all day. We loved it.

Dan Godley

Exercise has provided so many benefits to me over the years that I feel I could write a book on the subject. It started out as a way of winding down after work. I would look forward to running home from the office in the evening, plotting new routes to explore and watching my time-per-mile slipping down. Then I started liking and buying myself the attire. Running shoes come in all sorts of obnoxious bright colours. Each pair I bought, I grew a little more in confidence, before finally peaking when I bought some fluorescent orange Nike trainers. They were designed so cars would easily see them at night. I wondered if they ever caused a car crash because they blinded a driver, but I never saw such an event take place. I do run with headphones in, though, so I could have been oblivious to it.

Once I started entering events, I felt a wider range of benefits. Knowing I had a marathon or ultra-marathon in the coming months motivated me to run five times a week, and I started to mix my training up. Hill sprints on Monday, slow run on Tuesday, tempo run Wednesday etc… Some days were hard, some days were easy. It may be raining, icy, or boiling hot, but I would be out there running. It made me feel hardy mentally, and I felt myself being able to focus more at work, as well as push myself further in challenging situations.

There were benefits to my relationships, too. I felt more relaxed and positive when I was regularly exercising. My training time was for training, and then my free time was to relax. I had earned it, so I felt like I could enjoy it so much more. My friends and I would cook each other nice meals and I wouldn’t feel guilty about eating seconds of dessert. My mind was relaxed, and I’d feel comfortable in company.

I used to go out a lot on weekends and have late nights drinking. The weekend would run away from me as I spent lots of money, stayed out late, and woke up feeling awful. With a structured training plan and a motivated attitude to exercise, I didn’t feel the need to waste my weekends like this. I felt comfortable only having a drink or two and leaving early. “Why are you leaving so early?” people would ask. “I’ve got a 100-kilometre ultra in four weeks”, I’d smugly respond. It would usually gain the respect of people, but where it didn’t, I knew what brought me more happiness and was better for my body.

Exercise & Me, Dan Godley

Since my diagnosis, I have struggled to exercise to the extent that I had before. I’ve been getting into more mindful types of exercise, such as yoga. It has shown me another side of exercise that is far less intense, but just as rewarding. Learning new positions and perfecting my breathing provides plenty of benefits for my body, and it helps me sleep soundly at night.

Learning about the more meditative properties of this type of exercise has also helped me process elements of the cancer diagnosis that bother me. It helps me synthesize what is going on with me, and better process the worrying thoughts. I have also started getting back pain as a side effect of the chemotherapy type that I am on. The yoga helps me tackle the pain, and it is far more manageable when I find the time to do at least 20 minutes of it in the morning.

I also find myself thinking about new content for my blog. It was launched in response to my diagnosis, and I find that the perfect time to write is just after a yoga session. My mind feels calm, and my body is relaxed. The blog helps me fill some of the void that the more intense exercise has left in my life: Having a structure to follow each week and challenging myself to get out of my comfort zone. Until the day I can say “I have beat pancreatic cancer”, and return to my strict exercise routine, I’m going to continue exercising in any way that my body allows.

By Dan Godley

Inspiring Stories from a Pancreatic Survivor

Nigel – Just after being diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer at age 72

The universe has been up to its old tricks again. A woman named Julie left a comment on my Strava a few days ago, saying, “Hi Dan. My Dad had the same as you. Would it help you to talk to him? He was really into his fitness when he got diagnosed. It helped massively with his treatment. He would be happy to help you x”. I was certainly interested but had no idea what to expect. Nothing could have prepared me for my conversation with Nigel and his fascinating story.

Nigel was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at 72. I believe 72 is the average age of someone diagnosed with the disease, despite me previously claiming it was 76. When I spoke to Ali Stunt, CEO of Pancreatic Cancer Action, she said it was about 72. It was a damning diagnosis at that age, and Nigel’s was no different. He was told it was inoperable and given 8 months to live. He didn’t accept this, though and insisted on treatment. The doctors offered him Folfirinox, the same treatment that I am on. It sounds like they had to deliver it slightly differently to me. Nigel spent 12 hours at the hospital on his treatment days; I assume this is to give his body more time to process the drugs.

After 6 months of chemotherapy, apparently of which Nigel sailed through (his daughter Julie gave a slightly different account, but I’m not picking sides), the doctors were utterly floored by the chemotherapy’s effects on the tumour. Apparently, a 30% reduction in size would be good, but he had achieved closer to 54%. They couldn’t believe it. All of a sudden, Nigel was being considered for surgery. Julie told me they wanted to see how fit his body was to understand if it would withstand surgery. To do this, they asked him to attend a session where he would be asked to run on a treadmill and measure his heart rate. Nigel has kept himself fit his whole life, and it is evident from his pictures. Julie told me that he showed up in his complete workout kit, expecting an intense workout session. He was ready for anything, never mind a measly surgery. Fast-forward to 2022, Nigel is approaching his 3-year clear scan at The Christie. Even better, he has the same specialist as I do.

In spite of the fact that this story is incredible, inspiring and frankly, insane, that isn’t even the most remarkable thing about Nigel. The man is a national treasure. After meeting him, I wasn’t the slightest bit surprised that cancer didn’t manage to better him. He is the most positive person I have ever spoken to, and the effect it had on me was priceless. It took a 40-minute conversation on the phone, and I felt like a new person. “If someone tells you that you have 8 months to live, you need to enjoy your time even more. Why would you spend that time being miserable when it won’t change anything anyway?” It is rhetoric that I preach on this blog, but seeing someone living and breathing it to such an extent is so refreshing.

I am so grateful that Nigel’s daughter Julie reached out to me and put me in contact with him. The story is so unlikely for pancreatic cancer that you’d assume it was fictional, but it isn’t. I am sure there is so much more to it than I am aware of, and it would make a superb blog. I get the impression that Nigel would see that as a waste of time, though. “Some people spend all their time feeling miserable in support groups after being diagnosed. I never got that.” He made me laugh a lot, even when I didn’t necessarily agree with him, although I wasn’t sure when to take him entirely seriously. His sentences produce a smile, each one laced with flippancy and confidence towards cancer, life and everything in between.

Meeting Nigel made me think a lot about my approach to fighting cancer. I am at a different stage to him, and I cannot see into the future to see how things end up for me. But it made me realise that I don’t need to know the future to understand the best approach to fighting cancer. It is not about fighting the cancer at all; it’s about grasping onto the things that make you feel happy and continuing on with life as usual to the best of your ability. Right now, the significant limitations on me are due to the chemotherapy drugs and their effect on my body. I am running again, though, I’m managing to view wedding venues with my fiance, and I am managing to get enough effort together to bake and cook plenty of food. Alongside all of this, I’ve started a blog that I am really enjoying writing, something I would not have done if not for being diagnosed.

It can be an interesting exercise to think about what you have been spending mental effort on recently. What has bothered you the most in the past 7 days? How quickly did you resolve the worry, or is it continuing? Lately, there have been quite a few things on my mind, cancer and non-cancer. The surgery is a constant worry for me – whether I will get to a point that they offer it to me, how well I will manage to recover from it and whether the surgeon will be able to remove enough of the pancreas to stop it coming back. For the most part, I realise that these things are natural worries, but I also know that worrying about them offers minimal benefit to me. Worrying about it won’t make it better, change the outcome, or influence my body towards any different conclusion. Worrying about it at night and letting fear cripple my existence could actually make those thoughts more likely to come true. Stress is deadly on the body and mind, and my body is under a lot of physical stress right now anyway; it doesn’t enjoy having the cancer either based on my heart rate during my runs.

So my pledge to myself is to prioritise enjoying myself and being happy. Nigel is living his life without fear, and I can’t imagine him expending any mental effort, energy or stress on things he doesn’t see value in. I hope to meet him in person eventually as I would love to write more about him. I think anyone could learn a lot from him. Life is too short, and when you have pancreatic cancer at 28, life really can feel short. No better time to enjoy it than now.

So today, I went out and ran my 4 miles (I did 4.2 actually), I went to the dentist, and tonight I am going to view a wedding venue. The dentist was good fun – there’s nothing wrong with my teeth. Glad to know there’s an area of my body living carefree in the cancer period. Regarding the wedding venue, we’re curious to see if the ‘C’ card really can save you money on things – we’re hoping so. I’ll have to update on that in another blog titled ‘The Benefits of Cancer’… it’s likely going to be a short post.

How Much Do I Share?

The Chemotherapy Diaries

There are some new challenges of chemotherapy seeping in. I assumed (perhaps naively) that I would understand the lay of the land by session 4 and that the difficulties would be mostly known in my treatment routine. It had even occurred to me that I might run out of things to write about… that is proving to be a preposterous thought. It’s becoming a game of ‘How much do I share?’ as more distressing and frankly disgusting symptoms start bearing their ugly head.

A reality of pancreatic cancer is that you have to get used to discussing some pretty unsavoury topics. I am referring specifically to toilet habits. Your stools are some of the best identifiers that you have pancreatic cancer. A primary function of your pancreas is to create enzymes that help break down fat in your food. When you have something inhibiting the functioning of your pancreas, such as a cancerous tumour, it will stop producing enough of these enzymes. The result is that you cannot digest fat easily, and your stools may float and/or appear a bleached colour. Originally, processing fats was only mildly uncomfortable for me, and I would have a similar feeling to indigestion as I lay in bed at night, which would remain until I got out of bed in the morning. It then became extreme after about a year of mild symptoms, which eventually led me to A&E. Of course, I did not realise that this was the problem at the time, I thought it was a mild food allergy or something.

I can’t remember when I first got asked the question ‘Do your stools float in the toilet bowl?’ by a doctor, but their foresight was bang on. I had not noticed until the question had been put to me, though. I didn’t tend to spend too much time studying the toilet bowl, surprisingly. Knowing these symptoms can ultimately be the difference between life and death, though. The earlier you can identify a cancer in your system, the better your chance at survival. It is especially true of pancreatic cancer, so I thought it worth mentioning here. The below post from Pancreatic Cancer Action details the main symptoms of the Less Survivable Cancers group. They’re worth knowing – I am an example of someone who was blindsided by a diagnosis and could have benefited from understanding these symptoms far earlier than I did. I only became aware of them after my diagnosis.

Back to chemotherapy treatment cycle number 4. At the beginning of your treatment days, the nurses ask you a series of questions that they then numerically rate based on your answer. “Have you had any diarrhoea?” For the first 2 cycles, I gave a confident and smug “No!” By cycle 3, it was a meek “a little bit on day 7,” which is my off weekend Saturday. When I get posed the question on Saturday about cycle 4, I am not sure where I’ll start, really.

For the first 6 days, everything was pretty good. I had to convince myself to not run on the first Tuesday after treatment. While walking the dog with my mum, I was boasting about how good I felt. My little puppy Lucy was running after me as I jogged ahead. The oncologist’s words were sitting heavy in my mind, though – “Don’t do strenuous exercise in the first 7 days of treatment. Your body has enough to deal with processing the chemotherapy drugs, and you don’t want to give yourself chronic fatigue.” The little jogging game with Lucy was as far as I should push it, I thought, secretly plotting to run at this stage in cycle 5 if I felt this good.

Thursday rolled around, and I had the session with Pancreatic Cancer UK. The session was on Pancreatic Enzymes and Diet. In the ‘Adjusting to Life With a Less Survivable Cancer‘ post, I spoke a little about it. As I mentioned in the introduction, the pancreas does not function normally when suffering from some form of ailment. To supplement the suffering pancreas, Creon is prescribed to take with meals, food and fatty drinks, like those with milk in. This tablet contains pancreatic enzymes to help your body break down the fat. You take these tablets with every meal, eating them at regular intervals to ensure a distribution of the enzymes throughout the digestion process. We’re conditioned to think taking large amounts of pills is bad because it is with things like paracetamol. Creon is a different beast. I probably consume approximately 25 of these pills a day. You really do have to swallow them constantly when digesting something containing fat. There was a rather comical moment on the call where another attendee started listing foods one by one and asking if he needed to eat Creon with them. “I like to eat half a chocolate bar in the middle of the day sometimes. Do I need to take Creon with that?” He asked. The nurse politely repeated what she had already said many times, in many ways, that they must be taken wherever fat needs to be digested. “What about a packet of crisps?” he followed up. It was rather comical, but I was trying to hold my composure on camera. I really wanted him to start listing all the foods he likes to eat individually, but he stopped there. Shame.

Perhaps I boasted too much on the call with Pancreatic Cancer UK that the chemotherapy was going well, that my symptoms weren’t proving to be too bad. “My diet hasn’t even been impacted. I’m eating as normal generally,” I boasted, not realising fate was being baited right behind my back. It was ready to strike.

Friday, the diarrhoea started and didn’t really stop. There was blood by the end of the day, and I was on the phone to the chemotherapy hotline. I know this is disgusting, but it’s just the reality of chemotherapy, unfortunately. I spent most of the day in bed. It really was exhausting dealing with this stuff, and I felt terrible. On top of feeling drained, I felt uncomfortable in my own skin. It all came out as my fiance sat talking to her mum Kathy on the phone. It is strange how many times I have bared my soul on FaceTime to Kathy; I’m not sure why that scenario is the catalyst for me to do so. After my endoscopy, the true extent of the trauma only came out later in the day when Kathy asked me on Facetime how I was doing. Before that, I had been a closed box to Anna and my mum – only skimming over the horrific details.

“I just don’t know what will happen. I can’t confidently say I’ll be alive in 5 years, and what will I have gone through if I am. All of a sudden, I don’t feel like I can plan for any future.” The words were flowing. I didn’t even realise they were bouncing around my head, but they must have been because I was reeling it off like a script. It’s challenging to keep your head in a positive place when something is happening to your body that is so abnormal. I felt tired, dehydrated and bored of it all. Anna and I sat crying together after the call for a few minutes, then relief. We were laughing again 10 minutes later. We don’t stay down long.

Saturday, I thought things were better, even if I still felt terrible. Some friends from London came to visit, along with my best friend, Luke. We had a great day – lunch, dog walk, board games, bed. I even had 2 pints with lunch, something I haven’t done in a long time. It all felt… normal? It was exactly what I needed. Unfortunately, Saturday night, there was more blood. Another call to the chemotherapy hotline and a lapse in positivity. It was Ok, though, and by Sunday, I felt good again; other than being tired, but that is part and parcel of chemotherapy. Tiredness becomes as reliable as your shadow in the sun.

This week is going better. The sun has been shining, I’m getting back to being active, and my mum and I are doing yoga every morning. Today I went running again and hit the 5K mark! I walked for a few minutes at around the halfway point to give my body a bit of a rest, but ran other than that (albeit, slowly). Yesterday’s run provided me with a baseline, so I wasn’t quite as shocked by how my body responded to the exercise today. It’s yet another microcosm for the way I seem to process things. The event happens, and I respond negatively; then, after sitting on it, I work through that negativity and recognise the positives, allowing me to build on it. Yesterday, I felt disappointed that my body felt slower and more lethargic. Over the rest of the day, I felt more optimistic for having managed to run again at all. Then today, I better understand the parameters of my body and realise that I can still hit targets so long as those targets are adjusted for my new reality. That then allows me to push myself again, and feel good about things. Maybe one day I’ll be able to curtail the initial emotional and negative response. Maybe.

100 to 1

I woke up feeling somewhat determined today. Despite my last Chemotherapy Diaries post claiming that everything was perfect this cycle, it went pear-shaped over the weekend. But that is for another post. Today was the day that I stopped wallowing in my own self-pity and actually did something. There was a sign this morning that it was the perfect time to do so.

An unexpected ring at the door this morning produced a package for me from Waterstones, a well-known chain of bookshops in the UK. I hadn’t ordered any books so naturally, I was surprised. It turns out that my future mother-in-law and keen blog supporter Kathy had sent me a book called ‘The Daily Stoic‘. The book has a page for every day of the year containing a quote from a famous philosopher and a small paragraph reflecting on it by the author. It is a wonderful idea and a great gift – thank you, Kathy! Today’s wisdom is titled ‘Reboot the Real Work’ and contains the following words from Ryan Holiday, the author.

“As we get older, failure is not so inconsequential anymore. What’s at stake is not some arbitrary grade or intramural sports trophy, but the quality of your life and your ability to deal with the world around you.”

Ryan Holiday – The Daily Stoic

There couldn’t be a better call to arms, which is phrased so well. It feels almost too relevant to my headspace this morning. It provided the lift I needed to shake off a tough few days, forget the hardships and refocus my energy. “Today is the day I run,” I said to myself.

The day started off with 30 minutes of yoga with my mum. We use an app called Down Dog, a cost-effective way of avoiding paying for yoga classes, but it has its shortcomings. It seems to enjoy cycling through 3 core moves as a means of moving between sections, which is fine, but when I am spending 50% of the workout listening to the exact same tone of voice tell me to do the exact same manoeuvre that I am also struggling with, I start to lose my zen a bit. “Focus on your breathing, Dan,” I told myself, “not how much you want to punch the iPad,” as I made my way into a forward fold for the 200th time. One of the primary benefits of yoga is supposed to be the meditative quality you achieve through focusing on your body, steadily breathing and paying attention to every cell. I’m working on that part of it, apparently – it gave me more mental anguish today. But I did it.

Next up was the big event, the run itself. I told myself that I wouldn’t come home without doing 5K. The thought even crossed my mind that maybe I’d feel great and do 5 miles. I said as much to each member of my family that I crossed this morning with veiled confidence. “I guess if I feel ok, I may go up to 5 miles, but we’ll see.” It was met with smiles and adulation. I felt important; it was fantastic. Armed in leggings, shorts, thick socks, a thermal layer, running top, gloves and a snood, I was ready. It was more clothes than I would usually wear in the -5 Philadelphia winter. It was more clothes than I wore when I ran in an actual snowstorm there, where I spent most of the run doing my best impression of Bambi’s first steps. It wasn’t graceful.

I didn’t manage 5 miles. I didn’t even manage 5K. I only just made it 1 mile before having to walk. It seems I underestimated the effect that chemotherapy has on you, despite complaining about the impact that chemotherapy is having on me weekly in my blog. Isn’t the human mind an incredible thing? My initial feeling was disappointment, but it quickly faded into something else… gratitude? I’m not sure what the exact emotion was, but I had run again, and there was a new baseline to work from. It felt good to be out again. I reminded myself of the quote from the morning and told myself that I had achieved something today, even if I struggled to call it an achievement at first. My previous fitness goal was to run a 100-mile ultra, and that thought hung heavy in my mind. Struggling to run a single mile felt alien to me. But I haven’t run a single mile since September, during a 35-mile ultra-marathon. Things are different now.

The sun was shining as I approached home from my warm down. I swung home, grabbed my fiance and my little puppy Lucy and went walking for 30 minutes. My clothes were already sweaty, and I had my runners on, so why not. It’s quite a sight to behold watching the small and very beautiful Lucy running at almost full speed to keep up with us walking. She is a delight. The day had not stopped its prophetic tendencies yet, though.

Upon opening Twitter this afternoon, I saw the following post from Pancreatic Cancer Action. I’m not sure if Blue Monday is specifically today’s date of 17th January or just every Monday ever. Some of those reading this will likely argue that it is every Monday ever. I had completed almost every tip that they had suggested. The only one I have not technically done, but had spoken about, was ‘Book something to look forward to’. Anna and I had spent the walk talking about booking a weekend away for my birthday in March, though, so I had shown some intent.

Those suffering from Blue Monday know that plenty of others are with you. I like to find things that help me gain some perspective when feeling low. It isn’t always good to goad yourself with people who have more significant problems than you yet are dealing with them much better than you, but it offers valuable perspective if you can stomach it. Scanning Twitter a few days ago, I started looking at Chris Johnson (Gotthegiftofit). I would explain his motive, but his bio does it better than I could: “Living with terminal cancer (GIST & Secondary Liver). Running marathons, cycling coast to coast and climbing UKs highest mountains for Children With Cancer UK”. I already had an incredible amount of respect for this man, but the below post is the one that blew me away.

What an incredibly powerful message and mentality. The fact is that life is unpredictable. Things change quickly, sometimes in a way that can feel irreparable. I know that I have spent a lot of time recently mourning a life I used to have, one full of exercise, work ambitions and social plans. Those things felt lost to me, which made them feel even more desirable. In my mind, my previous life was perfect, and I longed for it. Our brains can be deceitful things that refuse to give us any rest. The reality is that things happen, and where nature looks on with indifference, we humans assign emotion and meaning to them. Our overall focus should always remain the same – to maximise our enjoyment in the situation we are currently in and strive to be as happy as we can for as long as possible. You cannot control everything in the world, but you can control your response to it. My situation may suck, but my response to it doesn’t have to. So today, I’m choosing to be happy with my achievements and appreciative that I have a life that I know is worth fighting for. Blue Monday 0 – Dan Godley 1.

A Propensity for Emotional Pain

The ‘C’ Word

Glastonbury festival, 2019. I was gingerly walking between stages in the late afternoon on Saturday at about 16:45, sipping on a drink and feeling as carefree as I remember ever being. The mood among the group was jovial after days of drinking, meeting new people and watching lots of live bands, most of which I cannot name to this day. England was in the middle of a heatwave and the temperature was sitting just above 30 degrees celsius. There were crowds of people huddled under every shaded piece of ground seeking refuge from the heat. Then there were the deviants like us, too tipsy to care but skin red as a fire engine. As I approached the Other Stage, I saw the biggest crowd I had seen at the stage yet. It was so over-capacity that the crowd had extended into the walkways between tents. The bystanders were wondering who or what had amassed such a crowd, making them also stop and growing the crowd even further. We stopped and turned towards the stage to see a large banner with the name ‘Lewis Capaldi’ on it.

I didn’t know any of Lewis Capaldi’s music at the time and still don’t really. The whole crowd was singing along to the chorus and the mood was magical. What surprised me was that the song was very slow, with only a piano accompaniment and emotionally fraught lyrics. I now know that this song was ‘Someone You Loved’, a massive hit with over 2 billion plays on Spotify. I say it surprised me because we were at Glastonbury festival, where people go to have fun and let go of the woes of the real world, yet there were thousands of people all belting out the sombre chorus in unison:

‘For now the day bleeds into nightfall

and you’re not here to get me through it all

I let my guard down and then you pulled the rug

I was getting kinda used to being someone you loved’

The words seemed completely at odds with the mood. People were smiling, holding each other and shouting at the top of their lungs. It was quite an inspiring scene, and even Lewis seemed genuinely awe-struck as the camera focused on him. I still think about the whole thing now, and how negative/distressing emotions seem to strike such a chord in many of us.

I’ve always considered myself someone who has a propensity for more negative emotions. If you have read any of the poetry I have written on the blog, you’ll probably have noticed that it is all fairly negative. It was the same when I was 14 and my guitar teacher encouraged me to try and write my own song. He had a load of recording equipment in his office that he used to make his own albums. Upon playing him the song, he told me I should record it with him; so we did. My grandma had recently died and I remember sitting at her funeral, watching my grandad grieving and trying to imagine what it must feel like. I ended up writing a song called ‘Roses to the Fire’. Listening to it now, I am rather impressed with my 14-year-old self. The lyrics were based on a scenario I’d thought of in my head, of a grieving loved one missing their partner so badly that they were sure that they started to see them. I’m not impressed with the vocal performance, but the guitar was nicely written and came across well in the recording. I’m giving it away for free now so, enjoy, but not in earshot of me as it makes me cringe far too much.

‘Roses to the Fire’

This propensity for negativity annoys me about myself sometimes. In my mind, I feel jealous of the kindred spirits out there who seem to live carefreely and have a mind which is untouched by the negative. When I think about it more though, this propensity for negativity is so universal that I doubt there is anyone who is truly that carefree and positive. The crowd I witnessed at Glastonbury that day has made me think a lot about people’s draw to pain and struggle, and what it all means. It is so strong that it can be difficult to separate the art from the artist. As far as I can tell, Lewis Capaldi comes across as a very positive person outside of his music. He is known for his antics on Twitter, being very self-aware and ready to make jokes at his own expense. A quote of his that hit a soft spot of mine was when he said, “The amount of people with receding hairlines that tell me I’ve got a shite haircut is astounding.” Touche, Lewis. I’ve never said a word about your hair but you seem to have taken a shot at mine.

But why would we assume that someone’s personality is a direct reflection of their music? Is it fair of us to expect someone who is good at writing emotionally fraught music to also be a depressing, mood-sucking individual who only talks of breakups? Of course, the music has been written by that person so it must reflect at least some of their personality, character etc, but we seem to assume that it will be a reflection of their entire being. People are far more complex than this, however, and it would be unusual if a person who was very talented at writing breakup songs was in a constant state of being heartbroken from yet another perfect relationship that has failed.

In my experience, the reason that negativity can bring such a creative spark is that those emotions are stronger. As a result, they have a bigger impact on me and force me to write in a way that positive emotions don’t. When I am feeling positive, I am usually in flux, chatting with friends or experiencing something. The parts in-between aren’t filled with me being depressed and upset, but it is easier to draw on those emotions because they have made a larger impact on my experience. A few nights ago I tried to write a more positive poem about my fiance. I was feeling frustrated at myself because I only seem to write things that are negative, so I tried my hand at it. I told myself not to think about it too much and just write something that I thought was genuine. The words came fairly unnaturally, and it wasn’t at all like my normal process of writing poetry. I sat crying on my own as I read it back, and I struggled to understand how I ended up writing something that depressing. My current situation in life is quite charged to be fair to myself, so when I try and reflect on things that are important to me, it can turn sour. “Never trying that again,” I thought. Sorry, Anna.

What I like about writing for the blog is that I do manage to find positivity as I write. It feels easy to interject humour into written prose, in a way I seem completely unable to in my poetry or songwriting (although my songwriting career was short-lived). I think it is because I am not generally a miserable person, similarly to someone like Lewis Capaldi. Although my mind has a bit of a propensity for pain and misery, I find ways to work through those emotions and usually find myself in a good place. When writing, I think I follow a similar process to arrive at the end product. It allows me to explore the things that, on reflection, were actually quite funny about a bad situation – like the one described above of me trying to write a romantic poem, only to be sat crying on my own and feeling stupid.

I am sure there are people whose experience is very different to mine, and who draw on positive situations far more than negative when being creative. Creativity comes in many forms, perhaps creative outlets outside of poetry and song-writing actually conjure up much more positive emotions in someone. I would be really interested to know, and maybe then challenge myself to explore some of those more ‘positive-seeking’ creative outlets. For me, writing is allowing me to introduce some positivity to my creative process, and I am extremely happy to be doing it regularly.

Oh, and just to substantiate my claims about my romantic poetry being the most depressing, you can find the poem ‘For Anna’ below. Brace yourself, it isn’t fun.


For Anna

A bond forged by humour and content
Stronger than the sum of its parts

Together

We wrestle with the complexity of life
Recognising the potential in every day

Together

And eventually we will part each other’s company
But safely in the knowledge that we lived

Together, as one

Adjusting to Life With a Less Survivable Cancer

There are some exciting things happening this month. I have been featured on Pancreatic Cancer Action’s website for the first time in support of Less Survivable Cancers Day. I’ve also written 2 blog posts for their website, which will be released later in the month, one on why I started the blog and another on exercise and why it is so important in my life. The latter supports their Jog Jan for Pan Can campaign, encouraging people to be active and raise money in support of the charity. You can find the first feature here, and I’ll post the articles once they have been released.

Perhaps I would have been raising money and running my heart out for them this month in another universe. It’s a comforting thought, although pancreatic cancer was not on my radar in my previous life. If I hadn’t been a victim of cancer, I probably wouldn’t have even considered what my pancreas’s function within my body was. I almost feel guilty demanding others’ attention to the issue of pancreatic cancer as a result of this, but I know that is an irrational thing to think. Every individual cannot care about every problem that exists in the world. There has to be some form of motivation that draws ones attention to it. In my case, the catalyst for me learning about pancreatic cancer was being diagnosed with it. Not an ideal segue into caring for a cause. For many of my friends, family and even readers though, perhaps the catalyst is my diagnosis and story. I certainly hope so because it means a lot to me now, but it’s bound to; my life depends on it. I really encourage you to raise and contribute money towards the pancreatic cancer charities. It does not take much Googling to discover just how horrific pancreatic cancer is and how desperately it needs more attention and funding. The numbers speak for themselves, alongside the fact that it is a member of the ‘Less Survivable Cancers’ group.

One of the hardest things about coping with the diagnosis is redefining the lens through which I view myself. I had made somewhat of a name for myself in my previous, cancer-free life. I was Dan Godley – the guy that loves running, entering fitness events, challenging himself, meeting people and having fun. My understanding of myself hung on many of those traits. I knew I could withstand pressure in my job because I stood up to pressure in fitness events; I knew I could get on with new people because I went to that wedding where I knew no one and ended the night laughing with half of the room. There were ways I could measure the success of my endeavours; whether I was consciously doing so or not was a different matter. I would know if I got on with people at a party or if I had performed well during a fitness event. There was evidence afterwards that told me so. I got a new PB, I made a few new friends etc. When life is going well, these prophecies become self-fulfilling, and you feel an energy pulling you towards all of the behaviours you value and cherish. That is how I used to know when things were going well for me in life – everything seemed to fit into place in the good periods, and I felt comfortable. It feels like I’ve lost those mechanisms now, and the compass that I previously would measure my ‘successes’ by is no longer available to me. I am no longer in control of the factors I am trying to control.

Losing my ability to exercise as I used to is the most challenging obstacle for me to overcome. Exercising is in my family’s blood. I grew up seeing pictures of my dad running marathons. He told me about how he used to average 120 miles a week, running 8 miles to the office in the morning, going for a run at lunch, then running the scenic route home in the evening. He and my mum met at Manchester University. There used to be an annual event called the Bogle Stroll in Manchester, where participants would run/walk the 55-mile route for charity. One year when my mum and dad had both entered, my dad ran the whole thing, came second (“the winner had a pacer on a bicycle,” he emphatically claims to this day), went home, ate some food, had a bath, slept, got up, got dressed, went back out on the course, found my mum, and finished off her race with her too. My mum found it offensive. My dad probably didn’t understand how it had taken her so long. These stories are folklore in my family.

I did not realise how much of my being relied on exercise until the diagnosis, and how much of my personality it helped define. I feel as if I am now in the middle of an identity crisis. The person I was had different goals and motivations to me. He aimed to run a 100-mile ultra-marathon in the next year and was getting stuck into a new job in a new industry; I’m not doing either of those things now. Sometimes I am forced to try and reconcile a fact about my old life with a fact about my new life. Yesterday, my good friends Drew and Em came round to visit me. We’d usually chat, laugh, mess around, maybe have a beer. I couldn’t quite make myself the person I am used to last night, though. I felt disconnected, and I couldn’t participate with the same level of wit or engagement as I usually would. Some of it is the chemotherapy drugs of course; I don’t usually have to fight falling asleep mid-sentence at 21:00 unwillingly. Maybe some of this change is down to context too – we didn’t used to have the topic of ‘cancer’ to discuss at these casual hangouts, whereas it is the foundation to all discourse now. How much of it is down to the chemotherapy, having cancer, my mood, and how much of it is my personality changing? There is so much that I have to adjust to at the minute that I cannot keep up, and I have no idea if I am the same person that I was or not.

That is a word I cling onto with dear life, though – adjusting. I am adjusting to a new life, with different success criteria, personality traits, motivations etc. Everything is in flux, and I cannot always expect to know how I will feel about something, whether it will bring me happiness or if I find comfort in it. Having an identity crisis should be the least of my worries currently, but so much of how you face the world is based on your identity. If I lose faith in what I see as my major ‘attributes’ or ‘characteristics’ – things like my ability to fight through pain, to make strong relationships with others and to stick to something that I set my mind to – then it may impact my ability to fight against the cancer. I am trying to be kinder to myself and not put myself under pressure to always be the same person I was. Things are changing, but that’s ok, I’ll change with them.

For today, I joined my first workshop with Pancreatic Cancer UK on Pancreatic Enzymes and Diet. The session was beneficial, and the nurses running it had a wealth of knowledge. It was great to hear from others struggling with some of the adjustments that the cancer brings. There is amazing power in hearing a complete stranger express something that you have thought without being prompted. It is the clearest indication that someone’s experience somewhat equates to yours and that you are not alone in that struggle. Hearing others talk about digestive problems, struggling with various types of medication and feeling specific symptoms from the chemotherapy is such a relief. Even hearing someone discuss their chemotherapy schedule and it being identical to mine feels like a win.

It made me realise something about myself that is going to be essential in this adjustment phase. I get a lot more fulfilment in life when I feel that I am actively contributing to something. With work, this came in the form of owning and managing more. In exercise, it came in writing my own exercise plans and discussing running tips with people entering their first running events. Today, I wanted to contribute to the session and hope that others took something from what I said, whether that be comfort, knowledge, or hope. I’ve signed up for a few more sessions with them and really look forward to them – both for the essential knowledge to be gained and to see and hear others in my position’s experience. The lesson for myself is that I need to keep finding ways to stay engaged with my fight against pancreatic cancer.

Zen and the Art of Injecting Yourself Daily

The Chemotherapy Diaries

Chemotherapy session 4 took place on Saturday 8th. It was pretty non-descript in many ways. I’m not trying to blow my own trumpet here, but I think I may be starting to get a kick out of the chemotherapy drugs. Now I have managed to acclimatise to the symptoms, it has started feeling a little bit like an ultra-marathon. Whenever I was preparing to run a 65km or 100km race, I was well aware that the day would have its highs and lows. There would be times that I felt like throwing in the towel, sitting on the cold earth and simply refusing to use my feet again for 2 weeks. “That’s enough,” I’d say, “These feet have had enough. I live here now.” I still have 2 black toenails on my right foot to this day due to the summer training schedule that I was just finishing when the hospital visits started. I got a PB over 50km’s in the last ultra that I competed in; it was only 10 days before I went into A&E with severe abdominal pain. “Not bad for someone with pancreatic cancer,” I thought to myself smugly, days after finally being diagnosed.

The truth is, the last chemotherapy cycle seemed to hit me so severely, both physically and mentally, that I feel like this one is giving me a break so far. There are the normal symptoms that are uncomfortable. My hands are cramping, I’m getting bad indigestion in the night, and I cannot drink cold liquids without it feeling like someone has slipped some popping candy in there; a variety based on actual fireworks, though.

There are even some new symptoms joining the party, but I am mostly laughing them off so far. My lower legs were cramping badly for the first time ever on day 1. Usually, only my hands and toes play this game with me. I was making my way around the house, looking like I was attempting the robot. The bottom of my legs wouldn’t bend, and I was rocking up the stairs one at a time, swaying from hard left to hard right, as my straight legs alternatively picked themselves up to the next step. Anna and my mum were watching from the bottom, laughing.

The only new symptoms that I cannot laugh at are the mouth sores. 3 have appeared under my tongue, and they are very uncomfortable. It has been common for me to get some mouth ulcers in other cycles, but I now know what the nurses meant when they told me to use the special mouthwash they gave me if I get any ‘unusually painful sores’. The mouthwash issued by the hospital numbs the mouth to the pain. I used my normal mouthwash and thought someone had swapped it with nitric acid.

I had my first moment of imparting wisdom on another person during a chemotherapy session, though. Well, attempting to. A man came into the ward about 30 minutes after me. He was short, of Indian heritage and probably in his mid-40s. He struggled to speak initially, partially because his English wasn’t excellent, but also because he seemed nervous. After the nurse did some introductions, asked if he needed a translator and requested to see his signature on the chemotherapy consent form, she left to collect his treatment.

“Is it your first time today?” I naively asked, as if I hadn’t just listened to their whole conversation. “Yes. I don’t know what to expect,” he meekly responded. His head-turning at the end to meet my gaze. “It isn’t too bad. It takes a few sessions to get into the swing of it, but at least you know that your body is fighting back.” I didn’t want to ask him what his cancer was, how serious it was, and whether his treatment aimed to cure or just to make his life more comfortable. I begged it wasn’t the latter. He had mentioned his wife and children to the nurse earlier, stating that they had dropped him off. The thought of it hung heavy in my mind, and my conscience screamed at me to tell him that he would fight this and see his kids get married, grow older. But you can’t make promises like that on a chemotherapy ward, especially to someone you don’t know.

He smiled at me and asked me how old I was. “I’m 28. It caught me pretty early, unfortunately. I’m always scouting the ward, making sure I’m the youngest here. No one younger than me should be dealing with any of this. None of us should.” He nodded, staring at the floor now. The nurse returned and drew the curtains around his station. I put my headphones in and prepared myself for the first chemotherapy bag as the machine was starting to beep, indicating the initial 30 minutes of sugar water was over. Time for the strong stuff.

As I left the ward 4 hours later, I passed the man as he walked back to his chair from the bathroom. We smiled at each other. “Good luck,” I said, “hopefully, see you again soon.” He smiled back and thanked me. I felt awkward about what I’d said. Did I just wish that his chemotherapy wouldn’t work? Or that his cancer wouldn’t get better? No, I didn’t. Did I? No, surely not. He smiled back, he understood what I meant. Anyway…

The session was fine. I felt rough during chemotherapy bag number 2, but I was used to that. Just the usual nausea and body temperature rising, with a small dose of sickness thrown in occasionally. I made the nurses some chocolate chip banana bread this time. It was a bit of a hurried effort. The night before, Anna and my mum had asked what I planned on making them. They saw the fear in my eyes… I’d forgotten… my whole thing was that I always baked for the nurses. “Why don’t you buy them something nice from the shop?” Anna said. I scowled at her. How dare she. I’ll make these nurses something if it’s the last damn thing I do. “I’ll make them my banana bread. I’ve done that loads of times.” Not all heroes wear capes.

An indicator that I am adjusting to the chemotherapy schedule is my new adeptness with injecting myself. I’ve mentioned in a previous post that I must inject myself for 5 days in every 2-week cycle. I leave the hospital with a ‘baby bottle’ of chemotherapy drugs attached to my port. 48 hours later, a district nurse comes to my house to disconnect it. I then start the injections 24 hours after it is disconnected, for 5 consecutive days. They ensure my bones produce more white blood cells, so I am not so vulnerable to disease and infection. It was daunting at first. I’m sure any diabetics reading this are rolling their eyes and calling me a wimp, but it took some mental effort to get past the idea. You are sitting wielding a needle about 1.5cm in length, knowing that you are about to insert it into your own belly fat. It is a daunting situation. For the first 2 cycles, I spent every morning umming and ahhing over it. I had to psyche myself up all morning before I finally managed it. “Come on, Dan. You’ve had an endoscopy. This is nothing. Just a needle in your hand, being pushed into your own stomach. That’s fine. Maybe even fun? No, not fun.” I eventually got it done, one way or another.

I don’t worry about injecting myself nowadays. It isn’t fun, I admit that, but I know the drill. A bit of pain sometimes, occasionally a tiny trickle of blood; it’s okay. I like to think of it as a small win in the battle against cancer. You can acclimatise to a lot in life. What seems challenging one day can become a benign reality after a few more routine repetitions of the same process. I remember when I got my first career job in London. It was based in the Citibank building in Canary Wharf. Strangely, 2 days before starting, it occurred to me that I would be working in a skyscraper, 17 floors from the safety of the ground. I don’t know where the thought came from and why it bothered me at that moment. I wasn’t scared of skyscrapers, and it had never occurred to me before, not even when I went to the interview in that very office. The next time I thought of it was about 6 months after starting the job. As I stood in the lift one morning, I remembered that brief moment of worry. I sniggered to myself. “What an idiot,” I thought, as I sipped on my coffee and belittled past me for being so pathetic.

The point is that we find things to worry about in life. Sometimes they are warranted. Other times their origin is more deceitful. My worry that I would be working the 17th floor of a building was more likely a worry that I would fail in this career move. I knew it was a step-up from my previous job, and I had more to lose. I wasn’t living with my parents anymore, I had rent to pay, and I had a job that I wanted to excel at more than ever. That pressure manifests itself in plenty of ways – being short with loved ones, feeling agitated, focusing on negatives instead of positives. Knowing yourself well enough to recognise these things can help you better cope with the stress and tackle your worries more directly.

For now, I am feeling positive in this chemotherapy cycle. I am starting to know how to deal with the symptoms and find peace with them. You learn when a symptom is a problem, as opposed to when it is something you just have to ride out. The chemotherapy hotline at The Christie is really helpful. I can ring them 24 hours a day about anything, and they always answer compassionately and effectively. You feel like they genuinely care about you. They take time to talk to you about the problem and go through the different scenarios for resolving it. Again, it is another way that The Christie sets itself aside from the other hospitals I have attended. Perhaps some of this is because it is a specialist hospital for cancer, so they are better trained in these issues, but I still think it is unique.

My oncologist encouraged me to try and do some exercise in week 2 of my cycle. He said it would help me tackle some of my symptoms and keep me positive. Next week, I will attempt to do a few easy runs. Initially, I’m going to jog 5K with a few walking breaks if necessary. He told me not to do anything that strenuous in the first 7 days, as my body needed to deal with the stress of the drugs during this time. I did a 30-minute walk with my mum and the dogs today, which felt great, but it did tempt me to do something more. That is my competitive fitness mindset kicking in, though; I need to stick to a more holistic, cancer-centric approach for now. Control what I can, listen to the advice of the experts, and enjoy the good days. As the inspiring Shaun (The Spider) Walsh messaged me on Twitter – “Make sure your bad days are bearable during chemo but make your good days GREAT.” Amen to that Shaun, it is fantastic advice. I’m happy to see some of that old competitiveness creeping into my mind, though – it is proof that there was a Dan Godley before cancer who ran 6 times a week and enjoyed challenging himself and that he is eager to return in whatever capacity is possible under the circumstances.

Writing This From a Dark Place

In the pursuit of positivity, I find myself gravitating more towards topics that lift the mood. Generally, I see this as a good thing. The blog is still ultimately about having cancer and dealing with the realities of that, though – the mental stress, the existential dread and the physical symptoms of both chemotherapy and cancer itself, which affects my pancreatic functioning.

Truth be told, I had a few hard days in this period post new year. My blog posts, ‘The 1%‘ and ‘I Guess We’re Mortal After All‘, both probably had the most apparent content indicating that I had certain things on my mind. The struggle felt futile more often than not for a few days, and I couldn’t compose my thoughts. A more difficult chemotherapy cycle than most, and a bout of mental depression after the high of the Christmas/New Year period left me worried. Suddenly, the next big event was the 3-month scan of the tumour in February. That was the first opportunity for things to go wrong. I wasn’t managing to see it as the first opportunity to get good news or, at least, find out the situation, so I understand the plan for the next 3 months. Knowing the following stages of the treatment plan is a fantastic thing. No matter what has happened with the tumour, the goal is going to remain the same – do as much damage to that tumour as fucking possible. But I needed a few days to process things, and I think I have processed them enough now to talk about them. The goal is to stay true to the struggle and put into words the sorts of things that can plague the mind of someone dealing with such a diagnosis.

The darkest place was the 2am wake-up on Friday that I discussed in ‘Some Positive News‘ (ironically). Morbidity was on the menu. After getting out of bed due to being wide awake, I went downstairs and lay there in the dark for 30 minutes, hoping to fall back asleep. It didn’t work, so I turned the light on. I noticed something about the below family picture in the lounge at that moment. I believe I was 14 when it was taken, or around that age, so it is approximately 14 years old now. I’ve been looking at it for that long and never really noticed my position in it.

My position in the picture is offset against my siblings; I am off to their left. I closed my left eye from my seat on the sofa and turned my head to the right side, so I was just missing from the picture in my vision. It looked wrong without me, but I couldn’t stop myself from doing it. Visualising a world without me in it, not something I had managed to do with any physical impetus before. My head was starting to hurt. I kept trying to look away from it, but I couldn’t. It’s what sent me down the negative path, looking more into pancreatic cancer statistics and getting a little bit lost in the whole thing. As previously mentioned, eventually, my mum came and sat with me, and together we navigated plenty of tears, deep conversations and beyond. It is already a special memory to me now, even if it was rather morbid.

I think this was sparked by a recent therapy group I attended. It was run at the Maggie Center and was for Creative Writing. The group is diverse; some are cancer patients, some cancer survivors, and others are bereaved partners of people who have died. For me, it really brought home the destructiveness of cancer. In ‘I Guess We’re Mortal After All’, I spoke to my old habits of worrying about my parents and how they would die, if they would suffer etc. Hearing bereaved family members writing heart-wrenching poetry about missing their loved ones was really hard. I felt so much empathy for them, and some of the writing was really beautiful. The games we were playing only allowed 5 minutes to write a poem based on some impetus that we had selected, such as underlying our favourite line from a poem that we had just read as a group. Some of the writing in that time was truly beautiful, and they were far more economical than me with their time. I’d barely written 4 lines, whilst others were writing stanza after stanza. Very impressive. The knock-on effect that I perhaps underestimated, though, was that it made me think of the void I would leave in the world.

I said in my ‘Passion As a Life Choice‘ post that people are one of my main passions in life, and I truly meant that. The comments I have received on my blog over the past few days have made me so cheerful. People are engaging in such a deep and emotive way, bearing parts of their soul and experience to me, based on some words I have written about mine. I love it, and I’m so glad people connect with something about the content. I’ve even thought about what I would have to do if I died to ensure all of you received such news. I’d like to think I would have enough notice and preparation to write a final note thanking all of you and leaving you with some wise words that came to me at that moment. I’d try and get something funny in there too, but I just don’t know what. Much of my comic relief comes from being horrible about the nurses who steal my blood weekly at the hospital – I’m sure I could get one more dig in at them. They are great, really though, I just wish they’d leave my poor veins alone.

I have a large family of 8, including my parents, and a close-knit group of friends. There are many people I really love in the world, and the list only seems to grow longer as I get older. I’ve always been someone who picks up friends where I go and tries to invest in them. Of course, some drop off along the way, but that is life, and when I find an opportunity to speak to them again, I try to, and it rarely feels like much has changed. The cancer has presented an opportunity to reconnect with so many people I know, and it has been lovely. This isn’t me saying that I am extremely popular and it would be a tragedy if I died for everyone who knows me, but I think I am safe in saying that I enjoy investing in people, and they recognise that I do in a lot of cases. It makes my bond with them feel tight, and I enjoy nurturing those relationships. So naturally, I wonder what my family and friendship circles will be without me, what will they say about me if I depart this life ‘prematurely’. It matters to me because I care about these people and the impression I leave on them. When I die, I want to have positively influenced the world around me enough for it to outlive my physical presence in this life. The blog feels like it resonates with people, which makes me so happy. That is one way I hope to be having a good influence on the world outside of my immediate relationships.

Strangely, another thing that may have sparked my negativity was getting the good news. I mentioned in the ‘Some Positive News’ post that hope is a worrying thing for me. My brain has always had a tendency to entertain the morbid and pessimistic. Optimism, over time, became easier for me to muster, but I still think my initial emotive response defaults to pessimism. I got better with optimism as I matured; I started doing well in my job and proving to myself that I was capable of things. Over time, I truly started to see optimism and opportunity where I used to see a threat and a potential to fail. It takes me a little bit longer to identify my pessimism where I am more emotional though, defeat it, and realise the positives in a situation.

Upon hearing the good news, I was initially incredibly happy, then realised my thoughts were telling me, “You can beat this, Dan, you already are.” The pessimistic messiah in my head replied, “GIVING YOURSELF PLENTY OF HOPE THERE DAN. HOPE IT DOESN’T COME BACK TO BITE YOU AT THE 3 MONTH SCAN MUAHAHA.” I genuinely spent about an hour feeling more sad than good because I’d allowed myself to think I might actually be winning the fight for a stray minute off the back of a single piece of positive news. It’s hard to measure your reactions when you feel your life is in the balance. How high are the highs, and how low are the lows? The lows have been far worse, and I feel like I’ve gained experience in them; the highs have struggled to make much of an appearance yet. Perhaps I just need time and a few more to know how I deal with them.

I’m happy to report that my head is in a much better place now. Reflecting on some of the fantastic actions of others and people in my life yesterday was cathartic. It really is an essential tool in life to think about what and who you are grateful for and try to communicate those things. It may seem cheesy or corny to do so, but it is the best way to clearly articulate just how important people are to you and the things they do for you. Also, as I have mentioned, all of the positive connections and comments this weekend have been delightful. If you think of anyone you believe would enjoy the blog, please encourage them to read and join in. I try and look at others work who follow me too, but if you have any blog posts you are particularly proud of that you have written, feel free to link them in a comment, and I will take a read. Others will appreciate it too, I’m sure! I’m always interested to see what other people like discussing and how they go about doing so. I also specifically say that writing is a passion in my ‘Passion As a Life Choice’ post, so I’m always out for more to consume. For now, I bid you all adieu and hope you have a great start to the week. A lovely friend of mine called Norah sent me this picture attributed to the fantastic ‘Japanese proverb’ this morning. Not the most specific attribution! It seems an appropriate end to this blog post though.


Charity Appeal – Prostate Cancer UK

My good friend Drew has just received a horrible diagnosis in his family. His dad has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Drew wants to raise some money for Prostate Cancer UK in response to the news and aims to run a marathon throughout January. He has already raised well over his target of £100, but that isn’t a reason to stop pushing. He has also already run 18.2 miles, so I think his distance target needs to be adjusted to be a bit higher. Aim for the stars, Drew! Unless you’re aiming for a very lazy end to the month… sneaky!

I know he would greatly appreciate it if anyone feels inclined to donate. Luckily his dad’s cancer is treatable, and he is currently looking at either surgery or radiotherapy. I’ll provide an update on how this goes in a later post. You can donate here. His family have always been great to me, and I know they will be supporting each other throughout this challenging time in any way they can, and I want to do what I can too.

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Another chemotherapy treatment day rolled around yesterday. That meant another 6:45am alarm, 4.5 hours in the hospital on a Saturday and more baked goods for the nurses. Yesterday I made them chocolate chip banana bread. I’ll save that material for the next Chemotherapy Diaries post though, thank you; I’m collecting ammunition for it with every second that passes. But this isn’t a blog based on chemo complaints. This post has a more positive topic: thankfulness.

One of the significant side-effects of having cancer that is not listed on the NHS website is the incredible opportunity to see the best in human beings come out constantly and unrelentingly. I find myself humbled time and time again by the actions of others. This is another post, similar to my Friends & Family post, where my only goal is to highlight the amazing things people have done for me and give thanks. I’m only covering a select group of scenarios here, but I have plenty. I plan to slowly drop these things into other blog posts over time. “A steady flow of content, how irresistible,” I think to myself, stroking my black cat and cackling to the sky. I will name drop everyone one day, in one way or another.

The first thing I woke up to yesterday morning, doing my usual scan of Twitter and WordPress in bed, was this post from Dr. Eric Perry recommending my blog to his 33K+ followers. I was truly bowled over by the gesture. His blog is far more advanced than mine, both in form and purpose. His articles are written eloquently, always have a fantastic central theme, and contain well-researched information to support the points. It is an excellent self-help blog, and I am so honoured to have my blog featured within its work. To everyone who has joined Ebb and Flow from that recommendation, welcome, and I hope it lives up to the expectations set by Dr. Eric. I’ve already received touching comments from many of you, and it made my treatment day feel so special and joyous, 2 words I usually don’t associate with the chemotherapy ward.

The next person in the firing line is my cousin Anna. Unfortunately, she lives in Europe, so I seldom see her or her talented children. They play various instruments among the 3 of them. After a family wedding in Germany that I could not attend, my family returned home full of praise for her children’s instrumental skill after they performed there. Upon reading one of my Chemotherapy Diaries posts where I had complained about my hands cramping (as they are now) because of the drugs, she sent me a little gift. The below fingerless gloves arrived with a lovely note inside, telling me that they were to help alleviate the cramping when writing. I wear them often and they not only help the cramping by warming up my hands, but have a similar effect on my heart. What a beautiful gesture. Thank you so much, Anna.

A more general thank you next to an exceptional person in my life. Her name is Daniella, but everyone knows her as Dee. She insists that it is spelt ‘D’, but I cannot fathom something so ridiculous. D is a letter and something you try to avoid getting in an exam in school, not a name. In all seriousness, Dee has supported me so much throughout the 6 years I’ve known her, though more than ever since the hospital visits started. There are few people I find myself speaking so openly to. She is the first person I cried to when I was first diagnosed with a cancerous tumour. I had managed to keep it together with my fiance Anna, choosing a display of strength over vulnerability. Within 2 minutes of speaking to Dee, I just collapsed. With every supportive text, weekend visit and comforting word, she has been a pillar in my life that has withstood so much stress, emotion and pain. I love her dearly, and I will try my very best to be there for her in the same capacity that she has been there for me.

My best friend Luke is to thank next. I hope he doesn’t mind me saying, but he has had his own fair share of battles with mental health. When I was living and working in the US, I spent nights worrying about him and speaking to him as often as possible. I always wondered how vulnerable he was, how things were going for him and if he was managing to win his battles. It was hard being so far from a friend you knew was suffering. He has a wonderful girlfriend and seems better at managing these days, or so I hope. I can’t say, though, because he somewhat selfishly always speaks to me about my situation, asking how I’m feeling and providing a reasonable voice when I feel worried. All this, as well as making me laugh more than anyone I know (my fiance Anna is close second here; she won’t appreciate being second, though). Every time I see him, I cry with laughter at least once. The positive effect on my ability to fight cannot be understated. He’s been my best friend since we were both in school, and his intelligence, wit and enormous heart continue to surprise me every day.

Finally, my fiance Anna. She has had a good amount of air time in this blog but it is mostly in passing, during The Road to Diagnosis series and in other places. We only met 2 years ago. If the Covid pandemic had not occurred, I would have still been living and working in Philadelphia, US, and I almost definitely would not have met her. We met during lockdown 1, and within 3 months were looking at properties to buy together in London. When you know, you really do know. I thought it was a cliche but I’ve felt it. Meeting Anna has proved to me that sometimes things are fated to happen. If I hadn’t met her, I don’t know how I would be dealing with my cancer diagnosis. That isn’t to discredit the role of friends, family, and everyone else, but Anna is constant support for me in a way that only someone you love can be. She teaches me so much every day through her kindness, her ability to laugh at everything and how she can wear pyjamas during every work call; it’s quite impressive how little she dresses for work these days. I can’t wait to see what our lives bring us and she’s one of the main reasons I’m fighting this cancer with the force I am – I cannot stand missing all of the things she’s going to do in her life, and I refuse to not be part of them.

Of all the talk of positivity and hope, I owe so much to the actions of others. I do not stay positive every second of every day, and I don’t expect myself to be. Suffering alone is tough. The hard miles come during the sleepless nights, the nausea-laced days and when the ruthless nature of the cancer is more prominent in my mind than the possibility of survival. Small actions of kindness, a handwritten card, some gloves, unannounced flowers, all represent another human’s empathy and want to contribute to something otherwise out of their control. It isn’t about the present; it’s about the human spirit they represent. The text messages, comments on the blog and random exchanges on Twitter. They all contribute to a feeling that I am not alone in this.

To close this post, I encourage you to invest in the people around you. Whatever your support network consists of, nurture it. Life is unpredictable and changing. Without the help of others, we are far less capable of coping with the curveballs it throws at us. Something that I am changing my opinion on is social media. Twitter is allowing me to seek out other pancreatic cancer patients, survivors and experts that I would not have connected with otherwise. Their many posts, interviews and articles are a wealth of knowledge, encouragement and support. Used in the right way, it can be a museum of information tailored to your needs. I will post a link to the blog’s Twitter account below. Please follow if you so wish by clicking on the Twitter icon. It’s another growing support network in my struggle, and I look forward to seeing where it takes me.