Infections Ahoy: 2 Hospital Visits in 24 Hours

The Chemotherapy Diaries

Yestrerday morning, I was admitted to the hospital with a suspected infection. My temperature was 38.2. The ‘healthy’ range is about 36.1 – 37.2, I believe. If it is above 37.5, that is when the chemotherapy hotline become particularly worried by it. Who knew there could be another twist in the chemotherapy tale? It’s a good job I haven’t made any lofty claims recently about Completing Chemotherapy – that would make me look pretty stupid.

I’ve felt extremely tired these past few days, but that doesn’t raise an eyebrow in week one of the chemotherapy cycle. Randomly regaining consciousness on the sofa despite having no recollection of falling asleep is part of the first week’s rituals. Sure, I’ve been getting the usual attacks of stomach pain, digestion pain and general abdominal pain, especially during the night. Why would that be any more concerning than usual, though? You wouldn’t put a polar bear in a Tunisian zoo and then ponder over whether it is too warm. You know it’s too warm, you just want more people to visit your zoo. I actually did see a polar bear in a Tunisian zoo when I was 18. The poor thing was laying on the concrete in the scorching sun; it looked completely defeated. It was the moment I swore myself off zoos.

I got on with things as normal. Tuesday night’s sleep was broken but not too bad; in the morning I felt a little more exhausted despite sleeping for twelve hours. Still not too concerning. Wednesday I spent lounging around the house, slowly mustering the effort together to get out into the big bad world and walk Lucy the dog. Anna and I finally managed it at lunchtime. We were out for about an hour and the sun decided to join us. The rest of the day was a blur really – I can’t remember what else I did. Fell asleep more, read my book and lounged about, probably. Wednesday night was when the serious fatigue kicked in again. Not totally unusual, but I didn’t experience it like this often.

Walking Lucy – Picking Up a Gift from a Family Friend

I was struggling to stay awake on the sofa from about 21:00. Before this I was fighting the tiredness, but after 21:00 I simply couldn’t stay awake. The abdominal pain was also worsening which is unusual for the early evening. It usually only happens in the middle of the night and in the morning. I went to bed early and had a strange night, drifting in and out of sleep and feeling particularly bad. There isn’t a better way to put it really. Just bad. By the time it was morning, I had a high temperature and my skin was boiling hot. A high temperature is the clearest (and sometimes only) sign that you have an infection. Infections are extremely dangerous whilst on chemotherapy, and can be fatal if they are not dealt with quickly. Your body is busy processing the chemotherapy drugs, meaning that the load on your immune system is heightened. So, things which may be routine for your immune system in day to day life become big problems whilst on chemotherapy.

That is why your thermometer is your best friend whilst on treatment, and at first I hung out with mine regularly. As I settled into treatment, though, I started thinking I knew it all. I stopped really checking my temperature, deciding that chemotherapy was easy and that my body was an impenetrable fortress. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I thought it was in everyone’s interests for me to not check my temperature – I save myself an entire 10 seconds every morning, no one worries about me having an infection and I don’t have to bother the staff on the chemotherapy hotline, who have older and more vulnerable patients to attend to. When I eventually conceded that I felt a little hot and Anna told me that my chest was ‘boiling’, I grabbed the thermometer. I put it under my tongue and waited for the beep. Beep – 38. Fuck. As stated earlier, anything over 37.5 is moving into abnormal. 38 is the highest I’ve ever seen my temperature go. The reality of the situation set in; I’m going to have to call the hotline in my final cycle, aren’t I?

It is amazing how quickly self-preservation kicks in when you are in these stressful situations. As I sat on hold to the hotline, I tempered my thoughts on whether what I was doing was appropriate or not. Despite reading online that a temperature of 38 on chemotherapy unequivocally requires the attention of the oncologist, and fast, I kept checking my temperature to see if it was a false reading. I got a few 37.8’s, a 37.9, a few more 38’s. All of a sudden, I got a 37.3. Phew, it’s normal again, I said to myself. Just before I managed to hang up, a woman picked up and asked for my hospital number. Damnit, they got me. She asked about my temperature and I explained that it has been a little bit all over the show. “What is the highest temperature you have recorded?” She asked. “Well, the highest is 38 but I’ve had quite a few 37.8’s…” she cut me off mid-sentence. “You need to come in, I’m reserving you a bed now. Can someone drive you and can you get here in the next hour?” I felt like a deer in the headlights. I resented the thermometer for doing this to me; that’s the last time I’m trusting you.

I knew something was wrong, though. Even now, 7 months after a cancer diagnosis, I still try to avoid doing anything which may disrupt the idea that everything is going well. Accepting that I have a high temperature and possibly an infection means that something needs to be done about those things. That something may result in more uncomfortable truths coming out about the cancer, treatment, or who knows what else. You want to curl up in a ball and wait it out instead. It’ll be fine. Probably. Unfortunately, that type of avoidant strategy won’t do you any favours in the world of your health. Putting off appointments, ignoring symptoms and pretending that you feel Ok, all just lead to bigger problems in the end. Even if it doesn’t – getting checked out will settle that voice in your head which tells you something is wrong in those quieter moments. You may have to do a few uncomfortable things in the process, but life is full of uncomfortable moments. It happened to me for over a year when I was trying to get my abdominal pain diagnosed. I never thought it would actually be cancer, no matter how many jokes I made about it being so. Those jokes seem in bad taste now, but that is clearly one way that I dealt with the uncertainty of not knowing what was causing the pain at the time.

The operator had told me to bring an overnight bag and set off straight away. I got a few things together and pulled myself out of bed. My head was spinning and it felt like someone had lit a fire inside it. I felt like a zombie as I walked, struggling to speak coherently and feeling fascinated at how the human body copes with the world. So, when you have an infection your brain heats up does it? Perfect.

Anna dropped me outside the front of the hospital. I had to go to a department I’d never been to before – Department 22. It wasn’t the ideal time for an adventure. If anything, the zombie description was only becoming more accurate as the day dragged on. Adequately stringing together sentences was becoming a unsurmountable task. As I walked the corridors of the hospital trying to follow the signs for Department 22, I felt my eyelids refusing to blink as fast as I wanted them to, and my feet dragging more than usual. It didn’t feel like I was in control of any of it. I made it to the right place and asked at a reception desk where the ward was – she told me to use the lift and go to the top floor. I turned around and walked in the completely opposite direction to the lifts. She called out to me and walked around the desk, putting her hand on my arm and saying she’d take me there. She smiled at me. Sweet pity was looking me dead in the face.

Once I reached the ward, I was taken into a private room immediately by two nurses. Both were extremely nice, as is standard at The Christie. Everyone who works there is always so lovely. One of them checked my blood pressure and temperature. My temperature was now at 38.2. My heart rate was at 201, which was far more concerning, but the nurse didn’t tell me that yet. She smiled and said, “I’ll be back in one minute, Daniel.” I smiled and said Ok. I’m sure she had noticed the vacant tone of my voice and the rolling of my eyes; I was actually feeling quite ill now. She came back with another device and put it on my finger – “Ok, good. The last device said your heart rate was 201 which would be very concerning. This one says it is 131. It’s still high but it’s much more manageable. I’m sure we’re making you extra nervous, too.” She wasn’t wrong. There was a lot of equipment in the room and I was suspicious of all of it. What are they going to do to me?

Drip Drip Drip

They put a needle into my port and extracted a few tubes of blood. The nurse then informed me that she also needed to take blood from my arm, as a means of trying to locate where the infection is. I knew this was going to end badly, but I also knew that there was no way of getting out of it. I didn’t say anything. She put the needle in my arm and I watched her pulling blood into a syringe. Now, I say I knew this was going to go badly because I absolutely hate doing blood tests at the best of times. My body does actually respond quite strangely when a larger amount of blood is taken, though, which is why I cannot donate blood. Also, they don’t usually extract blood from your vein using a syringe, and that in itself was making me feel queasy. Usually they use small plastic containers that they screw onto the end of the needle.

I’d seen that she had already taken quite a bit of blood from the port, and I was now watching her pulling it out of my arm. Couple that with the fact that my head was spinning and I was already feeling sick, and you get a recipe for disaster. At some point whilst she was taking the blood, she realised my arm had gone floppy. “Don’t pass out on me, Dan,” she said, “we’re nearly done.” The room was spinning and I was sweating profusely. Even my eyes were probably sweating. She finished, detached the syringe from the needle, pulled the needle out then lay me down on the bed. I couldn’t hear properly – like that part in a war film where the protagonist looks around in slow motion and sees all the destruction around them with an eerie buzz. My hearing was going and I had to shut my eyes, breathing heavy and focusing on staying awake. Then I came out with a rather unusual assessment of the situation – “I feel like someone has put a tin of beans over each ear.” I’m not sure where it came from but the nurse burst out laughing and said “that’s a new one”. I only realised how embarrassing it was once I was feeling better about 10 minutes later. “Where did that comment about tins of beans come from?” I said as she came back in to attach me to a drip. It needed to be addressed now that I was more conscious. What would a psychologist say about that? When my defences were down and my brain was at it’s most vulnerable, it chose to bring up cans of baked beans. Interesting. I even specified that the tins were used for beans; surely that detail would be irrelevant.

Anna’s Interpretation of the Tin Incident

Once I was feeling better, the nurse said to me “You probably think we’re vampires taking all of this blood from you!” Has she been reading the blog? Or can she read minds? Is that something that vampires can do? Now I have to watch what I say AND think around these bloodsuckers. What a disaster.

The next person to see me was the on shift GP. Now, I know I wasn’t completely with it, but I am 99% certain that this woman was an angel. She had the softest Irish accent I’ve ever heard and always looked deeply into your eyes as she spoke to you. Everything she said, she meant, and you felt it. I tried to focus on her questions, but I couldn’t help getting lost in her aura. Some people are so predisposed to just be be…nice. It can knock you back sometimes. She can’t always be like this, surely. Then I remembered that she become a doctor, arguably one of the most caring careers a person can pursue. It must be exhausting caring about every single person you come into contact with if you are a doctor, though. How on earth does she do it? Maybe I’m just drinking the kool aid and moments after I left the ward, she turned to the others and said “Hah – did you see how limp that wimp went when we took his blood? What a loser!” She definitely didn’t, but it makes me feel better to lie to myself that her angelical nature was a facade and that she was actually a horrible person. If I didn’t believe that, she’d make me want to become a better person. That takes time and effort. No thank you.

Dr. Angel listened to my chest, tapped around my back with her hands, inspected my body and asked me to breath deeply for her. She then sat next to me and chatted to me about all of the issues I’ve had throughout treatment, to try and establish any trends which could help identify the problem. I told her about the mouth ulcers. She shone a torch in my mouth to take a look. “Aw it looks so sore – you have signs of oral thrush. Have you been treated for it before?” I had, about 3 cycles prior. She said that she’d give me some tablets to help get rid of it. We then went down the dignified topic of diarrhoea. Talking about how many times you see blood in your poo in a typical cycle should be uncomfortable, especially when you’re talking to a real-life angel. Fortunately, it’s a topic which seems to come up every time you see an oncologist about anything. “My feet are constantly cold and numb,” you say to your oncologist one day. “That sounds awful, Daniel. Please rate how loose your stools are out of 10,” they reply, without a second of hesitation.

The doctor told me that I’m probably fighting some form of infection in the bowels, alongside some other issues like the oral thrush. She told me that they’d prescribe me antibiotics and send me on my way. I breathed a sigh of relief. The anti-biotics that the nurses had pushed directly into my veins had kicked in and I was feeling more like myself.

Dr. Angel told me that I needed to do an X-Ray of my chest just to make sure they can’t see anything worrying. The nurse walked in a few minutes later with a wheelchair. “C’mon – you’re going to help me get to my steps goal today.” This was only the second time I’d been wheeled through a hospital on a wheelchair. Knowing I was fully capable of walking, I kept offering to just walk, but she told me that she isn’t allowed to let me. There is something severley immasculating about being wheeled around when you don’t need to, as if you are conceding to some form of weakness that you insist does not exist. I decided to just sit back and enjoy the ride. It was like a fairground round and I was going into the staff only parts of the hospital. Exciting.

The scan only took a few minutes. I was then taken back up to the room. Dr. Angel came in a few minutes later and confirmed that the scan was clear. She actually described the X-Ray as ‘beautiful’. She’s definitely an angel – nothing else has the audacity to use that word in that context. Finally, I had the all clear to go home. I thought that was it for my temperature shannanigans for one day. Unfortunately, I was wrong.

After I got home, I showered, cleaned my teeth and got into bed. The rest of the afternoon was spent drifting in and out of sleep, sweating a lot and basking in the sunshine which was obnoxiously beeming into the bedroom through the window. My body was cold and hot at the same time. Perhaps it wasn’t the best idea to lay in direct sunlight for hours, especialy with the ginger genes that exist in my family (two of my siblings are ‘Strawberry Blonde’). The sun makes light work of my pasty skin. Anna and I had booked to go out to a local restaurant that evening with my parents. They were adamont that we should cancel, but I told them we should go. Walking a few hundred meters before sitting in a restaurant seemed like an easier task in my head; I couldn’t just stay in all night. I got some soup and ate it slowly. About two seonds into the main course arriving, I knew I’d made a mistake. I made a pitiful attempt at eating enough of it that it didn’t seem rude to the kitchen, then sat there trying not to fall asleep. Anna and I ended up leaving early because I was feeling too bad. When I got home, I lay in bed. Somehow, I was feeling even worse than earlier. After about 30 minutes of this, I reluctantly grabbed the thermometer and put it under my tongue. Please don’t be high. Beep. 39.1. Eugh.

I took my temperature over and over again, each time returning results around 39. It was even higher than earlier – surely that isn’t good. My mum, Anna and I then desperately started looking for the other thermometer. It’s broken, surely… Of course, it wasn’t broken. My eyes were actually burning and Anna said that heat was radiating off my body. I called the hotline. Once they picked up, I protested that it was probably nothing but that I wanted to double-check. As soon as I gave my temperature, the operator seemed concerned. “That’s quite a lot higher than earlier. I think you need to come in again.” It was around 21:30 now. Once I hung up, I lay idle on the bed for a while, wishing it would all just stop. It didn’t. We got in the car and set off, arriving at around 22:30.

The hospital was empty, as expected. Anna walked with me to Department 22. We went up in the lift together, before she was asked to leave the hospital. A familiar procedure started – blood pressure, heart rate, insert a line into my port. The nurse put her finger on my wrist to check my pulse. “You’re boiling sweety,” she said, before sticking the thermometer in my ear. “Wow, you’re temperature is 39.2. Let me get the oncologist quickly.” A youngish man, perhaps mid 30’s, walked into the shared ward and pulled the curtains around us. There were two other men on the ward. Both of them were sleeping. The room was punctuated by the occassional groan, and the sounds of restless sleep. Machines beeped, nurses giggled down the coridor and I sat wollowing in self-pity.

No surprises here, but the oncologist was a very nice guy. He wasn’t angel material, but he wasn’t far off. I think you just have to be an amazing person to dedicate yourself to the oncology profession. It is so brutal; the average person doesn’t want to be in the coal face of pain and misery every day. These people recognise the other side of that equation – how incredibly necessary their role is in fighting back against cancer, and how the people suffering from it are just crying out for a reassuring smile. Even when that smile is behind a mask. They make a huge difference, whether the story ends in tragedy or not.

He gave me two options. Option one: put me on antibiotics and monitor me overnight at the hospital. It was their preferred option because of my temperature, but he appreciated that it may not be mine. Option two: they take blood samples from me and confirm that they are ‘healthy’, meaning that this is just my body fighting the infection, and that there aren’t any indicators that my health is deteriorating. After explaining both, he smiled and said “you want option two, don’t you?” “Fuck yes,” I responded. It was probably a bit inapprorpiate but I think he appreciated the timing. He reitorated that I need to ring up if anything worsens and that they are only letting me go because I’d already been given a thorough inspection earlier, with anti-biotics issued. He said that he suspected my bloods would be fine, but also reitorated that they need to be clear or I’d have to stay.

The nurse came back in and took my bloods. She asked me if I wanted anything to drink. I treated myself to an apple juice and settled in, watching Youtube on my phone in between falling asleep. About an hour and a quarter later and the oncologist was back. “You’re good to go – the bloods are fine. You’re still fighting an infection so you are likely to have a high temperature for a few days, but we aren’t worried about it based on your vitals and the blood results.” I breathed a sigh of relief. Anna and my mum had been waiting in the car the entire time; Anna had spent as much time as I had at the hospital that day, without being allowed to be part of any of the action. It was probably worse for her, really.

Apple Head on the Ward, Waiting for the Blood Results

I made my way out of the deserted hospital, exchanging pleasantries with a random cleaner in one of the foyers. Part of me expected to see a cohort of blood nurses sitting in one of the offices as I walked past, downing pints of blood and cackling. They must have a private room in the back as I never saw them. It was so good to know that I’d be sleeping in my own bed. We got back at about 00:30 and all retreated to bed.

Any hope of cycle 12 being easy had been dashed. Luckily, I seem to be following a similar blueprint to a guy who has beat this bastard cancer. The incredible Nigel had to spend an evening in the hospital because of an infection when he was on the same chemotherapy as me. He is now 3 years clear of pancreatic cancer, something very few people can say, especially those who were diagnosed in their 70’s. Having one infection that gets you admitted to the hospital seems to be part of the winning formula for beating pancreatic cancer, so I’m choosing to take the positive from the situation. I actually got admitted twice, so I’m twice as likely to beat it now. Logic. Nigel’s daughter told me that he claimed the hospital’s thermometer was broken when they checked his temperature…it’s no wonder he beat this cancer with that sort of self-idealisation. How could my temperature be that high? I’m Nigel, don’t you know. I don’t get ill.

I’m hoping that the rest of the cycle is far less eventful. Hoping does little to change these situations, though. Better to just roll with the punches and see what happens, dealing with it when (and if) it does. Besides, the hospital’s thermometer was broken. I didn’t even have a temperature.

Scan Day

The Road to Recovery

Saying Bye to Lucy Puppy This Morning

The day has come again…. attending the CT scan at the end of phase one of treatment. My last scan was at the half way point after 6 chemotherapy sessions, at the end of February, and produced good results. My tumour had shrunk from 3.2cm to 2.1cm, my tumour markers had come down considerably and the tissue around the artery was looking ‘healthier’. It was positive, but I struggled to allow the news to settle in as we left the consultant’s office. Anna cried immediately. I suspended any positive feelings I had. I’m not sure if it ever sank in fully. The results were then taken for review at the MDT meeting, a cross-functional meeting including those all-important surgeons, who still determined that I wasn’t surgery ready. It felt disappointing at the time. It wasn’t disappointing, though. I haven’t spoken to anyone who has had their chemotherapy interrupted because they were surgery ready. I’m sure it happens, but if the chemotherapy is working, why not continue? It wasn’t the reasoning that the oncologist gave as he relayed the decision to me at the time, but it is the bright-eyed-bushy-tailed interpretation that I decided to translate it into. That argument for continuing with the chemotherapy could be applied ad infinitum, I guess. Perhaps I shouldn’t suggest to the oncology team that I am happy to do chemotherapy forever. They may class it as a clinical trial and keep me in a cage to observe me. “He seems a bit distracted today and he hasn’t showered in 6 days. It’s quite disgusting,” they’d say. “I understand you, you know. I’m not a rat,” I’d respond, laying in my wheel like it is a hammock. They’d give me a funny look, write something in their report and walk off together in their white coats.

I find myself starting to write this post in the CT Scan unit (Department 11) of The Christie, drinking my dye drink every 15 minutes and acting like I own the place. It’s funny how much bravado you can bring on only the second time you visit a part of the hospital. I caught myself showing off that I knew the process. The nurse took me into a private room just after I arrived to do the introductory survey. Before she got to the questions, I said “I asked the district nurse to leave my line in yesterday, so you guys don’t have to use a new one.” What a hero I am. I’m sure she’ll be telling all of her friends about me for the rest of the week. “What a forward thinking-gentleman,” I imagine her saying to the team later, out of earshot of the rest of the room. Perhaps I should tell her about my blog, too. Although, I’m sure she doesn’t want to read about cancer to unwind from her job where she stares cancer in the face all day, every day. Maybe I’ll just tell her I’m a writer; that’s a cool thing to say, right? I can even say I’m published! Ok, I’m not going to say any of this, but it’s fun to pretend. She’s probably already forgotten about me in reality, and that’s the way it should be.

The nurse asks you what flavour dye you would like after you have completed the induction questionnaire. I go for blackcurrant, but the aniseed flavour easily cuts through it. Why are 95% of oral medical consumables flavoured like aniseed? (Please Note: statistics are not accurate and have been made up by the author). You are instructed to drink two cups of the dye straight away, then have one more every 15 minutes until you are called for your scan. It works out as approximately 900ml of liquid in one hour. I made a bit of a fool of myself as she handed me my bottle and cup. “It’s just one cup every 15 minutes, isn’t it?” I only phrased it as a question to hide my confidence; showing off was my prerogative. “Yes, but you need to drink 2 cups straight away too.” Damn, Daniel – you forgot about the initial 2 cups. She’s not going to read your blog now – any cancer clout you had, you just lost.

That wasn’t the end of my over-confident adventures in department 11. A woman asked a gentleman next to me in the waiting area if she needed to take off her jewellery. He responded saying he wasn’t sure but he thought so. I then cut in, confident as an ox and ready to dish out more knowledge on the lucky souls who happened to be in the waiting room with me that day. “Yes, you take it off and then leave it in a locker around the corner. They let you do it before you go in for your scan.” This wasn’t my first rodeo. She smiled and thanked me. “No problem, I responded.” BatDan strikes again. Just an ordinary man with an extraordinary appetite for helping others.

The nurse called me about half an hour later, once all of the dye had been consumed and I was ready for the scan itself. I followed her to the next waiting room, which is situated outside of the room where the CT scan takes place. A few minutes later, she calls me into a private room to flush the line that is attached to my port, and ensure it is working. The nurses flush the line using a syringe with a saline solution inside. They attach it to the end of the line, and then push it into your bloodstream to ensure that the device is working properly. Once they have confirmed it pushes in, they use another syringe to pull out some blood. It is unusual at first, but you get used to it. The saline solution is usually cold, and you can feel it as it makes its way into your body via the port in the chest. Watching them then pull blood out of you makes you feel awfully human. All of those lessons in science really told the truth – we’re just skin, bone and organs with blood circulating around us. Who knew? I was sure I was above it all. Maybe I’m not indestructible. I mention to the nurse that I need to take off my ring, watch and bracelet. “You’re only having your chest, abdomen and thigh scanned so you will be holding your hands above your head. You can leave all of your jewellery on,” she said, to my dismay. I seem to be full of bad advice today – I need to learn to keep my mouth shut.

Fifteen minutes later, I was called into the scan room. The reason that you need a line in during the CT scan is so an additional dye can be used during the scan. I’m not sure what the difference between the two are, I just do whatever the doctors tell me like a good student. The dye that is provided intravenously carries a warning – it feels warm around your genital area as it is pushed into your body. You are usually put through the CT scanner once without the intravenous dye, then the second time you receive a warning that they are issuing the dye and you may feel an ‘unusual sensation’. What they are referring to is the feeling that you may have wet yourself, but you haven’t. It is just a strange feeling of warmth around that area. It is quite disconcerting the first time – you get used to it by the fourth (I’m showing off again, aren’t I?) I’m unsure if it happens to both men and women, actually. The whole thing is very unusual, but over very quickly.

That was it. Another progress scan completed. I met my mum and Anna in the M&S cafe in the main part of the hospital. Our number 1 cheerleaders were waiting there with them – Nigel the Pancreatic Cancer Killer, his daughter Julie and his wife Mary. They all read the blogs (perhaps not Nigel, but I forgive him), send me lovely presents regularly and even come to the hospital to support me, like they did today. Not a bad group to have onside when you’re going through something as traumatic as this. We sat and chatted for an hour and a half before deciding to give the rest of the customers some peace and quiet, and go our separate ways. It was a nice way to round off the afternoon.

I’ve been feeling unusual today if I’m honest. It isn’t nerves, I don’t think. The scan itself is almost irrelevant – you have to show up, follow the instructions and then you’re on your merry way. The letter scheduling the follow up appointment where I will receive the results came through this morning, though. Thursday May 26th. I thought I had more time to enjoy the bliss of ignorance. The oncologist said it’d be 2 weeks which would have been the following week, but he probably meant within the next 2 weeks. It should have gone to the MDT meeting by then at least, so what I will learn in that meeting will really determine the next phase of treatment. It may have thrown me, though, as I wasn’t expecting it to be next week. I’m glad it is – the sooner I know, the better.

The other thing is that it is early in the cycle for me to be being so active. I usually have a few days before I have any time constraints or commitments, such as hospital appointments. My chemo-fog brain feels like it is operating on auto-pilot. It may explain my inexplicable ramblings about the nurse at the start of the post, but I’d probably do that anyway if I’m being honest with myself. I’m now sat at home reflecting on the ongoings of the day… all I need to focus on now is pushing through the cycle and getting to that results appointment.

Before I finish the post, my Fiancee Anna and her best friend Sophie are running their first half marathon this weekend. They are raising money for The Christie, the incredible hospital that is providing my treatment. I’ve always been fond of the below lyric ever since I first heard it, and it feels relevant here. The band is a christian metal band that you are unlikely to enjoy, but you don’t need to enjoy the music to appreciate a well-written lyric. Those of you who have followed the blog for a while have likely experienced the breadth of my musical interest – I will listen to almost any genre to find something new and interesting.

“The walls of a church don’t make it holy.

It’s what’s authentic that completes the sum of it’s parts”.

The intention of the writer is to give credibility to his religion, I believe. The sheer act of building a church doesn’t make it a special building, it is the value that is then applied to it by the people who believe that it is of greater meaning than another structure. They use it as a place of worship and it represents something more to them – these practices elevate its status and create authenticity.

I feel the words are so applicable to The Christie, too. There are many things about a hospital that provide it with authenticity – the qualifications required to work there, the complex equipment used inside and the knowledge that you went there that time when you broke that bone, and you left with a solution that ultimately fixed it. The Christie adds another layer of authenticity, though. The staff, and the way that they talk to you and treat you, is unlike any other hospital I have set foot in. You feel that they care about you, and it doesn’t seem like an act. I’ve had so many deep, interesting and meaningful conversations with the staff at this hospital. They’re always ready to support you, whether that is having a laugh or sitting down and digging deeper into what is upsetting you. Sometimes, you just want to be treated like a human, not another roadblock to someone leaving work. At The Christie, I’ve never been made to feel like anything but a valued customer in a complex ecosystem, which is full of charged emotions, tough revelations and, sometimes, utter despair. It is an incredible place, and I’m so proud of these two for raising over £1300 for them already.

I will raise money for them myself eventually, when I am healthy enough to do so. For now, I will include the link to Anna and Sophie’s fundraiser here. If you can donate, please do. If my requests to donate to fundraisers is preventing you from turning your gas on this month, please do not. I don’t want to carry the weight of that burden – I’ve already got pancreatic cancer, didn’t you know?

Completing Chemotherapy…

The Chemotherapy Diaries

Taking a Sip From the Chemo Cup

It is good to have a project. Better when that project is something of your choosing, but a project is a project. This blog started off as a project and it has taken some significant steps to get it going. They weren’t significant meaning it was a very tough and arduous process, but I was trying to learn about buying a URL, hosting the blog, designing it etc when I was at my most ill. It added a layer of complexity. There was the usual lull period at the beginning where I was trying to establish how the different aspects worked. I’d read about starting a blog here and there, but was relying on getting some time with my friend who had started a blog for his design work. Eventually, one night when I was sitting awake, unable to sleep, I acknowledged that I was using this as an excuse for not learning myself. There’s little point relying on other people for knowledge that you know would benefit you if you just pulled your socks up and learnt it. Getting them to impart some of their valuable knowledge onto you can be a great thing to do, but if not being able to get their time becomes your excuse for not progressing YOUR project, you’re perhaps not being honest with yourself about what the problem really is. I know that is what was happening to me anyway. So that night I dived into domains, purchased one, purchased an email account to run the blog from, started messing around with themes and the design tool, and a few hours later I had the outlines of a blog (and no sleep for another night). A few days later, I wrote the first Road to Recovery piece and launched the blog page. I then added some of the poems I had been writing in the hospital and voila, all of a sudden I had a blog. It was real and it felt great.

Boring Lucy With My Blog Posts

Chemotherapy was an involuntary project which was every bit voluntary, but it is involuntary if you want a chance at survival. Your body has been fighting it for as long as it has existed in some way, you just haven’t been aware of it. I was forcing my poor body to train for and run ultra-marathons. It must have been sick to death of me by the time I was diagnosed; it was very much making it known by the time I finally went to the hospital, when my weight was dropping like a stock price and I couldn’t make it through a meal without excruciating abdominal pain.

During my meeting with my oncologist on Thursday, he had to reprint the form where I accepted all of the terms and conditions of treatment, and signed to agree to it. I had signed it during my first visit to The Christie but they must have sold it on eBay for an undisclosed amount of money – ‘Official Ebb & Flow Chemotherapy Form – Signed Original’. Someone probably Googled the blog and spent 50p on it, and is now praying I die and get some sort of notoriety posthumously for my cancer blog. For the record, none of this actually happened. The original had not been put into their system. There was a split second where I humoured the thought of threatening to sue them like we’re in the United States of America, but then I remembered that the care is all basically free and incredible. Reluctantly, I decided not to bite the hand that feeds. In all honesty, I’m just angry that I had to embarrass myself by showing another person my signature. It is not intelligible in the slightest and I should be far more embarrassed about it. They probably binned the first one thinking that someone had tested out whether the pen had ink in it by scribbling in the signature box.

It had been a nice few days running up to the final chemotherapy session. Anna came back from London on Friday, my best friend Luke and my amazing brother Greg have birthday’s this weekend, and there have been lots of people around to hang out with. Then the final chemotherapy session was yesterday, Saturday 14th of May! Well, the last for a while at least. I have the scan on Tuesday but won’t receive the results for two weeks. That means that there is a good window of opportunity to enjoy myself a bit and not focus on what they may say. Worrying about it won’t change them, just like hoping they are good won’t change what they are. At least it will identify what needs to happen next no matter what.

Let’s focus on some of the positives. I raised over £7,000 for Pancreatic Cancer UK, I have written a few posts for Pancreatic Cancer Action’s website, a good amount of running was done given I was on chemotherapy, no major delays in the chemotherapy cycle (although a few small ones), I had my writing published twice, and learned that my tumour had shrunk by about one third at the midway scan! I also baked the nurses 11 different cakes in total. I hate to admit it but I didn’t take one for the first session; it was before I started baking often and I was too scared to think about anything other than making it to the hospital and getting through whatever this chemotherapy thing threw at me. The start was rocky…

As I sat on the bathroom floor in the shower on the morning of the first session, I started to cry, anticipating what the chemotherapy was going to consist of. The oncology team had warned me that they would expect someone to be in bed about half of the time due to exhaustion. That’s twelve hours a day. It sounded like a lot and was worrying me. To make it worse, Google didn’t give me a lot of hope that the chemotherapy would do what I needed it to. Neither did the Pancreatic Cancer booklets that were handed to me after the diagnosis in the hospital in London. As I’d sat there struggling to sleep in the hospital room, I had decided to indulge in the ‘Pancreatic Diet and Enzymes’ booklet. It sounded the least risky; I was quickly proven wrong. One of the first things I read as I opened up the booklet was ‘In a small number of cases, the chemotherapy will successfully shrink the tumour.’ Well, that wasn’t what I wanted to read at that moment. It was never going to start well after that.

The first session was tough, there’s no doubt about that. It is also the one where you get an induction from the nurse and she tells you every detail of the chemotherapy; what it is likely to do to you, how bad it is for your body, all of the foods that you need to avoid, things to look out for that are definite emergencies, other things that are likely to be emergencies and finally, how some of the negative side-effects may last forever. The last point is referring to where you suffer from nerve-ending damage. When this does happen, the feeling in that part of your body rarely comes back. It has happened in my toes. If you touch the very end of them, I can only feel a weird sensation. The chemotherapy has also affected my taste and I struggle to fully taste food at the minute. I’m hoping that one subsides, pronto. What is the point in baking delicious cakes if you cannot even taste them? Oh right, it’s because your dad is addicted to cake and needs at least 5 slices before breakfast to ease himself into the day. If only I was exaggerating. For me, though, it isn’t worth the calories in the butter alone, and the five Creon tablets I have to take to break down the single slither of cake just put me off even more. I’m kidding, it totally is; that would be a damning review of my own baking to claim that it wasn’t worth the calories.

I heard the nurse inducting a man yesterday. He was sitting on the chair next to me so I heard every word – more eavesdropping at the hospital, I know. I really need to get a life, or watch more daytime TV if I’m this interested in other people’s lives. At least on TV programmes, people are choosing to put their personal lives out into the world voluntarily. When Anna and I were staying in Whitby, there was a book on the Kardashians on the shelf. I started reading it to see what this book could possibly be about but I got hooked pretty quickly. Their descendants were poor Armenians. The book covered these ancestors and how they moved to the west coast of America due to a prophecy foretold by a local man who claimed to see the future. A number of the village left within the next decade, and the remaining ones thought they were crazy believing this man. There was then some form of invasion from a neighbouring country, and the remaining people of their village in Armenia were killed in the attack. Not only had they avoided death, but they had moved to an area in America which was about to experience a boom. The building of dams in California meant that the area could be inhabited much easier. They made their lives there when it was tough (and cheap), but were there to reap the benefits as it became more and more popular, with Hollywood becoming the new epicentre for film. They started various businesses, which were extremely successful, and that is how her family started to accumulate wealth. One of them was a garbage collection business – I believe this was the first which was very lucrative, but I can’t remember exactly. SEE – I told you it was interesting! They know how to get you those Kardashians. I’m sure they approved the book before its release. I stopped again and we went out walking before I spent the rest of the weekend speedrunning the book.

Anna and I In Whitby – Half Way Through Cycle 11

Anyway, I was listening to the induction that the nurse was giving to the new patient. It is very interesting listening to it again when you are at the end of your treatment. You have such a different perspective on it all. Julie, a family friend, says that “you wouldn’t take paracetamol if you read the little booklet that came in the packet.” She’s so right. In the US, where Big Pharma actually advertise a lot of drugs to try and increase their sales, they list all of the side effects very quickly and comically at the end of the advert, usually with some montage in the background. It is like satire from a British show mocking advertising. The whole thing is very unusual when you are used to UK adverts.

An Example of an American Dug Commercial

As I sat listening to the nurse discuss some of the more harrowing side-effects I’ve heard, I couldn’t help but smile to myself. I was finally at the end, and none of it got too bad. It felt good, even if it is horrible to think that this must have happened to someone to be listed.

It is hard to feel overly positive about making my way through the chemotherapy when I have just learnt of another story which is extremely sad involving the same treatment. An incredibly supportive follower of the blog sent me a direct message on Twitter a few days ago, telling me that a family member who was critically ill with pancreatic cancer had very sadly passed away after only four sessions of treatment. Although I do not know them personally, the message was very moving and I could feel their pain, even if I could never know just how awful it must be coping with that pain right now. The harsh reality of cancer sinks in quickly sometimes; even the treatment is harrowing and causes a great amount of stress on the body and mind. It alone is sometimes responsible for the downfall of the individual. It makes me less ready to celebrate any victory I’ve had against the chemotherapy as it seems disrespectful. You have to find a way to enjoy these moments, though, as they do represent a real victory in a struggle which takes it’s toll on you. When a cycle is going well, you feel on top of the world. It makes you forget how potent these drugs are and what they are designed to do to your body. The brutal reminders come when you get a new symptom, or an existing one seems to worsen. Fear, anxiety and foreboding quickly dominate your every thought. “What if the cancer has spread?”, “what if the chemotherapy is leaking into my body?”, “why have I started shitting blood, does that mean that things have gotten worse?”. The mind can be relentless; you can’t shut off your brain.

But here I am, I have completed the initial twelve sessions of chemotherapy. It does feel good. Since Friday, I have been experiencing a new type of pain in an area just above my belly button. I keep worrying about it, fearing that it may be a spread to the stomach. I know that the cancer tends to spread more to the organs around it in the digestive system, with the most common spread to the liver (I believe). The pain seemed to subside when I ate. It is a bit unusual, but I don’t think it actually represents much of a threat. If it continues, I’ll call the hotline and get some advice from them. Guess where I won’t be going again? To Leighton Hospital. No way… I’ll take the hour drive to The Christie, thank you. Once you find a hospital you trust and a team that have your best interests at heart, stick with them. That has been my experience so far. Whenever I have attempted to go to another hospital to save time, I have ended up frustrated and more worried.

The only other advice I can think of that is fairly new is in regard to mouth ulcers. It has been the killer symptom for me, getting so bad at one point that I stayed in bed for almost three days, struggling to talk or eat. The Difflam mouthwash provided by the hospital is good but mine stated on it to use a maximum of four times a day. Ignore that – it can be taken every 2 hours. I don’t use Bonjela as it doesn’t cling to the ulcers well. Iglu is much better. You need to dry the site of the ulcer using kitchen paper before you try to apply it. The gel goes hard and creates a layer over the ulcer, but it sticks much better when the area is dry. Once it is dried and you have applied the Iglu, fan it with your hand to make sure the gel hardens. It then provides a layer of protection which stops them getting irritated and also helps to heal them up. That method was by far the most effective. Then, stay away from any food with spice in it. I absolutely love spicey food so I would continually try to still make meals with similar levels of spice in them, but it isn’t worth it. Your tongue feels like it is on fire for at best 30 minutes after eating. Also, get SLS-free toothpaste. It tastes gross (mine tastes like anise, which reminds me of doing shots at university) but it makes such a huge difference. Normal toothpaste has a similar effect to chilli and can really irritate the ulcers.

Also, I know it is incredibly annoying always being told to stay hydrated, but it makes a huge difference when on chemotherapy. Forcing yourself to hydrate and get out of the house once a day is really important. I’d go easy on myself for the few days if I was feeling particularly tired, but there always has to come a point where you take the plunge and become more active in a cycle. The ones where I have been proactive about doing this have usually been my best cycles. Sleeping and lounging around is extremely beneficial in the right measures, but can be a double edged sword for both your mental and physical health if you allow yourself to become complacent and stop trying to get up. Even better, get a little sausage dog puppy that loves walking so you have a positive reason to leave the house most days. You won’t regret it. They love cuddles too.

Lucy Getting Close Enough to the Sea to Reap its Fruits (she wasn’t a fan)

So, I’m not sure what will become of the chemotherapy cycles posts from here out. I’ll do a final update next week to see how the chemotherapy is measuring out, then I’ll do another one in a few weeks to update on how well I am feeling the further away from a treatment day I get. Other than that, the next time I’m talking about chemotherapy may be in the context of mop up chemo. Perhaps it is too hopeful and optimistic to claim that, but why not have some hope under these circumstances. The oncologist seemed assured that the MDT will be reviewing it after the scan and handing over to the surgeons as they believe I am at a point where something can be done to progress this further… lets see what the next scan says and hope for the best.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed writing this series and I think it is probably the most consistent one I have made. The Road to Diagnosis series was exciting as it was real and contained twists and turns, but that had all happened by the time I started the blog. The Road to Recovery is a slow burner for updates, but perhaps it will increase again now I am out of the chemotherapy bubble. For some reason, I always found this series the easiest to write for. I naturally found things around me to talk about, as if the series made me more cognizant of events taking place around me. I’d soak them in then think about how I’d write about them, and how they would compliment my overarching point within the post. It is nice when you find stories and poetry in the world around you – the ringing of a bell on the ward as someone celebrates beating their cancer, a man pacing outside the hospital and smoking after sitting next to me in the treatment ward looking incredibly ill, and the countless conversations with the nurses.

At the end of my twelth session, the nurse went to the kitchen and divided out the cake I baked them onto individual plastic plates. She then walked around the ward offering the remaining slices out to all of the patients. It was a really lovely moment, and I hadn’t seen them do it before. Various people receiving treatment were shouting over to me complimenting the cake. Some of them had tried other ones before as the nurses had offered them a slice when I had left. “Are you the guy that made the cappucinno cake?” one woman asked me. “Yeah, I was actually. How did you know that?” I responded, actually feeling quite charmed by it. “I’ve seen you with a cake every time you’ve been here at the same time as me. They’re really lovely. What a great idea!” It was so lovely of her to say. I then stood at my chair packing up my stuff and talking to her. She had an operation to remove her tumour a few months before, and was now on mop up chemo. The cancer had spread in her case, but it seemed as though they had controlled it, despite having a recent scare of it spreading to her bowel. I didn’t ask her what cancer she was originally diagnosed with – it feels too personal to ask straight out of the gate. She then asked about mine, and was surprised to hear that I was inoperable. “You seem like a fighter – that’s the most important part of fighting a cancer. Just keep going, that’s all you can do, love.” Her words echoed with me. I thanked her and wished her well with the end of her treatment, telling her that I hoped I wouldn’t see her around the hospital again, as she only had 2 weeks left on chemotherapy before she should be clear. She understood what I meant, but laughed at the (lack of) sentiment. “I’ll keep an eye out for you,” she said. I gave her a coy smile before thanking the nursing team who were looking after me that day.

A weight felt like it dropped from my shoulders as I made my way down the stairs to go and meet my mum and Anna. I’ve actually done it… I made it through all twelve sessions of the chemotherapy. Onto the next thing, no matter how scary it may be!

Taken November 10th 2021, the Day I Got Out of Hospital After Having a Stent Installed in my Bile Duct – My Skin Still a Jaundiced Yellow, But Closer to Normal Than the Previous Two Weeks

Losing Hair

The Chemotherapy Diaries

Me and My Brothers in Primary School – Me, Freddie, Alfie and Greg (L to R). The Last Time I Had a Full Head of Hair

It feels like I haven’t written a lot for this series of late. I’m not sure why because I can’t see an obvious drop in momentum looking at the post dates. Perhaps it reflects the feeling that I have about me posting less on the blog generally, which I know to be true. I’m trying to cut myself a bit of slack, though. Making fewer posts but making them more interesting is better – right? I think so. Claiming that they’re more interesting is subjective I guess. I’m not even sure I believe that; it isn’t like I read back on my old posts regularly. My post dedicated to my good friend Drew Jones has been gaining a lot of attention these past few days according to the stats. I keep checking the news to see if he has been involved in a public scandal or something. I haven’t seen such news yet. Maybe it really is just sublime writing combined with a great character, a dangerous duo. Onto the topic at hand – hair loss.

I’m used to having very little hair. My hairline started to recede around the same time that I started puberty (not too far from the truth, but still mostly a joke). It was probably more like 16 or 17. I used to be extremely self-conscious about it. How couldn’t I be? No one wants their hairline to be very clearly receding before they have even made it out of their teenage years. I hadn’t even made it out of school yet. The self-consciousness was quite veiled and I think I mostly took the situation on the chin. There was no alternative – hats made me look stupid and I didn’t fancy maintaining a mohawk haircut. Various people had made the joke about my hairline looking like the McDonald’s M by the time I was about 21. It’s even more insulting as I truly dislike McDonald’s food. Every time I get convinced by someone to go, I end up with the same issue – I leave hungry yet feeling incredibly sick. The food is so terrible. The only thing on the menu worth considering is the McFlurry and they even rotate the flavours of that, meaning you find one you like and then they take it away. Perhaps I’m just bitter because of my hairline. At least no one makes that joke anymore (to my face); it’s probably receded too far for it to be funny anymore.

So I’m no stranger to hair loss. That being said, I am a stranger to the hair loss that I am currently experiencing. As I sat there in some shorts a few nights ago, I realised that there were incredibly smooth patches on the back of my legs. To my surprise, I started noticing them all over the top of my thighs too. My hair is quite light in colour so it isn’t very pronounced, but if you look closely you can see hair of all different lengths as you survey my legs. In some areas, it has completely disappeared, and in others it is just turning into stubble. I started noticing that a similar thing is happening to my arms too. Now I’ve noticed it, I can’t stop looking at how randomly it seems to have occurred. No rhyme or reason to where the hair has vanished and where it looks the same as it did before. As usual, I’m looking for a pattern that explains it – a way of understanding something that is probably just random. I do it about the cancer and now I’m doing it about the loss of hair.

It is almost vindicating to know that I have experienced some hair loss during chemotherapy. For the majority of people who have never experienced treatment, it is probably the most quotable symptom of it. I’m assuming if you surveyed a random 100 people and asked them what negative effect chemotherapy has on your body, they would say hair loss. It is part of the image conjured up in the media. A person with ghost-white skin and no hair, attached to a machine and hanging onto life by the skin of their teeth. I’m sure this is some people’s experience, and I don’t mean to downplay how awful it must be if it is. There’s another side to the story, though, and it is this side that dominates the wards I sit on during my treatment. It is mostly normal looking people, dressed in the same clothes they’d probably go to the shops in, trying to avoid eye contact, likely worried that it is considered prying under the circumstances. Sometimes you see someone who looks more ill and you feel sympathetic towards them – but they usually smile back if you catch their eye. Most people don’t want sympathy. They’re probably sick of the world looking at them as a wounded animal. People are much stronger than they appear. My dad says it about my mum. She is the most loving and sensitive woman I know, but I’ve seen her be incredibly strong. I remember being at the hospital with her visiting my grandad just before he died. He was asking where Jessie was (his late wife and my grandma), and kept thinking that he was in the bedroom of their house. “Is Jessie going to bring my tea up?” he asked over and over again. It was hard to be around; I can’t imagine how hard it was for my mum… but she had to leave the hospital that day, likely to make a meal for 6 ungrateful children, before tackling more of the endless washing pile that never got smaller. Life goes on. We all understand that, even if we don’t like it.

A few days ago I received a letter from The Job Centre stating that my last sick note ran out at the end of April. It informed me that until I get a new one from my GP, they cannot process my request for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). To continue with the story, we need to cover some fairly boring informational stuff. Bear with me.

When you are on long term sick in the UK, the employer is obliged to pay you Statutory Sick Pay (SSA) for 28 weeks. Once this period is up, you have to apply for ESA directly with the government. The process is then managed by The Job Centre. You are requested to have regular meetings with a Careers Advisor. It is strange considering I am technically in full-time employment, but have too much cancer/chemotherapy to deal with to allow me to work. You do feel a little like you’re under investigation… but that’s because you are. There will be people who try and abuse the system, though, so it is necessary. The careers advisor I spoke to is a very lovely person who took away a lot of the feeling that I was doing something wrong, so that made up for any negativity I felt from the letters.

I contacted my oncology team and requested another sick note as soon as I read the letter. My original one was issued by King’s hospital when I was diagnosed with cancer. Other than this, I’ve never needed a sick note in my life so I’m not familiar with the process. They responded in the afternoon stating it is my GP’s responsibility to issue sick notes. Fine. I decided to just walk down to my GP as I had emailed two weeks ago about a few things but hadn’t heard anything back. I’m feeling pretty good right now so why not sort out some wonderful admin. Is there anything more sexy than a little bit of cancer admin? There definitely is – anything.

As I stood waiting in the queue to speak to the receptionist, a woman joined it behind me. To my surprise, I heard a voice say “Got toothache do you?” I turned and realised she was talking to me, before then realising that I was standing with my right arm folded across my stomach, and the other elbow resting on it, with my palm resting under my chin and hand across my cheek. I laughed and said “Nope… No… No.” I used to have a bit of wit about me but I’ve struggled more with social interaction since starting chemotherapy, I’m not sure why. She then said, “…because I was going to say that you’re in the wrong place.” She clearly didn’t want to waste a punchline that good. I couldn’t tell if it was a passive-aggressive way of trying to get one person closer to the reception or if she was trying to be friendly. I nodded and laughed a bit and then turned around. We didn’t talk again.

It took about 10 minutes before I was at the front of the queue. As I approached the desk, I explained that I was undergoing chemotherapy treatment at The Christie for pancreatic cancer and that I had an issue with my sick notes. The very lovely receptionist smiled and asked me to wait a minute whilst she speaks to her colleague, before popping her head into a back room. She then told me to go around the corner to resolve my issue, as it was considered ‘private’ – a very lovely gesture indeed. They resolved my issue quickly and I had my sick note about 5 minutes later. It was a great success.

As I was leaving the surgery, I saw the woman who made the joke about my tooth. I think she overheard that I had cancer and was on chemotherapy, as her demeanour was totally different towards me. She looked at me wide-eyed and gave me a half-smile that felt sympathetic. I smiled and told her to enjoy the rest of her day. She said, “take care”. I’ve perhaps created a story out of this in my head, but I’m not sure. I felt the sympathy, though. I understand the sympathy to an extent – I feel sympathy for anyone who tells me they are suffering from, or know someone who is suffering from cancer. It is especially so when they are particularly young or they have a particularly bad diagnosis. I guess I fall into the ‘particularly young’ category for some people. It made me think about what a ‘cancer patient’ really looks like. I’m constantly being told that I look great given what is going on, which is a lovely compliment to receive. I don’t always feel great, though. In fact, sometimes I feel absolutely horrific. And people seem to conflate looking good to how your battle with the cancer is going – something which will correlate to an extent but doesn’t hold weight in a lot of cases. I may have been running ultra marathons with cancer for over a year. That’s how long I was displaying symptoms of something, not understanding what it was. No one ever commented on how good I looked then!

The point is that cancer can impact any of us, and it isn’t easy to identify someone who has cancer simply by looking at them. We don’t walk around hooked up to a chemotherapy machine, holding a mop bucket in case we throw up at any time. I follow a lot of accounts on Twitter of people with a terminal diagnosis who run marathons, cycle one hundred mile races and push their bodies to extremes. Usually, they are raising money for charities like Children with Cancer and posting selfless messages of positivity and hope, which brings me to the final part of the post.

If you are in the UK, you have likely read the name Deborah James in the news over the past few days. She is the host of a podcast called You, Me and the Big C, a podcast where the hosts speak candidly about their experience with cancer. The founder of the podcast, Rachael Bland, died in 2018 after a 2 year battle with cancer, only 6 months after the podcast was started. Unfortunately, Deborah James has announced that she is now on hospice care and is preparing to die. She wrote the below on Twitter.

I tried to read her final column for The Sun, but I couldn’t get through it. I wish I could, and I will eventually, but it is too much for me to manage right now. The details of decline and descriptions of ill-health towards the end of a life ruined by cancer create too vivid a picture for me. I hate to say it because I feel selfish for not persevering through someone’s written experience of something that is actually happening to them right now. Me reading it is nothing compared to them dealing with it. My issue is that I still do not understand what the actual dying part of cancer is like. I’ve never really understood what is the final thing that kills you; I know that it will be different for different people, but I’ve often pondered with morbid curiosity over what the dying phase actually looks like. Not because I want to know, but because I am scared to know. Deborah has addressed these things too well in her writing, and I just can’t read it without feeling terrified to my core of it happening to me. Death isn’t something that scares me, but the process of getting there is hard to fathom. You find yourself hoping that when it happens to you, it is a quick decline for both you and your family. I wanted to pull out the following quotes from the article:

“I do not want to die – I can’t get my head around the idea that I will not see my kids’ weddings or see them grow up – that I will no longer be a part of life that I love so much. 

I am not brave – I am not dignified going towards my death – I am simply a scared girl who is doing something she has no choice in but I know I am grateful for the life that I have had.

What an incredibly humble and moving way to summarise the destructive nature of cancer, and how its victims are left to simply observe as they deteriorate, to the detriment of themselves and the loved ones around them. I read that she was running 5K’s every day recently, and now cannot walk. It makes me resent this image of cancer sufferers as people who cannot strive to live a normal life, keeping physically active and doing what they can to keep themselves feeling as well as they can under the circumstances. People seem surprised to learn that I am trying to run whilst on chemotherapy. Sometimes I think people believe it must mean that treatment is easy for me, or that my body is naturally set up to cope with it. This last month has been extremely hard for me on chemotherapy and I’ve struggled to do a lot. It showed me that things can change quickly, and the state of your health is never as out of your hands as it is with a cancer diagnosis. You feel impotent in the face of it, so strive to control the things you can – keeping yourself fit, spending your time doing things you enjoy and staying as positive as you can. Every second you spend feeling any other way is wasted because you’re more cognizant of how valuable those seconds are, and you want to spend them making a positive impression on the world. No one has done that more than ‘Bowel Babe’ Deborah James, who has raised millions of pounds for Cancer Research UK and used her platform to educate, support and humour the masses.

I wish I had a positive way to finish the post, but I’m struggling to muster anything of substance. Deborah’s beautiful words just remind me what a dark, insipid beast cancer is for taking such a wonderful person away from her family, friends and followers at such a young age. I hope her final weeks are spent full of love and support and wish her family well.

Chemotherapy and Motivation

Time is passing by too quickly again. It’s somewhat a good thing considering I’m in the first week of the chemotherapy cycle, and always wish for this time to dissipate so I can enjoy the ‘recovery’ week. Of course, the recovery week isn’t really that. Week 2 is often where my mouth ulcers start playing up. I looked at my tongue in the mirror yesterday and noticed that I have some kind of scarring all down the side of my tongue. I read a bit about it and apparently your mouth recovers quickly so I’m hoping it’ll be back to normal after a few weeks sans chemo. The cycle is plagued by lethargy, though – my number one enemy. There is nothing more frustrating than having big plans for your day, only to lay down and not get back up for hours. It happened Tuesday, it happened Wednesday, and it nearly happened yesterday. I managed to finesse it on Thursday. Just.

I was laying on the sofa with the dogs and I was fast asleep, unbeknown to me. It wasn’t a planned sleep. It was one of the chemotherapy surprise sleeps where you wake up and have to recalibrate for a few minutes, figuring out which world is the dream and which is reality. The doorbell went and the usual scurry ensued – Dexter, my mum’s dog, suddenly bounced up and started barking to high heaven, surveying the house and being as obnoxiously loud as possible. He has obnoxious down to a tee – last night he brought in a plant pot from the garden, shook its contents all over the lounge floor and then pulled the plastic pot apart, just to make sure it really annoyed whoever was lucky enough to discover it later. Anna found it and she was very annoyed. Mission accomplished, Dexter.

Through the haze, I heard my mum greet someone at the door. The voice was that of my friend Finch – he had come to collect an item of clothing he had left here earlier in the week. He popped his head around the door just before he left. I’m not really sure what we said to each other, or if I said anything at all. Whatever happened, I wasn’t really a part of it. I just remember him smiling at me and saying bye. That triggered something in my brain. All of a sudden, I was determined to not let this be another throwaway day. I didn’t need the sympathetic eyes of an onlooker making me feel broken, like those looking into the enclosure at a zoo.

After another ten minutes or so of questioning how committed I really was to moving from the sofa, I finally got up. I went straight upstairs and got my running stuff on. Enough is enough. When they weighed me before treatment at the hospital on Saturday, my weight had increased to 76.7kg. That should be something to celebrate, but I actually think it is starting to get too high. It is much less worrying than the 63kg I recorded last November. I still feel a pressure to keep my body as healthy as I can under the circumstances, though. The last month has been laced with inactivity and illness; I really haven’t done a good job of keeping myself very active. Even walking the dog has been a bridge too far most days. I do tend to eat quite well, so at least I have that on my side. Apart from the occasional croissant… I had three in one day whilst I was in London last week. You can’t get nice croissants near my parent’s house in Cheshire so I thought I’d overindulge whilst I had the chance. But other than subsiding on croissants alone for three days, I have an alright diet.

I stood outside the house in my shorts, long sleeve shirt and gloves and braced as I started my running watch. It was always going to be a crappy run and I knew it. The temperature was also quite warm, about 14 degrees celsius, but my hands and feet just felt freezing. I had to wear extra thick socks to try and get some feeling in the end of my toes, but it didn’t really work. For the duration of the run, I kept trying to figure out if I could feel the end of them or not. They’ve been tingling for about three weeks now. I told the nurses and they said that it is still permissible to continue with treatment, so long as it isn’t stopping me from walking. The risk is that the chemotherapy permanently damages the nerve endings, something which the medical team try and avoid. The alternative is to lower the chemotherapy dosage, but it seems pretty pointless to lower the amount of a drug to save your nerve endings if it may make those drugs less likely to save your life. Here I was successfully running, so balancing didn’t seem to be a problem. It’s not a problem until it is, though, and when it is a problem, it likely ends with my face on a curb and legs extended to the sky like a totem pole. Not worth thinking about, just keep running. I got some funny looks because of the gloves but I’m way past caring about funny looks.

I just about managed to finish the 5km. It took a lot more walking than I’m used to, but that’s Ok. My heart rate kept sitting at 190bpm so I figured the least I could do was walk in intervals. As I got back into the house, I retreated back to the sofa and had a well-earnt nap. I did feel like I’d achieved something, which made me feel better. It made me reflect more on the week thus far.

I’ve felt more paralysed than I am used to this week. I’m not sure if it falls into the category of depression or is just the known side effects of the chemotherapy culminating – the lethargy and tiredness in practice. I’m trying to take more of an active role in critical things going on in my life, such as reaching an agreement on a return to work and applying for the various government grants that I need now that the employer’s statutory sick period is up. It is hard to stay motivated and I’m frequently hitting hurdles. I called to ask for an update on one of the Government grants and they informed me that the next stage is an interview. When I asked them if that would happen soon, they responded that it would likely be the end of June. Despite them backpaying you the money if you get approved, it makes me wonder how people survive in this situation. I’m lucky as I have parents that I can live with, a flat I own in London that I can rent out and an amazing family who are always offering to help me out. I’m sure that others aren’t so lucky. There are just so many things that you don’t want to have to think about in this situation, but you find yourself worrying about them constantly. You actually have more time than ever to ponder things. It can be quite dangerous if you have an active mind. I consider mine quite active, and I am starting to struggle to occupy myself lately.

That is why it is important to stay motivated. It almost doesn’t matter what you are staying motivated for, so long as you are feeling it. The runs help to motivate me. I ended up going out in the afternoon and walking the dogs with my mum too, which also lifted my mood (and earnt me another hour of nap and a bath last night). They sound like little things, but they make a big difference to my energy levels and mood. Those small changes in energy level and mood then give you another 10% worth of effort to put towards something difficult that is on your mind. Yesterday, I made a few more calls and sent a few more emails about the grants and the return to work in the afternoon after getting back from the run. That left me feeling much better last night.

Now, I’m off to Whitby for the weekend to introduce little Lucy to the sea for the first time. No more worrying about any government grants until next week!

72: A Post About Averages

The Road to Recovery

Sleeping on the Sofa with the Dogs – Typical Week 1 of the Chemotherapy Cycle

This will be my 72nd (published) post on the blog. As soon as I saw that the last one was 71, I knew what I wanted to talk about in it. 72 was not a significant number to me a year ago. My readers who are familiar with pancreatic cancer, or are good at internalising figures and have read my blog for a while, may know why 72 is a significant number now. It is the average age of diagnosis for Pancreatic Cancer victims, or I believe it is anyway. Originally I read 76, but I have since read 72 on various charity websites, so that is the one I regularly quote now.

I feel guilty for frequently using this statistic to comfort myself. “You’re much younger than the average person with this cancer, that must count for something.” It isn’t just me who says these things – I get it from doctors, nurses, friends and family. It does bring me some comfort. You have to find ways to cope under the circumstances you find yourself in. When I sit down and think about those people being diagnosed in their 60s, 70s and onwards, though, the feeling isn’t one of comfort. I feel sad. Even though it is better to be diagnosed with cancer at that age as opposed to in your 20s because you will have lived a lot more of your life, you still have a life that you want to hold on to. You likely have children you love, and you may have grandchildren you want to see grow up. It cannot be easy being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and having to read the bleak statistics around it, knowing that you cannot find the same natural defences against these figures. The typical diagnosis is also in advanced stages – mine was locally advanced. That means that a lot of these people are also being diagnosed too late, making their chances of long term survival even slimmer. It is sickening, really. I’m not sure if locally advanced actually falls into the category of ‘advanced stages’, but I would imagine it does. I think, because of my age, the oncology team just felt that there were a lot of options for me. Perhaps there wouldn’t be so many if I was 72, I’m not sure. It still guarantees me nothing, of course. But there are no guarantees in life. We’re regularly graced with threats of nuclear war in the news right now. It isn’t a nice place to gain some perspective on my personal circumstances, but I cannot help taking some from it.

These feelings are tempered when I consider the case of Nigel, who I have spoken about on this blog a few times. His daughter contacted me through the blog and told me about his story. He was diagnosed at 71 – a year short of the average. I first spoke to him on the phone about what happened to him. He was diagnosed and given 8 months to live. After having an incredibly successful bout of chemotherapy, his tumour had reduced by 55% and the cancer, which had previously spread to his lymph nodes, had completely disappeared from them. Nigel finished his 6 months of chemotherapy treatment still believing that it was palliative, before receiving a phone call from the hospital a month later informing him that they were willing to try and operate. He’s now 3 years clear and full of beans. We’ve met up frequently and our families have become close. They’re invited to Anna and I’s wedding and I can’t wait to celebrate the day with them. Their support has been incredible and unrelenting throughout my treatment.

Nigel During His Treatment – Taken By His Lovely Wife circa 2018

His story is unusual, though. The statistics will tell you that much, although I’m not going to dig into them too deeply here. I’ve done all of that in previous posts and I’m trying not to dwell on them too much; no matter how young you are, they don’t give you a lot of hope for survival. Nigel’s story tells you that dwelling on the statistics isn’t helpful. It actually tells you that it isn’t worth dwelling on the things being said to you by the medical team too, but that is much harder to implement in my experience. If my team told me that I had 18 months, I don’t know how I’d hold myself together. But, I would have said that about any cancer diagnosis a year ago, so I actually feel confident that if something like that does happen to me, I’ll find a way through it. Especially with the support that I have around me. You quickly adjust to things – just like how we all adjusted to the ‘New Normal’ during Covid; the lockdowns, the new rules, the changes to social etiquette. We always adjust.

So, I strive on toward recovery. Not an average, not a number, not a statistic. Just another person with cancer who is trying to beat the odds, whilst trying not to dwell on those odds. My chemotherapy line will be taken out at some point today when the district nurses come round – that always makes me feel good. I finally get to shower again! Then I have one more session of chemotherapy before the big scan, which has been booked for Tuesday, May 17th. It is a bit unusual that it is booked in week 1 of the cycle – it was in week 2 last time and I thought the oncologist said that this was the most logical time to do it. I don’t mind, though. I might be feeling a little bit dodgy that early in the cycle but you get pretty good at feeling dodgy when you’re on this type of chemotherapy!

I came across an inspiring story yesterday. Of course, its origins are tragic, as they often are with pancreatic cancer. Pia Eaves was a loving wife and mother of two daughters. She died of pancreatic cancer at the young age of 54, only 11 months after being diagnosed. The Walk for Pia campaign is a challenge created by her family to raise £100,000 for Pancreatic Cancer UK running from April 20th until May 1st, yesterday. During this period, they walked 200 miles and have raised over £90,000 – an absolutely incredible feat. I am totally in awe of them. Pia was a fitness instructor and kept herself in good shape. She was also well below the average age of diagnosis for a pancreatic cancer sufferer.

It was hard for me to not relate to what I was reading as I studied the website, reading the details of her life, and the disease which ultimately brought it to a premature close. I was running ultra-marathons just weeks before I went into the hospital, where we started to establish that what was wrong with me was not going to be easily sorted. Things continued to spiral downwards from there. The PET scan and endoscopy procedures are to thank for my diagnosis. Before that, the medical team seemed sure that my issues were all caused by a cyst on my pancreas, leaving me jaundiced. I’ll never forget the look on their faces as they walked into the room to deliver the final, crushing diagnosis… pancreatic cancer… spread to the artery, but not spread outside of the pancreas… straight into treatment… need the chemotherapy to ‘take’… an extremely aggressive form of cancer… the condolences as they left the room… the cries that echoed around me… the grin on my face and the shaking of the head… How is this really happening? I still ask myself that sometimes, but less frequently now. It doesn’t matter how it is happening, it just is. There isn’t a why, there is only a what. I’m ok with it.

On that note, I’ve been looking at jobs in cancer charities that I believe I could do with my experience and skills. There are a few in data and analytics that sound appealing. It made me feel motivated and empowered, feeling like one day I could be wearing my survivor status with pride, and using it to energise myself in a role making a difference in people’s lives. People who are suffering in similar ways to the way that I have suffered, striving to survive in the way that I am. There are so many of us out there that it forms more than just a community – it is a whole section of society. It only seems to be growing in number as the field of medicine identifies more effective ways to diagnose, and is successfully doing so earlier. I’m not even sure I would have been diagnosed 30 years ago with the symptoms that I was displaying. Maybe not even 20 years ago. I think it shows that I am in a good place that I am seriously considering a long term future, and what plans it might hold for me. Hope is a valuable thing when you’re fighting a life-threatening cancer. Even when the statistics tell you that you have a 1% chance of surviving 10 years past your diagnosis, you can hope harder than anything that you are in that 1%. Let’s see what the scan says, and what the next stages of treatment will hold. It’s an exciting but scary time, but it is necessary to move things along.

I want to dedicate this post to everyone who has been affected by cancer. Whether you are grieving a loved one, a sufferer yourself or you work with people affected by it. There’s a lot of pain and suffering involved in cancer, but there’s an opposite side of the coin where it can bring out amazing things in people; raising £100,000 in memory of a lost mother, to the benefit of the thousands of people who will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer every year. I read on the website that around 8,924 people die of pancreatic cancer every year – an average of one person every hour… yet the cancer only attracts 2.1% of the UK Cancer Research Budget, it is the 5th deadliest cancer in the UK and has the lowest survival rates of the 20 most common cancers. As a sufferer of the cancer, the biggest source of hope I have found is by speaking to people who have beaten these odds, and who continue to send me messages of positivity, encouragement and unfaltering support. They tell a different story to the statistics – one that you rarely find online. That story says that it is beatable and that there is a future beyond it.

Heartbreaker Lucy – The Ultimate Chemotherapy Companion

Legs Eleven: The Penultimate Cycle

The Chemotherapy Diaries

Another treatment day rolls around. I had secretly hoped that my platelets would be too low for treatment to go ahead. My pre-treatment bloods appointment was on Friday this time at 11:05, the day before I come into the hospital for treatment. I’ve developed a habit of looking at the amount of blood on the cotton wool when I take it off my arm after my blood test. If there is a larger amount of blood on the wool, it is an indicator that my blood platelets may have been lower because my blood hasn’t clotted as quickly as usual. If there is only a small speck, I know that they’re likely to be fine. As I sat in the car park, about to drive home, I took the cotton wool off and assessed it. There was more than usual, but not as much as the last cycle where treatment had to be delayed due to low platelets. For the rest of the afternoon, I kept my phone close to me in case the hospital called. They didn’t, and I find myself starting to write this whilst sitting on the chemotherapy ward, receiving treatment number 11. It is for the best that it has gone ahead really. I’ve only got to do this one more time after today and then I will have finished the full 12 sessions. My future from there is in the hands of my oncology team.

This morning, I signed in at the desk as normal and handed over my hospital appointment card so the receptionist can write down my next fortnight of appointments. I sat down for about 3 minutes in the waiting area before my name popped up on the screen. One of the advantages of having your treatment at 8:30 in the morning on Saturday is that you beat all of the chemotherapy queues. When I attend appointments during the week, I sit listening to the chitter-chatter around me in the busy waiting room. British people love to complain about trivial matters, so when you throw cancer and chemotherapy into the mix, they really get the wind in their complaint sails. I understand it to an extent and I have certainly commented on the wait times to friends and family, but some of the conversations you overhear in the waiting room start falling under the ‘toxic’ category. “I’ve never waited less than 2 hours for any appointments at this hospital. They’re absolutely useless,” one elderly man said to a lady sitting next to him as I waited for my blood appointment on Friday. I laughed a bit to myself and he turned and shot me a glance. I didn’t return the gesture – I’m here to fight cancer, not someone’s grandad. It was such a gross exaggeration that I couldn’t help but laugh. I also don’t like the way that they try and influence any stranger sitting near them that will give them an ear too. It just feels wrong. Notice that I used the word ‘commented’ instead of ‘complained’ when referring to myself… I’m clearly tactically absconding any guilt I may feel at having complained in the past. I don’t try and influence people around me, though, and I remind myself that the hospital is running a complex operation involving people’s lives. We should be grateful that we get such incredible care without being bankrupted. I appreciate that it is hard to fully feel that when you have waited for two hours to start your chemotherapy treatment, but we should still try.

Anyway, I made my way upstairs and sat down in the chair. I opened up my appointment card to see that I have an appointment with my oncology team this cycle. That is quite unusual. The nurse handed me the steroids and anti-nausea medication to take before my treatment starts. “Do you know if it is standard procedure to meet with your oncology team during cycle 11?” I asked. “Yes it’s part of the standard protocol,” she replied, smiling at me and putting her hand on my shoulder. “Thank fuck for that,” I didn’t mean to swear, it just happened. The nurse laughed. I had to take my top off so they could reach my port to insert the needle. There was a student nurse shadowing her today, which meant I had to talk two people through my tattoos this time instead of just one.

Once the treatment was up and running, I studied my appointment card again. Next to the final treatment appointment, the receptionist had written ‘last one’. They usually leave this column on the card blank. I wondered if this was her communicating a positive message – “you’ve done it,” I read in the subtext. Maybe that’s just my mind romanticising things. The same thing happens when I see my hospital number and think about its familiarity now. It feels as comfortable as my middle name or the numbers that make up my birthday. When I picture my hospital number in my head, it has a blue background like the hospital appointment card. I want to get it tattooed on me one day. Hopefully, it will carry a message of survival and strength, not one of sad solace. A song that means a lot to me came on random through my headphones as I sat contemplating it. The moment felt anthemic, like a scene from a film when something significant happens and a song introduced earlier in the theme comes on to underscore it. Is this what real hope feels like? I hope so. Hopefully, I’ll hold onto it until the scan.

“Last One” – My Appointment Card

I’ve made the nurses a cappuccino cake today. It has gone down very well. The cake consists of two chocolate sponge cakes, with whipped cream used to sandwich them together and then to decorate the top. The whipped cream has a small amount of strongly brewed coffee added to it. You have to let the coffee cool down before adding it so it doesn’t spoil the cream. The top is then dusted with drinking chocolate. It’s a very delicious cake if I may say so myself, and if I may not, I have been told it is delicious by 6 nurses so far, so it is delicious. Capiche?

Cycle 10 was a weird one. Having tested positive for coronavirus right at the start of the fortnight, I had a rough first week. Most of it was spent sleeping and feeling extremely lethargic. My throat was hurting a lot from coughing, something which doesn’t seem to be abating despite me not having a consistent cough for over a week now. I’ve also been feeling much shorter of breath than usual. About a week ago, I was baking when I started feeling very light-headed. Looking at my watch, it told me that my HR was 115 – very high considering I was standing idle and mixing some ingredients together. I had to go and lay down for 20 minutes then make my way back to the kitchen to resume. It shot straight back up again as soon as I did and I gave up caring. The cake won’t make itself. I think that was the first time I made the cappuccino cake, come to think of it. I always practice the cake I’m going to make the nurses earlier in the cycle to test it. Maybe it was the anticipation. If it was, entering Bake-off would definitely give me a heart attack. Would be good for ratings though, I guess.

There was a huge positive in cycle 10, though. I finally made it to London for a visit! My good friend Dan took me in for a few days. I knew I wasn’t in hospital until the Friday for my blood test and I was feeling pretty up to it, so I figured it was as good a time as any. I headed down on Monday and stayed until Thursday. I saw my lovely sister Becky in her workplace at The British Library. I hadn’t been in the building before so she showed me around. We had some delicious kombucha, a drink that my other sister, Josie, used to brew when we lived together in London. I’m not sure if you’ve ever seen kombucha brewing, but it is disgusting. She used to brew it in a large glass bottle on the kitchen counter. Inside was a cider yellow liquid with a thick culture floating in the middle. It wouldn’t look out of place in a horror film, in that scene where they pan around a dimly lit room with unusual-looking objects in jars of fluid, some reminiscent of human or animal remains. I tried to block the image out of my head as I sipped from the bottle. This kombucha was raspberry flavour; the raspberries really performed a miracle. The pleasant taste of the drink was stronger than the memory of brewing kombucha and I couldn’t pay it a bigger compliment.

My other lovely sister Josie (Kombucha Josie as she will now be known in the blog) and her husband Keiran then took me out that evening to Mowgli, an Indian street food restaurant that I’ve been wanting to try for a while. Keiran likes to brag about how rich he is after a couple of good years in his job. I let that slide so long as he offers to pay for things. You gotta put your money where your mouth is if you’re going to make those claims! And he did, to be fair to him. He’s also one of the funniest people I’ve ever met, so he does bring a lot to the table. That’s pretty much what he wanted me to say anyway. He paid healthily for that compliment so I hope he enjoys reading it.

The trip did so much for my mental well-being. You can get trapped in cycles in life and not realise how negatively something is affecting you. My cycle is mostly centred around my treatment. I didn’t realise how much the constraints of it were weighing on me. Doing something which feels nuanced and different can trigger a change in your mind. As I sat on the train home from being in London, I realised that I have been stuck in a bad place. For all the love, support and care that I feel from my family, the people who message me through the blog and beyond, I feel bad saying it. There are so many amazing people supporting me and I’m incredibly grateful to everyone. The human mind is complex, though, and you yourself can be clueless as to where your head is really at. I felt a calm and pleasantness that I hadn’t for a while. It felt like I’d achieved something. I managed to see a few of my amazing friends whilst down there too – I thought about them and smiled. I can’t wait to go back.

It almost certainly comes through in the blogs. The fact that the volume of blogs has decreased so much probably speaks for itself. I haven’t been filling my time differently and I’m still not working, so it isn’t due to any changes in the amount of time I have available to do it. It’s hard to put yourself out there when you are feeling down; I’ve certainly felt more conscious of the things I’m writing and how negative they sound, which makes me withdraw more. I’ve also felt quite critical of myself recently, not finding the things I want to write about interesting enough, and so deciding to scrap a lot of ideas. I’ve also had a few tough cycles in a row which bring their own challenges. Still, the blog started out as a place of escape. I hope that it remains that way. It is feeling that way at the minute.

Again, I want to thank everyone for their support. I wrote something on LinkedIn last month and received so many messages through that platform, from old friends as well as a few strangers who related to the content. It speaks again of the power of social media and the benefit to be derived from it. I was slow to respond in some cases but hopefully, I got back to everyone. If I didn’t, send me another message telling me how horrifically rude and undeserving of your well-wishes I am. I can take the criticism. I’ve got cancer and I seem to be dealing with that. Sort of. Sometimes.

That does remind me – I received my first ‘hate’ comment on the blog. It was quite comical and I wish I hadn’t deleted it from my ‘Spam’ section. I actually regret not approving it and letting it sit on the blog. It started off with a backhanded compliment saying something along the lines of “This blog post had such potential. It was unfortunate to find just another person complaining and moaning about things in their life that they should be grateful for.” The person actually wrote quite the paragraph critiquing me. The funniest part is that they had written the comment on one of my older blog posts which really wasn’t very negative at all. I read it back and felt genuine confusion over it. Maybe they had written it on the wrong post? I’m not sure. It’s good to read someone’s opinion, though, and I actually agree that I have moaned about things in this blog that I should feel grateful for. It’s hard to have that sort of purist approach to everything in life though, right? I think I am quite a conscientious person generally, and I like to try and check myself on the things I am feeling, saying and writing. The only reason that I deleted the comment was that it didn’t feel like it was offering me a lot of value to have publically sat on the blog, alongside other people’s sincere comments, where they are sharing personal stories and well-wishes. Next time I will approve it I promise, whoever you were. I’m ready for round 2.

It’s been a while since I’ve shared any Lucy content. The below video may fool you into thinking she is running through extremely tall grass. She isn’t. She’s just THAT small. Damn, she’s just that cute, too. We like to put videos of her in slow motion to add to the comedy. I hope you enjoy!

Lucy Running Through the Grass

Aiming to be Less Aimless

The ‘C’ Word

I remember being in primary school and making jokes about Coca Cola having drugs in it. At the time, I’m pretty sure it was only based on the fact that ‘coca’ was in the name which sounded a bit like ‘cocaine’, not on any research we had done on the brand; we were about 10 so I’d be more concerned if it was based on research. Come to think of it, it’s strange that kids were making jokes about cocaine at all but I think when you’re that age you are good at sensing what feels ‘taboo’ and leaning into it. I remember it also being the age where we started to indulge in swearing. There was a teaching assistant at the school who used to giggle at us saying mild swear words like ‘crap’ and the occasional ‘shit’. We had a lot of fun with her.

Since then, I’ve heard it said that the drink used to have cocaine in the formula. I’d never really looked into it or thought too much about it, but I’ve been sceptical every time someone has said it. It smacked of an old wives’ tale based on the brand name. Today, for some strange reason, I looked at the logo for Coca Cola as it sat on my television screen during an advert and started to really wonder where the name does come from. Time to do some research.

It turns out that the first recipe was created by a man called John Pemberton in 1885. John was a Confederate Colonel in the American Civil War, during which he was injured and became addicted to morphine. His intention was to create a substance which would cure his morphine addiction. A classic tactic to recover from an addiction – finding another substance that you deem less bad and getting yourself addicted to that instead. Like quitting smoking by becoming addicted to vaping.

In the original recipe were the ingredients Coca leaves, the plant used to produce cocaine, and African Kola nuts, which provided the drink with caffeine. These key ingredients formed the brand name. It was originally created as a tonic wine so was alcoholic, however the following year prohibition was introduced, so he changed the formula to make it alcohol free. Don’t worry – there was still plenty of coca in there. And Kola, presumedly.

Coca and opium tonics were becoming all the rage at the time, with people like Sigmund Freud claiming that consuming them can provide significant health benefits. Two of the ailments they believe it helped to cure were impotence and depression… How wrong they were about both of those things. I was surprised to read about Sigmund Freud’s love affair with cocaine, but then I wondered why I was surprised. I know hardly anything about the guy, other than the fact that he was seen to revolutionise the field of psychology, I believe. He wrote an essay titled ‘Über Coca’ (translates to ‘About coke’) which is both incredibly satisfying to say and also reminiscent of most of London’s streets on a weekend – lots of Ubers around and lots of young professionals with moon-pupils climbing into them, looking fidgety.

By the year 1900, cocaine use was much more widespread in society. This meant that the negative effects of it were also becoming better known, and in 1903 the Coca Cola company caved to public pressure and removed the coca from the drink. I wonder if they knew that a legend would be born that day. The old wives’ tale that is actually true. So true, in fact, that it remains part of the brand name to this day – a brand that is one of the most recognisable in the world.

So, cocaine wasn’t only in the drink, but it was actually seen as appealing enough to stick in the brand name itself to make sure people knew that they were getting coca when consuming it. I find myself more boggled at how many times I have seen the name Coca Cola in my life and never looked into it. It goes to show that we become acclimatised to the world around us. Huge brands like Coca Cola are so omnipresent in our experience that we barely even notice them. Worse, we probably feel comforted by them. I say that this is ‘worse’ because we stop really seeing or trying to understand the damage they are doing. We welcome the Coca Cola logo like a good friend as we walk into a bar whilst on holiday. Some people I know really do only drink things like coke and claim to not ‘like’ water. It’s absolutely crazy.

I read that the brand is now sold in over 200 countries. I then Googled ‘How many countries are in the world’ and Google responded with “Well, curious Daniel, there are 197 countries in the world.” I then Googled ‘How many countries is coke sold in’ again just to double-check and it really does say it is sold in over 200 countries. Not so smart now, are you Google. The fact is that it is sold in almost every country in the world, and I read online that the ones they do not directly trade in, local businesses import it to meet local demand. You can’t go anywhere without seeing it; every time you see an article about oceanic plastics, there’s a cover photo with a coke bottle or can in the middle of the pile floating in the sea. It’s quite depressing.

So, how am I attempting to relate this to my writing? I’ve been approaching the blog in a way that feels a bit aimless recently. It has been my assumption that so long as I am living and breathing, I’ll find things to write about and it’ll be fine. There’s also various ‘series’ that I contribute towards such as The Chemotherapy Diaries which provide a regular cadence of posts. I had hoped to do a bit more writing for other sources as I have been approached by a few, but none of these have come to fruition yet. As a result, I haven’t been writing too often for the blog. Sitting there reading about the history of Coca Cola, I realised that there are always things to write about if you’re looking for them, and if I’m interested enough to continue reading, others will probably be interested in it too.

And it is true too that you can become so familiar with something that you stop appreciating the depth of the issue at hand. Coca Cola may have got rid of the coca from their recipe, but they have kept the reference in their brand name. There aren’t many people who think twice about it now. It is so recognisable that it is considered irrelevant to most people what it means. It has become its own meaning, without needing to be broken down into smaller parts that explain the nature of the product. When it was made, it was appealing to the consumers to remind them that it contained coca in it. Only 20 years later they already didn’t want to drop the brand name, despite the namesake ingredient being removed. Now nearly everyone in the world know what the name Coca Cola refers to – it’s a mysterious black liquid that dentists and doctors warn you off during the day, then kick back and enjoy at night (probably). The most common thing I read in my research was that the recipe is secret and only a few select people know it; I wonder if they still get the caffeine from African Kola nuts… Who am I kidding, they obviously grow caffeine in labs now.

It’s coming up to 6 months since I was diagnosed and I’m nearly at the end of the 12 sessions of chemotherapy. The current routine has all become very familiar for me and perhaps, even, normal. I’m able to analyse a chemotherapy cycle and decide whether it is bad, good, or somewhere in the middle fairly quickly. My condition seems to finally have stabalised of new symptoms popping up too which is a relief – I was getting tired of raising new symptoms with my oncology team and hoping to be patient zero for that particular side effect. The jaw locking was the closest I came, but they shrugged it off as another muscle response to temperature. I’d always be excited to bring my new issues up during the check in calls, seeing it as a game where I was trying to find just one symptom which seems to shock or worry them in any way. “My nose has been bleeding again and I never used to get nosebleeds,” I enthusiastically say during a check in call. “Your platelets are lower than usual so it isn’t a surprise,” they reply in a monotone voice, thinking about whether they want a sandwich or soup for lunch. Damnit, I really am just another cancer patient aren’t I – a realisation even more degrading than getting the cancer in the first place.

The end of chemotherapy will certainly constitute a shakeup to the normality of the current situation. If I am told that I am going for an operation it will constitute an earthquake in comparison, in both a positive and negative sense. Positive because I will have finally been approved for surgery. Negative because I will have been approved for surgery – has anyone ever been excited at the prospect of surgery? Whatever happens, it’ll be the next phase. I’m learning to embrace progress instead of always hoping for improvement.

With the writing specifically, I’m going to try and establish a core aim when I am writing, instead of my current ‘freeflow’ approach. Although it is fun starting writing and not really knowing where you are going, it wasn’t the approach I had when I first started writing in the blog. I thought it may have just been a development in the way I write, but if I’m being honest with myself, it is probably more out of laziness. Perhaps a little bit down to not being confident enough in my writing too. Sitting and researching something to write about is something that actual journalists do – not Cancer Dan with the Cancer Blog. I’m not sure why I’d see this as some sort of barrier to entry. In typical fashion, I’m probably worried more about how things are being perceived and how I may be judged for then, as opposed to concentrating on just writing things I like and want to write. It’s annoying and I need to stop thinking about it like that.

So, things you’ve (possibly) learnt in this article – coke is for drug addicts, Dan can’t write coherently and this blog post talking about aimlessness has a real aimless feel to it. Voila. Like any resolution, I’ll start abiding by it next time I write.

Drew Jones, a Biopic

Raising Money for Pancreatic Cancer UK

Drew and I – Taken in 2017

I’m finally coming out the other side of the Coronavirus tunnel. Our house is a hotbed for it, though. Anna started the fire about 2 weeks ago, before passing the torch to me at the start of this week, and I have now inadvertently set my parents alight with the Flames o’ ‘Rona (not the most pleasant imagery – I apologise, especially to my family). As a result, the house is pretty locked down right now. My parents are both handling it well. In fact, had we not been testing frequently because of the recent confirmed cases, I’m not sure they would have bothered testing with the (lack of) symptoms they have.

Yesterday at about 17:00, Anna and I decided to walk Lucy along the canal to get out of the house for a while. I messaged my good friend Drew and asked if he fancied meeting up outdoors and having a beer once we got to the village he lives in. He and his girlfriend Em agreed, and it was settled. We sat there, having a beer, relaxing, soaking up the evening sun, and chatting to people as they walked past – mostly about Lucy. She’s still quite the head-turner, even if she has grown a lot in the past few months. It was a lovely way to spend a few hours in the evening, and it is the first time that this chemotherapy cycle has felt like it is truly subsiding.

I’ve been friends with Drew since early on in high school. I can’t remember how we started chatting, whether it was through a particular class or not. We had a similar taste in music at the time, so that almost certainly had something to do with it. What I do know is that he has been one of my best friends ever since. He’s taken on the challenge of running his first half marathon and is raising money for Pancreatic Cancer UK. You can find the link to his page here. He’s set himself an ambitious fundraising target but, if my Run 40 campaign taught me anything, it is to shoot for something impressive when doing these things. I started out hoping for £250 and ended up raising over £7000. A sizeable amount of that total was donated after Drew shared the fundraiser in a few local Facebook groups. I even like running so Drew deserves far more money than me, although I get the impression he is growing fonder of it. If you look at the Just Giving page, he’s also written some extremely charming things about me. Time for me to return the gesture and tell a few stories. Soon I’ll write a blog post about something other than nostalgia, I swear. Soon.

The walk along the canal that Anna and I did is nostalgic for me for two reasons. Firstly, I used to walk that way to work at The Broughton Arms, a pub located on the canal in Rode Heath. The pub has a big beer garden. As soon as the sun comes out, the beer garden is as busy as a dollop of jam next to an ant nest. I worked there for about 4 years, from when I was 16 to when I went to university when I was 20. Drew also worked in the kitchen as a chef. The downside of working at the pub was that it made you dread the sun, as that meant you were going to have the shift from hell. Even worse was when it was unexpectedly sunny because that meant that you didn’t always have the number of staff you need for the shift. That meant that you never got on top of most of the jobs during the shift, and you’d be there much later than usual making up for it. When this happened, Drew would turn the music up to 11 as soon as we stopped serving food, and we’d both run around the kitchen, cleaning the plates, mopping the floors and trying to speedrun the entire chore list. It takes a special thing to make you hate the sun, especially in England where the sun is rationed like meat during the war. That is just what happened when you worked at The Broughton Arms, though. Even when you weren’t working, the thought would occur to you every so often as you sat in the sun – “I wonder how brutal the shift is today,” you’d say to yourself, as you tried to enjoy your cold beer in the sun. You became conditioned to fear the sun. Our relationship was forged in that unique feat. I’m happy to say that I have recovered from this disorder now, and I’m sure Drew has too.

The second reason that the canal walk is nostalgic for me is that we used to go that way to get to Drew’s house when we were younger. His parents have a holiday home in Europe so would go away most summers. Drew’s free houses ended up having quite the reputation and we all looked forward to them all year. We used to hang around playing video games and drinking, with some of us practically moving in for the period. He had a miniature schnauzer at the time called Hugo. I’ve heard a trope that some dogs look like their owners – I feel like this was most true of Hugo and Drew’s dad, Harry. It’s hard to put your finger on why, but I’m going to attempt to describe it (probably at my own peril)… They both initially look quite stern and serious, yet as soon as you have spent 5 minutes around them you realise that they are anything but… I can’t wait to see Harry again and see what he thinks of that. Anyway. Hugo must have had no idea what was going on during those free houses – suddenly having a house full of strangers who never seemed to leave. It was great fun, though, and he used to get involved in it. One time, he was standing staring at himself in the pond outside, I assume pondering his existence like all normal canines do when they see their reflection in the water. I went to jokingly nudge him, but the wooden floor was wet and he actually slipped in. I’ve never lived it down, and Drew still frequently brings it up. The dog was fine, perhaps a little traumatised. I think that experience made him a better man. I have witnessed a few of our friends get in that pond before and they didn’t need pushing, so that is probably more worrying.

Adam, Me and Hugo the Dog (A Very Bad Quality Picture from a Long Time Ago)

There was another time that we were at our friend Ben’s house drinking when we were about 18. For some reason, someone had brought some hair clippers with them and everyone was threatening to cut each other’s hair. As people got more intoxicated and lowered their inhibitions, there were more and more volunteers. Drew was not one of them. He resoundingly stated that no one was going anywhere near his hair. A bit later on in the night, Drew left the party to go and have a serious chat with his girlfriend at the time. They hadn’t been getting on very well, and things were on the rocks. Drew’s always worn his heart on his sleeve and can be quite an emotional guy, so we were expecting this situation to end very badly. He was quite drunk when he left, and he took a few beers with him for company. The next time I saw him was when he literally fell into Ben’s bedroom shouting “shave me” hysterically. It seemed he had decided that the best way to numb his emotional pain was to allow one of his drunk friends to give him a new haircut… Perfect! In case you’re wondering, none of us were barbers, none of us had desires to be barbers, and no one had each other’s best interests in mind when offering to cut their hair. The result is the below picture taken after a few people had fallen victim to the clippers. I have it marked in my favourites on my phone and frequently look at it when I need a cheap laugh at other people’s expense. It is a legendary photo. Drew looks particularly absent-minded in it.

Left to Right – Luke, Steve, Dave and Drew – All Sporting Some Terrible Haircuts

He has come a long way since those days. The guy owns his own record label, has an amazing girlfriend who he has been with for a long time and is now running his first half marathon. He’s even got himself a normal-looking haircut, but it’s debatable whether that is a positive or not.

Sometimes you meet people that are so unique in the world that you know you’ll never meet someone else like them. Drew is one of the best examples of that I know. Every time I see him, he says at least one thing which completely blindsides me and leaves me hysterical with laughter. He has quite a reputation among my friendship group for his choice of diction. The way he phrases things is always genius and he delivers the words with passionate vigour. It’s extremely charming of him to choose to run his event for Pancreatic Cancer UK and I know he appreciates every penny donated to the cause, as do I. If you can donate anything and want to help beat this absolute shit-wanker of a cancer, please do.

Love you very much Drew – I’ll be there to cheer you over the finish line on the day!

Covid, Meet Chemotherapy

The Chemotherapy Diaries

It finally happened, I’ve tested positive for Covid. After avoiding it for an amount of time which can only be described as unfashionable, it’s finally got my number. I had my suspicion that this would happen. Anna tested positive a week ago today and we had been isolating from each other around the house. It all seemed to be going quite well. Saturday morning, treatment day, I was still testing negative and feeling fine. Knowing that a major impact of the chemotherapy on the body is that it impacts your immune system, I did speculate that the defence my body was currently putting up was probably about to diminish. It may have just taken this long to establish itself anyway; I had kissed Anna 10 minutes before she first tested positive, which was the most confusing part for me. However I caught it, I’m now finally part of the ‘C’ club. Not the Cancer one, the Covid one. Although I am part of the cancer club too, and I’m on chemotherapy. I even have a series called The ‘C’ Word series that tries to avoid talking about cancer. I’ve also noticed that I frequently sleep in a C shape now because it seems to cause me the least pancreatic pain through the night and in the morning. I bend my back like I’m bracing for impact on a plane, then tuck my legs into themselves. It’s very comfortable. I’m starting to feel a bit like Jim Carey’s character in The Number 23 where he starts to obsess that the number 23 appears everywhere in his life. The Alphabetical C with Dan G.

Saturday’s treatment was quite straightforward. The hospital seemed quieter than normal. I remember it being similar around Christmas time when I was in for treatment. I had asked my nurse that day why it was so quiet and she had replied that many people don’t have treatment around Christmas time, especially if their treatment is palliative. They opt to enjoy more time with their families instead. I wondered if that same principle would apply around Easter weekend too, with there being 2 public holidays on either side of it in the UK.

I arrived a little late after sleeping in until 7:40am. Oops. We usually leave the house at around this time, so it was considerably later than normal. We were only 7 minutes late to the hospital though, so it wasn’t too bad. I apologised for my tardiness as I signed in at the reception, then had to explain was tardiness was to the receptionist. She originally thought I was apologising for having a mental ailment which was extremely embarrassing for me; perhaps I’ll stay clear of using the word tardy so liberally in future. It is such a nice word, though. My name was called about 5 minutes later and I made my way upstairs to the ward.

It was all pretty non-descript from here. They weighed me, stuck the line into my port in my chest, and treatment had begun. For the first time since starting chemotherapy, I actually did very little during the session. I didn’t even use my headphones. I was just sitting watching videos on Youtube with subtitles on instead. I’m not really sure why – usually I get a good 2 or 3 hours of writing time in, and will read for at least 45 minutes. I did notice that I am becoming a bit of a chemo veteran as I eavesdropped on the various conversations going on around me. Straight across from my bed, there was a man who was attending his first session that day. He still had the dressings on his neck where they had inserted the port. I heard him say it had been installed Thursday morning. That was the exact same timeline as mine – Thursday morning they installed it and Saturday morning I was at the hospital, receiving my first dose of treatment. It felt strange thinking of all that had gone on between then and now. He seemed to be dealing with it well, though, and I hoped that was because his diagnosis wasn’t too bad.

I also heard a woman in a bed next to me boast that she was on session 7 and only had one more to go. She was dishing out advice on how to cope with some of the more uncomfortable side effects. My competitive side was kicking in and I was tempted to shout over that I was actually in the process of hitting the double-figure mark – session number 10. Maybe I’d sign an autograph for them or dedicate a blog post to them, where I impart all of my learned wisdom to them. She actually had better advice than me and was stating all sorts of hacks for the morning of treatment, the day before etc. Perhaps what I was starting to feel was inadequacy. She was recommending being extra healthy the day before your treatment; that’s usually the day I want to scoff as many takeaways and run as far as possible before I have to deal with the chemotherapy fog again for another week or so. Maybe she’s right. I should have asked for her autograph. She might have even had her own cancer blog that I could have followed. Damnit.

I left the hospital with little to report. I had baked the nurses some Almond and Raspberry slices, a recipe that contained pastry. I’d never made my own pastry before and fancied a challenge. Friday morning I did my first batch to test on my family and friends and they seemed to go down very well. Feeling confident that I was a natural – Pasty Dan the Pastry Man – I returned to the kitchen that evening to make another batch for the nurses. It went well, almost too well. As I handed them over to the nurses I said something attention-seeking and pathetic like “it’s my first time making pastry so approach with caution”. There was veiled confidence in the whole thing and I knew they looked good. Low and behold – I got ABSOLUTELY NO COMMENTS ON THEM. Of course, that’s fine. I bake for the nurses because they genuinely deserve it for being amazing people who dedicate themselves to a very tough and emotionally volatile job… but I’d be lying if I said I also liked the comments on how nice the baking was and how flattered they all are. As I left, one nurse said “I can’t wait to try one during my lunch break”. That’s what it was, they’re all waiting for lunch to eat them. I slept easier after convincing myself that was true. I’d tried them, I knew they were good. My dad had eaten nearly all of them after about an hour of them being baked, but that isn’t always a reliable test of how good something is to eat. More how easy it is to eat at that exact moment in time. It passed that test with flying colours.

The rest of the weekend was very chilled. For once, the sun came out to play on Sunday, so myself and the family had a BBQ and lay around in the garden. It was very nice. I basically spent the entire day sitting outside on the swinging chair and relaxing. Going through chemotherapy is much easier now that the weather is a bit warmer. It was quite miserable in November, constantly getting pins and needles in my hands and face and constantly trying to avoid going outside. If you want my advice, try not to get diagnosed in winter. A summer diagnosis has far more to offer the individual.

Lucy in the Sun on Sunday

It was Monday when I started getting a little suspicious of my body. It is quite normal for me to get cold-like symptoms after treatment for a few days. My nose usually runs quite a bit and my throat sounds hoarse, but I was actually coughing quite a bit which is more unusual. After digging around the house for a Covid test and not finding one, I gave up and decided that the UK Government clearly don’t want me to determine whether I am sick or not, seeing as they are charging for tests now. My dad had other ideas and immediately went out, spending about £70 on Covid tests. We then found one laying around the house anyway which confirmed my fate – it was to be a covidy, cancery, chemotherapy-y kinda week.

So far, I’ve just felt more tired than usual, which is saying something because I already do a good job at being tired this early in my chemotherapy cycle. I’ve slept most of the day away today. The blog is providing a nice distraction in the periods I manage to stay awake long enough to write something. Who knows what the standard of writing is like in this post, though, as I’ve mostly been floating through it with a mixture of geniality and unqualified wonder at whether any of it is interesting. The cough isn’t too prominent for me – it just randomly pops up every so often, politely reminding me that I do, in fact, have covid. I guess both covid and cancer are attention seekers in that respect; sometimes you forget you have them, then some side effect rears its ugly head and demands your acknowledgement. “Yes covid well done, you did make me cough,” or “Yes cancer well done, you did make me wake up at 4am feeling pain in my digestive system. You’re so smart. Now go back to sleep.”

Next on my list of frustrations for the day is my delightful employer who has randomly emailed me out of the blue, telling me that my Statutory Sick Pay is coming to an end. At least they’re consistent in their hands-off approach. The email simply read “Please see your attached SSP1 form,” which I then opened and saw that they will no longer be paying me sick pay from April 23rd 2022. Quite incredible really but I’m learning to not expect anything more than the absolute minimum from them. I’d like to think they had some form of cheatsheet for what this means and what could possibly come next for me but, again, that would be inconsistent with their general approach of “you all die alone anyway, figure it out for yourself.” Cool. I guess I better get my financial hat back on and figure out what the hell I can do next then, in-between sleeping and feeling ill from the chemotherapy of course. Never a dull moment!