Surgery Date

The Road to Recovery

You’ll have to excuse the constant posting about surgery, but it is a bit of a hot topic at the minute. The headline is that I have a surgery date – Friday, July 8th. I need to get to the hospital nice and early – for 7:15am that morning. Upon hearing the time, as the scheduler spoke to me on the phone, I briefly thought to myself, “I’m going to be shattered,” but then I realised that I am going to the hospital to be put asleep/knocked out for approximately ten hours during surgery, followed by days in intensive care recovering from whatever they manage to do to me to improve my cancer. I’m pretty sure I’ll find a way to not worry about how tired I may be after my 5:30am wakeup on that first day. That was a thought that certainly didn’t age well in the five seconds it existed in my head; I travelled from an innocent thought about being tired, to tyrannical thoughts about surgeons playing Operation on my real-life body. Come to think of it, the Whipple procedure may have been thought up as a surgeon was playing the board game Operation considering the aim of the game is to remove all of the organs out of a body; that doesn’t sound too far away from what the Whipple procedure aims to do to your digestive tract.

The surgeon told us in our first meeting with him that the best-case scenario will require about ten days in the hospital. The worst-case scenario that he has experienced with someone he has personally operated on was two months in hospital, where there were many complications. Luckily, he has never had anyone die on him, but he did say that a colleague in his team has. I think that was a veiled dig at his colleague; these surgeons are a competitive lot, even in the most serious of circumstances. I left the hospital thanking the universe that it was him performing the operation and not his colleague, even though I’m sure his colleague is a very skilled and diligent individual. I just don’t want to chance it, really. Although, given that it is such a long procedure, perhaps they work it by tagging in different members of the team like a wrestling tag match. Damnit. Don’t think of it, Dan. It won’t matter to you no matter what happens, you’ll be out like a light.

Specific complications that the surgeon called out included the pancreas leaking pancreatic fluid, the patient needing blood transfusions and I must have blocked out the rest of the list because I can’t remember any more examples. Leaking pancreatic fluid sounds pretty gross, I know that much. I remember him telling me that Nano-knife works by applying a small shot of electricity. The shock is supposed to be small enough so as not to produce too much additional heat, but I think he said that there is a risk that the heat could damage my organs. Maybe I’m remembering that wrong, I’m not sure. The meeting is a little hazy now, so trying to piece together the specific things that were said, and why they were said, is difficult. He definitely spoke about how the Nano-knife technique produces a small amount of heat and spoke about why they wanted to minimise this, but I think that I was high on adrenaline at this point and simply nodding my head and smiling, in a picture probably reminiscent of Christian Bale in American Psycho. For some reason, I always find myself being more upbeat in these meetings; I’ve probably creeped out every oncologist, doctor and surgeon that I’ve met who has been involved in the process. During my diagnosis, I actually started laughing when the doctor said “it’s bad news I’m afraid.” I couldn’t help but feel like I was in a drama on TV and couldn’t believe the news was actually being delivered like this. I was waiting for the Eastenders theme tune to start playing, but it didn’t.

There are a few questions that the surgery has raised, but the most important one is this: is five weeks enough time to recover and go on my stag do? We’re assuming so because otherwise a lot of plans have to be changed. What plans specifically, I’m not sure, as I wasn’t invited to the sleepover where they all drew up the sinister blueprints for the weekend. Luckily, I have literally centimetres of cancer in my pancreas (2.1cm to be exact), so they aren’t allowed to physically or emotionally traumatise me too much. That is how it works, right? Surely I’m not expected to join in with the Frosty Jacks boat races or anything. If Frosty Jacks boat races were not on the agenda already, I’m certain it will be after my best man Luke reads that sentence. He’ll kick himself for not putting it in the schedule already.

For those of you who don’t live in the UK, or who lived a much healthier teenage life than me and my friends, Frosty Jacks is a cheap cider which has an alcohol content of 7.5%. When we were younger, you could buy a 3-litre bottle of it for about £3.50, which is absolutely crazy. It has something like 22.5 units in a bottle and we drank them quite religiously from the age of 16 to about 18. If I tried to drink it now, it may actually kill me, both because it is almost certainly 99% chemicals, but also because the amount of alcohol in it could last me six months with my current drinking habits, or lack of. The thought of actually drinking a 3-litre bottle of Frosty Jacks over the course of six months is so sad, come to think of it… And for those of you who don’t know what a boat race is, it is where you split your group into two teams who compete against each other. The two teams face each other on either side of a table. Starting from the same side, both individuals start to down their drink. When they finish, the person next to them can start drinking. That means that everyone focuses on the one member of their team who is currently drinking, making it quite a high-pressure situation, especially when you’ve already had a few drinks and are getting competitive. The winning team is the one that finishes their drinks first. A truly remarkable game to be discussing in a cancer blog, I’m sure you’ll agree. I haven’t played it in years and have no desire to, but we have to keep the blog content fresh somehow – it can’t all be ‘cancer this’ and ‘cancer that’!

One thing that my best man has shared with me is that he has started baking bread over the weekend. That got me riled up, as I’ve been meaning to start baking bread for a while. So yesterday, I baked my first wholemeal loaf. It actually went pretty well. Today I did it again to test whether it was a fluke. Another success. It’s actually quite easy and makes eating it far more rewarding. Tomorrow, I’m going to try and bake a wholemeal spelt loaf. I know what you’re thinking, “that’s got an entire additional word in the name!” It’s a crazy thing to dare to do, but I’m going to do it. Replacing the wholemeal flour with the wholemeal spelt flour might just be the downfall of my entire bread baking career. If it goes well, though, it’ll mean that I have two types of wholemeal loaf to make in future. High risk, high reward!

Half way through making some banana bread this afternoon, I received a call from Macmillan at Manchester Royal Infirmary. After my meeting with the surgeon last week at the hospital, I had spoken to the nurse about how I was feeling about things. I mentioned the financial concerns I had, which have been ever-present for months now ever since my employer made it impossible for me to return to work, yet only paid me a month’s full salary. Very nice of them. I truly believe that their HR department could receive ‘Worst HR Department in the UK’, which would be nice for them; I’m sure it is the only way they’d ever win an award.

Anyway, bitterness aside, the nurse had told me that she will get one of the Macmillan representatives at the hospital to call me and chat to me. Every time I see an ‘0161’ number calling me, my heart stops a little bit as it is the area code for Manchester, where the hospital is located. I’m always assuming it’ll be someone telling me some new development about my cancer. It was a relief to hear that it was Macmillan. The representative I spoke to was incredibly helpful. She spoke to me about all of the things that concerned me, offered to speak to my mum to further support her and said that she would get the financial advice team to call me after I have been discharged from the hospital, after the operation.

There was something in particular that she said which has really stuck with me and has given me such a lovely perspective. She stated that surgeons won’t decide to do something unless they see value in it, and that they believe that the pros will likely outweigh the cons of doing it. After all, it isn’t only my life at risk, but their own reputation (and pride too, probably). These decisions are highly calculated and scrutinised by an entire team of extremely skilled individuals. Not only that, but this is an expensive procedure to perform, requiring a complex surgery with a lot of equipment, and a long period in hospital afterwards for aftercare. Going ahead with it must mean that they perceive it worthy of that cost, which could be used elsewhere, for another patient.

Although I had thought of it in many different ways to help me process the news, I really hadn’t considered this one. It made me reconsider so much of the conversation that the surgeon had with me. He is always going to focus on the risks, concerns and potential issues – all of this information is incredibly important. If a patient walks out of that office not understanding the full extent of the consequences of agreeing to such an operation, they could end up agreeing to something that they, in fact, do not consent to at all. It is, therefore, the intent of the surgeon to ensure that the severity of the situation is communicated in the clearest of terms – that there is little evidence of how successful Nano-knife may be, that the operation is a major surgery and carries a lot of risk, and that my general diagnosis is a damning one, especially statistically. He also pointed out that most people in my position wouldn’t get an operation at all, but I am getting one, so they must see something different in the situation. Whether it is my age, health or diagnosis that they see as ‘different’, or a combination of those things, I don’t know. I don’t care, of course. I’m grateful that they made the decision that they did and I need to remind myself of that when I am fearful or anxious about the surgery. Surgery is what I wanted, and it was not guaranteed at all. It does create a strange dichotomy between the excitement of achieving that goal, yet knowing that it means I will be having a big operation, but that’s ok. Life is full of situations which leave us emotionally confused, being pulled in multiple directions at the same time. We are complex beings; we cannot expect ourselves to always feel certain we understand how we feel about a situation, especially where it is complex.

There is one last thing which I saw today that I thought was worth talking about. As my Twitter account is for the blog, and the primary things I follow on there are cancer-related accounts, I get a lot of cancer posts in my feed. Today on my feed, I saw the below post by the actress Mindy Kaling, who was put on my radar by the series The US Office, but has had her own show since, and has been in various big-budget films.

I thought that I was glad she was posting about it to her 11.5M followers. It has to be good for pancreatic cancer, I’d think. Spreading awareness on such a big platform is a great thing. Being nosy, I went to the comments. That’s where I found an …interesting… take. The following comment had been posted:

“What you’re doing is great but children with multiple malignant brain tumors with so much treatment that they suffer a stroke and end up paralyzed and still tumors in the brain that cannot be removed to cured.

I’m honestly not sure what the central point even is here, it is so confusing how it is written. It seems to continue adding new ideas as the sentence drags on. What I do know is this – it may have been written with the best of intentions, but certainly doesn’t come across well to me at all. Why do people find a way to apply some form of elitism to every topic? What benefit is there to treating cancer like it is a new edition of Top Trumps? Mindy posting that she supports pancreatic cancer gaining funding from the government does not mean that she does not support more funding going towards children with cancer, or any form of brain cancer research. Why this person thought that this was a helpful or mindful thing to say, I do not know. The two things are not mutually exclusive. Perhaps they actually know more than I do, and the additional money would be allocated from brain tumour research, in which case it may make more sense. They have not said this, though. Sometimes I really wonder what people’s intent is – I’m sure this person came in with the best of intentions, but what help does it really provide? Is it really an appropriate place to raise such an argument?
So, I want to make this clear – when I say that I believe pancreatic cancer needs more funding, given it has the top mortality rate of any common cancer, it does not mean that I want money diverted away from any other cancers necessarily, or that I don’t value the struggle that other cancers bring. Having said that, pancreatic cancer seems to be low down on the priority list, due to an average diagnosis age of 72 and difficulty diagnosing it early enough to do anything about it (in most cases). Of course, the second issue is also probably that way due to a lack of funding, which I believe to be because it has been designated as an ‘old person’ cancer, which relates it back to point one. It is a vicious circle.

No one will say the words ‘it’s fine if old people die’ publically, but that is essentially what is happening in terms of pancreatic cancer, and I do believe that it hurts the attractiveness of the cancer in terms of research funding. I understand that having such an old average age of diagnosis is a genuine consideration when dealing with cancer and research grants, as it is much harder to save people who fall ill at this age, but it seems to be becoming unjustifiable. I regularly see pancreatic cancer charities sharing posts stating that the survival rate has not changed in over 50 years – how is that acceptable with how quickly our technology seems to move? I’m sure that the other common cancers have experienced at least some improvements in this period, if not significant ones.

The overall lesson is simple, though. Think about what you write online. It may feel like it only matters to you, as you sit alone on your phone and decide to voice your opinion on something, but by writing it, you are throwing it out into the online ether for anyone and everyone to consume at their will. I’m not sure if this comment was trying to imply that so long as children get brain tumours, no other cancer is worthy of consideration, but if it is, that isn’t fair. It isn’t fair to make people who care about pancreatic cancer feel bad for doing so, and it isn’t fair to take away from the message of Mindy’s post. No one would disagree that the things being described by them are horrific, and if that has happened to someone this person knows then I feel even more sympathy, but it is not the only consideration at play. It is also not the place to make such an argument. Would they be happier if Mindy took the post down, choosing to only post about brain tumours instead? Will she see your comment and repent, or simply ignore you? I believe the latter is more likely.

Rant over (until the next one). One day closer to surgery!

Father’s Day

Me, Mum, Dad at My Sister Josie’s Wedding, 2017

Last night I had a weird dream where I had hurt my knee. I was really worried about it as I sat in some kind of waiting room. I’m not sure if I knew I’d hurt it in the dream, but I don’t remember that part if so. There are many blurry patches where I’ve forgotten what happened exactly, but I remembered the gist of it. The next thing that I remember is being in a doctor’s office and him feeling around my knee and asking if it hurts. All of a sudden he poked a spot which did hurt and I gasped in pain. It woke me up almost straight away. I was confused at first. I felt certain that it had really happened for a couple of seconds. Looking around me in the bedroom, I realised it was a dream. I suspiciously looked at my knee and felt a little uncertain about it. Was my dream predicting another problem with my knee? Or was my mind playing cruel tricks on me, reminding me what problems I used to consider life-altering in the past and laughing at the situation I find myself in now? If my mind is doing this, that means there is some part of my brain that is capable of doing such a thing. That would make me a bad person, wouldn’t it? It would certainly mean that part of my brain was plotting against me… although it probably was just a random memory dream.

This situation has happened to me before. I had an injury from overtraining in 2020. It happened a few months after lockdown started; I’m assuming because of the working from home and not moving around enough in the day, then running a lot in the evening. When I went to the physio at the hospital, I expected her to say that it was a knee injury – my knee hurt whenever I ran, so why would I expect anything else? As she made me do a series of exercises and activities, she smiled to herself. “I think I’ve figured it out,” she said, “it’s your hip.” Turns out that my left hip was very out of balance with my right one, meaning that my right one was much stronger than my left. It meant that my left hip was recovering slower from the runs, resulting in small changes in the way that I was stepping with my left leg whilst running. Those small changes were enough to start damaging my knee. Whilst investigating this issue, I had my first ever MRI scan. It felt a little intimidating at the time, but nothing came of it really. I just had to do strengthening exercises and have a break from running.

That winter I cycled a lot in place of running. It was during the first Covid lockdown and there wasn’t a lot of traffic around London. It was actually a lovely time to be cycling around the capital. I discovered all of the hills in the north of the city: Muswell Hill, Ally Pally and many around Hampstead. It was really fun. Then I started joining my cousin and a couple of his friends for ‘Tuesday Hills’ when the weather started to get warmer. Throughout summer, he and his friends would meet on Tuesdays to do 20 miles of tough hills around the Southeast of London, then go back to one of their houses for a BBQ and a few beers. That introduced me to the hills around Crystal Palace, Dulwich and Forest Hill, where Anna and I decided to purchase our flat in 2021. That summer had a large influence on me. I saw a lot of London that I hadn’t been to before. It influenced where Anna and I would buy our first flat ever flat, that I find myself writing this from and that we love so much.

For the first 6 months of living in the flat, I would regularly get out and train on those same hills. Despite it being the end of lockdown and the roads busier again, it felt too convenient to not still get out on the hills around the flat. I haven’t been out since being diagnosed – I was thrown straight into treatment, and that’s been my life since really. I’m also worried about my hands as the neuropathy isn’t going from the chemotherapy. I don’t want to mess up using my breaks on the hills around London when there are cars everywhere, and there are always cars everywhere now. I’m not sure if it’s a mental block or a legitimate excuse, but I’m not ready to find out just yet.

My love of exercise comes from my dad. He’s always been obsessed with exercise and it defines a large part of his life, but not all of it. I’m going to list his passions below and then speak about them one at a time to provide some context to the best things about him on Father’s Day, here in the UK.

  1. Sweet Things
  2. Work
  3. Maintaining Bikes
  4. Exercising

1. Sweet Things

My dad has been a huge influence on me with his love of sweet things. He is the first person I witnessed putting chocolate in the freezer to stop it from melting when he eats it with his hands. I then witnessed him putting chocolate-covered digestive biscuits in the freezer, and now do that religiously too. To be honest, any snack with chocolate in/on/around goes straight into the freezer now, both in my house and in my parent’s house. It is a far superior way of eating chocolate. One area of sweet treats where my taste deviates from my dads is fruit cake. I cannot stand fruit cake. I’m not sure why, but it brings back memories of me being a kid and wanting something to eat, so eating some fruit cake from the kitchen side and feeling bitterly disappointed that it wasn’t chocolate cake. That disappointment sits on my shoulder and has never left; I now have a permanent grudge against fruit cake for not even attempting to be chocolate cake. It doesn’t even have chocolate chips in it – why would anyone bother? Nowadays I’m not too obsessed with chocolate cake, but I’m still mad at fruit cake for daring to not be chocolate cake.

I’ve witnessed my dad eat half a victoria sponge cake in a single morning before 9am. I came downstairs feeling a little hazy from the chemotherapy a few months ago. My mum had baked a cake the evening before for dad’s birthday, but it had been baked too late for anyone to eat any of it that evening. I thought I’d have a laugh and see how much he had eaten that morning as I waited for the kettle to boil, allowing me to make my coffee. To my dismay, half the cake had gone. The only people in the house were me, Anna and my mum. My mum was still in bed and Anna had been with me the whole time. There was no doubt who had eaten all that cake. Dad the cake mad lad. He has an unparalleled stamina for eating sweet, sugary things; he will forever be remembered for it by everyone that knows him.

2. Work

Part of the reason that my dad has such a stamina for eating sweet things is that they are quick and easy to consume. Why is that valuable to my dad? Because he only ever has 3 minutes maximum to spare between meetings. The man boasts about how many hours he works as if it is a badge of honour. He once told me a story about how he had not used hardly any of his annual leave one year. HR sent him an email telling him he needs to take more leave, reminding him that it is necessary to get a break to stay mentally sane (not their exact words). Dad’s rebuke to this was to suggest that he gifts his annual leave to his PA at the time; HR (obviously) disagreed and said that it was not even possible to do such a thing.

What HR probably didn’t realise was that work does seem to keep my dad mentally sane. Everyone thinks their parents have the answers to everything, I know this to be true, but I do think my dad could give a good answer to anything. He has a very analytical mind and enjoys solving problems. It is the reason he agonises over the cryptic crosswords in every newspaper, every week. Sometimes he likes to humiliate me by asking me one of the questions; inevitably, I tell him I don’t know, and he tells me how ‘easy’ it is before explaining the most insane, inexplicable pathway to get to the answer. The experience always leaves me more confused as to why anyone would ever enjoy doing them, and probably leaves him feeling even smugger about how much he genuinely does.

There is another thing that his work demonstrates – his commitment. Not only through the amount of hours he puts in, but also the amount of time he has spent working on the railway. It is a true passion of his and he knows the workings of railways through and through. I know that people say it is a generational thing, with my generation’s parents spending much longer in a job than we tend to, but I really believe he would do it all the same if he could go back. He loves it. His colleagues love him, and last year he was given an award for championing women in the company. My dad simply likes people who care; you don’t need to meet any specification outside of that. If you care, are willing to learn and are enthusiastic about what you do, he will ensure that he makes time for you and will do everything in his power to champion your success.

3. Maintaining Bikes

Linked to my dad’s love of work is his love of bikes. He’s a civil engineer by trade but has mostly switched the practical application of the trade from maintaining railways to maintaining bikes. Typical of him, he cannot half-arse it as a mere ‘hobby’. It is a lifestyle. You will regularly find him on a Saturday morning sat at his laptop, watching detailed videos on how to replace x part on a bike. He will then discuss at length with you the problem he is trying to solve, how he managed to get a critical tool to help solve the issue, and how he got that tool off eBay for 50% of the price. I’m not sure why he enjoys saving money when it comes to bikes as it is not something he enjoys in every other area of his life. He pays around £160 a month for Sky subscriptions, yet only watches approximately 5 programmes, 3 of which are on the same channel, which is available on Freeview anyway. Sky must wonder when he is going to sober up and start demanding his money back, but there doesn’t seem to be a risk of that any time soon.

My dad spent a few months working on a bike belonging to a colleague of his. After hearing her talk about her bike being broken, he offered to take a look at it. It was his project for months. He was incredibly excited about it, spending lots of his own money ordering new and better parts for it, and at least quadrupling its total value. When he handed it back, he mentioned nothing about the money, time or effort that had gone into it. It is a perfect representation of many of the things that make my dad great – his want to help people, his ability to grasp a problem with both hands and tackle it with ingenuity, and a genuine disregard for money (I assume this is what it is, as he never spends his money on himself, yet finds ways to spend it on everyone else, even his colleagues).

There’s another reason that maintaining bikes is so important to him: he loves to ride them.

4. Exercising

My dad has always been incredibly into exercise; he’s also always been very good at it. When he was younger, he boasts that he used to run over 100 miles a week on average. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who thinks that is a good idea anymore, but at the time “you tried to run as much as you could, as hard as you could,” according to him (the exact wording may be incorrect but the general message is spot on).

He told me a story about how he was involved in a run on a 400m track once. The race distance was 100km, which is a ridiculous distance to be running around a track. There were various houses which backed onto it, and one gentleman was apparently outside gardening, watching them run. After a while, he got confused about why they were still running. “Why are you running around the track for hours,” he shouted to my dad as he ran last. My dad had to do a full lap before he could answer. “We’re running 100kms on it,” he replied as he ran past again. Dad proceeded to do another lap before being in earshot of the man again. “Are you fucking mental?” The man shouted back as my dad made his way past again; that was his response even after having 400m worth of time to contemplate his response. I don’t blame him – it is totally fucking mental to run that distance on a 400m track.

As he got into his 30s, the hundreds of miles he was running a month started catching up with him and he developed various injuries. Cycling took over from there. He’s been on various trips to Europe to tackle some of the most notorious climbs, once taking my brother Greg with him. I was meant to go too, but was starting a new job and told I needed to join that week to join a training course; I wish I’d put my foot down and refused now – memories could have been made that would be far more valuable than any job. That job did teach me a lot, though, so it had its own value. I met many friends for life there as well as growing a lot as a person. Without it, I can’t confidently say that I’d be responding to this diagnosis in the way I am.

I know that things are hard at the minute for both of my parents. It must be surreal to have raised a son, investing so much time, energy and love into something for so many years, to watch it potentially end in front of their eyes. Feeling the excitement of every achievement with them, watching them become a teenager, young adult, going to university, getting their first job; hurting with them when things don’t work out, celebrating with them when it does. In Lord of the Rings, there is a quote which goes something like ‘No parent should bury their child’. No parent should have to bury their child; it isn’t right. The world doesn’t work by the parameters of our perceived morality, though. People have to bury their children all the time, sometimes in horrendous circumstances. Here, in London, there are always stabbings in the news. Just a week ago in Forest Hill, a helicopter had to land in the park next to our flat to transport a boy to the hospital who had been stabbed in the neck. Luckily, he survived. He is 17 years old. His loved ones would have got a call to inform them at some point – where is the morality in that situation? There isn’t any.

In March 2021, Sarah Everard was lured into a car by a man, convinced to do so by the sight of his police badge. Unfortunately, that off-duty police officer had sinister intentions for Sarah, who only realised so too late to try and save herself. Her body was found days later in Kent. It turned out that the off-duty police officer was Wayne Couzens. He had told her that she was being arrested for breaching lockdown restrictions, showing just how evil this man was. He was preying on the fear of the day and how could Sarah say no to a police badge as a law-abiding citizen? It’s absolutely despicable.

The advantage of having cancer is that I get a period of time where I know that I possess something that may kill me, and so do my family. If we look past the awful parts of it, that’s actually an amazing opportunity to be afforded. Whilst I’m still healthy and able, I want to enjoy my time with my family and friends.

I’ve said before in the blog that I used to have a crippling fear of watching my parents suffer. It kept me up at night when I was about 10 and the fear gripped me. Now I have an opportunity to show them that you don’t need to suffer through these situations; you can face them with relentless strength. I still cry, I still get scared, I still feel angry sometimes. I just try to let none of it consume me for longer than it needs to. My life is amazing no matter when it comes to an end; I’m not going to waste a second more than I have to on being sad, angry or depressed because of a situation that was totally out of my control. My dad has been positive throughout this process – seeing every next step as progress and unrelenting in his determination that the only outcome is recovery. Upon hearing the news of the surgery, he seemed different; there wasn’t a voice of positivity, an uplifting perspective that this surgery was necessary and amazing, in its own way. It may not be exactly what we wanted to hear, that the tumour was likely to be fully removed, but it’s something. There’s still a chance that this happens anyway. no matter how small. Even if that chance is 0.000001%, it’s still more worthy of our time and effort to believe that this will happen over a more bleak alternative.

So, this is me throwing the positivity back at you, dad, and telling you that this surgery is amazing no matter what happens. Whether it gives me a year, ten years or cures me entirely, it is amazing. Even if the worst case happens and I die in the surgery itself, it was the best opportunity we had to fight. Besides, I don’t want to be buried when I die, I want to be cremated, so there will be no parents burying any of their children in this process. There’s always a loophole if you look hard enough.

Thank you for everything, dad. We fight on.

Surgery and Yellow Mayonnaise

Taken 04.06.22 at a Music Festival

It has been a few days since the meeting with the surgeon. The response has been a bit varied among my family and friends. Surgery certainly makes everything more real. Knowing it is a major operation which carries so many risks brings an entirely different element of worry to the situation, I get that. If the situation with the tumour was more positive and the surgeon was more confident he could do a full removal, the decision to push on with surgery would bring a further level of comfort that it is the best decision. Seeing as this is not the case and that the tumour seems to be surrounding the artery still, it brings much more anxiety for all involved. For me, I will not be conscious for any of the surgery, or even most of the intensive aftercare. It is everyone else who will have to painstakingly sit for hours, waiting for the news of how the surgery has gone, what they managed to do, and if there were any ‘complications’. By the time I’ve found out these details, it’ll likely be days after the operation. I’ll be off in dreamland, so deep under the influence of drugs that I’ll probably be exploring Narnia from my vantage point, riding on a dragon’s back (I’ve never had a dream like this so I’m not sure why I would start now, but it’s nice to dream about the potential of your dreams).

There have been a lot more tears since Tuesday. Perhaps it is a combination of learning what my staging is and having it clearly communicated that a full removal is unlikely. It could still happen if the scan failed to be accurate in its portrayal of the tumour, but he seemed to doubt it would be so wrong. I did do another CT scan at the hospital, so I’m waiting for the surgeon to call me with the results of that. Perhaps he will be more confident of what will be done in surgery once he has reviewed it, assuming the scan is better quality than the last one and offers more insight. Nano-knife is the most likely outcome. A full removal is not out of the question eventually, I believe, but the surgeon didn’t seem willing to discuss such a scenario. I didn’t try, to be fair. He had an air of confidence about him which was tantalising. Every sentence was carefully thought out, every word scrutinised in his head before it left his mouth. These situations are tense; you could tell that he was experienced in dealing with them.

I’m unsure whether he will do some form of partial Whipple no matter what he decides is possible with the tumour. I need to ask him when he calls me about the scan results, but it’s one of those things that I’m unsure whether getting an answer is better for me. It seems easier to just wake up after surgery and face the music then. The outcomes sound so varied depending on what they see during the operation that I doubt I’d get a straight answer anyway. At least I trust this guy to tell me that the answer isn’t easy and I’d believe him if he said as such. The fact that there is a cyst on the other side of the pancreas to the tumour indicates that the surgeon will have to do more than just deal with the tumour. We did ask him if he would be removing the cyst despite what happened with the tumour, and he said that he would. It was funny – his reaction was almost like this was a total afterthought – an irrelevancy in the face of the cancer. “Oh yeah, there is a cyst there too, isn’t there? Yeah, we’ll get that out,” he casually said when the question was put to him by Anna. Surgeons are so casual. They must realise that their job terrifies the other 99.9% of people on planet earth. I’m sure that there’s a smugness that comes with that territory. I’d certainly be smug about it if I were one. He didn’t seem particularly smug at all. After arranging the CT scan on the phone with the radiology department, he said that he needs to get a nurse to put the cannula in. “I can do surgery on you but I can’t cannulate you,” he chuckled – I suspected this was that smugness coming in to play.

One of the things I have changed about my behaviour recently is my diet. Since learning a little about the immune system and how it is constantly fighting ‘bad’ cells being created in your body, I have been much more taken into the idea that your immune system plays a vital role in how your body battles cancer. Before, I thought whether you developed cancer or not was more a thing of luck, with a heavy dose of genetic makeup. The book I am reading seems to suggest that this is not the case. He references a study about fostered children. The study was conducted in New Zealand as apparently they have detailed records about births and biological parents. In the study, they measured the cancer rate among a group of people who were fostered from a young age. If the formation of cancer was more down to genetics, the numbers in people who suffered from cancer would be similar between the focus group and their biological parents, irrespective of whether they were raised by foster parents or not. If the formation of cancer was more down to behavioural patterns rather than genetics (e.g. diet, exercise habits etc), then there would be less significance between children and their biological parents, and more significance in the trends between the foster parents and the children they adopted. The study showed the latter, indicating that the formation of cancer was effected more by behaviour than genetics.

Now, I’m not suggesting this single study proves the point entirely, and more importantly, I have not looked into this study myself and do not plan to. It is enough to convince me that behaviour must be more important than I perhaps anticipated. As a result, I’m trying to avoid processed food as much as possible, based on some scrutiny of these types of foods. Turning over a food packet to look at the ingredients and seeing different types of sulphites listed is a little concerning to me, even with my limited knowledge of sulphites (and believe me, my knowledge is limited). A quick Google tells you that they are only dangerous for a small number of people who have problems with asthma. Does this mean that it is only an immediate risk to these people, though? I can’t imagine digesting a lot of additional sulphites is good for you, never mind the fact that they are added to foods to preserve them. Anything that makes it harder for the world to digest the food (i.e. through the process of bacteria breaking it down), sure means that it is harder for your body to break it down. The more unnatural the ingredient is that you are adding to preserve the food, the more dangerous it would be for your body, I would assume. It makes logical sense to me. The world isn’t always logical, though, so maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree here.

Yesterday morning, I decided to Google ‘should you avoid food preserved with sulfites’ to test my theory. I had seen ‘Sulphite Dioxide’ on the back of the packet for some dried apricots and it got me interested. Notice that I did not add ‘if I have cancer’ onto the end of the question; I’m not even getting into that with Google. Searching for anything specific to cancer with Google can lead you to all sorts of dark corners of the internet. It seems to be the most prolific hearsay topic on the planet.

The first article I clicked on was one titled 5 Food Additives You Should Avoid. According to this list, and after doing more reading around, it seems that sulphite dioxide has a low toxicity for humans in most cases, so is generally regarded as safe. As I stated previously, though, I’m sure it isn’t completely inconsequential eating it in a lot of your food, but anyway. The thing in the article which got my attention more was food additive number 1 in the list – Sodium nitrates. Want to know why? Because it states that they increase your risk of pancreatic or colorectal cancers. If there is one way to grab my attention, it is by throwing around the name of my beloved cancer. Pancreatic. Dancreatic. Dan’s Dancreas. Dan’s Dancreactic Dancer. Anyway…

Apparently, sodium nitrates are mainly added to meat to stop it from discolouring. That should make them extremely low risk for me, an individual who does not and has not eaten meat since 2016. Perhaps this is another cruel irony of the world, like when a non-smoker gets lung cancer. During the digestion process, toxic chemicals are released due to the sodium nitrates being broken down by stomach acid. It is them which pose a threat to humans according to the limited research I did on the web. Rather than always researching other people’s research, I thought I’d conduct my own. I headed down to the kitchen, opened the fridge and found a packet of bacon. It had come from Waitrose, one of the more expensive supermarkets here in the UK. I turned the packet over and read the ingredients. Just like that, I completed my study. Sodium Nitrate. Confirmed – it is indeed added to meat. Study complete. Science is so easy. You probably thought I was somehow going to confirm that the breaking down of sodium nitrates in the stomach releases deadly toxins didn’t you? I’m not that good – go speak to a real life scientist if you want real research.

It just feels like a minefield trying to investigate diet further. Information seems so inconsistent and you wonder how things get approved for use if they truly are so bad for you. What is true, apparently, is that cancer rates in the west are much higher than in the east, and it would make sense to me that the key difference between us is diet. We have been eating highly processed foods for longer in the West, with the quick growth of fast food since chains like McDonald’s grew in popularity. Now processed food is everywhere and considered very normal. We look at things like butter as being intrinsically bad, despite us being able to comprehend how butter is made. Look at the back of a margarine tub and try to figure out what on earth the ingredients are in it – half of them sound like they belong on the back of a toothpaste packet or something. Do we really feel better eating that just because it is lower in calories? Fats are very useful to us humans, we seem to forget that fact. My body struggles to process them now and I have to take supplements constantly to ensure they are being absorbed by my body. What I’m trying to say is that you should revel in the fact that your body can absorb fats naturally (if it can) and utilise it by eating full fat butter, damn it! I do it now more than ever and it is a beautiful luxury.

Sometimes I find myself pondering whether knowledge is power or not. Do I find myself feeling empowered by it or intimidated by it? The question never feels more applicable than when trying to research diet and cancer. My new thing is to mercilessly avoid food with preservatives in it, where possible. All of a sudden, I am not eating any crisps, baked goods from the shop or heavily processed chocolate bars; those of you who know me personally will understand what a huge deal that is for me. If I want something sweet, I try and bake something quickly. For example, I’ll bake apricot and walnut bars to have at breakfast, alongside fruit. I’ve started making my own mayonnaise instead of having it out of a bottle; the home-made stuff is much more yellow than white – it’s strange when you have only just started making it yourself. It really does taste lovely when fresh and you can mix up how much mustard you put in it, which is nice. The next step is to learn to make loafs of wholemeal bread but I’m building myself up to that. It’ll probably take me a morning to get into it as dough is not something I have worked with so far. Rivetting stuff, dear reader, I know. This blog is probably your guilty pleasure these days with such innane ramblings about diet and food, if you even try to have any pleasure from it. At least it isn’t all cancer cancer cancer; it also makes you feel guilty about enjoying the foods you’d normally mindlessly eat.

Yet, this obsession with avoiding preservates is probably just a new scheme to feel in control of the diagnosis. I’m not suggesting that it doesn’t assist in the fight against cancer too, but plenty of people have spent their entire life eating terribly, not having a care in the world about how many preservatives are in their bacon sandwich, yet don’t develop cancer. It is difficult to reconcile that, as I believe I’ve lived a fairly healthy life so far and still managed to get cancer. The fact that I likely ran 100km with the beginnings of cancer brewing in my pancreas is almost comical to me at this point. It was after I had originally got to the doctor’s complaining of stomach issues. The result of that was multiple scans at the hospital, but with no meaningful results. Their conclusion was that I had a strange form of constipation; it never convinced me. I guess when your tumour is 3.2cm at its largest, it is difficult to see with conventional scans. You have to step up to the expensive PET scan which they weren’t willing to do at the time. They don’t tend to assume that an otherwise healthy adult in their late 20’s would have pancreatic cancer; I know that from the first few weeks when trying to be diagnosed – “It’s probably pancreatitis but we can’t rule out cancer, although it’s very unlikely to be that.” I can’t remember how many times I heard words to that effect, but it was a lot.

So, here I am. Dan with the Dancreatic Dancer trying to research diet in an attempt to stop the Dancer getting the better of the Dan. Maybe the fight against preservatives will provide a useful distraction over the next few weeks, until the surgery day comes. Making everything from scratch is certainly time consuming. I’m getting used to the yellow coloured mayonnaise now, anyway.

Stage 3: The Surgeon’s Verdict

The Road to Recovery

Lucy, Anna, Matt and I At a Comedy Night – 10.06.22

Dealing with a cancer diagnosis is hard for many reasons. People frequently comment on how well I look and say that I’m dealing very well with it. These types of comments are nice and give me a lot of reassurance and strength. I believe I deal with it quite well given the gravity of the situation. Especially when I consider how quickly it changed everything about my life – I am far less able to be active now, work has not been a part of my life for the best part of 8 months and I’ve had to move back in with my parents. That is all a lot to process, never mind with the added ‘you might die in the next few years’ also playing on my mind. My biggest attribute in dealing with it all, I think, has been simply knowing myself well and knowing how I deal with things that bother me. It may sound generic and stupid, but I really do believe it to be true. I want to discuss it a bit before I go into what the surgeon at Manchester Royal Infirmary (MRI) said today.

The first time I tried yoga was when attending a beginner’s class in North London circa 2019. I went along with a woman that I had been dating at the time. It was a weird time in my life – I had been living and working out in America for about 8 months, working on a big project that we’d won. That project had wound down for a few months as it was between phases, so I was living back in London, but I wasn’t sure how long for. There was talk of my company drawing up an American contract for me, meaning I’d be permanently living out there, for a few years at least. There was also talk of them employing more people out there, though, to make it more cost-effective. I really enjoyed working in America and was pretty hopeful that the contract would work out and that I’d be moving back. At the same time, I loved London, I loved living with my sister and brother-in-law, who I’d been living with for two years, and I knew I’d miss regularly seeing my family and friends. Having said that, I really enjoyed living out in the states and was aware that I wouldn’t have to be there forever. The first phase of the project had gone well for me, so I thought it would be interesting to keep going until the end of the whole project, and wanted to see where it could take my career. One thing was certain, though – I was in two minds about it all. There was an obvious crossroad forming in front of me and I couldn’t decide which route I preferred.

On top of all of this, the situation with the woman I was attending the yoga class with was strange. We had dated before I left for America, but we had cut it off when I decided to move abroad. It was fair enough – we had been seeing each other on average once a week but nothing had really bloomed so to speak. Since getting back, we had seen each other once to clear the air a bit, and I wasn’t sure where we were at now. I agreed to go to the yoga class not really understanding where I stood with her. I also wasn’t sure what I wanted at the time, knowing that I could be going back to the US in the next few months. It didn’t feel like we were ever dating in reality – it never had, to be honest. There wasn’t much of a connection and we didn’t seem to know how to communicate properly; the lack of communication frequently caused problems for us and left me feeling quite self-conscious. I had never really understood what her intentions were in the situation.

Communication and confidence weren’t things I had ever really struggled with whilst dating up to this point. It was the first time I truly felt out of control of a situation with someone I was seeing. It felt weird to even say that we were dating as we weren’t really. We were just hanging out. We got on really well but only ever as friends – why did neither of us just say that, accept it and move on? I didn’t understand why I couldn’t admit that to myself and I didn’t understand why she wouldn’t say it to me either. Why was I investing time in this, when I could just clearly say to her “we’re just friends,” and be done with all of the weird aspects of our relationship? We’d regularly do things together around the city and it was fun. All the awkwardness came from the fact that we had never really identified what the motivation for us hanging out was – at first, I thought it was romantic, but that theory had long faded for both of us, I believe. It was starting to annoy me.

The yoga class was fun, despite me being terrible at it. Yoga is not a graceful thing to be a starter at. You are almost definitely going to look like a total clown during your first few sessions. It is much better to do some at home and learn the basics before going to a class, but I didn’t know that at the time. This class was specifically aimed at beginners, but beginner yoga is not the same as the beginner category in other things. I’ve been doing it for a few years now and I struggle to go up to the intermediate setting on DownDog, the app I use to do yoga classes, or when finding videos on Youtube. As soon as balances are thrown into the mix, it gets much more difficult. I’m better at them than I’ve ever been, but that isn’t saying much.

At the end of a yoga session, you finish in the Savasana position. This is where you lay on your back, with your arms and legs stretched out and separated, and completely relax. Your palms face upwards and your feet relax to the sides. The aim is to empty your mind, allowing yourself to be still. It’s extremely relaxing if you are used to it; if you manage to actually clear your mind of thoughts, it is also extremely therapeutic. I did not know about this position during this class. As we went into Savasana and the instructor told us to be still and try to dispose of our thoughts, my panic levels built. I never just sat and thought about things that were going on in my life necessarily; my primary intention in life was to not think about things as my mind quickly went to bad places and made me worry. I felt much better only tackling my worries when out running, which allowed me to feel productive in tackling those problems. Even running is a distraction, though, albeit a positive one.

All of a sudden, my mind was flooded with negative thoughts. My mind was screaming at me – “Why are you getting yourself back into this weird situation with this woman?” “What happens if you agree to go to America and everything goes wrong with your job?” “Will you miss your friends too much; will your relationships with them start to break down if you’re away for that long?” It was the longest five minutes of my life. I thought I was having a panic attack but I couldn’t stand up or leave as I felt pressured in a room of strangers. It was horrible.

I remember that feeling well. Some of the details about the day are a bit hazy, but I remember the panic I felt during that Savasana. It told me that I needed to do more to address things in my life that I was not happy with. Even if that only meant addressing them with myself to help me deal with them better. It did not necessarily mean I needed to go around shouting my mind about every little thing that annoys me, but I felt that I was uncomfortable with the way I clearly wasn’t being honest with myself about things that were annoying, worrying or upsetting me at the time. The running wasn’t doing enough to help me process these thoughts. When running, you work through things in quite an indirect way, whilst endorphins flood your mind, also making you feel better about those things. It is not addressing them in quite the same way that sitting and contemplating them with a clear mind does.

This is how I am linking my anecdote back to my main point. Through that uncomfortable situation, I bettered my life. I didn’t want to enter a state of panic if I just sat still, alone with my thoughts. My thoughts should be the last thing that scare me – they come from my own consciousness and reflect things I think and feel about the world around me. If I cannot address things with myself, how can I expect to address them with the external world? I had identified something that I considered a weakness in myself and improved it. A few months later, I could easily Savasana because I was taking time to work through my thoughts, not letting them intimidate me. It made me feel more in control of my life. I consider this a key strength of mine now, and one that has been critical in dealing with this journey through cancer.

So, fast-forward to today, with me, Anna and my mum sitting in the surgeon’s office. As is normal for me, I had felt incredibly stressed in the waiting room. The anticipation is a million percent worse than the news for me. Even if the news is incredibly bad, once I know it, I can deal with it. That alone provides relief to me. Waiting around in a hospital, listening to fraught conversations around me and watching the clock ticking is the definition of anxiety, in my opinion. It is hell. As soon as I am sitting in the office and a human is looking back at me, I feel better. It’s my time to know. I was ready.

The surgeon told me a lot of things about my cancer that I did not know, as well as going on to explain what his team’s intentions were from here. Probably the biggest thing that he expected me to know, but that I did not, was that my cancer is in stage 3. The tumour has completely surrounded a major artery. He said that the scan does not seem to indicate that the chemotherapy has managed to make the tumour recede enough that it can be fully removed. There was a big BUT here, though. The CT scan image represents a shadow of your internal body. As a result, it can be quite inaccurate compared to what is actually inside you. It was a key point that I needed to understand before discussing the next options.

It was interesting that my cancer is stage 3. Straight away in my head, I couldn’t help but think that this was the third stage of my treatment so far. I had the diagnosis stage, the chemotherapy stage, and I was moving into the surgery stage. For some reason that thought made it feel better. It didn’t actually matter to me anyway; staging is something that the medical professionals use to help describe something, but it doesn’t mean a lot to me. Us muggles assume that we understand far more than we do about staging, as an oncologist once pointed out to me. “You can have a good stage four and a bad stage one – it doesn’t mean very much on its own,” she had said to me during our first meeting. I’ve held onto that. Just because stage 3 is one away from stage 4 and one above stage 2, does not mean I understand it any more than the next person aimlessly walking around the hospital and attending appointments. Don’t cling onto something you don’t understand – the people who need to understand it are the ones giving you the information and that is all that matters. I’ve got good at saying mantras to myself. They help me sleep better at night.

The crux of the conversation was that they are going to get me in for surgery. He said I could do radiotherapy now if I wanted, but he did not recommend it. Apparently, radiotherapy can cause so much scarring that it can make surgery impossible. For this reason, he recommended doing the surgery first. That surgery did not have a clear plan, though. Until they open me up and look inside, he said, they would not know whether a full removal was possible, or if it would be Nano-knife that would be utilised. Full removal is the best scenario for me but if the scan is accurate, it won’t be possible. The next option, Nano-knife, is an experimental treatment which has not been used very much for pancreatic cancer. They electrify the tumour in an attempt to kill the cells. He told me that there is little documentation and research on its application for pancreatic cancer and that it has not been used very often in this instance in particular (i.e. stage 3, surrounding an artery etc). As a result, he really didn’t know how likely it was to offer good results, but he was willing to try if I was. He emphasised that it was more likely to be Nano-knife than a full removal. I understood. He sent out a few more warnings – may reduce my life expectancy, may not cure me, and he was satisfied that we were on the same page.

We were at MRI for a few hours after that as the surgeon asked me if I’d do another CT scan. The last one was unclear and he could not see the major artery that was surrounded by the tumour. He wasted little time in calling up a friend in the radiology department, requesting an urgent scan and pushing it through the booking system. It was amazing; his colleagues clearly have a lot of respect for him. My family researched him after the appointment and he is an internationally recognised surgeon, so that is very encouraging.

My mum and Anna were both upset, my mum especially. It is hard to hear things when they are put so bluntly, but also incredibly necessary. For the first time in a while, I felt that I left a meeting at a hospital understanding more about my cancer than I did when I went into the room. Now a few hours have passed, I still feel positive about the whole thing. No matter what happens, I’m getting a surgery, whatever that ends up being. The minority of people who are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer can say they managed to get a surgery. I feel well at the minute and I’m managing to run a little and cook a lot. Those things mean a lot to me. So long as I keep myself positive and enjoy these next few weeks before the surgery, that’s all I can do.

Whether I have one year, ten years, or a whole lifetime ahead of me, will only be revealed in time. For now, I have to live every second of my life with the knowledge that this unwelcome cancer is doing its best to destroy my body. All I can do is live with that knowledge and enjoy those seconds with even more vigour. I can’t cry away my disease and it’ll only make my life more unpalatable to try. I choose to spend it in a way which encourages happiness, hope and love, as any alternative to this is too bleak for me to fathom.

I want to thank my amazing family, fiancee, friends and everyone else for their ongoing support. It means so much to me. Dealing with this without you all would be impossible, no matter how established my ability is to address my own worries and concerns. It is a strange twist of fate that I met Anna when I did – without her, this entire journey would have been far bleaker; she is a constant beacon of light, always looking out for me and helping me through the endless curveballs, emotional breakdowns and detrimental diagnoses. Let’s see what comes in this next part of the journey and hope that it is more good than bad. Either way, what will happen will happen, and I’m going to have to deal with it. There’s a strange comfort in that.

“Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more.”Christopher Hitchens

Note to Self (The First Meeting With the Surgeons)

The Road to Recovery

Anna and Lucy on a Dorset Beach

Elephants and Tea – Dear Cancer Letter

Elephants and Tea have posted my Dear Cancer story under the title Dear Cancer, Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining. You can find a link to the online post here. The full magazine can be found here. You can purchase physical copies of the magazine on their website which is a great way of supporting their work. It is free to view online.

They do amazing work, providing support for Adolescents and Young Adults (AYA) with cancer. Early on in my cancer journey, I sought out several support groups to help me feel less alone. Although some of them had amazing people in them, no one was under the age of 55. It did sometimes feel isolating, as if I was the only person this young actively seeking support. Finding Elephants and Tea was a huge relief to me, and their online resources really helped me out. I was incredibly happy when they accepted my submission.

In the June edition, you can find many other Dear Cancer letters, from all different kinds of perspectives. I’m still making my way through them but have thoroughly enjoyed the ones I have read. It is also the first time that I’ve seen something I have written in physical print – exciting!

You can follow them on Twitter and other platforms (I assume, I don’t have any others). They will appreciate all of the support, whether it is having a read of their posts, buying a physical copy of the magazine or just engaging with their social media accounts.


The next stage of treatment commences: I have my first appointment at Manchester Royal Infirmary with the team of surgeons. After the disappointment I felt at the final scan results post-chemotherapy, where I went into the meeting thinking I would be getting more information than I did, I’m trying to keep my expectations as low as possible. Maybe my life goal should be to become a blank slate with no hopes, dreams or inhibitions; that would make dealing with cancer much easier. It is tempting to convince myself that this will be the meeting where they will tell me I will be having this procedure on this day and everything is ready to go, but I feel I’m setting myself up to be disappointed by creating those expectations. Perhaps I need to go into the meeting having convinced myself that they are going to tell me absolutely nothing. “It’s an induction meeting,” I’ll repeat to myself over and over again until I truly believe it. That way, no matter what happens, it’ll feel like progress. Unfortunately, I’m not a machine and my stupid emotions won’t allow that to happen.

At this stage, I feel quite sorry for the medical professionals who are dealing with my case. I’m always extremely polite to their faces and truly do appreciate what they do for me, I want to make that clear. After we were told that it may take the surgeons a month to contact me, though, Anna and I left the meeting feeling surprised. An entire month to be contacted? Isn’t that far too long? Why the holdup? Surprise turned to righteous preaching as we spoke to friends and family about the meeting. “He even told us that if they do not contact us within a month, we should contact the surgeon’s secretary! How can they expect them to be so disorganised?” We were riling ourselves up. Righteous preaching turned to minor rage. Then, we realised that hearing nothing from them for a month meant a month of true freedom. No chemotherapy, no hospital appointments, nothing. We decided to do the things we haven’t been able to: go to London, visit Anna’s family in Dorset, enjoy ourselves. I’ve settled into the new life. It almost feels like I don’t have cancer anymore, other than how bad I feel every time I go running. For some reason that is only getting worse. Also the neuropathy. Also the abdominal pain. Ok fine, it doesn’t feel like I don’t have cancer. I’m even using double negatives now; everything is going wrong.

Wednesday evening, as I sat at my friend’s house in north London having dinner, I received an automated message from Manchester Roal Infirmary. ‘You have a new appointment letter. Click here to open it‘ it read. Here we go again – back on the appointment clock. The period of peaceful bliss only lasted about 12 days. Now I’m scorning the medical professionals for contacting me too quickly. I can’t even keep up with what I want from this process; I’d hate to be them on the receiving end of my negative energy (which I keep completely contained between me, my family and my friends, and which only ever lasts a couple of days before I see how unreasonable I was being). It is why I feel sorry for them, but I don’t actually criticise them. I realise that they are probably managing a lot of cases. You need to vent about things to your friends and family, it helps you process information that is difficult to comprehend.

The link that they had text me didn’t work at first. I called home and spoke to my dad to see if I had a physical copy of the letter but there wasn’t one. “Just move on,” I said to myself, trying to seize the day and just let it be. Ten minutes later I tried again; how can I seize the day when I might have a letter telling me that I am going to have my organs pulled apart by someone I have not yet met? This time the link worked and I was in the hospital mailbox. The letter didn’t contain the words ‘we are going to pull apart your organs’, which was a relief. They went for the standard template of time, place, person I would be meeting. A bit boring but understandable. Some may find ‘we’re going to pull apart your organs’ a little too direct.

As I left my friends house, I called my parents to tell them. Once I had hung up I think it all hit me properly. I sat on the train home, holding Lucy, thinking about what might come next. In my head, I bounced between telling myself that it was good and that I need to do this to survive, whatever this was going to be. Then I thought about potentially being under general anesthetic for half a day, about a knife cutting away at my organs, about waking up in a hospital bed and not being able to see anyone that I loved. It should have made the train journey go quickly, but it didn’t. As my mind played mental table-tennis with itself, my eyes evaluated the tube map over and over again, counting the stops before I got home. Lucy the puppy was sat on my lap. She was getting irritated as I wasn’t letting her on the floor. I could see her eyes surveying it for any crumbs that she could lick up. London has been a revelation for her. As you walk her down the street, you have to constantly look out for stray chicken bones and other food that has been carelessly discarded. It is everywhere and she loves it. I didn’t have the patience to deal with her at that time and it was another thing that was stressing me out.

By the time I finally got home, I felt stressed. It took me a few hours but I managed to get out of that headspace. It has come back a bit at times, though. Last night I lay awake in bed for an hour or two. I wasn’t focused on it the whole time, but it regularly seeped back into my mental. It never felt like I was struggling to get to sleep, to be fair. I’d watch something on my phone, listen to a bit of music, read a few articles. Anything to distract myself. Eventually I fell asleep but I don’t remember when. Anna was up at 4:30 this morning for work; I vaguely remember waking up and looking around as she got ready, but not really. Luckily I slept more and I’ve felt energised today.

I’ve spoken before about how quickly humans seem to adapt. We felt it during the Covid lockdowns and I’ve felt it throughout my journey with cancer. For six or seven months, the chemotherapy cycle was everything. None of it was enjoyable, but I made it work. I’d make plans with friends to take my mind of it, joke around with the staff whenever I was attending appointments at the hospital and I’d think of things to write in the blog. It all kept me busy; the time flew by. Post chemotherapy, it took about a week to start winding down from it. Not having these regular appointments anymore started off feeling very scary. As I resumed living a somewhat normal life, I realised that it was a blessing. I can be more independent again – there really is life after chemotherapy!That feeling stuck and it felt like I’d taken a big step towards beating the cancer.

Why did it feel like that, though? I’m barely through the first phase of a complex journey – ever changing and unpredictable. Perhaps it is a defence mechanism. Maybe it isn’t such a bad thing to feel like that; it did help me enjoy life much more while it lasted. Now I have appointments looming over me again and my expectations are building and building. What are they going to say? Will I finally get some concrete answers? Why can’t I just relax and let whatever it is, just happen? Doubt is back and the reassurance of familiarity is gone; no more appointments at The Christie hospital, no more nurses and doctors I recognise. It is all about Manchester Royal Infirmary now. I’ll have to make new connections, learn new processes. Who knows what I’m going to go through in those hospital buildings.

So, this blog post is more for me than anyone else, and it is to remind myself of a tough truth: YOU wanted this, Dan! You wanted them to contact you quickly, you want the surgery (or whatever other procedure you may need to get you to the surgery) and these days you have spent enjoying your life should be the motivation for getting back to normal life, cancer-free and rocking a badass scar. You can tell people that you were attacked by a shark or were involved in a skydiving accident. Or, you can tell people that you went through a major operation, after months of chemotherapy, and likely before months more of chemotherapy. Through the years of abdominal pain, the weeks spent jaundiced in hospital waiting rooms, the shifting diagnosis, the shared tears with your family and loved ones, the sleepless nights and the fear-filled days, you fought on. You did all of that. That should be enough. Sharks and skydiving aren’t necessary. It’s time to sink or swim, and although you hate swimming, you’d rather do it than sink.

‘Sink or Swim’ with Lucy

Twelve Rounds with Folfirinox

The Chemotherapy Diaries

Me and My Siblings – Alfie, Rebecca, Freddie, Josie, Greg, Me; I’m Apparently Doing My Best Hannibal Impression

It has been a few weeks since my twelfth and final session of the Folfirinox chemotherapy. That feels like a suitable enough period to reflect on the whole experience before finally drawing a line under it. Whether that line is temporary or not, I’m not sure. I believe I’m likely to need more chemotherapy in the future, but not sure whether it will be Folfirinox or something else. If it was, I wouldn’t feel too excited about it.

Despite all of the experience I now have in tolerating Folfirinox, I never got to a stage where I looked forward to the treatment days. No one looks forward to receiving chemotherapy, probably, but I seemed to get more and more resentful of it as the weeks went by. In the first session, I was extremely scared, and then in the middle sessions I was grateful, knowing it was necessary, which made it feel better. By the final third, I was sick of Folfirinox. Getting an infection in the final cycle and having to go to the hospital twice in one day was the final straw. Chemotherapy and I had officially fallen out. By baking the nurses a different cake every treatment day, I provided an aspect of the process that I did look forward to at least. It was a useful distraction in the two-week cycle.

I’d usually trial the bake a few times in the week before, to get it to a place where I was happy I understood how to bake it well, then make it for them on the Friday before treatment, which was always on the Saturday. Each time I walked onto the ward, I’d casually hand them the cake and make some comment about it, slightly negging myself to give the illusion of modesty. In my head I’d be screaming “I KNOW THAT CAKE IS GOOD AS I HAVE FED IT TO MY ENTIRE FAMILY, ALL OF MY FRIENDS AND MY MUM’S DOG WENT TO GREAT EFFORT TO STEAL THE FINAL THIRD OFF THE KITCHEN WORKTOP!!!!!” The final point doesn’t speak of the quality of the baking to be fair. You could take some rotting lasagne from 5 months ago and leave it on the kitchen side, and he would do everything in his power to steal it. It’s not about the food for him, it’s about the thrill.

All humour aside, it really wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. That isn’t to say it was fine either. My expectations of chemotherapy were sky high, in a negative way. I expected it to be absolute hell. At times, I probably would have argued that it was hell. There was a particularly bad cycle where my mouth was so full of ulcers that I couldn’t hold my tongue in its natural place in my mouth. To make matters worse, I then got some of the worst diarrhoea that I’d experienced up until that point…in my life. The combination of those things absolutely exhausted me. I remember laying in my bed, feeling more uncomfortable in my own skin than I had ever been. It will probably remain the most vivid memory I have of the entire chemotherapy experience. During that time, I told Anna that I “couldn’t keep doing this.” I wasn’t referring to the initial twelve cycles that I was engaged in, but the notion that I may have to repeat chemotherapy over and over again.

My oncologist at The Christie told me that chemotherapy may be used several times in my case, as it may take several different ‘techniques’ to get my tumour in a place that it can be operated on. The issue is that pancreatic cancer is extremely aggressive, meaning that it spreads around the body quickly relative to other cancers. During the break from chemotherapy, when other techniques are being applied, it gives the cancer an opportunity to spread ‘micro-cancers’ around the body via the bloodstream, increasing the likelihood of secondary tumours (or metastasis) growing in other locations. Chemotherapy helps to kill these micro-cancers, stopping them from getting around the body and taking hold elsewhere.

I’ve read more on how cancerous tumours operate recently in the Anticancer book and it is incredibly interesting. Apparently, the primary tumour secretes a chemical called angiostatin. That chemical stops any metastasis in the body from becoming the primary tumour; even cancer is an egomaniac, obsessed with maintaining its heightened social status among its peers. It isn’t entirely different from some of us humans. This process is responsible for the development of other tumours post-surgery. The primary tumour is removed in surgery, ‘curing’ the individual. Microcancers may remain in the blood, though, and may even have a footing in other sites in the body. Without the primary tumour secreting angiostatin, the other sites are unabated and can become the primary site of a new cancer. I believe this to be true, if I understood it all properly, which I probably didn’t. It is extremely interesting whether I understood it all properly or not – I can see why it is of interest to people who work in the medical profession. The book was also published in 2008 so who knows if new information has come out, or new techniques for stopping this from occurring have been established. I assume the use of mop-up chemotherapy helps to stop this happening in many cases.

A quick Google of Folrifinox tells you all you need to know about it as a treatment. Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s website states that it is ‘known to be a particularly powerful chemotherapy regimen and can cause severe side effects in patients’. It goes on to talk about a clinical trial of the chemotherapy, staying that ‘The patients in this trial received a modified version of FOLFIRINOX, which was intended to lessen some of the side effects. Still, more than 75 percent of patients who received adjuvant mFOLFIRINOX [modified Folfiriniox] in the clinical trial experienced severe side effects, although the investigator indicated that most of these reactions occurred before the dosage was modified’. To paraphrase the above: Folfirinox is really fucking strong and if you are put on it you are VERY LIKELY to get gross side effects, like pooing blood and developing sores the size of islands on your tongue. To put it in terms that the average person may relate to more: Folfirinox is like drinking 6 pints of a beer that you hadn’t heard of, only to realise it is actually 46% and not 4.6%, but noticing this too late to do anything about what is about to happen to you. The key difference? Drinking beer probably won’t save your life; Folfirinox just might, if you’re lucky. I love the way that they state ‘more than 75 percent of patients…experienced severe side effects, although the investigator indicated that most of these reactions occurred before the dose was modified’, as if this is meant to make you feel good about the treatment. “It’s ok, only OVER THREE QUARTERS of the participants experienced SEVERE side effects – but you’ll probably be alright. Good luck with your treatment, sir, we can always reduce it if we need to but it might not work as well. Why have you gone so white? And why is vomit coming out of your eyes? Have you started treatment already? That’s a common side effect of it if so,” I imagine the oncologist saying, as he welcomed the first patient for treatment after Folfirinox was approved for use.

In my experience, the most typical reaction from doctors/nurses/anyone who understands anything about chemotherapy when you say you’re on Folfirinox ranges from despair to awestruck. It is worth noting that these are the extremes of reactions and most don’t fall into these categories (the former is a total exaggeration; the latter is likely to be my own ego speaking and not based on a reaction from any walking, talking, breathing human). “That’s very toxic stuff,” or “You look amazing!” are the most common things said in response. For that reason, it is mandatory to be as smug as possible whilst being treated with Folfirinox; you may as well enjoy the very small list of benefits that come with being on it. My recommended responses are as follows:

Modest: “It isn’t that bad once you learn your cycle”

Coy: “Yeah, it’s been a little tough”

Forcing Sympathy: “It’s been incredibly difficult”

Brave: “I’m just keeping my head high and fighting through it”

Demanding Sympathy: “People who haven’t been on it just don’t understand”

Pushing It Too Far: “It’s the hardest thing that any individual has ever done, EVER”

I’m sure there are other responses outside of the above, but they’re a good starting point if you’re new to Folfirinox. Just play around with the wording and make it your own. If you want extra sympathy, really lean into those nasty symptoms – of which there are many.

For me, the worst symptoms (as mentioned previously) were mouth ulcers, diarrhoea and fatigue. Nausea was a problem on treatment day, and sometimes for a few days after, but generally it went quite quickly for me. The anti-nausea medication that the hospital give you is very effective. The same applies for the anti-diarrhoea that you are given. For some reason I thought I was doing a good thing by trying to not use the anti-diarrhoea until I decided that things were going too far. By about cycle 8 I had dropped this ‘heroic’ stance and realised that just taking the medication as soon as you had loose stools was far better. You’re only spiting yourself if you try to hold out, even if you think it is for good reason (mine was that I was “taking enough tablets”). The longer the diarrhoea lasts, the more nutrients you lose. It also results in extreme exhaustion. It just isn’t worth it.

For mouth ulcers, I really didn’t find a way to avoid them completely. I had to learn how to treat them better, which I covered in a previous post. Since writing this, I also started to swirl my mouth out with Milk of Magnesium; I’m not sure if it works well, but I was willing to try anything. The key one for me was applying the Iglu product early on. When I didn’t, the ulcers would get more irritated during eating and it would make them far more painful. In the last cycle, I was eating a sandwich when I realised there was red stuff all over the bread after I had taken a bite. I looked in the mirror and realised that the seeds from the bread had torn the ulcers apart whilst I was chewing. My teeth were all stained red with blood. You get so used to having pain in your mouth that it becomes difficult to know when something has worsened. The Iglu helps to prevent issues like this, so long as you consistently apply it. It doesn’t taste the best and it gets stuck to your teeth, but it’s a small price to pay if they heal quicker and are less painful.

Another, and more generic symptom of chemotherapy, is neuropathy. I say it is generic as it is not specific to Folfirinox, although I guess none of these symptoms only apply to Folfirinox but whatever, I stand by what I’ve written. It is where the nerve endings are damaged and you lose feeling or have a strange feeling of pins and needles. I believe it only occurs in the extremities of your body. It can take months to recover from, even after finishing treatment. Sometimes it never goes away and the damage is permanent. I have it in the end of my toes and fingers. The oncologist said that because it happened quite late in my cycle, he thinks I should recover fully, but it is currently worse than ever. I have a tingle as if I’ve slept on them all night, and woken up with hardly any feeling. It really does feel like the blood flow is being restricted sometimes. I’ve found the problems to vary between having neuropathy in my fingers vs my toes.

Having little feeling in my toes is annoying whilst running as I kick the floor a lot more regularly. My slippers also fall off when I’m walking up the stairs; I used to have to bend my toes a bit to keep them on as I climbed the stairs. They are slip-ons so fit quite loosely. Currently, I can’t tell if I am bending my toes enough whilst going upstairs, so they always fall off my feet. The biggest frustration with my fingers is completing tasks that require a level of feeling in your fingertips. For example, doing the buttons up on a shirt is really hard now. They’re small things that are impacted, but it isn’t a small thing to think that you may never go back to feeling ‘normal’ in those areas. It sounds likely that I will, but it has only worsened so far. Hopefully they will gradually get better, as more time passes from finishing treatment.

The headline of the treatment was that it reduced my tumour size from 3.2 to 2.1. All of this reduction came in the first 7 sessions. As the oncologist relayed this information to me during the mid-treatment scan result meeting, I had to scratch my head. I’d never been told how big my tumour was before. The figures didn’t make sense to me. “Millimetres are surely too small…it can’t be in meters, though. Does she mean centimetres?” My brain was trying to figure out how something so small could cause such a problem. After a few seconds, I asked “2.1 centimetres is that?” She confirmed. My naive non-medical brain was screaming “2.1 centimetres? Are these people serious? It’s absolutely tiny! JUST GET IT OUT OF ME!!” I knew it wasn’t that easy, but it really should be. 2.1cm is pathetic. If it ends up killing me, I’m going to be more indignant than sad on my deathbed. “2.1cm… that’s probably smaller than the circumference of a polo mint,” I’d say with my final breath. I wouldn’t regret it either.

There wasn’t any better news at the final scan. I’d already had my good news apparently. We went into the meeting hoping that the oncologist would tell us that surgery was now a foregone conclusion, but it wasn’t to be. “It is still not clear from the scan whether the tumour can be removed or not. The case is being passed to the team of surgeons to review and decide what they want to do next,” the oncologist said. He was living up to his opening promise of “not having any bad news” for me, but only just. ‘Not bad news’ feels like a pretty low bar to set as a standard. I might start measuring everything I do in life against it. “How was your week, Dan?” Someone may ask me in a few months. “It was not quite bad,” I’d reply with a half-smile to emphasise the uncertainty. I’m sure that response would be welcomed with an absent glance as they got their phone out and chose to read about whatever awful thing was going on in the world as an alternative to hearing about my ‘not quite bad’ week. At least the news commits to being about negative things all the time. They’d probably start ignoring me after a while – it’s pretty wearing dealing with that level of indifference.

I have to give credit to Folfirinox here. It did manage to shrink my tumour by around a third. If someone had offered me that outcome five minutes after being diagnosed in the hospital, I’d have cried myself dry. It’s good to remind myself of that when I start to feel disappointed in it. Ending the treatment on a high would have been great, with another resounding success in terms of further shrinkage, but it still has done a good job. My tumour markers also came right down, which is a very positive sign. Although it is a gruelling treatment regime, it clearly does work well. If the chemotherapy was only in clinical trials in 2018, I’m sure the improvements in statistics haven’t started being reflected yet in terms of survival rates etc. That makes me feel somewhat better about how bleak the statistics are, even if I don’t know it to be true.

To finish this, I will be more serious. If you are currently on Folfirinox, or any other chemotherapy, I want to say that you really are amazing. I’ve only got experience of the treatment I was on, but it was tough. Really tough at times. I know I have said in this post that it wasn’t as bad blah blah, but your standard for ‘bad’ quickly changes when you are diagnosed with cancer. You become used to living with a level of pain, uncertainty and discomfort that no one should have to face in their mortal lives. Definitely not at 29, though I am nowhere near the youngest person I saw in hospital receiving treatment. That is really hard to accept – but cancer doesn’t care whether you accept it, whether it is moral and who it is growing inside of. It’s almost pointless to evaluate it in such terms, but it’s impossible to not.

I’ve heard stories of people having far worse times with chemotherapy than I did, and I’ve seen plenty of people in hospital on other types of chemotherapy that seem in a bad way. Although it is tough, it’s one of the best ways that we currently have of fighting cancer. Similar to exercise – you have to push through some pain to improve your final results. Keeping yourself physically active, mentally well and having a relatively good diet was essential in my experience. It may feel like a lot to get out of the house every day, and some you won’t be able to, but it will really help you out. Chemotherapy may be tough, but you have a plan to follow and objectives to hit. Every treatment day you find yourself back at that hospital is another one ticked off the programme. It doesn’t last forever and you feel great when it’s over (and perhaps a little lost too, but that’s Ok). I know that for a fact – I’m currently feeling better than I have in months, and I’m hoping I’ll only be getting better with every day that passes until the next treatment phase begins.

Physical and Mental Wellbeing in Fighting Cancer

Lucy and I, Staying Mentally Well Together

In general, I’ve stayed away from cancer literature. There seem to be so many different approaches and opinions that you can find evidence for any approach that you want to take. Want to eat bacon for every other meal? Find a website that promotes The Atkinson Diet and mentions a random study on decreasing cancer cell growth – success! A reader of the blog reached out to me on Twitter and recommended a book called Anticancer: A New Way of Life by David Servan-Schreiber. After Googling it and reading about the author, I was certainly interested. He managed to survive for almost 20 years after being diagnosed with a brain tumour, something which is absolutely amazing and shocking. Dealing with such a diagnosis for that amount of time is astounding, it must have been extremely draining both physically and mentally. He was treated for a brain tumour twice during this time, before unfortunately succumbing to brain cancer in 2011.

Some of the accolades awarded to him in his lifetime are quite astonishing. He was one of the founding members of the US arm of Médecins Sans Frontières, a medical humanitarian organisation best known for its work in conflict zones. The organisation received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999. Looking through his work, he seemed to dedicate himself as a physician, assisting sick people in conflict zones for years. Places he spent time include Iraq, India and Kosovo, among other places. The accumulation of his work resulted in him being awarded the Pennsylvania Psychiatric Society Presidential Award for Outstanding Career in Psychiatry in 2002. What all of this information said to me is that this is a person who really does want to help people; he dedicated his life to doing so, and likely put himself in a lot of danger in the process. Couple that passion for helping others with a scientifically trained mind and a personal vendetta against cancer, and you have an incredibly powerful set of circumstances. It made me want to read the book. I ordered it off Amazon (I’m afraid to say), and it arrived the next day.

I’ve had it for a few days but only started reading it properly around two days ago. Some of it has been difficult to read, which is slowing me down. I’ll come back to that, though. The version I got is a second edition. Before the chapters started, there is a preface where the author discusses the changes between editions. Part of those changes was to add more evidence to chapter 9 – “The Anticancer Mind”. I haven’t read it yet, but he states that the chapter focuses on how keeping yourself mentally well can help your body fight cancer. The author states that people speak much more highly of the chapters on diet and foods that promote the healthy processes in the body which fight back against cancerous cells. These chapters seem to be Chapter 8 – ‘Anticancer Foods’, and Chapter 8(a) – ‘Anticancer Foods in Daily Practice’. Again, I haven’t read any of these chapters yet, but it seems fairly obvious what they are about; what foods can help promote the body’s natural defences against tumours and how to apply them in your day to day life. I may be proven wrong of course but if I am, that is because the author hasn’t described the chapters well enough. I, Dan Godley, can do no wrong! Although there is that phrase that to assume makes an ass of you and me. I’m only making an ass out of myself here if I am wrong. The author hoped by adding more case studies into Chapter 9 that people will take the anticancer mind more seriously and recognise its value.

I started thinking more about why people are less complimentary about a chapter on mental wellbeing as opposed to dietary changes. It is clear that diet is something physical. We generally know what foods are considered healthy. It would be more than a faux pas if we sat telling our work colleagues that we were on a diet over lunch, to help explain why we were digging into an entire cake and washing it down with squirty cream. There are some whacky diets around, but this would constitute a total failure of the educational system.

Things like pulses, fruit, brown bread etc, are considered to be healthy (or healthier) foods. Foods that are processed or contain a lot of saturated fat are generally thought to be less healthy. Of course, there are healthy fats, like those you get in nuts, but I believe that it is still better for you to consume these things in moderation. Similarly, you will benefit from an amount of things like butter in your diet, but they probably aren’t good in large quantities. If you regularly eat out at restaurants and wonder how they make the food taste so nice, the answer is probably butter and/or oil; lots of it. If you are trying to do some sort of diet, it is much better to make your own food. At least you know for certain what has been put into it and can control the ingredients. For example, Ottolenghi, a favourite chef of mine who makes incredible cookbooks, frequently uses large quantities of olive oil in his recipes. I will frequently tone this element of the dish down unless it is being used to create a flavoured oil, which I can save to use on other things I make.

When we have been eating healthier foods, we typically will have tangible evidence that it is benefitting us. Our weight may go down, we may feel more energised or, if we are also exercising, we may notice a change in the way we feel whilst we’re pushing our bodies. If I eat a takeaway and run the next day, I sometimes feel as if my body is having to work harder to produce the same levels of performance; it may be in my head, but I doubt it. Takeaway food will typically be much higher in things like fat and salt, which will likely impact your performance. I also generally eat a lot more when I get a takeaway, partially because the food is there and I want to eat it, but also probably because of things like MSG being added to the food.

We may feel more hungry if we are changing our eating habits, but we accept that there are sacrifices to be made in the pursuit of a healthier lifestyle. If our own standard of eating was to order a pizza every night, changing to a salad will feel difficult for a while. We know that but consider it worth the payoff, if we are in pursuit of a healthier lifestyle. If we don’t consider it worth the payoff, we don’t stick to the diet. I’ve seen adverts on Youtube for people claiming to eat whatever they want and never doing any cardiovascular exercise, yet having Hurcules-esque bodies. It is usually promoting a brand new trend of the ‘make no changes, look amazing’ school of diet and exercise. I don’t buy it personally, but perhaps they truly do know more than me and I’m an idiot for eating well and exercising. I think they’re preying on this instinct that we have, though – to look good but eat what we want; to be both ‘healthy’ but not have to change any behaviours to get that way. Life doesn’t tend to work like that. We make certain sacrifices to gain benefits elsewhere. The more we dedicate ourselves to those sacrifices, the more they become behaviours that we stand by. I used to never enjoy eating salads when I was younger as they just seemed boring. These days, I love finding a nice salad recipe for a Saturday afternoon. I made a lentil salad a few days ago that was delicious, and since discovering za’atar, I’ve really enjoyed making salad dressings which use the herb mix.

Improving your mental state is far more difficult to measure, though, which may make it more difficult to justify. We may feel happier if we begin to practice yoga but it does not guarantee that we will feel vastly better all of the time; how much of the time is considered a success? And how do we know that we wouldn’t haven’t felt that happy anyway – is it easy to attribute feeling happier to the yoga specifically? What if it is that new cake diet you’ve embarked on?

The two things, physical and mental health, may also be at odds with each other. Your mental health may suffer if you are obsessing over the right foods to eat, and how anything outside of them will promote cancer in your body. The book states that a quarter of us will die of cancer – that leaves three quarters who won’t. Do those people avoid it because they never smoked a cigarette, ate a beef burger or had ten drinks with their friends? I highly doubt it. Were they all masters of zen, facing any adversity with a level head and a wise proverb to teach? I still doubt it. My grandad smoked most of his life, was a little overweight and, to my knowledge, never burnt a single calorie with the primary intention to exercise. Did he die of cancer? He did not. Did he make it to his late 70s? You bet he did. If I had asked him what ‘mindfulness’ meant, he’d have told me to get a dictionary and check. It wasn’t a concept he knew anything about. I remember he was a big fan of Star Trek. Perhaps that’s the secret.

My grandad seemed to be an extremely happy, positive and carefree individual, though. He didn’t need to work extensively on mindfulness to be content, or he was extremely successful in hiding it if he did. My brother in law Keiran is very similar in that respect. Keiran’s intentions in the world seem fairly simple – to make people laugh. I lived with him and my sister for three years when I first moved to London and he managed to be in that headspace 99% of the time. He’s very successful at it too and is one of the funniest people I know. If he fails to make someone laugh the first time, he’ll try again and again and again. Eventually, he gets somewhere. The other 1% of his headspace seemed to be dedicated to shouting at Fifa, a computer game that has the capacity to turn the nicest human into a bitter, angry individual. It can make you feel like the world is plotting against you, and there is nothing you can do about it but sit there and watch. No one is perfect.

My point is this: some people never have issues with their mental health, some people may have but never identify or understand it and some people are in a constant war with it. Individuals arent restricted to these categories and probably float between them depending on what is going on in their lives, and it can probably vary depending on the particular issue at hand. It is more of a scale than a restrictive list of categories. I feel like I am good at reflecting on why I behaved a certain way, but not so good at identifying it at the time. As a result, I can respond to something quite irrationally, only identifying that I had done so after the fact when it is sitting on my mind, bothering me. Over the years I have been much better at not doing this as I’ve matured and learnt more about myself, and the world around me, but it still happens from time to time.

Diet affects everyone in some way, whereas improving ones mental health may be less applicable depending on the individual. I know that the same case can be made for diet too, with some people having better metabolisms etc, but I still believe the intangible nature of mental health makes it far more difficult to define and measure improvements in, making it more difficult to convince every individual that it is helpful. Someone can be skinny whilst eating pizza every night, but it doesn’t mean that they are actually healthy. They probably have high blood pressure and a heart which is crying out for a more complex range of nutrients.

It is especially true in the face of a cancer diagnosis. Everyone accepts that in the face of such news, especially where the diagnosis is more damning, an individual will experience a range of volatile emotions. The emotions will come and go, and we expect them to last for months, even years in some cases. People may never get over them until the day they die. That makes it permissible for an individual’s mental health to deteriorate during this period. Of course, some breakdown of mental stability is sometimes necessary. I’ve cried uncontrollably at times, I’ve woke up scared and not remembered why, and I’ve felt incredibly angry at perceived injustices I’ve experienced; my employer not making it easy for me to return to work, or the original diagnosis at the hospital not being specific enough and carrying a lot of negative energy. It can be necessary to feel these things to help you process them. That is how I reflect on them, and it provides them with a lesson that you can apply in the future. You hope that next time, that lesson will stop you going to those same places mentally. When I speak to people about these things, they tell me that I’m right to feel that way. Sometimes, though, they remind me that there are much bigger things at play here and that keeping myself in a positive mindset is essential. I’ve felt the power of it and it has certainly changed me as a person.

Feeling scared, sad and angry over a period of time really takes its toll on you. In my experience, it makes me far more irrational, seeking narratives which support those negative feelings and using them to intensify the emotions even further. You get locked in that mindset and it keeps you prisoner. It has never benefitted me more to respond to events in this volatile manner. I can’t converse with my family in a positive way, I don’t allow myself to enjoy the things in my life that are special and I find myself moping about, not actually trying to sort out the issues which have made me feel that way in the first place.

I’m not sure what the science is behind it yet and I hope the relevant chapters in the book will shed some light on it, but I can see how allowing yourself to remain in this state could promote the growth of cancer cells in the body. The feelings are debilitating – they can actually stop you from getting out of bed in the morning. If that is how they manifest physically in your behaviours, why wouldn’t they do something similar to the processes going on within your body? If our bodies are constantly creating ‘bad’ cells, as I read in the introduction of the book, but also has processes for dealing with them and stopping them from getting out of control, why wouldn’t those processes also be affected by these intensely negative emotions? All of it makes logical sense to me. I’ve experienced the difference in mindset between a good day and bad day of dealing with cancer; I’ll take the good days every time if I have a choice, and I do have a choice.

Nurturing behaviours that promote both physical and mental wellbeing are essential to me. My key techniques for keeping myself physically well are very similar to the mental ones really. Physical exercise, such as running and yoga, help improve both my physical and mental health. When I am in the zone with exercise, I feel a state of both intense contemplation, yet complete calm. It’s strange. I feel like my brain is ordering and dealing with things that are bothering me, but I can rarely recall any of it specifically afterwards. It is especially true of running. During yoga, I try to bat away thoughts and focus on the position and how it feels, which offers a different wealth of benefits.

Eating well is another technique for improving both my mental and physical health. The physical benefits are quite obvious and I spoke about them earlier, but the mental ones are more abstract. Eating well can make you feel better for the plain fact that you know you’re doing something that is good for you. The process of cooking is also great for me mentally. Sometimes during chemotherapy, cooking an evening meal was the only thing that got me out of bed or off the sofa. I found the energy to do it despite not finding the energy to do anything else all day. It is such a satisfying process, creating something from scratch that you then get to consume. Even when it is not the healthiest dish, you still feel a level of satisfaction that you do not get if you did not make it yourself. It is yours, and you can give it to the people around you that you love.

Finally, I want to talk a bit about the first two chapters, and why it was difficult for me to get through. The author discusses how he discovered he had a brain tumour. He was running a laboratory on functional brain imaging with his good friend and colleague, Jonathan Cohen. They had access to a new type of MRI scanner which was far more accurate than the ones widely available in hospitals at the time, which allowed them to create studies to investigate the prefrontal cortex of the brain. He states that this is a particularly difficult part of the brain to observe, so little research had been done up to this point. With access to this new type of MRI scanner and a devised technique for getting this part of the brain to show up on the scans, they had the perfect formula to start their research. Subjects would come into the lab and be put into the MRI scanner to be observed. Firstly, a scan would be taken of their brain before undergoing the task, then the subject would complete the task whilst another scan was taken. The task required them to use the prefrontal cortex as it required them to remember something and answer a question based on it, a feature which requires the use of this part of the brain.

One day, a subject didn’t show up. David was the least technical out of the people running the scans – he had come up with the method for testing subjects, but did not specialise in operating the equipment. They suggested that they scan him so the time slot is not wasted. After doing the initial brain scan, they told him that something was wrong with the equipment. They did another test, before entering the room and breaking the news to him… The equipment wasn’t broken, there was something the size of a walnut on his brain. They sent the scans over to the relevant department for investigation but David states that he knew what it meant. He had seen plenty of brain scans and could recognise when there was something abnormal going on. This was certainly abnormal. He speaks about going home that night and laying next to his girlfriend whilst she slept, smoking a cigarette and staring at the ceiling, thinking about how he was going to die at 31. I had to stop reading and take a minute to compose myself.

I’d been in that exact place. Reading it was so strange. When you read things, you experience them in a very different way to other mediums, such as film. That person’s thoughts are temporarily placed in your brain, with you still present but temporarily allowing yourself to experience the world through their thoughts. You get a feel for what they are like, what drives them and how they respond to things. A narrative is created in your head and that character sits there throughout the book. I had hardly read any of this book, and here was a man describing a situation and mindset that I had experienced. Not only had I experienced it, but it was the lowest point of my life. Laying in the hospital bed the night of my diagnosis, I stared at the ceiling whilst Anna slept beside me. All I could think was ‘how has this happened? I’m 28; I keep myself healthy. What have I done to deserve this?’ I was incredibly scared. David’s girlfriend is also called Anna which made it feel even closer to home. It was eerie.

After taking a few minutes, I continued to read. The next part really shocked me. I’ve taken a cut of it below, not wanting to paraphrase or misinterpret his words.

“Just as I was repeating, ‘It can’t be happening to me; it’s impossible,’ the other voice said, ‘You know what, David? It’s perfectly possible, and it’s all OK.’ Something happened then that was both astonishing and incomprehensible. From that second onwards I was no longer paralyzed. It was obvious; yes, it was possible. It was part of the human experience. Many others had experienced it before me and I wasn’t special. There was nothing wrong with being simply, completely human.” – Dr David Servan-Schreiber, Anticancer, Page 21

Sometimes you read something so apt that you are certain that you’ve thought it before. It is a sort of deja vu but for thoughts. It perfectly summarises the power your mind has over your emotions, and how they can define your response to a situation. David turned over those thoughts of fear and anguish in a few minutes using nothing but his own brain – a particularly powerful brain, of course. It demonstrates the power of mental wellbeing and how it can define how you deal (or do not deal) with a situation.

He says himself that the techniques in the book will not create miracles and that people should adopt the parts of it which work for them. I’m interested to see which parts really resonate with me, and to challenge myself to take more accountability in my fight against cancer. Up to now, I have mostly accepted that the oncology team provides the techniques and acumen to beat this cancer. Ultimately, they will always hold the keys to getting cured, especially where surgery is a requirement, such as with my cancer and diagnosis.

The author is not claiming that making these changes will miraculously get rid of your cancer, or replace the role that chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and other medical techniques hold in the process. The changes may provide that little edge that you need, though. Whether that edge helps get you another week, month, year, or all the way to being cured, it’s worth using them and seeing (in my opinion). Feeling in control of your life is difficult when dealing with cancer; even if these techniques only give you a new means of feeling in control of the situation, I think that is a strong argument that they have value. It is like every behaviour in life – so long as they do not dominate, delude and control your thinking, they can be used at your discretion where you find them useful.

I Hate the Sea and Everything In It

The Road to Recovery

Matt, Lucy Dog and Me at The Flat in London

It’s been a few days since I got the scan results. I wish I could write that my inner stoic has surfaced and that I’m taking the results on the chin. In a way, I think I am dealing with it fairly well, but it is still difficult to face. Although I did not get any bad news per se, the vibe of the meeting just left me feeling deflated. It worried me more that I was asking questions but not really getting any answers. Responses such as “I can’t answer that I’m afraid” and “It isn’t clear at this stage” aren’t necessarily a bad thing – I understand that giving an answer when you aren’t confident it is correct, or where it isn’t your responsibility to know, is not a better thing to do. A little bit of optimism or encouragement goes a long way in these meetings, though. I do not feel like I got a lot of that in the last one. Uttering “so, I don’t have any bad news for you today,” may constitute optimism in some people’s books, but in mine it constitutes the bare minimum amount of optimism you can provide as a foundation to a meeting. Maybe Dandard’s standards are just too high and I need to ground them a bit.

The event that originally charmed me about The Christie happened during the first meeting with my specialist. Up to that point, I had faced nothing but negative news, pessimistic outlooks and concerned faces. Having a medical professional utter things such as “we’ll get you back to running marathons” and talking about how I’m young, so there are many options for me, made an incredible amount of difference in my spirit. That is exactly what the oncologist did in my first meeting at The Christie. I practically skipped out of the meeting and felt so relieved that someone had painted a different picture of my diagnosis. All of a sudden, it felt like the possibility of a meaningful future still existed. That wasn’t something I’d managed to entertain until that point, since being diagnosed. Things got better from there; it was easier to feel like myself. Yet nothing had been promised to me. I wasn’t going to bang on the oncologist’s door and demand to know why he had told me that I’d be running marathons again if my tumour ended up being inoperable, or if there was a recurrence after surgery… or even if I was cured, but didn’t feel like running marathons anymore. I took it for what it was – a vote of confidence. A communication that things can return to normal, that there is a way to be cured from this disease and return to my normal life. It felt amazing, but it seems to be uncommon in the world of oncology to offer up such pleasantries.

It seems pessimistic to even need such reassurance, as if I should know that there is a cure and that it is possible in my case. The literature around pancreatic cancer does not leave you feeling particularly confident that there is such a cure, though. Nearly all success stories seem to be where the tumour could be removed quickly, and where the cancer was identified at the earliest possible stage. My cancer was diagnosed early, relative to the average diagnosis, but it wasn’t early enough to allow for surgery. Pancreatic cancer is often diagnosed at a late stage as it only starts showing symptoms later on… or at least, that is when the symptoms get significant enough that pancreatic cancer is considered, as opposed to something much more minor. In my case, I was told that I was suffering from a mild form of constipation. Turns out that diagnosis was incorrect, unfortunately for me.

Despite being diagnosed relatively early, my tumour is still locally advanced and has other complications, such as it’s m unfortunate appetite for arteries, making it difficult to remove. There’s also the unknown ‘mass’ which is apparently bewildering the oncology team; previously known as a ‘cyst’, but becoming more mysterious over time, and even getting smaller in the last progress scan – a property of cancerous cells. The ‘cyst’ label seems to be a misnomer, but I’m not a huge fan of the nondescript ‘mass’ label that has now been assigned to it. Those facts are playing on my mind as I wait for the surgeon’s verdict. If my meeting had been more encouraging, either by having more positive results or having a more hopeful delivery of the results, I may be dealing with the anticipation a little better.

That isn’t to say I am blaming the oncologist either. Through a workplace help scheme, I got 6 counselling sessions paid for which I decided to start using a few months ago. My final one was today. It actually should have been a few weeks ago, but my counsellor suggested making the sessions 30 minutes instead of an hour so we’d cover a larger period. It was extremely kind of her to do so and she was under no obligation to.

Speaking to her earlier, we discussed how the oncologist’s job is actually quite prescriptive. It is a matter of enforcing processes, evaluating results and responding to those results in a mostly regimented way. For example, you are identified as needing x type of chemotherapy. Within the chemotherapy cycle, there are checks a, b and c which are used to determine how well it is going. If something goes wrong, there are appropriate ways of identifying the issue, and then responding to it. For example, if your platlets are identified as being too low for treatment, you will delay the treatment by another week and check the bloods again, to see if the levels have recovered. Everything is constrained, and the approach is standardised insomuch as it can be. Some things may fall out of the standardised approach, such as where the individual gets an infection and the team need to find that infection, assess how dangerous it is and then help the individual fight it. For the most part, though, an established process is followed. The surgeons work is where a more creative approach must be adopted. It is where the individual specifics of the case must be properly dealt with in a direct manner.

The surgeons also offer up the next major piece of progress, allowing the treatment to progress further. As far as I understand, the success of the surgery itself will determine what comes next in terms of a treatment plan. Sometimes the surgeon will go in and find a different situation to what they expect in terms of the tumour. For example, they may go in to find that many lymph nodes have also been impacted, making the surgery more time-consuming and risky. The fact that I also have an unknown ‘mass’ to remove will undoubtedly make the surgery more complex. Perhaps that means that they are less likely to consider a full removal as an option for me, or perhaps it makes them more inclined to try if leaving the mass increases the perceived risk of me dying. I just don’t know, but neither did my oncologist. Or he wasn’t willing to vocalise his opinion on the matter. I’m sure he has an inkling what the answer is, but it wouldn’t be in his favour to offer up an opinion if there was a risk that the decision from the surgeons does not go in that direction. I’m sure it’s more than just a risk that such an event happens.

I keep thinking of it in terms of my work experience to try and offer myself some comfort as to why I could not get my questions answered. If I am on a project and a client is asking about the budgetary constraints which I am not aware of, I would not offer up an opinion on the matter as it is not my expertise. At very least, I would tell them that I did not know, but will speak to the appropriate team and get back to them. Either this or I would organise a meeting with the appropriate team so that they could discuss it. What the oncologist did is not too far from this, which comforts me somewhat.

They did not attempt to get a surgeon involved in the meeting, to offer an olive branch in the form of asking one of the surgeons to call me sooner to answer my questions, or to get some detail from the surgeons to offer up alongside the news that the case was being passed them. Perhaps there is a specific reason for none of these things happening. My guess is that the teams are considered completely separate functions, divided not only by discipline, but by the actual hospital they operate from too; my oncology team are part of The Christie, whereas the surgery team are based at Manchester Royal Infirmary. That means that the oncology team probably do not have any right to ask for their time. I get that, but it would be beneficial for the patients if the oncology team could try and coordinate such a thing. It may lessen the anxiety ridden month that follows the news that your case is being referred to the surgeons. The surgeons must have representation on the multi-disciplinary meeting after all, seeing as that is the meeting where it is agreed that it can be passed to their team in the first place.

But anyway, criticisms aside, the task is to now keep myself busy and not dwell on what may or may not happen. For a month I have no treatment, no meetings, no appointments. There is a comfort in that. I’m trying to embrace it, use the time to start doing some normal ‘life’ things. Anna and I drove to London to spend a few days back in our apartment. On Friday, I attended some work drinks for my manager who is moving on from the company I work for. She has been a great support throughout the last 8 months. It is sad to see her go, but it was nice to do something ‘normal’ again in attending her leaving drinks. I hadn’t seen anyone from work for around 8 months, since I was first in A&E with abdominal pain, on a random Monday evening. Everything changed so quickly; nothing that was previously considered ‘normal’ feels normal anymore.

I got a little carried away and had three pints. It was over the course of about 4 hours, but I ended up getting in late, eating even later, and going to bed even later than that. Not a lot of alcohol is required to get my anxiety going these days. I lay awake at 5am, after getting a few hours sleep, in the spare room of my flat in London (the master bedroom is being rented to a friend Matt as I couldn’t afford the mortgage whilst not working). I felt angry at myself. My mind paced yet further through the emotional landscape. Anger turned to worry. “Why am I drinking three pints when I’ve got a tumour? Could it worsen my condition to an “extent that the surgery could be unsuccessful? Worry turned to pure pessimism. “Who am I kidding, I’m not going to get the surgery.” It sucked.

I wish I could be easier on myself – the logical part of my brain knows that I don’t drink often, and three pints is far from a ‘session’ by normal standards. Anything that can make you feel bad under these circumstances, will. It feels like it is part and parcel in these uncertain periods. Nothing is good enough, everything is intimidating. Any cracks in your mindset start to break into holes and the vulnerabilities you harbour start to rise to the surface. Perhaps it is necessarily to feel it to allow you to then process it all properly.

Saturday was busy. I needed it to be. We met friends for brunch in the morning before walking Lucy around Clapham Common. There were sausage dogs everywhere, and Lucy had a great time playing with dogs her own size for once. Then we went to a friend’s birthday drinks in Tooting. By about 17:00 we were back at the flat, getting ready to host my brother in law, Keiran, and sister, Josie. It was Keiran’s 30th birthday. He seemed to like his presents from the family which was nice! I also made him some double chocolate chip cookies. He had about half of one but I wasn’t offended – he is currently trying to eat less ‘bad stuff’ and they definitely fall in that category. The other 30 are being eaten by anyone else who walks into the flat. I’ve been sending people home with multiple just to make sure they don’t go to waste (and that the responsibility to eat them isn’t all left to me).

Lucy’s First Time on the Tube

On Sunday, my brother was competing in a cycling event in London. A few of my family members, including my parents, all met up in central London to meet him afterwards and go for food. I think the previous few days had caught up with me. We sat outside waiting for him to finish, but I managed to get incredibly cold, despite wearing two coats, a long sleeve top and a t-shirt. I’m not sure what was going on really. Once he had finished, we went to a local pub for some food. I was falling asleep and wasn’t good company at all. Anna and I left early and made our way home. Lucy seemed tired too so I think she appreciated it – the previous day had been a lot for her too. That did mean she couldn’t beg for any more food, though, so perhaps she was a little bitter. After getting home and napping for a bit on the sofa, I managed to force myself to run 4 miles. That felt pretty good and helped me a lot mentally, even if it absolutely killed me physically.

Working in a Cafe with My Bezzie Dee and Lucy

So, the mental back and forth continues. At times I manage to embrace my inner stoic and feel like I’m at peace with what is going on. I am in many ways. I accept the negative statistics that get plastered on every pancreatic cancer website, I just refuse to accept that it is inevitable for me to become part of them. If I do, I’m ok with it, but I want to know if that is the case. Currently, I reside in a place of limbo. Getting out and staying active seems to help, though it tires me out and leaves me feeling exhausted. I’m finding keeping busy to be a double-edged sword. It is good, but also leaves me feeling like I am avoiding some unpleasant realities about the situation. Those negative thoughts only emerge from the shadows of my mind when I have pockets of time to myself; it makes me realise that I am probably struggling to accept it more than I allow even myself to believe.

Cleaning Lucy’s Teeth

Perhaps I am over-dramatising the importance of the next step. I’ve really convinced myself that it is either full removal, meaning I can still be cured, or nothing. Not nothing meaning that the surgeons won’t do anything, but nothing that could lead to me being cured. I’m sure it isn’t that straightforward, but the oncologist couldn’t give me any answers of substance when I put the questions to him. As opposed to accepting that he really may not know, I can’t fight the thought that he does know, but it isn’t down to him to break the news to me. I’m sure that I am being paranoid and just not recognising that my brain is moving into a new phase of contemplation, paranoia, but I never got any reassurance from him that allows me to easily shrug off those thoughts. I’m heading to Dorset on Wednesday anyway. Lets see if the sand on the beaches, sound of the ocean and salty breeze helps improve how I am feeling about it all. There’s only one problem with that – I hate the sea and everything in it. It is lovely to look at, though.

Race Day: Anna & Sophie vs 13.1 Miles

Sporting Their Christie Tops!

The day that Anna has been dreading had arrived. Race Day. Sunday, May 22nd – Manchester. The stage was set for her first ever half marathon. Sleepless nights, despairing days. “I hate running,” she would say to herself as she laced up her running shoes for another practice run. Her only motivation to continue doing them was the knowledge that she was raising money for an amazing cause – The Christie, where I receive my cancer treatment. The primary source of solace for her comes in the form of a vow… a vow to never run again once she crosses that finish line. Half marathon achieved; Anna Running Corp dismantled. All aspirations achieved and no interest in drawing up any news ones within the confines of awful running, the worst activity known to man (according to Anna).

With a start time of 8:40, it was an early wakeup. The alarm wailed at 6:00. Anna was up straight away, but I was not so eager. Neither was Lucy. The two of us refused to rise to Anna’s ‘I want to be on time’ game. We performed a dirty protest… the sleeping kind, we aren’t animals. Well, Lucy is, but you get it. By the time we got out of bed, it was 6:30. We had all agreed to leave at 6:45 the evening before. Anna wasn’t impressed.

We left at around 7:00 in the end. The sat-nav kindly informed us that we would be getting there at 7:53. That meant that Anna had plenty of time to meet her partner-in-crime Sophie (who is also Maid of Honour at our wedding) and make their way to the start. Any tension was dispelled – things were going to work out. We decided to bring Lucy the puppy along to see the city. After establishing herself as a beach girl in Whitby, we knew we had a difficult task convincing her that city life is worthy of consideration. It is a mountain that we must climb with her, though, as Anna and I usually live in London in normal life. This cancer malarky led us to move back in with my parents, in the much-smaller town that I grew up in. Lucy was then purchased for me by my lovely family as a surprise gift to help support me through the awful journey. She is now 8 months old and very much likes having a garden to run around in and fields to go walking in. It’s a huge problem as we won’t have either of those things once we’re in London. Also, due to her tiny size, she’s a little scared of cars. There are a lot of cars in London. Lucy won’t approve of any of it if we don’t start trying to convince her now.

Warming Up Against a Bar Window – Totally Normal

We arrived at roughly the time the sat-nav told us we would. Anna jumped out of the car and went to meet Sophie. My mum, dad and I found a parking lot and didn’t question its credentials. There were white lines, other cars and a machine to pay – it seemed legitimate as they come. Unfortunately, it wasn’t legitimate. Or I am assuming it isn’t legitimate. My dad returned from the parking machine and informed us that it cost just over 25 of his well-earnt-British pounds to leave his car on this piece of land for half a day. Now, I wish I could say there is nothing remarkable about this car park which would make it cost such a price but there actually are plenty of things that are remarkable about it. Here are some of the things that the car park did NOT offer for that price, making it remarkable – A barrier, a surface free of crater-sized holes or EVEN CCTV cameras (other than the cameras making sure those who entered and left had paid). Perhaps the fact that Britain has the second most cameras per person in the world, losing the title only to China, makes those who run it think that they don’t need to bother buying their own (stats supplied by random people in the pub and not verified; also the ‘China’ part of that fact may be British government propaganda to make us look better). Or perhaps, the company that own and manage this car park are just a bunch of money-grabbing twats. They can’t even pay someone to clean up the excessive amount of broken glass which was strewn around the place like spilt glitter on a carpet. Remarkably rubbish, but we paid for it. The joke is most definitely on us.

To be fair to the car park company, one of these problems actually seems endemic in the entire city of Manchester – broken glass. I studied for my undergrad in Manchester and lived in the centre of the city in my final year. It has always been the nearest city to my parent’s house, so when I was younger it would be where we’d go to go shopping, see bands live, etc. What I’m getting at is that I’ve spent a lot of time there in my life. Perhaps my memory is getting worse, but I do not remember the city having this much of a problem with broken glass when I frequented its streets. It is EVERYWHERE. I’m wondering if the local council have started trying to charge households for recycling glass or something. There must be some incentive driving people into yeeting their every bottle on a public walkway as opposed to putting it in a bin. It doesn’t even have to be a recycling bin. In fact, you don’t even have to put it in a bin, just don’t actively smash it on a public walkway, turning it into a trap for any innocent dog, child or adult that happens to be strolling down the road, not realising it is punctuated by jagged fragments. As me and my parents made our way to the spectating spot that we had picked out on a map, I feared for Lucy’s paws as we navigated the walkway – more glass fragments than concrete, and decorated with half-eaten food and rubbish. Lucy was a huge fan of the half-eaten food and rubbish, and my mum had to wrestle a couple of chicken bones out of her mouth over the day. Occassionally she’d pick up a bit of a polystyrene case which was left on the floor and proudly run along like she’d won the lottery. Good job shes cute because she’s also absolutely disgusting.

Mum Offering a Supporting Hand – Just Before Mile 2

We saw Anna and Sophie twice at our little viewing point – once just before mile 2 and again around mile 7. They were running side-by-side and were smiling ear-to-ear both times. They were enjoying it, no matter what they claim to the contrary. Both were sporting The Christie shirts, and Sophie even had a temporary tattoo of their logo on her arm. I’m hoping she will consider making it permanent in future but I suspect she won’t. She isn’t that committed to the cause. Despite it being quite overcast as they ran, the weather was proving near-perfect for running, remaining largely warm but with a cool breeze. The two stuck together all the way until the end, and the next time we saw them was on the run into the finish, with approximately 200 meters left to go. We cheered at them as we saw them emerging around the corner, and could see the smiles on their faces widen as they spotted the finish line in front of them. Music was banging, people were cheering and the voice of a woman announcing finishers was ringing out. They had done it. We made our way through the busy crowd to meet them.

Sophie’s Boyfriend Scott and Their Dog Narla – Surprise Support From Below a Bridge

Anna’s aunt, uncle and cousin were also waiting at the finish. Maureen, Anna’s aunt, also received treatment at The Christie for cancer. It was really lovely to talk to her about what an amazing place it is. There’s so much benefit in talking to someone who has beaten cancer and who understands the difficulty of going through chemotherapy. I have an incredible amount of respect for anyone who has withstood all of the struggles that come with a cancer diagnosis. The fact that I know they must be a strong person to be able to do such a thing then allows me to feel good about what I am doing. In turn, it makes me acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, I must be quite a strong person too. I haven’t survived, but I’ve made it through twelve rounds of chemotherapy. There’s a lot more coming my way so I need to try and celebrate every win. Finishing twelve rounds of Folfirinox is a significant win, no matter what the results of the scan are on Thursday. Celebrate it.

Anna and Sophie got to celebrate a significant win today too – they finished their first (and last, so Anna claims) half marathon. They also get to celebrate raising money for an incredible cause. Anna in particular has two people close to her who sing the praises of The Christie, and for good reason. Raising over £1,500 for them is incredible. It was great to see so many other participants running for them too. The hospital truly deserves it for everything it does. I’m so grateful to Anna and Sophie for choosing to raise money for them.

13.1 Miles Later

Being around all that running got me riled up and desperate to run myself. I’ve not been getting out of the house much these past few days. My body has been fighting back against the infection(s) and I’ve felt incredibly tired. After spending the day walking around Manchester, watching large swathes of people pushing themselves physically, I decided to try and get out running again once I got home. It’s funny when you get motivated to do something in this way – you watch people do something and convince yourself it’ll be easy if you just get out and do it too. It rarely is.

Between the age of about 8 and 13, I used to skateboard. If you have been reading this blog for a while, you may have remembered that I used to play the guitar a lot too at this age… Yes, Avril Lavigne must have been inspired by me to write her hit song Sk8er Boi. You’re welcome, Avril. I was never very good at skateboarding, unlike guitar, but over time I managed to learn a few tricks. Enough to go out with my friends and have fun without totally embarrassing myself. Me and my friends used to sit and watch professional skate videos together, where professionals would do mind-bending things on a skateboard and make it look incredibly easy. That is what is so impressive about people who are that proficient at a skill – you can watch them do it and be fooled into thinking it is easy, but you don’t appreciate how many different things the individual is accounting for to manipulate something in such a way. Skateboarding is one of the best examples of this I can think of. We’d get ourselves amped up watching these people throw themselves down huge sets of stairs, doing tricks that I couldn’t even do when slowly rolling along on a pavement. You’d then go outside, feeling incredibly motivated and ready to do whatever it takes to land that damn trick. You step on your skateboard, give yourself a small push so you’re slowly rolling, pop the board and the same thing that always happens happened – you’d enthusiastically gesticulate with your legs in mid-air whilst the board spins a bit, falls, and your feet land clumsily back to the ground either side of the piece of wood. You remember that it just isn’t that easy.

I felt that familiar feeling as I set off running in the early-afternoon heat. Witnessing so many people running a half marathon gave me a false sense of my current abilities as a runner. I headed out thinking that I’m only doing 5 – it’ll be easy! I used to routinely run a lot further than this and wouldn’t struggle at all. Of course, the run was horrible and my body just wasn’t playing ball; I knew it within minutes of setting off. My heart rate was rocketing despite my lungs feeling fine. Your body just isn’t the same on chemotherapy, and the infections a few days prior probably weren’t helping.

Things aren’t normal for me at the minute from an exercise point of view; they may never be again, with me needing a major operation, more chemotherapy, and maybe other procedures that I don’t know about yet. Who knows what I’ll be like in the end. I’m used to loving going running and being quite good at it. I’m not used to having to walk several times whilst running 5K – I’m not used to having to walk at all when running. I am used to pushing myself, though, and despite feeling absolutely crap, I forced myself to keep going for an extra kilometre. It isn’t a lot, but it’s something. Hopefully I’ll be able to enter a half marathon and push myself like that again soon. Maybe even a marathon, but I’m sure that is a while away from where I am right now.

As I ran along a familiar country path next to an overgrown patch of land, I remembered my mum telling me that the only time she has seen a snake in this country was in this area. She said it was dead with some of its body poking out onto the path, I believe. Running along, I looked into the overgrown wilderness and wondered how many snakes may be in there. That overgrown mess is their entire world. Nothing else matters. Their life is hunting, resting and trying to find a mate. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. They don’t care what is outside of this area – it is totally irrelevant to them. Every day is a fight for survival. One of those days they don’t come out on top of that fight, and they die. I wondered if I’d ever see one as I ran along. For a second I convinced myself that there was one ahead of me. As I approached, I realised it was just a stick. Shame, maybe next time.

The Overgrown Area Next to the Path

I thought about cancer and how arduous it all is. The long spells of treatment, the constant berating of statistics and the palpable uncertainty that hangs over everything in your life. I almost felt jealous of the snakes in their little wilderness. Then I wondered if we are in our own little wilderness and some higher power is looking over us, pitying how simple we are with our cancer, climate change and petty wars. Maybe they’re juggling much bigger priorities with much deadlier consequences. Suddenly I felt a bit better about the whole cancer thing. I’m still managing to run a bit, how bad can it be?

Anna and Sophie are still taking donations. If you would like to donate, their page can be found here. A big congratulations to both of them for challenging themselves and for absolutely smashing it! Can’t wait to support you both at the next one (hehehe)!

Scott and Narla Playing Where’s Wally?

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!