20th June 2011, twelve months ago today, was the day I set this long heavy chain in motion. I had been wearily dragging it around for a few months, and I had made the appointment with my GP at least 10 days ago. The timing was significant. The day before I was leaving for Glastonbury Festival. I was determined nothing would interfere with this, it’s the six days I most look forward to in any year. Strangely enough, I am usually in knots throughout June when there is not a festival on, but this year I’ve hardly thought about it. Normally, had this been a festival year, by now we’d be well settled inside the walled city of paradise that is Worthy Farm in the last weekend of June. Anyway, last year it was to the doctors first. I remember the day clearly, it was hot and sunny, perfect festival weather. No sign of the downpour that would drench us the following day as we arrived at the festival site, and continued until we had finally set up our tents in a field of mud. The appointment was mid afternoon, there was no-one else in the waiting area if my memory serves me right. I was hoping for one of those “don’t be silly” diagnosis from the GP, but in truth I knew that any doctor should spot the classic symptoms. Irregular and changed bowel habit, diarrhoea, constipation, blood. Add family history to this and it’s almost a classic case. I was seeing a locum, it was mid summer after all. He might just dismiss my worries…of course he will. The advice is to seek medical attention if the symptoms have persisted more than a few weeks, I’d had mine for months! The constant need for the toilet had even made me think the unthinkable – not going to Glastonbury, I wasn’t sure I could cope. Thankfully the symptoms had eased somewhat over the last few days, so of course I was going to Glastonbury. The car was packed (only for me to unpack and pack again numerous times before I finally left for the festival, it has to be done that way doesn’t it?) I just needed to get this doctors appointment out of the way and I was set for another superb six days at Glastonbury, mind at ease, I’ve been worrying about nothing.
The locum, was young, male. Not that it made any difference. I mumbled through my symptoms, suggested it might be something to do with the anti inflammatory drugs I take for my back. He said I should stop taking these immediately. He asked all the right questions, and I sort of knew I was giving the classic responses to a suspected cancer diagnosis. There was a silence as I replied to the family history question, I could see the alarm bells ringing in his head. He examined my abdomen (No DRE), no sign of anything sinister there. He did everything right, everything was pointing to one thing. He said he would get me an urgent referral to see a specialist. I should get a letter in the next few days. Mission accomplished, I didn’t think about cancer, I was more concerned that nothing was going to get in the way of Glastonbury. I’d had plenty of time to think about cancer before now, I knew I’d started the ball rolling, and I was pretty sure I knew where it was going to end up. But it was out of the way. I often think about that locum doctor. He probably never knew that he’d seen a classic presentation of bowel cancer, and that his suspected diagnosis was correct. GP’s don’t see that many patients present with cancer, this might even have been his first. He’s probably been to a hundred different GP’s surgeries as a locum since, seen thousands more patients and likely not to have seen another case since. I’d like to think he knows he got it right.
I don’t think I ever imagined it would end up quite this way. I could never have imagined the pain from the side effects of radiotherapy, the effect of the bowel blockage and the subsequent stent, and then major surgery. There were times I thought I’d never be able to sit down again. Being in critical care is becoming more of a blur every day, 5 days of my life I have almost no memory of. The photo below is the view of the art work at the end of my bed in CCU, at some point I must have decided it was a good idea to take a photo of it. That was a bit blurred too. And now chemotherapy. It really does push the boundaries of what the human body is capable of enduring.
Well, you’re supposed to celebrate anniversaries aren‘t you? I suppose the same should apply to cancerversaries. Anniversaries of this test and that result, there are going to be plenty of them in the coming months. In 12 months we’ve progressed from suspected to advanced bowel cancer, not bad for a year don’t you think. Cancer is my immediate future and immediate past, but the plan is to put it firmly in the past in the not too distant future. What better way to mark such an anniversary than by having lunch with two lovely ladies, who dined me, and made me laugh. High above the villages of Delph and Denshaw, beautiful views of the local countryside, and food of quality to match. Hardly normality to be lunching with ladies, but nice to be doing something that seemed something like living a normal life. Just what the doctor ordered. Thank You.