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Wednesday, 9 November 2022

Cancer Treatment

I am not all that keen to post this, and not everyone will want to read it, but if it helps anyone then it’s worthwhile. These things need to be talked about. We can find interest and enrichment in the most unlikely situations. 

Until this year I thought I was a healthy and active seventy-something year-old enjoying jobs around the home, gardening, walking, music, and so on. Here I am along one of our local lanes. As you can see, we are not serious cyclists. 

Old git with bike (or git with old bike)

Then J found me unconscious and having a fit. I eventually recovered enough to walk out to the emergency ambulance and two nights in hospital. The only warning was swirling black and white patterns in my upper right visual field. An MRI scan found a small tumour in the occipital lobe at the back of my brain. This was causing swelling which led to the seizure. The occipital handles some aspects of vision and reading, hence the odd errors I’ve been making.

The tumour was successfully treated by ‘gamma knife’ radiotherapy in a single hour-long session. This focuses two-hundred low-intensity X-ray beams upon precise high-intensity spots. It involves the discomfort of having an aluminium frame screwed (literally) to your skull to keep your head still in the treatment chamber, and to plot the 3D coordinates for the treatment sequence. Otherwise it is entirely painless. It can treat objects as small as two millimeters across.

Unfortunately, the brain tumour was a ‘met’ (a secondary) from a small lung tumour. This gave me no symptoms. Without the seizure I would have had no idea that anything was wrong. Last autumn, we were walking up mountains in North Wales.   

Things looked bleak. At one point the word “palliative” was spoken. However, a positron (PET) scan revealed no other unusual activity except in the brain and lung. Some patients light up all over like a Christmas tree. Things began to look more hopeful.

I went through three months of chemotherapy. It was awful. Some days I was so sick as to wonder whether it was worth it. At one point I ended up back in hospital for two nights on a drip.

Then I had a month’s lung radiotherapy (although side-effects last longer). It was considered preferable to surgery in my case.

For me, radiotherapy was far more tolerable than chemo; just tiredness and mild discomfort. This was fortunate as some find it too painful to swallow without anaesthetic suspensions, and can even have to have feeding tubes taped up their noses. They put the fear of God into you in warning what could go wrong.

The worst part was having to travel Monday to Friday to Leeds and back every day for four weeks, where, with twelve linear accelerators, St. James’s Hospital zap around 450 patients a day. Their record is 750. People travel from all over Yorkshire.

As I was not allowed to drive, I was eligible for free Patient Transport. If you asked for early appointments, you usually get a private taxi. The return journey could be taxi, volunteer driver or a small ambulance, sometimes shared. With travel time, the 10-minute treatment including its 25 seconds of irradiation took at least three hours. Most days it was more: nearly six on the worst occasion. With Patient Transport you have to be patient.

Some drivers became regulars. I spent over ten hours sitting with one friendly chap in the Leeds traffic, talking about all kinds of things and learning Urdu phrases. He came from Kashmir in the nineteen-eighties without a word of English and is proud that his children have had the education he never had.    

I have clearly had several tens of thousands of pounds worth of NHS treatment and may well need more. I could say so much more about it: the endless appointments and tests, the CT-guided lung biopsy which gave me a pneumothorax air pocket and another night in hospital, the radioactive dye squirted into my bloodstream from a lead canister by a nurse in an anti-radiation suit, the wholesale consumption of pills, how the challenge is as much psychological as physical, and the effects upon family, but I’ll leave things there.

I’m well again now. I have even been out on my bike. It is now a matter of monitoring scans. How long can any of us say we have: 2023? 2027? 2032? I might be lucky, but no delusions.

These things happen. As my Yorkshire grandparents would have said: “It’s a bugger in’t it!”

29 comments:

  1. You are so right Tasker - "These things need to be talked about" and I applaud you for sharing some of the details of this difficult chapter in your life. Going to Leeds every weekday for four weeks would be enough to break anyone's spirit because, as other Yorkshire football fans sometimes sing in unison: "We all hate Leeds! We all hate Leeds!"

    Thank heavens for the NHS!

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  2. You are very brave Tasker. Sounds like you are on the road to recovery. Well done.

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  3. What a horrible experience to go through, for you and I expect for your family too, You seem to have coped with it in your usual stoical manner. I have often wondered if something similar were to happen to me if I could face all the treatments, such as you describe.
    I sincerely hope that you are over it now and can continue to delight and entertain us all here in Blogland.

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  4. It's definitely a bugger Tasker, and how brave of you to write it out so starkly. Like Jaycee I hope that you are over all the horrible treatments you have described. Best wishes and keep on writing.

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  5. Thank you for openly addressing a subject many shy away from. I have enough second-hand cancer experience to last me a lifetime; our closest family friend (like a brother to me) has had more close encounters with the C-beast than many doctors. He is still alive and it is amazing how much a person can endure. Like you, he suffered chemo and more than once was very near giving up.
    You are in your 70s, so that is - in theory at least - an advantage when it comes to cancer, as it spreads less quickly with age. Hopefully, no more chemo for you but more cycling and walking, weather permitting. Knowing what the nearest and dearest go through along with the actual patient, I am sending my best wishes to you and yours.
    (It's me, Meike.)

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  6. Thank you for writing this an unflinching account of what you have been through. I am sorry you have been through all this, but really glad that you have written about it. I read it and really applaud you not only for writing such a clear honest telling of your diagnosis and treatment but for letting us hear the good parts, the drivers, the good treatment you received, and the bad parts the sheer awfulness of it. I am so glad you have come out the other side and have written this. I think it reminded me that you just have to keep going. Good wishes and thank you for writing. Jean/winnipeg

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  7. I was sorry to hear this but as we age who knows what is in store. Sadly Tom is terminal with his IPF as there is no cure but I am thankful to be able to watch the trees change colour and hope that I will be here to see the snowdrops next year, sadly I do not think that Tom will be.
    You were lucky if that's the right word and I hope that you continue to be well. Seize the day, isn't that what they say and we should all be doing that, forget the jabs and power cuts I say and enjoy every day to the fullest.
    Hugs
    Briony
    x

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  8. I am glad you have recovered to bike again. It is amazing what medicine can do these days to make us well. Thank you for sharing your story and best wishes for good health and happy adventures.

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  9. The cancer roundabout is difficult to cope with and often the treatment seems worse than the the original problem.
    Thank goodness you are through the tough stuff - keep on keeping well.

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  10. Wow, you've really been put through the mill -- but I'm glad you came out the other side! Here's to staying healthy and well from now on!

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  11. Thanks for sharing this frank account of your illness and treatment. It IS important for all of us to talk about these issues. I'm sure such treatments can be grueling even without the added complication of transportation assistance, so bravo for making all of that work. I'm glad you're doing so much better now.

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  12. Thank you so much for coming to tell us all this. What a gruelling time you've had and I'm glad to hear you sre now on the other side of the treatment and back literally on your bike.

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  13. A tough read, but even tougher going through it. Thank you for writing it up.

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  14. Sorry you had to go through all that, but good to hear you got through it and are feeling well again. As you say, none of us can say how much time we've got left...

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  15. So generous and helpful of you to share your experience. Sometimes I moan too much about the little annoyances of life, your bravery puts things in perspective. Thank you, be well.
    www.mylifeinflipflops.blogspot.com

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  16. Anyone who has followed your blog for any length of time, recognizes from your writing that you are pragmatic, level headed and thoughtful. So it is no surprise that you would write about your cancer experience in those same terms. You have been clear-cut, explicit and generous in describing just how difficult the road has been for you and your family. It is a service to others to talk about the reality of treatment. I'm glad the NHS has provided for your care and that you had free patient transport. But as you note, these services have their highs and lows. And the lows are so much more difficult to manage--physically and mentally--when one is ill. Tasker, I sincerely hope you may continue to recover well and wish you and your family all the best.

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  17. Live every day - some of us don't perhaps make the most of each day's opportunites and a trial such as you have had reminds us all to lift our heads and look beyond life's mundane routines. We might not be here to enjoy 'later'. Thank you for your warts and all post. Tigger sends his regards to Dr Phoebe, and trusts she has been doing her bit.

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  18. What a rough road you've travelled, as have people before you and will after. But the miracle of modern medicine has worked its wonders, along with your NHS.

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  19. I have not followed your blog; your title led me to it from another friend's blog. I thank you for describing your treatment so clearly and honestly. I went through similar (except the radiation was 6 weeks, and I had to drive myself 80 miles each way every day) about a year ago. I have not been able even to tell my family what it was like to experience it.

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  20. Thank you for writing about facing this cancer down, hopefully to the ground. My mother used to say, Look around. There is always someone worse off than you, so get on with it and be grateful you can. My best wishes for your continuing recovery. We need scrawny old gits.

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  21. Thank you for writing this. How brave you've been and how hard it must be to go through such a daunting series of treatments. My warmest good wishes for the future for you and your loved ones.
    Sue

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  22. Ah Tasker. I am sorry that you have had such a rough time. I am glad you are on the other side of it. It takes every bit of courage to stare something like this square in the face and deal with it day after day after day. You pulled up that Yorkshire spunk and did it. Cheering from this side of the pond.

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  23. Holy Moly you've been through the wringer and came out okay. Or as okay as you could possibly be. Thank you for the very clear explanations, I'll know what to expect if the same happens to me. I worry about lung cancer because I grew up with smokers all around me, almost everybody smoked back then and I had two smoking husbands (at different times) and both my sons smoke. Most of my current neighours too. So I worry. But so far I'm okay.

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  24. Good luck you are a braver and more trusting man than I am.

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  25. I used to work at the Leeds Radiotherapy Centre so I'm pleased to hear how you got on. I hope everything goes well for you.

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  26. Glad to hear you're hopefully on the mend. Long may it (and you) continue.

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