I thought it’s time for an update as I have not written anything since 2016. Firstly if you did not know by now I had the best news of my entire life so far on December 12th at 3:15pm. I was given the all clear from Cancer by Dr Wheater at Southampton hospital.
I have not written a blog since for a number of reasons and I didn’t even write one about getting the all clear. Mainly because I thought December 12th was mission complete, I wanted to draw a line under the cancer days, put a full stop on it and not talk about it again.
As I was given the all clear I sent a message to all my friends and family, I put a facebook status out there and had a little party that night. Then I turned my phone off for 5 days. I didn’t want to talk about cancer, I didn’t want anyone to say well done, I wasn’t bothered about people saying you had this and I certainly didn’t want to see a ‘you got this’ wristband. It was a totally bizarre and surreal day and few days for me. To be honest it was all a bit overwhelming and I thought I had been born again and been given the green light to carry on my life again as ‘normal’.
I’ll briefly tell you about the day you get the all clear and then I want to let you really know about the aftermath. As since December 12th has passed this challenge has continued. I have genuinely found it tougher psychologically in remission then I have when I had cancer. I’m not writing this in a search for some sympathy or more attention but I want people to know what life is like after cancer so that if you need to support anyone (god forbid) that is affected by cancer then you know the way to support them not only during diagnosis but also during remission.
The day of the scan is obviously a nervous one but in my head I felt good about it and just wanted confirmation. I had one testicle removed in September followed by 9 weeks of intense chemotherapy. The chemo I was on usually takes 12 weeks but with factors like my age and fitness the doctor wanted to blast it out in 9 weeks. Something that nearly backfired in week one when my heartbeat became irregular and I was admitted to hospital for 5 days rather than being at home.
I went to the hospital with my mum, dad, sister and friend Lais who had come to visit from Brasil and was with me in Rio the day I was diagnosed. I had lots of blood tests and then spent an hour drinking 2 litres of dye so that my body could be put through a CT scan. It was then an anxious wait before I was called into the Doctors office just after 3pm. Now you may think its one of those moments where he says “I’m glad to tell you, you are cancer free” and then everyone breaks down into tears. But it wasn’t like the movies. He nonchalantly said “that’s it then, all finished”. It was like a disbelief and I wanted him to say the words cancer free. He showed how the tumour had shrunk from start to finish and explained the blood results and we all left the room in a state of I don’t know what. I then had to go straight into another blood test room to have a follow up blood test so went into meet the nurse.
As I sat in the chair for the nurse to take my bloods she asked if I was ok with needles. It was at that point the overwhelming feeling came in and I burst into hysterical tears. She thought wow he must be really terrified of needles and asked if I was ok. As I told her I had just that minute been given the all clear she started crying with me and started to hug me. I did the bloods and when I left the room my mum was there to give me a big hug and finally everyone was in tears of joy and relief. We celebrated with a glass of champagne in the car park.
Getting the all clear half way through December was a great time to hear the news as a lot of my friends were about to finish work for the Christmas break and some friends had returned home for Christmas from Australia, Dubai and America so everyone was always available to meet for Christmas festivities. I had the best Christmas I think I’ve ever had purely just for the appreciation I now had for everything and everyone around me. New year’s eve was amazing and I saw out midnight dressed as the mask with my bald green head on my best friends shoulders down Weymouth sea front.
As January started I knew it would become boring as everyone left the town again and went back to their jobs. I wanted to go away and get some sun but I had my first follow up scan on January 12th so the shackles were still on for a bit longer. I joined the local swimming pool and was swimming 3 times a week and then went back to my first boxing club Weymouth to do some training but also coach the youngsters at the gym 3 nights a week. The boxing and swimming was so good but the rest of the days were long and very boring. I was watching celebrity big brother every night at 9pm and then I’d watch the repeat of the exact same episode the next day. I was counting the hours in the day and counting down days for the first time rather than making the days count.
However I was so content with this lifestyle, I didn’t want to leave the house or ever leave Weymouth again. I was becoming increasingly frustrated with how remission was going though. My last treatment of chemotherapy was December 8th and I had no hair grow back until February so it still looked like I had cancer. I had put weight on because of the steroids I was on and was the fattest I’d ever been even though I was exercising and drinking healthy smoothies. The nurse said not many people put weight on during chemotherapy but I was plumper than ever. I had a tinnitus ringing in my ears which would not go away and I was so tired as soon as I did anything more than sitting in front of the TV. The worst thing of all and still a major problem is I had pins and needles and a numbness in my hands since chemo started. So much so that I cannot unscrew bottle lids and couldn’t even undo a shower gel bottle lid. I was having to try and open my shower gel every morning by whacking it on the side of the bath. It was painful!
One of the things during chemo is that you also get a thing called chemo brain which is a fuzzy form of thinking. It’s like you’re trying to function on a major hangover but it lasts for 6 months. I can’t remember where I put anything in my house, there’s no chance of finding car keys, can’t remember people’s names and the worse thing is my vocabulary is so bad that I can’t even think of the right words to end some sandwiches, which can make talking to me really confusing these days.
Everyone that had messaged me during the treatment had stopped but not through their fault but because I didn’t want that attention anymore. I didn’t want people asking “How are you” ten times a day. I didn’t want to be associated with cancer or for it to define who I am so I just ignored it all and tried to pretend like I was back to normal.
On January 12th I drove to Southampton Hospital for my first check up and glad to tell you that everything was fine again. As I was in the waiting room I was reading a macmillan cancer book about life after cancer and it was mentioning that I would need to work out the new me. I didn’t want to be a new me, I wanted to be the old Af the one I know and love.
During cancer I laid everything out bare for people to see and to break down any stigmas around the word cancer. Lets say that before cancer I was a racing greyhound being paraded about, during cancer I was in the traps looking out at the track waiting to be released, as I was given the all clear I thought I’m back and can do what I want and chase life again. But what I found is that as soon as the trap gates were opened and I tried to sprint out back into life I realised I’m not that greyhound I once was.
No, in fact, I am now a tortoise. But recently I have come to terms with being a tortoise. A tortoise can still win the race if it goes slow and steady. And tortoises live to have very long lives if they just take it slow. This doesn’t mean I’m just going to take everything slow it just means I don’t have the body I once had. I can no longer go on a mad night out and run a marathon in the same week. Its either one or the other. And I don’t plan on doing any marathons anytime soon.
I was watching more and more tv, doing less and less, and speaking to fewer people. I guess some people might say I was spiralling into a depression. I had no money but I had a credit card and an overdraft. It’s only now after 2 months and looking back at the pictures and reading all of the old text messages people had sent me that I realised how ill I actually was.
I was speaking with my friend Julian who was also going through a battle with Cancer and had been for 2 years. Julian had a diagnosis of a rare bone cancer called Ewings Sarcoma. I am going to write a blog about my relationship with Julian when the time is right but he gave me some news that had hit me hard.
I was also texting a friend who I’ve performed stand-up comedy with on many occasions called James Beatty who was travelling Mexico and he said that he was going to Cuba on Monday and that I should meet him there in two days time.
I didn’t have much money but as him and me have the same mindset he reminded me “you can always make more money, you can’t make more time”
So that was it, I booked my flight, ordered a visa, looked up health insurance for recently cured cancer patients, packed my backpack and was on my way to Havana. It could have been Havana it could have been Hartlepool it didn’t matter.
“It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey”
To be continued………………………………
One thought on “The Aftermath Part 1- I am the Tortoise”
Af – you certainly haven’t lost your ability to write. Well done on bearing your sole! It will help so many people. You are all those people – the person you were before cancer, the person you were during the cancer and treatment and the person you are becoming now. A fantastic inspirational and great guy. Lots of love. Sue xx