‘You have cancer’
The Consultant spoke with disturbing clarity.
Why am I writing this I ask myself? Well, several reasons.
Firstly, I keep being asked how Victor Saunders and I got on in the Himalaya this year.
Secondly, I would like to reassure those that ask if I am about to die that I am not.
And thirdly I hope it will be useful to share an experience which came totally out of the blue and has already prompted two friends to decide to get themselves checked out by their doctor.
On hearing the Consultant’s words my initial thought was: ‘It’s over’. Not life but the trip to attempt an unclimbed objective in the Himalaya that Victor Saunders and I had spent the last 13 months planning and organizing. The increasing uncertainty of tests was over. In a strange way the finality was a relief.
It has all started so innocuously. I had noticed one or two unusual coloured faeces and a little weight loss but had slipped comfortably into a ‘monitor the situation’ mindset. It was easy to do. There was an expedition to organise, I had been doing more exercise than usual. My fell racing results and rock climbing standards were both improving and I felt fitter and healthier than for some time.
It was Nicki, my wife, who persuaded me to go to the doctor. I had just been about a minor issue and hadn’t even bothered it. I am embarrassed to admit that one reason I was reluctant was because I knew that I might be referred for tests that could continue for some time and disrupt the expedition. And I was looking forward to the trip so much. There probably wasn’t anything seriously wrong and anyway surely a few weeks wouldn’t make any difference? Things would be clearer by the time we got back. It is always possible to dream up reasons for putting things off.
10 days of being connected to 50cm of internal tubing feeding chemotherapy chemicals into a vein near the heart is quite memorable.
I was almost apologetic for taking up the doctor’s time. ‘I’ve not noticed anything unusual for a couple of weeks now’ I assured him. He was unimpressed. A colonoscopy followed. ‘How long will these tests take?’ I asked. Time was ticking by to our departure date and my fears were coming true. In truth it was quick. The NHS moves fast when it needs to. And the journey was amazing.
Having a crystal clear 20x magnification exploration of my large intestine right up to the inside of my appendix was eye opening. The nice lady operating the camera was very chatty. ‘I’ve probably done 11,000 of these’ she said. And then when the camera was right at the anal sphincter she stopped. ‘There’s your problem’ she announced. I peered at the screen. It meant nothing to me but somehow I knew it didn’t look good. She called for a second opinion. A lady who had done 11,000 of these was calling for a second opinion. That didn’t feel like a positive step. And then a biopsy was done.
Results will take a few days I was told. ****! Should I warn Victor, Berghaus and everyone else involved in the trip? I decided not to. What’s the point of spreading uncertainty when there are no answers.
By the time Nicki and I met the Consultant for the results I feared the worst but still hoped that I could somehow still go to the Himalaya.
‘You have cancer ’ was both a shock and a relief. The uncertainty was over. No more dithering. The trip would have to be cancelled. But what would lie ahead?
I had absolutely no idea what to expect. Cancer to me equated to ill looking people with no hair connected to drips. I felt well but the doctors told me I was very ill. But they also told me that if all went according to plan then in 6 weeks time they would class me as well (all cancer cells wiped out) but I would feel ill (after radiotherapy and chemotherapy). It all felt very odd.
And now a couple of months later the wonderful staff at Weston Park hospital in Sheffield have done their bit. Treatment is behind me, the prognosis is positive and Victor and I are getting on with re-arranging our Himalayan trip for 2018.
Chemotherapy chemicals disposal bin. One patient disposed of his at the dump. Hospital staff were sent to retrieve it. Oooh errr…
So, looking back what have I learned? Aside from an awful lot about cancer treatments the reaction of those that know has been of great interest. Without exception they all appear almost as clueless on the subject as me – and very interested to know more. Typical comments have been along the lines: ‘You are the last person I would expect to get cancer’ and then: ‘How did you find out?’ ‘What were the symptoms?’ Initially graphic talk about bottom issues goes slowly but when they open up a bit hardly any had ever checked their own faeces and they wouldn’t have known what to look out for anyway. Having listened to my experience two have already been to see their own doctors.
For me I am getting gently back to running, climbing and re-organising our postponed Himalayan trip.
For you I can’t stress enough the importance of getting to know your body and what comes out of it. And get straight down to the doctor if you sense anything odd going on. Nothing (even a Himalayan trip) is more important.