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Living with (and without) Cancer!

“You'll never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice”

  Bob Marley

Well, that pic was me in March 2019 aged 53 paralysed with fear, and terrified of what lay ahead. This picture was taken a few minutes before being taken down to the operating theatre for bowel cancer surgery where they planned to remove the right half (ascending) of my large intestine (bowel).

At the time I knew almost nothing about cancer. I didn't even know anybody who'd had it either. Since my diagnosis I've spoken to and met lots of people who have been faced with the same hurdles as me. One thing that I find very alarming, and an often repeated story is that their GP did not provide sufficient/dilligent attention to their problems early enough in the process. This often leads to diagnosis too late. This is my reason for producing this blog, so that when you're here trawling the internet for answers, know that you must stand your ground with your GP, demand to be taken seriously, and remember that nobody knows your body better than you!

So, Feb 2019, I weighed-in at nearly 24 stone, meaning that this essential life-saving surgery was being considered to be "very high risk" with the surgeons concerned over potential “breathing difficulties” and possible death during the long procedure.

 

We sat down together to write my last will and testament just in case - a very painful tearful experience when you know that the end might only be a few weeks ago.

If I made it through the initial ordeal, and then the post-op recovery phase, I had 6 months of intensive chemotherapy to look forward to. To complicate matters we had our frantic and very hands-on business to run. I had to be there, my family, my customers and the future of our business depended on me. Failure (aka death) was simply not going to be an option. I had to be strong for my wife Cathy-ann and our daughter Kiera who would be devasted if I had somehow "clocked-off" early.

At that time, I really had no idea about my long-term prognosis. Obviously, I’d read the survival statistics from the NHS and Macmillan websites. I had what’s known as stage 3c bowel (colon) cancer and I needed to have about 20 inches of my large intestine removed.

Survival rates basically pivotted around how early the cancer is detected, and if it had been allowed to spread (metastasised). In my case I’m pretty sure I’d had symptoms for several years beforehand, and whilst in the op they also found it had indeed spread to 16 adjoining lymph nodes, which the surgeon removed too.

The odds of post-op survival beyond 5 years looked at best to be a 50/50 chance in my case. Pretty good odds if you’re betting on a two-horse race, but I didn’t much like the prospect of being the old nag that didn’t finish the race!

This was me in the intensive care recovery room after the op, still high on drugs, and the morphine was making me talk some wonderful gibberish about installing Windows.

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The dark days - the 6 months of intensive chemotherapy were a real bitch, no other word for it!

There were days when I really couldn’t deal with life, my work responsibilities or even making it out of bed to the shower and getting dressed. My hands and feet had gone totally numb from the chemo, so using a keyboard and mouse in my job was just plain comical.

Amazingly, 3 months later we ran/waddled around the race for life together.

Chemo has some nasty side effects which linger for many months after the actual treatment had ended. I somehow managed to put my head down and carry on regardless.

After about 2 years I started to feel heathier and finally able to believe that I might just have a fighting chance after all. However, there's always this nagging feeling in the dark recesses of your mind that will never quite go away, and you will never really be “cured”. I now understand the concept of mental triggers and the inability to escape them!

So, now here we are some years later. I’ve passed the 5 years survival odds, and somehow managed a stalemate with Cancer’s game of chance…for now.

Since then, I’ve continued to lose some weight, I’m a lot fitter and healthier than I’ve been for maybe 20 years. I realise now that my dedication to the business had inadvertently resulted in 20 years of neglect of my own personal needs.

In 2020 after a lot of soul searching, we decided to close the retail side of our computer business. We started working from home which was primarily to aid my recovery and give me some space. This turned out to be a very wise decision as full covid lockdown was just a few weeks away.  Everything is better now, and unexpectedly even the business is doing well again thanks in part to my unrelenting new joy and energy for life I guess. Things that seemed to be an overwhealming crisis previously, I now take in my stride.

Now, we regularly walk about 20km in the Derbyshire peak district most weekends, and we’ve recently started doing multiday backpacking hikes as well. This pic was us at the end of our 60km Peak Pilgrimage Walk in May 2024.

Throughout the ordeal Cathy-ann and my daughter Kiera have been right there with me - my rocks in what felt like a very fragile world. Despite battling her own demons and serious health issue Cathy-ann has been with me constantly, every scan, every blood test, the chemo months of being sick and deathly, every hospital visit, every sleepless night and above all, the fears, tears and anger that no man ever wishes to talk about, even with his wife and closest friends.

I used to think that the key to life was success and money, but I’ve quickly come to realise that I had it all wrong. The key to life is happiness and contentment.

Cancer tried to break me, it failed!  I’m now stronger, fitter, and more focussed on what really matters than I ever was before. I’m walking all over Cancer!

Bowel cancer is now the 2nd largest killer of people over 50, but early detection can still mean a long happy life. It can also be found in much younger/fitter people. Click the bowel cancer logo to find out more details and the symptoms to look out for.

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