As the New Year kicks into gear, I can’t pretend not to breathe a sigh of relief that 2015 is over.

For it has been 12 months of fighting bowel cancer; handling the side effects of chemotherapy and getting over not one, but two operations.

Still, I’ve come through it more of less intact – thanks to outstanding support from family, friends, colleagues, and, most of all, the National Health Service.

I dread to think where we would be without an effective NHS and I do worry about the mishandling of such a valuable service by the politicians and profiteers.

Lessons learnt in fighting cancer

So what lessons can I pass on to the growing number of people going public about their fights against cancer?

First, there is nothing to be ashamed of in having cancer – despite research stories that pop up saying nearly half of cancers are caused by lifestyle choices, like smoking, diet, alcohol and excess weight.

I have never smoked, swam three or four times a week, ate plenty of vegetables and am not obese – but still got bowel cancer.

Some of the other patients I’ve met during treatment at James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough are extremely fit and yet they got it too!

So, cancer can strike anyone at any time, although your chances of getting it do increase as you age!

Still an emotional word

Secondly, think about how you are going to tell people you’ve got cancer.

chemo words‘Cancer’ is such an emotional word, and people do tend to overreact when they hear you’ve got one of the 200 or so different types.

I was pretty frank with people I met who asked casually: ‘How are you?’ I replied: ‘I’m OK, apart from having bowel cancer which I’m told has been caught in time and can, hopefully, be treated.’

But I did ask family and friends not to put anything on Facebook, or other social media sites, until I was ready to tell the world and had produced the first in this series of ‘Cancer-talk’ blogs. You need a few more than 140 characters to explain what’s happening and it helps if you can says things like: ‘It appears treatable’.

Have a strategy for going public

Hernia IncisionIt also helps having a communication strategy. I used Bowel Cancer Awareness Month last April to ‘go public’.

My operation was on April 14th, so people – including my business clients – needed to know I would be out of action for at least a few weeks; and then only capable of working as and when I was able.

I’m a freelance journalist, blogger and PR consultant, and work mainly from home, which helped!

I was writing again within a few weeks of my main operation, albeit just working for a few hours most days.

But a hernia linked to the first op put me back on the operating table on June 2nd. That delayed post-operation chemotherapy, which has only just ended, and meant I couldn’t cover a couple of international conferences as chemo knocks out your immune system.

Different cancer treatments

Thirdly, remember different cancers are treated differently and the survival rate for bowel cancer, for example, is pretty good if caught in time.

6 symptomsSo don’t ignore the warning signs, like blood in your poo in the case of bowel cancer, because it is still the UK’s second biggest cancer killer with someone dying from it every half-an-hour.

Stay positive if you can

 I found writing my ‘Cancer-talk’ blogs a good way to explain to friends and colleagues what was happening and tried to ensure they were well written and interesting.

I treated the blogs in much the same way I would a professional fee-paying commission and put time and effort into writing them.

I tried to be as light hearted as I could, using jokes and little tit bits and amusing graphics, to overcome the mystic surrounding cancer.

Also I always tried to be positive, even when I was explaining some of the rather unpleasant side effects, like lost hours sitting on the loo at the height of ‘the troubles’.

I’ll go into more details about possible remedies I’ve found useful in battling against the side effects in a follow-up blog, which I hope will help the medics and anyone suffering, like me, from sudden mega poos, sore & peeling soles of feet and general weariness.

Another tip is don’t do any writing when feeling really bad. Instead wait until you feel better to explain what you’ve gone through and stress that things are moving forward.

Some of the booklets, and other blogs I have read during this journey, have been very off-putting, including some produced by the cancer charities. The photographs, terminology and details are just a bit too graphic.

Nic with ward nurses Thelma (L) and Julia.

Nic with ward nurses Thelma (L) and Julia after his operation

I’m determined to try to encourage people to seek treatment and I don’t want to over-dramatise the side effects of things like chemo for fear of scaring people from having the treatment.

In my next blog, I will focus on what pills, creams and ointments I found most successfully in treating the chemo (and radiotherapy) side effects.

I’ll also explain what the daily routine is like, particularly during chemotherapy, and how I minimised the risks of catching an infection.

But for now, my wife Ann and I can try to get our lives back to some kind of normality.

My pre-op chemo and radiotherapy started on January 5th 2015 – the first day of my wife’s retirement from Teesside University.

blue cross ribbonShe’s been with my every step of the way, coming to hospital for appointments and even attending the Bowel Cancer Support Group in the Holistic Centre at James Cook Hospital.

It has been an unusual way to start retirement for her and we had to cancel a planned holiday to Lisbon last spring.

Now, providing tests in early 2016 go OK, we might just make the Portuguese capital in April or May.

  • You can read my earlier contributions to this ‘Cancer-talk’ series here

Hope you found the blog useful. Here is the next blog to the series.

See our previous ‘Cancer-talk’ blogs to read about Nic’s story from first finding out he had cancer to going through all the stages of treatment. Here are the posts:

My first bowel cancer anniversary

Coping with chemotherapy

How cancer treatment is a bit like snakes and ladders

Hernia setback to recovery plans

Handling your cancer operation and the after effects!

Thank goodness Labour built new hospitals

Getting prepared in mind & body for your cancer op!

What’s radiotherapy and chemo like?

Why April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month

Discovering you have got cancer

Beating bowel cancer – introducing ‘Cancer-talk’

For more information, see:

Macmillan Cancer Support


Beating Bowel Cancer