You are never quite prepared for being told you have cancer.
There is still, what shall we call it, a stigma surrounding cancer that makes it difficult to talk about.
Even some medical people struggle when talking about it to their patients. That’s at least until they are pretty sure you are not going to bubble-up with emotion and tears!
It isn’t any easier for family and friends unless they are sure you are not going to break down in front of them, but actually we need to talk about it.
And so to this blog…
Communications is my stock and trade, and I’m going to look at cancer from the viewpoint of someone who believes in straight talking.
What I plan to do is break down some of the myths and misunderstanding that surrounds cancer and encourage people to seek help if they spot what could be the ‘tell-tell’ signs.
I hope my story can also reinforce the message that you shouldn’t hang around if you suspect the worst, or just need reassurance.
Discovering you’ve got cancer
I discovered I had bowel cancer towards the end of 2014.
It wasn’t a total shock!
I suspected something might be wrong after seeing something red in my poo on several occasions.
But, worryingly, it took me some time to gather up the courage to tell my local GP, Dr Inder Basson.
Thankfully, he took my few warning signs seriously enough to recommend further tests, including a colonoscopy (the dreaded camera, where cameras don’t normally venture).
The results for me were not totally one-way or the other at first, but they were serious enough for me to undergo a second colonoscopy within weeks. The first samples looked ‘non-benign’ (medical speak for you’ve probably got a tumour).
Caught up in a whirlwind
The second colonoscopy confirmed I had bowel cancer – and suddenly I was caught up in a whirlwind of MRI and CT scans and hospital visits for daily radiotherapy treatment.
Everything suddenly seemed to be moving at breakneck speed as the staff at my local James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough raced to get my treatment started within the government’s cancer target times.
Quickly, I learnt what an amazing place my NHS hospital really is, and to forget the scare-mongering right-wing headlines which often portray the NHS as a busted monolith that should be broken up, if not also privatised, tomorrow.
What this blog will do
I hope that by giving a personal account I can help others deal with cancer and find their way through the mass of literature and information that is out there, online and in the library of booklets and leaflets you quickly amass from hospital waiting rooms.
So communications and cancer care is going to be a strong theme of this blog.
I’m also going to argue that patients have a responsibility. They should tell their doctor that something is wrong as early as possible – earlier than I did, for instance! As for medical people, some need to be better at communicating, too, particularly when breaking the news that cancer is suspected.
I hope the blog will help others cope, particularly those who have just been diagnosed with cancer.
Focus on the positives
I plan to pass on any useful tips I’ve picked up on how to beat the beast and stay focused on the positives. In my case it certainly helped that I could carry on writing by tweaking my life–work balance.
Finding out my bowel cancer was treatable was another positive, even if an operation planned before Christmas had to be postponed so I could have chemotherapy and radiotherapy first.
My plan is to break my story up into chapters, via new postings, throughout the first few weeks of Bowel Cancer Awareness Month in April.
Then, we’ll see if there enough interest to keep it going.
I’m still at the early stages of my journey fighting cancer and I’m as interested as anyone in its conclusion.
Hope the blog helps to raise awareness that cancer be beaten if you act in time!
* And here is the follow-up blog in which I describe the process of finding out whether you have got bowel cancer or not, and what happens next!