AMAZINGLY it is just over three years since I was recovering at home after having my operation to remove the cancerous part of my bowel and a subsequent hernia operation.
So, what are the lessons and tips I can pass on to others recovering and surviving after cancer treatment?
First, we are all different, but I know more cancer survivors than those whose funerals I have attended who have died from this disease!
Secondly, if you have survived the physical battle against cancer be ready to tackle the emotional challenges of moving on from being a cancer sufferer to a survivor, whose life has been saved by the excellent service we still enjoy from the NHS. That’s something I always stress in this series of ‘cancer-blogs’.
I know this isn’t any comfort to those who have lost a loved one through this disease, but if it is diagnosed early enough the survival rates are pretty good for many different types of cancer.
In the case of bowel cancer, which I was suffering from, the survival rates are more than 90% if it is diagnosed early enough. The survival rates are pretty terrible if you leave it too late, which is why I urge everyone over 60 to take part in the bowel screening tests. It just involves sending a few tiny samples of your poo in a special envelope in the post. See “Time to end the bowel cancer screening lottery”
Working through cancer
My example might not suit everyone – and I know I was fortunate in being self-employed – but working through cancer and during the subsequent treatment helped me to remain positive.
I even gained some new work after letting a few media and university contacts know I was about to undergo cancer treatment, including from the BBC’s online education editor Sean Coughlan, who offered sympathy but asked if I might be able to write a few stories for them while I was stuck at home.
A real fillip
With time on my hands, I could do a couple of in-depth pieces for them, including one on the brain drain of young talent from Eastern Europe to the West since the fall of Communism in countries like Lithuania.
That story for the BBC website was picked for the main ‘Outstanding Higher Education Journalism’ Award 2015 by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), a lovely surprise which gave me a real fillip just when I needed halfway through my six months of post-op chemo.
Digital technology and the online revolution means being housebound for a prolonged period doesn’t mean you have to give up everything while you are on the road to recovery.
Remain resilient in the face of adversity
So my advice is seize any opportunities that you can grab and remain resilient in the face of adversity.
Now that I am a bit more mobile, I try to take a sensible approach to what I can manage and when to turn down opportunities, especially if it means travelling any distance. I decided against working for a conference in Germany last year, as it involved two planes and a train, but I have managed to cover events in the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and, of course, the UK. I just need plenty of pre-planning to make the journey as stress-free as possible.
One of my biggest challenges (and you may wish to switch-off here) is managing sudden urges to have a poo.
My big bowel cancer operation involved open surgery to cut away a lower part of the bowel, which was affected by the cancer, and stitching things back together. This was a success, but I did need a second operation seven weeks later at the same hospital after suffering an incisional hernia, probably caused by trying to rush back into things too quickly.
Since then, I have taken advantage of all the wonderful after-care that is available, including counselling for anxiety, which was stopping me sleeping after the chemotherapy ended.
As for my on-going anxiety about straying any distance from the loo, I have learnt (eventually) how to strike a balance most of the time between taking drugs like Loperamide and Imodium to close down bowel movements. That’s important to allow incident-free travel and when I go for a swim! I am also constantly refining the level of potions and remedies, like Fybogel and Normacol, needed to get things going again so I can avoid suffering from constipation.
Mastering my ‘stop-start’ regime has been one of the key goals to returning to something resembling a normal life. It hasn’t been easy, but with trial and error it can be done. And the support of friends, the NHS and family, particularly my wife Ann, has helped me through the tough times.
So, the key message of this blog – and my whole ‘cancer-blog’ series – is don’t give up living life as far as you can if you have survived cancer. But do work out a realistic plan that takes account of your changed circumstances and try to remain positive. Good luck!
If you want to see my other blogs in this series go to Cancer-Talk on my website.
- Main photo:India Today magazine