Dear fellow cancer sufferer,
I saw you come in the front door looking anxious and worried. I've been in this place a lot in the last few months and didn't recognise you (mainly 'cos you look younger than me and that's a bit of a rarity in here I can tell you) from that I deduced it was one of your first appointments and when I saw you confused as to where to check in and on the verge of tears when you took your place in the waiting room I reckoned I was right. I wanted to put a hand on your shoulder and tell you it'd be alright but I didn't and it's played on my mind for a few days, so with that in mind I thought I'd write this blog post on what to expect in the coming months. I know you won't see it (I get less views than a house for sale in Sunderland after all!) but someone who needs too might, so here goes.
There's different kinds of chemo treatments tailored to both the individual and the type of cancer so there's a good chance that what I talk about won't have happened to other people (for instance I haven't lost my hair...well I have but it was about twenty years ago and nowt to do with cancer!) but I'm very sure that some of it will apply to all of us. You will be told some of this by the doctors and nurses, you'll glean stuff from forums and friends but it'll be the mostly physical stuff - there's mental things that no-one tells you about and as I'm now halfway through this shite I might be able to prepare you a bit.
- Your hands and feet will be susceptible to cold for a while after your intravenous stuff and it'll feel like electric shocks going through your fingers and toes - this will pass, wear gloves around the house.
- As I discovered yesterday this can also apply to your arse if the toilet seat's cold!
- Your throat may spasm if you put anything cold down it for a few days after your treatment, this can feel like its closing and can be a bit scary - IT IS NOT CLOSING, stay calm and breathe through your nose and again, it will pass in a minute or so. Just drink warm stuff (including water)
- Also, during this time if you get cold air down there the same thing can happen - if you go out put a scarf or covering over your mouth
- There's also something named 'first bite syndrome' at this point, after the first few bites of your food you'll get similar painful electric type shocks through your jaw - again, it'll pass just take really small bites initially until it's gone.
- You're going to be tired, sleep when you gotta sleep.
- Your family, friends and loved ones will all try to support you and tell you 'you got this' they mean well and if they could they would take your pain and suffering away. In fact you've probably got more people supporting you than you've ever had in your life but there will be times when you are the loneliest person on the planet - this will pass.
- You will have days where you feel great - make the most of these days if you can, meet a friend for coffee, have a walk in the park, take a trip to the seaside (about 500 yards for me 😉) enjoy your life.
- You will also have moments when the magnitude of your situation comes crashing down on you and you cannot stop the tears - don't try to stop them. Even if you're a 51 year old bruiser from an arse-end council estate in the North East of England who has always been detached from 'feelings' and hasn't cried since his age was in single figures. You'll feel better, it'll do you good and to fuck with what everyone else thinks.
- Honestly, I can't stress this enough, play the cancer card - A certain well known courier company reversed into my garden wall and knocked it down, after being ignored then escalating my complaint and combining it with the word every one dreads I've now got a new wall and ended up in profit!
- Take the piss at every available opportunity and laugh at every thing that's funny (despite being a natural baldy I still have to shave my head once a week so I don't look like a fluffy Bobby Charlton, this week whilst doing it the day before my hospital visit my clippers packed in halfway through my cut. My wife's reaction was 'fucking hell you look like you've got cancer...') - It's good for you
- There will be times when you just want it to stop and you won't care if that's in a good way or a bad way, you will just want it all to stop - this too will pass, I absolutely promise you it will pass.
- 'Chemo Brain' is a thing. You'll forget things, get confused and have occasions when you don't know your arse from elbow (my wife claims to have noticed no difference...hey ho) - it comes and goes, don't worry about it.
- On your 3rd cycle of chemo one of the nurses will double check your date of birth with you as 'There's no way you're fifty, I thought you were late thirties/early forties' - to be honest this probably won't happen to you but it did to me yesterday and I wanted to document it before I forgot! 😂
- You will come to the realisation that not only did your unwanted intruder fuck up your xmas/new year/birthday/life it has also done the same to your spouse/partner and you will feel completely shite about this - sadly this won't pass, it is what it is until it's over. You will have to bear it for the time being and vow to make it up to them tenfold when you can.
- When you do stop getting the initial cold problems with your digits and throat you may venture outside for some fresh air. At this point with your thick gloves on, woolly hat, scarf around your mouth and comfortable slobbing round the house clothes on you'll realise that Cancer has robbed you of your position as coolest person in the world - this will eventually pass but you'll still be annoyed by it...fuck you cancer!
- Choose to be positive, it's a good thing in everyday life but a great thing during cancer treatment, and take joy from something every day - I was coming home from hospital and feeling sorry for myself when I noticed a bird of prey (don't know which one - I grew up on an estate where the only nature we saw was pigeons and dog-shit) hovering above a verge. As the car slowed I managed to watch it for a few seconds and it was brilliant. When we drove away I was quite chuffed to have seen it and realised that I might be having a bad day but it was better than whatever that bird was about to swoop down on!
- Give yourself things to look forward too, make plans for when this is sorted and keep reminding yourself it's not for ever.
- Don't look upon your treatment in terms of months, just get through the next ten minutes, the next half-hour or the next half-day and take it from there - it'll go quicker than you think.
- Remember, yes you've got cancer and yes it's scary, but it's not your job to sort it out. The doctors and nurses of the NHS (I'm guessing I don't get any foreign readers...) will do that. They deal with this multiple times a day, year in and year out, it's absolutely routine to them and they're brilliant (particularly when lying to you about how old you look 😂) You've only really got one job in this whole thing and that is to simply keep breathing. You can aid that with a lot of the stuff above but honestly you just have to keep breathing and the rest will sort itself out.
That's it for now, remember these are just my experiences but you can find out loads of good advice from the fantastic Macmillan Cancer Support people. Good luck pal, you can do this and you will, in the words of the mighty Stone Roses...just keep on, keeping on.
The Geordie skinhead with the weird tufty hair sat in the corner reading his paper with the coffee and the bacon sandwich like he fucking owns the place.