4th January 2015
This time last year I was thinking, “Wow. That was a hell of a year”. And I find I am thinking the same thing this year. I am still incredibly grateful to be here – maybe even more so, were it possible – especially as we had a bit of a scare before Christmas. Quite a few people have expressed concern that I haven’t written a blog for a while; the reason behind this was that there were Things Going On and I felt I only wanted to post once they were all sorted out. It was an interesting process and half of me wanted to blog to ask for support and the other half wanted to sweep it all under the carpet and carry on as normal. No changes there then – you’d think I would have learnt a bit in the last two years…
I mentioned in my last blog that I was feeling a bit down and not especially healthy. By the time we arrived at my appointment with Joe in late October I was relieved to be able to tell him how I was feeling. It was a bit sad really as he had a trainee doctor in with him, and as we entered the room he stood up all excitedly and said to the trainee, “You see, back at work full time, this is how it is meant to be!” his lovely trademark smile beaming from ear to ear. I felt like I was badly letting the side down when I explained that I didn’t feel great and that my throat felt swollen and I was having a problem swallowing. It all felt horribly familiar. However, the mood lightened considerably as it turned out that my blood tests were fine, then we had a really good laugh when he wanted to examine my throat. I went into the examination room and dutifully sat on the bed, then while peering into my obligingly open mouth Joe got out his mobile phone and shone the light into it. Both me and the trainee collapsed into giggles as I really thought he was taking a picture to share on Facebook and I was about to ask if he could let me have a copy too :-). Fortunately the well-equipped and very eager trainee had a pencil torch which was of course what Joe had wanted all along. He pronounced that my throat looked OK to him but that I should have those lovely ENT people check it out, and proceeded to fill out an appointment request for me.
The appointment for ENT arrived within a couple of weeks and it was with the doctor who originally diagnosed me waaaaay back in December 2012. Yes – almost exactly two years ago. I didn’t like the way this was panning out. The day of the appointment arrived and once again I told Stephen that I could go to it alone. Being an old hand at this by now, he very sensibly suggested he come along. Dr Emma King peered into my throat, put the probe up my nose and felt my lymph glands, then sat down and said that my tonsils were way too big and that I either needed to have them out or have a biopsy to find out what was going on. Stephen and I looked at each other in a slightly crazy state of disbelief that this was all happening again. Same hospital, same doctor, same phone calls to get me onto the list on Monday. It was horrible. We were off on a once in a lifetime holiday to Egypt with Judy Hall in just under a month, so there was no way I was having my tonsils taken out; I therefore opted for the biopsy. And even more importantly, my favourite soldiers (tonsils) did such a good job of raising the alarm the first time around, there was no way I was having them taken out of operation. If you pardon the pun.
Operation day arrived and true to form it was Mr Cox, the same surgeon, who somewhat amazingly remembered us. In a change from my last experience at Poole hospital, I was taken to the theatre much earlier than before – which I took to be a good indication of a different outcome this time around. I needed all the omens I could get as I was feeling extremely low. I think it takes huge strength of character to get through these things without thinking the worst – even if it is just for a few moments in those pre-dawn minutes when sleep seems so far away. I was cross with myself that I was being negative and I was struggling with being Mindful at the very time I needed it. ANYWAY. Most people seem to hate going down to the theatre but I love it. On this occasion obviously it was because I wanted to know the outcome, but I also love the way the anaesthetists handle the whole ‘going under’ experience. At this hospital the anaesthetist’s assistant walks the patient through the corridors down to the theatre, which is great as I always feel really silly when I’m pushed in a bed or wheelchair. The anaesthetist himself hadn’t arrived yet so there were several surreal minutes when I was laying on the bed all prepped for the theatre, having a jolly good chat with the assistant. We had the chance to talk about cycling (a huge number of the theatre staff seem to cycle in. We had to get there really early and saw most of them arrive), which I don’t especially love, skiing, which involves being cold so I definitely don’t like it, then somehow ended up at cruising. Funny that. We were really deep into discussing which ships we like (he loves cruising too) when the Man Himself finally arrived, so it rapidly became action stations and we had to leave the ships somewhere in the middle of the Mediterranean.
Then the magic happened. The Man Himself announced he was going to give me something to relax me while he got the anaesthetic ready and I started to feel all nice and – well – relaxed. I was just peacefully nodding off when he asked me to please try and stay awake as he wasn’t ready yet, then – BANG! Bright lights and a voice asking me if I wanted to sit up. I love all that. Not the operating theatre situation, or the necessity for it of course, but the way that the drugs have been developed which allow such miracles to be performed.
The miracle which made me feel happiest though was that Mr Cox didn’t find anything untoward in my throat. He gave it a good spring clean, took a little chunk for biopsy, then pronounced me good to go. Phew. After that I was pretty sure that it really was going to be OK but was still very jumpy every time the phone rang at home between then and our follow up appointment with Emma. I used to hate those evening calls from Joe, asking me to come into the hospital the next morning as various tests had showed up things they wanted to investigate. We made it to the next appointment with Emma with no such calls, and as we walked into her office she stood up with a huge smile. “I have the best news,” she said. “The results are fine, all clear. Go and have a lovely Christmas.” Massive sighs of relief from Team Cahill. Also relief that I could finally finish my book. I had felt unable to write the last chapter while this was all hanging in the air, so I bounced home with happy thoughts of finally getting the book finished. And somehow it felt right that the whole saga started and finished with Emma. She seemed pleased too. I have made no secret of my admiration for the compassion and dedication of the doctors who have looked after me and it was nice to be able to add her to the Acknowledgements at the front of the book knowing that she was part of a happy bit too. She will definitely be getting a free copy.
Our cruise down the Nile with our dear friend Judy Hall followed right on the heels of my latest NHS experience. This was a very different kind of cruise from our usual watery holiday. For anyone who hasn’t read the earlier blogs – and I appreciate there are an awful lot of them – Judy is an Egyptologist, among other things, and during one of my early chemo cycles she was heading off on a cruise down the Nile. She took a photograph of Stephen and me along with her and presented us to the gods and goddesses in order to ask for their assistance in my healing; her journey resulted in some incredible meditation and distant healing experiences for me. Her friend and companion on the trip, Terrie, took photographs of all these petitions which resulted in some astounding psychic photographs like this:
This photograph was taken at the temple of Horus in Luxor and you can see the shaft of light coming from the stone above Judy’s head, through the picture of me and Stephen and out the other side. We were eager to revisit these temples, only this time in person, to thank the gods and goddesses for their blessings. It turned out to be an amazing trip, which I will write about more fully in the next blog. It was another reason why this one was delayed, but as I am writing I can see that adding the Egyptian experience into it would a) take me all evening so not get done and b) turn this into a massive and unwieldy blog. So I really will. Promise. Unlike Judy, I don’t know all the names of the places we visited off by heart so I need to look them up. I also can’t download Terrie’s amazing photos as Dropbox isn’t playing ball, and I really do want to share some of them with you.
One of the major lessons I learnt from 2013/14 was to be more open. Opening up about the cancer experience has led to some lovely conversations in unusual settings – like while paddling in the pool on the boat on the Nile, for example. Everyone’s lives have been touched by cancer in some way and I have found that people, especially the relatives it seems, want to talk about it and even ask advice. It is strange being in such a situation but as I noticed a while back, I am now able to relate to them at a very deep level and it is good to be in a position to give something back. In the midst of all the fear and uncertainty it is helpful to be able to talk to someone who has been through the treatment and isn’t frightened of answering difficult questions. In a conversation with a friend recently, we were comparing the experiences we had when our respective mothers were dying of cancer in the 90s to the situation today. Not only has medical care improved but there is a wealth of support and information out there to help both patients and their relatives in their decisions and of course there is also that mighty weapon – The Internet. I know that doctors hate the fact that we can now look stuff up on our own, and they have good reason to be upset. We can do a lot of research in our own time, and when it comes to the hospital appointment feel that we are informed enough to ask some very pointed questions about treatment options which would have been unheard of, nay, unthinkable just a few years ago.
I am delighted that through the power and accessibility of Internet we can help spread the word to the people who need it, especially of course about my very favourite topic, complementary medicine. The wonders of Facebook and social networking sites allow us to connect as never before and I am pleased that I have been able to link into The Source, part of the MacMillan website which helps to care for cancer patients and their relatives. The Source can also be shared on FB through the many people signed up to the MacMillan website, which means an even bigger audience. Yay! I started very low key, posting a little note about having the courage to open up and allow people to help as that makes them feel good too. That was accepted so I moved cautiously on to the wonders of Vitamin A drops. That got accepted too, and even ‘liked’ so I am heartened that I can start adding a few more precious tips that will help people to get through their treatment a bit more comfortably. It is slow going but at least it is progress. I will be interested to see if and where a line is drawn; it will be fun pushing the boundaries :-)
Isn’t life strange? 2013 started with a gruelling treatment regime and ended with the blessing of being in remission. 2014 started with a return to full time work and ended with a lovely trip to Egypt and my own book being completed. And 2015? I have more books to publish through The Wessex Astrologer and my own book to promote, which will be weird. Talk about the boot being on the other foot. It is called ‘Under Cover of Darkness: How I Blogged My Way Through Mantle Cell Lymphoma’ and it will be published by O Books in March. Now that will be fun.
I will be back soon with tales and pictures of Egypt.
Wishing you everything you wish for yourselves in 2015