The side effects from this year’s radiotherapy aren’t a patch on last year’s but it appears I spoke too soon at the end of my second week of daily sessions. Having tempted providence I was rewarded in the third and final week – punished might be more apt – by a considerably increased fatigue level and much more soreness when I pee. So far, though, the feeling of passing razor blades when I poo, which I experienced last year, has not happened.
Although the 15 daily sessions of radiotherapy are over I was told the side effects can continue to increase for a couple of weeks before starting to diminish. Hopefully, they won’t extend to my bowels. Razor blades up the bum is not something I would wish on anyone, with 2 or 3 possible exceptions who immediately spring to mind!
Why the difference in the severity of side effects? Several reasons, I think. For a start the radiation this time was aimed at a slightly higher location on my body – the pelvic lymph nodes as opposed to the prostate bed (the area where my prostate used to be). Then there’s the fact that I started from a much stronger position this year. Last time was only six months after major surgery and my third bout of septicaemia and I was extremely weak even before the sessions began. This year I had recovered a lot. Even the hormone pills I’d been taking for the previous four months, and have remained on throughout, had not weakened me to anywhere near the same extent. Also, since February I’d been going swimming and to the gym a few times a week and generally being a lot more active, which I now have to get back to being. I was disappointed I’d not been able to fit swimming and the gym in for the last three weeks.
What happens next? We wait, that’s the gist of it. Wait to see what my next PSA blood test shows in early October and then wait to see what happens when I stop taking all medication. What we’re all looking for – me, my partner and my medical team – is a PSA level that’s around the zero mark and that stays there without hormone treatment or chemo. That would indicate the treatment has been successful and I’ve been cured or, at the very least, that I’m in remission.
The approach of the end of this latest treatment prompted me and my partner to chat about things the other day. Neither of us had imagined how our life would change when I first started feeling ill at the start of 2012. So many things have happened over the last three and a half years and not all of them medical ones. We got on to the subject of work, which we both reluctantly gave up albeit for different reasons, and agreed a million quid wouldn’t get us back now. Apart from a handful of occasions, we haven’t had to set the alarm to wake us up for ages. Take my word for it, it’s marvellous to never have to get up when you’d rather stay in bed.
Anyone who has had a planned lead up to retirement knows how much of an impact it has. It’s a much underestimated major life event where you lose a massive part of the social structure that you’ve built up over a lifetime. A structure that is made up partly of friends, work colleagues, a routine (even when you work shifts like I did) and just plain having to be somewhere at a given time. Most people moan about work whether they like their jobs or not. Where I worked moaning was in the job description (and with good reason in many instances) but most of us liked both what we did and most of the people we worked with. Imagine what it’s like when you don’t get a chance to plan and instead you’re unwillingly propelled towards giving it all up and almost overnight an entire way of life is taken away.
Although there’s still much uncertainty at least we’re both now able to move on for a while. We can plan slightly ahead. We can think of using all the free time we have for things we want to do and, luckily, we can afford to do it, unlike so many people affected by cancer and other major illnesses, many of whom can barely afford to get to hospital appointments let alone consider leisure pursuits.
Cancer is a horrible disease to put it mildly, including prostate cancer, which a couple of inept doctors I unfortunately got lumbered with in the early days were unknowledgeable enough to downplay, but it’s brought it home to me even more that there’s always someone worse off. Despite everything I still think I’m very lucky.