Bottoms up

As I’m writing this I’m sitting in a recliner having my last chemo drip into my veins. There really should be someone here doing a drum roll at this point and I don’t understand why the NHS can’t employ someone to do that, although I can imagine the headlines in the Daily Hate Mail if they did (does that rag ever say anything positive about our NHS?).

Originally there was talk of me having either six or ten cycles of chemo. I’m relieved it’s stopped at six because it’s a bugger and messes with your body and your head in lots of unwanted ways but I’d be a lot worse off without it and would have had ten if that’s what I’d needed. It’s done me a lot of good and has brought my PSA level right down (which as of yesterday was 0.096, another record low!) and I feel extremely lucky to have had it, which might seem a weird thing to say but there are places in the world where not everyone with cancer has access to the treatments they need.

I cannot yet truly say “I’ve finished chemo” because there are all the other things that go with it, not least having to continue to take various extra pills for a while and having a very weakened immune system, but now I can look forward to moving on and getting my life back. I’ve had a brief taster of near normality during the extra week I’ve had between the last cycle and this one (see previous post) when my body had a bit more time to recover and I’ve been reminded what it’s like to have some energy, which has been most welcome, as has food tasting like food, tea tasting like tea and coffee like coffee, instead of all tasting like cow dung. 

Since starting chemo my physical appearance has changed even more from all the steroids and other drugs that have been pumped into me. I’d really like to look like a bloke again although the hormone therapy that I’m staying on will ruin my plans for the return of a hairy chest, but I’m hopeful my facial hair follicles will spring back into action within a couple of months and, if they do, I promise I’m never ever going to moan about shaving again. Well, not straightaway. I’m also optimistically anticipating a full head of thick, dark, lustrous hair, but I’ll settle for the stuff I had before if that’s all I can get. Beggars can’t be choosers. 

It’s not just my hair, or lack of it, that has been a visible change, my face is now rounder than it’s been since I was a chubby rosy-red cheeked 6 year old and the rest of me is a lot rounder, too. I feel like I’ve ballooned so the plan is to start getting myself back into shape, but I’ll get Christmas out of the way first. After all, it’s important to get your priorities right and I figure booze and Belgian chocolates should get a look in before the gym does. Bottoms up.

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Chemo side effects lottery

Four years ago, back in 2012, it was brought home to me just how important it is to know what medical procedures really entail and what the possible risks are. I’d foolishly thought the warning at the end of the TRUS Biopsy consent form that I was about to sign was just a standard thing that had to be there so I didn’t pay it much attention, but I found out different when infection from the biopsies led to my first bout of sepsis. Ever since I’ve made a point of reading up and asking questions whenever I’m about to have something done to me and, generally, I take medical matters much more seriously.

So by the time I started my first cycle of chemo a couple of weeks ago I thought I was prepared, but I wasn’t. The speed with which the side effects started and their intensity were a complete surprise to me. I’d expected a slow onset followed by a gradual build up whereas the reality was the exact opposite. 

From the little bit of personal knowledge of chemo that I’ve now got, and bearing in mind that we’re all different and I’m only an expert on me, it seems that the whole chemo side effect thing is even more of a lottery than those side effects that happen due to surgery, radiotherapy and hormone therapy, all of which I have first hand knowledge. There are lots of possible chemo side effects, the list is extensive, looks scary and can vary depending which chemo drug you’re on. Each one is like a number on a Lotto Lucky Dip ticket in that you know what they could be because you’ve seen the list, but you only find out what ones you’ve actually got after you’ve parted with your money or, in this case, had the chemo put into your body.

My side effects included hoarseness, hiccups, extreme change in taste, sore mouth, muddy feeling mouth, blood at the start of every pee, constipation, diarrhoea, sore skin, fatigue, feeling weak, a sickly feeling in the mornings, very weird dreams and, the worst of all, severe pain in every bone, joint and muscle. Some side effects, like the blood in the urine, only lasted for a few days, while others have come, gone, then come back again. 

Certain side effects happen to everyone, although to different degrees, so can be planned for and prevented. Sickness falls into that category and I was given steroids to deal with that, starting with intravenous ones and followed up with pills and so far, although I’ve felt a bit sick most mornings, I haven’t thrown up.

Other side effects, like hoarseness, are rare and might not happen at all so it’s a case of having to deal with them as they hit you. I dealt with hoarseness with a special mouthwash from the GP and gargling with bicarbonate of soda. They both really helped but because the onset had been so quick – within two hours of having the chemo – I wasn’t even sure it was a side effect and wondered if I’d caught a cold, but my chemo nurse said that it could be the start of oral thrush, a more common chemo side effect.

Another thing I didn’t have ready was effective pain relief because there was no saying I’d have any pain at all. As a result, by Day 3 I was really suffering and by Day 4 I was becoming less able to do anything because of the debilitating effect of not being able to sleep and not being able to move. I could hardly get out of bed and was feeling very down.

I tried “baby-dose” painkillers, the sort that most of us have handy at home, but they did nothing to alleviate the shooting pains in all my bones and joints, even my fingers and toes. I’d got to the point where I was having trouble walking, sitting, standing, laying down and just about every other activity and I felt as though every nerve was trapped and that I’d aged 20 years overnight.

As soon as I told my oncologist and my Macmillan nurse just how bad I felt I was immediately prescribed Co-codamol 30/500 (not baby-dose ones) and Ibuprofen 400mg. I could have got even stronger ones if I’d needed them, but luckily I haven’t so far. Once my pain was brought under control I managed to get some sleep again and was then able to do almost everything I wanted to with a bit of effort. Such was my confidence that on Day 9 I tried doing without my painkillers but soon found that I had tried too soon. Within a few hours I restarted them and began to feel much better. They work so well that later that same day, and the next, I was able to go for a couple of long-ish (very slow) walks. On both days the weather was too good to waste looking out of the window so it was good to be able to enjoy it. The walks knocked me out in a nice way, but relaxed me and helped me sleep like a log.

I’m now about half-way through the first chemo cycle, the point when my body should start to recover in preparation for it all to start again with cycle 2. Now that the pain is being managed I am pretty sure I can get through all the chemo but if you’d asked me a week ago before I had the right painkillers I’d have been very unsure. I was definitely faltering and had told my partner that if I said I was going to stop treatment that he was to talk me round using every reason he could think of. Whereas all the other side effects on their own were things I could have just put up with, the pain would have been the thing that mucked it all up. I’m really glad that’s not now going to be the case because it’s still my aim to live to be a cranky, cantankerous 90 year old and I stand more chance of achieving that aim with chemo than without it. Ask my partner and he’ll tell you, based on the last ten days alone, all I’m missing is the birthdays. 

Chemo – 1 cycle down, 5 to go

I had my first chemo session a couple of days ago. I’m pleased to report that the place felt far less oppressive with people in it (see previous post). It was not busy but the atmosphere was fine and, importantly for me, there was humour, too. 

The chemo session itself was pretty low key and the most discomfort I experienced lasted just seconds and was the cannula going into a vein on the back of my hand. That didn’t happen until after a hot pad had been warming up the area for a while before in order to minimise discomfort. 

The first thing to go in was some saline, which didn’t take long and, straight after, two IV drugs Dexamethasone and Ondansetron followed. They took about half an hour and then the chemo drug Docetaxel went in, which took a further hour. All this time I spent in a reclining armchair and I had a cup of herbal tea while I was mucking around on my iPad. I was connected to a drip for about 2½ hours in total.

I thought I was going to get away without more pills to take home but the nurse brought me a bag containing four lots and a “Drug Plan” explaining when the different ones had to be taken and why. Two are the pill form of the ones that went through the IV drip, Dexamethasone and Ondansetron. The other two are Metoclopromide, which I take now, and Prednisolone, which I don’t start taking until I have stopped the others in a couple of days from now. Their main purpose is to counteract sickness so it’s important to follow the plan, but they have side effects. The Dexamethasone mustn’t be taken after lunchtime because even that early in the day they still impact on sleeping, as I found out on the first night when I remained wide awake most of the time. So far the pills have performed their primary function with distinction as I don’t feel sick at all (yet). 

I was also given some Movicol, a laxative. I’m not sure which one of the meds causes constipation but believe me it works quickly. I held off taking any Movicol for two days because I’d hoped things would settle down. They didn’t, so I have and now await the torrent.

Less than two hours after leaving the chemo place I started to get hoarse and less than 24 hours later I had almost lost my voice. Could be coincidence but on the advice of the chemo nurse I went to see my GP because she said I might have oral thrush caused by the chemo. It seemed a pretty fast side effect to me but I’ve been prescribed a mouthwash called Nystan. The hoarseness has improved a bit but my taste buds are now very confused. Taste changes are a side effect of chemo and things had already started to taste a bit different, so I’m not sure if it is the Nystan but everything now tastes very weird. I hope that doesn’t last long.

I am drained except when I want to be – all day through I long to sleep but late at night when I’d much prefer to be able to sleep my mind is racing and I have a spurt of mistimed energy. 

I’m still holding off on shaving my hair. In my head I’ve decided that as soon as it starts falling out I’ll finish the job off, but it’s still a daunting prospect. Getting rid of it in one go is not the same as losing it gradually over years plus the eyebrows and eyelashes will be falling out at the same time. I’m sure there was a Star Trek character with the sort of looks I’m going to end up with but I can’t remember which one. If only this was an episode of Star Trek. I remember the Emergency Medical Hologram in Star Trek Voyager merely dishing out a few pills to completely cure someone’s cancer. Imagine that, eh!

Uncertainty 

A few things have happened since I last wrote. The best was 12 days in Spain lazing on a beach all day every day with warm evenings spent in a beautiful little town with friends we had met during previous visits. None of us knew we’d be there at the same time and seeing all of them really made the holiday extra special for us. In fact, it was one of the best holidays we’ve had and for 12 days the bloody cancer went to the very back of my mind. It was great. Then we came back. 

Two days after returning I had my blood test and two days after that I saw my oncologist. The holiday was definitely over when I learned my PSA had gone up again since the previous blood test three months earlier. Not so much this time, but enough to prove that the last increase was not a blip. My PSA now stands at 0.556 (post surgery, post radiotherapy, and with hormones). We chatted about my situation and it was confirmed that I’ll be starting chemo soon. I would be starting this week but I’m awaiting a camera up my tail end (a sigmoidoscopy) to see if I have a problem there after having endured four days of excruciating pain about a month ago. I could have had the sigmoidoscopy done earlier but I went to Spain instead, and I’m glad I did. The worst of the pain has gone now, thankfully, although things have definitely changed down that end from the way they were.

I was a bit worried that at my last appointment I might have persuaded my oncologist to go down the chemo route, so asked her if she really thought that was my best option. She replied that if I was coming to her now, all fresh, as a new patient, that she’d be putting me straight on to chemo. That answered my question and gave me food for thought. I was given some more of the same a couple of days later when I was speaking to my Macmillan nurse who said, (and I’m paraphrasing and taking it out of context here), that I have advanced prostate cancer. I stopped her to make sure I’d heard right and she seemed a bit concerned, asking “has no one ever said that to you before?”.

No one had, but I wasn’t surprised to hear it and I told her so. I suspected the cancer was advanced in much the same way that I was pretty sure I had it long before I was told. When I was given my initial diagnosis, despite already knowing in my head, I was shocked to hear the words uttered. This time, though, there was no shock whatsoever and there still isn’t. As I explained to my nurse, for me it helps to have it confirmed because I now know which information I should be focussing on when I need to read up on something.

Despite not feeling any sense of shock my general situation was already unsettling me and I suppose that didn’t help. Everything is up in the air. I don’t like uncertainty and there’s too much of it right now. Sometimes I feel down and on the verge of tears. I’m not sure if my increased emotional state has come about as a result of the hormone therapy or if I’d be feeling like this anyway. My day to day tiredness and the further problems in my bowels mean that any short term plans involving others have to be made with the proviso that I might not turn up and long term plans are well and truly on hold until after the chemo. I’m told that I shouldn’t dwell on things. For “things“, read “cancer“. That’s easy to do if you haven’t got it and all the crap that goes with it but not so easy when you have.

One regular event that I do have in my online diary, bowels and fatigue permitting, is the cancer choir I wrote about a couple of posts back. I went to the first one last week. Loads of people turned up, mostly women who outnumbered the men 2 to 1, but I was one of over a dozen men who had cast caution to the wind and decided that it didn’t really matter any more if we disgraced ourselves with our singing voices. It was brilliant. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and I’m going back this week.

The choir takes place in Chelsea not far from a place where I briefly worked 40 years ago, the famous Royal Marsden Hospital, a centre of cancer excellence and expertise. In fact, the research side of the cancer choir is connected to the Marsden. I’m proud to say I worked in the most important department in the hospital. Doctors and nurses looked up to us and were forever calling to ask us questions to which they had no answer. I am, of course, referring to the wages department. We were located just across the road from the main hospital in what had once been a well to do residential property. I made a detour to walk past it on my way home last week and saw that it had been returned to its previous residential grandeur. When I worked there all those years ago I was a rebellious teenager who thought he’d live forever. I lived for my weekends, had no fear and never thought I’d be in the same situation one day as the many patients I saw walking through the hospital doors. That was another life and it all seems such a long time ago now.

Beating prostate cancer

“Riveting” and “stimulating” are two words I’d use to describe the Beating Prostate Cancer Roadshow that I went to in London on 3rd May. It started at 6pm and finished at 9pm, with a half hour break when we were fed and watered. If three hours sounds like a long time it wasn’t, it flew by, helped along by some very interesting speakers who didn’t try to blind anyone with science.

I wasn’t sure what to expect as I’d never been to anything like this before so I called in advance to ask if it was for patients. I didn’t fancy being the only one in a room full of boffins who didn’t speak Medicalese. I was assured the event was for everyone affected by prostate cancer – patients, carers, health professionals, the lot, and it turned out to be just that with a good mixture of people. 

There were eminent professors and surgeons and other assorted experts but there were also people like me who had had to learn fast what a prostate cancer diagnosis means. In our own personal ways we, too, were experts and, as it turned out, the ones in the “eminent” bracket were as anxious to learn from those of us directly affected by the disease as we were to learn from them. 

I heard about a few clinical trials and learned loads about what’s happening in trying to find a cure, but the big thing I discovered (big for me, I mean) is that clinical trials are for every patient. I thought that you were only offered a clinical trial if the doctor thought regular treatments wouldn’t work for you or that you were about to pop your clogs. I wasn’t the only one there who thought that clinical trials had an image problem. I reckon the medical research people and health professionals have a lot of PR work to do to get the correct message out to patients, particularly if they want to attract more of us on to trials.

In addition to the specialist speakers there were information stands, too, including Prostate Cancer UK, Cancer Research UK and the Medical Research Council and APPLE. No, not the Apple, but the Association of Prostate Patients in London and Essex. There were others that had info on a couple of current clinical trials – CHHiP and PATCH – but the focus of the event was the STAMPEDE trial. That was the main reason I’d gone, not because I’m going on to the trial (I’ve been told I don’t quite qualify) but because of something that’s come from one arm of it, the arm that gives Docetaxel (chemotherapy) at an earlier stage than usual. If my PSA continues to rise I might be starting Docetaxel in the summer so I thought this would be the ideal opportunity to find out more about it. As a bonus, I think I can pronounce it correctly now, as well.

There was also someone at the roadshow from the Royal College of Music who was looking for people affected by cancer, not just patients but carers, bereaved and staff, who wanted to take part in a research study exploring the effects of music on the experience of cancer. I was asked if I’d like to join a choir. I can’t sing to save my life (no pun intended) but was told that not being able to sing was no barrier to this particular choir as no musical experience is required, so I’ve put my name down for it. Next stop the Royal Albert Hall? Highly unlikely. I don’t think they realise just how bad my voice is. 

Where’s all my chest hair gone?

I looked in the mirror recently and there, looking back at me, was a 60 year old bloke with adolescent girl boobs and a bikini line to be proud of. I had been noticing the gradual changes happening to my body but they now all seem to have come together in a crescendo after creeping up gradually since I started taking Bicalutamide 10 months ago. 

I suppose gradual change is easier to get your head round than sudden and maybe everything’s come to the fore now because of the adverts all over the place about getting fit after Christmas. Whatever the reason, all the changes are playing on my mind more now than they were. 

The fuller boobs and the loss of most of my body hair are change enough, but there are also the rounder hips, sore nipples, a wider midriff bulge, feeling tired and taking ten times longer to write this than it should take because I can’t concentrate as well as a year ago. 

If I’d been asked before the cancer happened what would be a really bad side effect, a shortening of my “manhood” would have been near the top of the list. Now that the shortening has happened, due to the surgery not Bicalutamide, I’m amazed to find that I’m more pee’ed off with losing most of my body hair than any of the other things.

In fairness I had been warned about the changes that could happen to me but nothing I’d been told explained how the changes might actually make me feel. Everything is very matter of fact – you might lose your libido, you might gain weight, you might lose body hair, you might be moody, you might grow boobs – nothing that really explained how self conscious I might feel in intimate situations or that I’d feel like a plonker at the swimming pool or on the beach.

There are cancer information booklets on “body image” but the vast majority of information doesn’t strike me as being geared up for men, as though we wouldn’t be bothered about such things. Maybe the implication is that we shouldn’t be bothered, or am I being paranoid? Is paranoia another side effect of hormone treatment?

If having something about body image to refer to is helpful to women with cancer doesn’t it follow it might also be helpful to men? Having it there in front of me in black and white would be a validation and acknowledgement of what I’m feeling. Maybe a few pointers on how to handle the psychological side of changes to my body written from a male perspective with a male audience in mind would be supportive. 

If nothing else I think all men affected by cancer are worth more than a couple of paragraphs as an afterthought, which is what it feels like we’ve got at the moment.

It’s hard to rock ‘n’ roll when you’re falling asleep all the time

The hormone pills I’ve been on for the last 7 months have now resulted in me feeling totally exhausted.  Over the last 5 or 6 weeks I cannot believe how much of an effort everything has become. There are some days when I don’t feel too bad but for most of the time it’s an effort to move.  I’ve been feeling a bit emotional, too, although I haven’t yet burst into tears. Both the exhaustion and the simmering emotional volcano are down to the lack of testosterone. The pills I take stop my body from producing it as the prostate cancer feeds off it in order to grow and spread. No testosterone = no spread, in the short to medium term anyway. No testosterone also means no energy, hot flushes and a short fuse (à la menopausal woman, so I’m told). At some point my body will realise what’s going on, then find a way round it. Not yet though as my latest PSA blood test shows a further drop to 0.222. Not quite the zero that I’d like, but at least it’s not going up. 

I’ll see the oncologist this week when I’m hoping she’ll take me off the testosterone-killing pills so that we can all see if my latest 15 sessions of radiotherapy that finished a couple of months back have done what we hoped, which is permanently got rid of the cancer in my pelvic lymph nodes before it’s had a chance set up camp anywhere else in my lymphatic system. If I come off the pills my energy levels should rise, my mood should improve and I should get my body hair back. It’s not that I’m completely smooth, but lots has dropped out and I’ve noticed I’m a little rounder in places where men aren’t usually and I don’t like it. I’m geared up for the possibility that I might have to stay on them for a while longer and reminding myself that I would much rather be emotional, hairless and rounder instead of dead helps me to keep some perspective.

Feeling exhausted and drained did not prevent me from going to Spain for two weeks (not Llandudno as some believed!). While the change of scenery and the sunshine and warmth were very enjoyable and welcome it was also the quietest, most sedate, most uneventful holiday we’ve ever had. Not by choice but it’s hard to rock ‘n’ roll when you’re falling asleep all the time. To paraphrase Churchill I slept on the beaches, I slept in the fields, I slept in the streets and in the hotel room as well. Not even a continual procession of eye candy parading by on the naturist beach could keep me awake for long. I’ve been home about 10 days now and still I’m knackered.

As if things were not bad enough, a month before we went on holiday I announced we were getting a new car. OK, not so much announced as wore my partner down until he gave in and agreed. Our existing car is fine but I cannot get in and out of it easily anymore because it’s too low. I have to perform contortions in order to do so and it’s been getting steadily more difficult for a couple of years. Our existing car is also 12 years old and we’ve owned it for 10 years. Plus we’ve never had a new, new car, only second-hand ones. These are just some of the arguments I used to obtain consent for my latest obsession. Had he not agreed we would now not be awaiting the imminent arrival of our new Volkswagen, so I can firmly pin the blame on him. After all, I’m ill and am not thinking straight so it’s gotta be his fault. Hasn’t it? At least it’s not a diesel VW or he’d really be getting an ear bashing.

Who would you wish razor blades up the bum on? 

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.
 



Radiotherapy 2015 – 10 down, 5 to go

This year’s zapping is surprisingly bearable. I had expected something similar to last year’s side effects, which came on fast, were quite hard going and got worse throughout the 32 sessions and carried on for months after.

Comparatively speaking, I’m getting off lightly this time with just slight irritation when I pee, a mild upset stomach and slightly increased fatigue on top of what I already have from the hormone tablets that I take, meaning I now have to sleep for a couple of hours every afternoon. The one alarm bell that started ringing on Day 10 was an increase in my peeing frequency, especially during the night, but if it gets no worse it’s nothing I can’t live with for a while. I’m hoping that my weekend break from treatment will calm things down before I go into the final week. 

I live about 30 miles from where the radiotherapy takes place and after two weeks the daily journey becomes a bit tedious. I suppose that contributes to the tiredness I feel, but at least the route we take is picturesque through stereotypical English country lanes in full leaf at the height of summer. We pass through a couple of little villages that could have been plucked out of a brochure from Visit England. From the first day I’ve tried to pretend I’m on holiday and am going out for the day every day, which has involved wearing gaudy clothes whenever possible – by “whenever possible” I really mean weather permitting. That has extended even to socks and underpants. They are revealed in all their “where’s-me-sunglasses” glory when I remove my hospital gown and lay on the slab. Well, if you’ve got it, flaunt it or, in my case, if you used to have it, flaunt it.

By this time next week the radiotherapy will be over but the daily pill taking remains. With luck all my cancer will have been fried sufficiently to kill it, there won’t be any more anywhere else that’s too small to see on a scan, and I’ll be cured. I won’t know if that’s the case for quite a while, maybe 18 months or two years until I do, but I’m optimistic. I wouldn’t be in this positive and hopeful position were it not for our fantastic NHS but particularly my current medical team, all of whom have gone all out to get me to where I am. Whatever happens (!) I will always be thankful for what they’ve done.

Until I find out one way or the other, life goes on and we’re planning to get away again before the end of the summer. I might not be allowed to sit in the sun but I sure can sit under a beach umbrella and enjoy watching everybody else strutting their stuff (I thought the hormone pills were supposed to stop lustful thoughts). If prostate cancer’s effects on sexual function have had one positive consequence, it’s that no matter what’s going on in my mind I no longer have any embarrassing man-moments on the naturist beach, so I suppose it’s not all bad.

Up in the air, or six foot under?

Déjà vu! I’ve just had my second radiotherapy planning session, the first one was last year.

Once again I was chauffeur driven by my partner to the Berkshire Cancer Centre in Reading. Despite being very familiar familiar with the route after so many journeys there, we had Google Maps at the ready just in case we both simultaneously had a senior moment and got lost. 

I was geared up for a 2pm appointment and I think I might even have been early (I always try to be, but rarely succeed) had there not been a message waiting for me on the answerphone when I woke up bleary eyed at the crack of half past nine, which asked me to come in as soon as I could for a kidney function blood test first. I don’t remember having a kidney function blood test as part of last year’s planning session but this year, unlike last, I was going to have contrast dye injected straight into a vein, via a cannula, during the planning CT Scan, so I think it was to see if my kidneys could handle it. As the dye goes in it makes you feel like you’re peeing yourself. I’ve had that sort of scan before but, if you haven’t, the first time can be unsettling as you get that warm feeling in your loins that conjures up childhood memories best forgotten. With my medical condition there’s always a chance I really could be peeing myself, so it was a relief when it was finished to find I wouldn’t need a change of clothes. Unlike so many men who have had their prostates removed I’ve been extremely lucky never to have suffered from incontinence and long may it continue.

As well as the kidney function test and the contrast dye another difference this time, a major difference for me, was that I didn’t need to follow a special diet before the planning session and neither will I have to during the radiotherapy itself. I asked why and was told it was because the radiation this time is mostly being aimed at a slightly different area of my body with only some overlap and, although I’m still likely to have bowel and waterworks problems while I’m having treatment, this time it’ll be a case of adjusting my diet as I go along. Maybe this summer will not be so devoid of all those fabulous fresh summer fruits and salads like last year’s was. I really missed those summer treats. As things don’t always go according to plan I’m going to pig out on strawberries for the next two weeks to make sure I don’t miss out again.

The other difference from last year was being told how many sessions of radiation I’d be having. I thought it’d be 32 sessions every day Monday to Friday like last time, or maybe even less. Not so. The plan this time is for 37. It’s only another week’s worth so I daresay I’ll get through it. I’ve looked at the calendar and, allowing for 3 weeks to get over the worst of the side effects, I might yet get a last week in Spain before the weather turns. That’s my aim, anyway, and it’s good to have something nice to aim for.

I didn’t need more tattoos done this time, either. I was almost disappointed that last year’s marks were still clear enough to be used again. My three little dots are the only tattoos I’ve ever had (or wanted) but three more would have trounced the competition at the support group.

The things that didn’t change were the water drinking, kissing goodbye to my dignity and the really good staff attitude. Water – I have to be well hydrated and have a full bladder for both the planning and the treatment, which means constant peeing, too. Sorry to keep on mentioning my waterworks, but it goes with the territory. Dignity – (wot dignity!?). Just like last year’s planning session I had to bare almost everything. It was almost like being back on the beach in Spain, except that there I went the whole hog. All that was needed to complete the scene was a beach seller passing through shouting “Agua, Cerveza“. Staff attitude – at the risk of sounding creepy the people who work in the place are so friendly, helpful and nice. I remembered two by name from before and asked after them. Coincidentally I bumped into one 10 minutes later and she remembered me, too. The other I asked about, though, had left to become a lecturer at a University. 

We got away about four hours after we arrived. The actual planning session only takes about 10 minutes, but the blood test and waiting for the result took up some time as did the pre-planning question and answer session and then the wait for my bladder to refill before the scan. The only thing that marred the day was the traffic in Reading when we started making our way home. (Reading, get your act together, please)

I’ve been asked how I feel about having more radiotherapy and everything that’s happening. Not sure, really. On the one hand I feel very lucky. Not to have cancer, of course, but lucky that I’m getting more treatment and something is still being done to try to cure me or, if not cure me, give me more time. I remember my mum saying to me when I was a little kid “life is sweet”. I never truly understood what she meant until I got ill. On the other hand, physically I’m mostly OK but I’m tired and have quite a few aches and pains, which I’d probably have had anyway at the age of 60 even without cancer. Mentally I have started to feel pretty emotional and down at times. My male pride (it’s still there somewhere) makes me blame the hormone pills I’m on for that but I suppose everything having been up in the air for the last 3 years must have taken its toll. Who wouldn’t be emotional after everything that’s happened? I haven’t wrung anyone’s neck yet but my fuse is becoming ever shorter. Again I blame the hormone pills but maybe it’s stress. I wonder if this latest treatment will work and hope that it will, but who really knows? My view on it is that I’ll try anything, bar the crackpot stuff you read on the Internet. One thing I know for sure is that I’d rather be all up in the air for the next 20 or 30 years than six foot under the ground.