No photographs please

New Year, New Me. I hope so. I really don’t like what cancer and its treatments have done to me but the worst part, the part that’s obvious to others as well as to me I mean, is my appearance. That’s became more obvious over the Christmas break when many photos have been taken, photos with me in them, photos that I’ve seen. Jeeeez, talk about aged. While I’m thankful to have had chemo and everything else to keep this bloody cancer at bay I really could do without the fat face, the big gut and the bald head that comes with it as though it’s a job lot, which I suppose it is. I need to lose 20 kilos by next week. Admittedly I shouldn’t blame every kilo on cancer, but sod it, I will.

As far as the chemo after effects are concerned, things are getting better. I’ve got a lot of energy back, unfortunately not enough to venture out on New Year’s Eve though, my finger nails are looking less unsightly and the ridges are growing out and, although I still look bald, my hair does seem to be starting to grow a bit faster and my facial hair definitely is, but it’s still not beard material – I reckon it’d take me a couple of months to grow one. My legs look like I’ve shaved them but, weirdly, the hair on my arms never completely dropped out. In those areas where the sun should never shine I’m like a prepubescent kid now. While I’m hoping things return to their normal hairy state down there pretty soon I am not looking forward to the itching, prickly, scratchy stage. I thought I felt a bit queasy during the chemo but it’s only now that the sickly feeling has subsided that I realise just how bad it was. It’s amazing what you can get used to without realising it.

Despite the photographic injuries to my vanity the festive season has been pretty good, considering I only had my last chemo 6 weeks ago and my last steroid just 2 weeks ago. I managed to get to Brussels for a day the week before Christmas, something that’s become one of our traditions over the last few years. The main reason for going is to buy the now essential Christmas chocolates, one of the few things left that we don’t have all year round, along with Christmas Pudding and turkey. This time while strolling around we found a cosy little bar that we’d never been to before. Unfortunately we only had time for one drink in there before having to rush for the train home, but we’ll definitely be paying it another visit. The trip exhausted me so much that I slept for 11 hours solid that night, but the day was so satisfying that it was worth it.

A few things that I’d usually have done in the lead up to Christmas fell by the wayside this year, mainly connected with going out and seeing people. A case of the spirit being willing but the body saying “you must be joking”. Nevertheless we had a really good time. Nothing raucous, just chilling, no all nighters in the East End like we used to, if only we still could, but some long walks, lots of nice food and a little booze. I never did drink much and used to get sozzled on a pint, two at the most, but these days I just need to look at a bottle of booze and I start swaying. I’m a really cheap date if anyone’s into an ageing, fat, bald bloke. Next Christmas I hope to be a lot better. 

Happy, Healthy New Year everyone.

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Prostate Cancer can’t change your memories

As we approach the shortest day of the year I’m in reflective mood. I’m thinking of times gone by, of good times had and all those Christmases when I was a kid when the place was full of family and friends now long gone. We’ve put decorations up that are full of memories. We do it every year. They’re the old paper ones that my mum bought. Beneath them on a table sit old glass bowls brought out only at this time of year that my partner’s mum would fill with sweets, nuts, fruit and anything else that her six kids loved at Christmas. The tree’s different but the things that we put on it hark back to a different age, like the old glass baubles bought for half-a-crown in Woolworths, old fashioned non-glary, warm glow fairy lights and an angel at the top with wings that still have their glitter. The world that these memories evoke was one of stability, where nothing ever changed, where everything would be alright and if anything bad happened mum would sort it.

I haven’t written for months because there’s been too much going on and my head’s been in a whirl but all this reflection has fired up my brain and my typing finger. In the three years since I first started to feel ill change has become the norm. The latest change is that I’ve retired and, to be honest, I’d rather not have stopped working just yet but it became increasingly obvious that was my best choice. Some might say it was my only choice. The less said about that the better.

Life has changed and that’s a fact! It would have changed without the cancer, but cancer has hastened things. On the outside I don’t look that different. A bit more haggard for sure, a lot greyer, paler, but nonetheless relatively healthy looking. I’m forever being told how well I look by well meaning people and, compared to some, I am healthy but I’d rather people actually asked me how I felt because on the inside things are very different. I am still sore in some very personal places from the radiotherapy, I’m tired and I now get more tired doing everyday things than I ever did before. I now have to be very careful what I eat and drink for fear of “having an accident“. High fibre or spicy foods are a definite no-no! Caffeine and fizzy drinks worsen the waterworks although I am one of the lucky ones as I have suffered no incontinence and don’t (yet?) need to use pads. Long may that continue. I couldn’t imagine any of these things as a serious topic of conversation three years ago but now they’re an everyday consideration. I count myself as very lucky because I know other men with prostate cancer who are much worse off. It’s a horrible disease whose debilitating, life changing effects are not understood except by those involved.

I’ve never been afraid of change, in fact I’ve usually embraced it, but pace of change is something else and three months ago I knew I was going from being very stressed through to being depressed. The only times I’ve been stressed for more than the occasional short period is when a close family member has died and that has never turned into depression, yet here I was in a very dark place feeling like things were closing in on me. I knew I had to get help. My GP prescribed pills and I restarted the counselling that Macmillan Cancer Support had previously arranged, but which I’d stopped. They’ve both helped and I now feel much better in my head, which is just as well as I’ve recently been told that my PSA blood level is still going up despite the surgery and radiotherapy that I finished 5 months ago. I’m seeing my oncologist at the end of January and, if the PSA is still increasing then, that will mean more change. Fingers crossed it goes down!

So, as the Winter Solstice and the shortest day get closer I’m celebrating Christmas more for its Pagan, Druidic significance, for the good memories that can never change no matter what, for the promise it brings of longer days, shorter nights and on a personal level hope for a future where change arrives at a much more manageable pace.

Merry Yule