The Waiting Game

So we're back to it kids. 

After a lovely 10 weeks of relative freedom after my Radiotherapy ended on my birthday. (I travelled!, saw far away friends!, drank craft beer! and didn't see Bears!), I was back at the East Wing of Barts in the PET centre for my CT scan on Saturday morning.

The lead lined room of fun was there to determine if the 20 sessions of zapping have actually killed the two spots of cancer activity left in my surgery and chemo ravaged body.

*New readers, 1) Hello! 2) I have Mediastinal germ cell cancer originating from a Testicular Teratoma way back in 1998*.  

The spots are on my right lung and my left pelvis. So we're hoping that this treatable but bloody resistant to be killed totally cancer has been well and truly got this time. 

I'm waiting now to see my consultant on Thursday 18th for the results. So I'm in an existential limbo right now. At the moment I'm feeling healthier than I have for almost all of the last two years. I'm riding my bike every day, I'm back at work full time and I've enough energy to see friends on the weekend. Also my hair is back! I feel vaguely normal again (and normal is the holy grail for any cancer patient). There are still problems, my voice is not great and gets tired easily, and I go to Guy's tomorrow morning to pick up my hearing aids. That's the price (and it's a heavy one) of entry to live my life. I'm gladly paying it and having lots of fun again. 

So I'm not sure how I'll take the news if it's not great. How will I feel if there's more treatment to be had, or in my 3am insomnia thoughts, no more treatment to be offered? After 3 different sets of chemotherapy, A 7 hour heart and lung operation, two stem cell transplants, losing my hair three times, and a month of radiotherapy.  I'm so sick of it all now it's tempting to say NO MORE, and take what comes. I think my body could probably just about take another round of chemo (if, and there might not be, a different combination of cytotoxins available for me) or radiotherapy. I'm really lucky that I work two minutes away from my hospital so I could keep on working (and importantly paying the rent) if that happens.

Psychologically I think I may be close to done though. Cancer's hardest battle is in your head and I'm thoroughly bored/tired with it now. My cancerversary (sic) is only 7 weeks away and to think I still would be in treatment would be devastating. Two years of my life constantly trying not to die is exhausting. I've friends going through similar treatments now to what I've had and they're handling it with a lot more grace, humour and dignity than I ever did. 

I've had a brilliant summer seeing some great sights and hanging out with my favourite people in the world. The luxury of not having to be in a hospital / GP surgery is wonderful. 

God this blog has turned into a bit of a downer hasn't it? But I'd say I'd always be as brutally honest on these pages as possible and that's what I'm doing.

I'm sure I'll find it in me somewhere to keep on trucking with it all. Too many people are invested in my life for me to ever give up. I'll keep going until I can't anymore, it's just a lie to say that it's an easy thing to do. So forgive me if we meet in the next week and I'm a grumpy git (some of you may not even notice a change). As Pete Tong says "We Continue!" I'm just sick of this bloody record. 

Currently I'm...Watching the Olympics...reading Rebecca Solnit's "Hope in The Dark"..listening to Chance the Rapper "Coloring Book"



Brexit and Cancer

A week on and it's not getting any better is it?

I'm trying to wake up everyday and be positive but I can find at least three news stories in three minutes which would be headline news on any other summer day, apart from June 2016. We've set fire to our own house and each day instead of water hoses and fire trucks, a Shell tanker full of premium unleaded arrives. 

I'm not going to rant about the result and political fallout, because there are far better people out there to do that (I'd follow @jimwaterson of Buzzfeed News, @juliamacfarlane of BBC Politics and @DavidAllenGreen FT law blogger for the latest good info) and it's changing by the second. Anything I write this Wednesday evening will be out of date if you're reading this on Thursday morning. Also I'm not a political hack I'm a travel one, and through circumstances detailed here a reluctant cancer specialist. So I'm focusing my anger and frustration on that. 

So if (and it's a big if) Brexit goes ahead and Article 50 is triggered what does that mean for us cancer folks? How will our treatment be affected?

Firstly, this tweet on Friday morning from the head of Barts HR got my attention:

Michael Pantlin @Michael_Pantlin

Our 1700 colleagues and friends from EEA@NHSBartsHealth need to know how much we value them today

7:14 AM - 24 Jun 2016

or all the bluster in the campaign about funding for the NHS, no one really talked about the staff. Ending freedom of movement will have serious consequences for the staffing of hospitals. This number quoted is only EEA staff by the way at *one* Trust, not including the many workers from West Africa and East Asia. As some of the nastier elements of the Leave vote think they've got a victory for the idea of forced repatriation, this is  really worrying if you are a patient or staff in the system.  I personally don't care where my doctors and nurses come from, I just want them to be well trained and enough of them not to be stressed and tired all the time.  Also I don't want them to fear getting abused on the way to work just because they might look or sound different. 

Already the Brexit vote is having an effect on NHS Staff recruitment

Secondly, pulling out of the EU will have serious implications on Cancer research  and co-operation as this article in the Indy points out

This is a potentially horrific outcome as science and particularly Cancer research is not about nerds hunkered down in individual sealed off labs anymore but constant collaboration and development. If that gets taken away then we're all the poorer for it.  The fairytale that the money we pay for the EU will now be spent on research was  nicely debunked  in a tweet by a consultant Neurosurgeon: 

Dr Anita M. Sharma (@ImAnitaSharma):

Ive spent my career working on cancer research; only pos by EU funding. I hope Brexiters realise devastation this will cause to medicine

 And thirdly, funding for the NHS and cancer treatment will be affected  as we've just probably put ourselves into a recession of our own making.

The cost of borrowing has just gone up as we've lost our AAA rating, Treasury income will certainly drop as contracts and work head overseas, cost of capital expenditure projects like new Hospitals  will rise, so the funding gap for the NHS will increase. Without the tax reciepts more Austerity and cuts to the NHS will happen, not less.  As I believe a lot of the Brexit  vote was gained on the genuine concern about the lack of GP and hospital provision, the irony of the Leave vote is that this will make matters a lot worse than better.  

None of this was due to our membership of the EU by the way, but on policies of our current government.  The EU was just a really good scapegoat. Add in a fact free campaign and notions of sovereignty and "Take our country back"  and you've got a lethal mix. 

As a cancer patient and likely to be one for a good while yet, I'm genuinely frightened about what we've just done. This will have a profound effect on cancer care and provision.  I don't think most who voted  Leave really understood the full implications of what was involved. We're just getting started on working out what it all means. In the meantime we have no effective government or opposition, and the house still continues to burn.

*End of Rant*

PS. I'm ok thanks. I'm enjoying this small window of opportunity to travel and I'm back at work full time.  I'm seeing my consultant next Thursday for a general check up and bloods, and getting my hearing aids fitted the week after that at Guys.

Currently I'm... Banging my head against the wall in disbelief....Also I liked Chvches set at Glasto. 


Time off for good behaviour

This is the first week in almost a year where I haven't had any medical appointments. No doctors, consultants, therapy or treatments. I keep double checking my notebook and phone to make sure I haven't missed anything. I even found myself going through my lever-arch files making sure there wasn't a letter I'd missed reading.  I think I've become institutionalised. Like Brooks in the Shawshank redemption,  I've forgotten how to act in the real world  (although I can go to the loo without asking permission). My next Consultant appointment is not until 7th of July, and barring picking up a summer flu I won't be in hospital again until the Big Scan at the start of August. It's a weird feeling. 

So to recap  the last six weeks (apologies for my lazy blogging). I finished my 20th and final Radiotherapy session on my Birthday in mid-may. All went well but my thinking that it would be a walk in the park compared to chemo / surgery was naive to say the least. Just because there's no veins being opened doesn't mean nothing is happening. Cells are still being targeted and your immune system is working overtime. It leaves you feeling shattered. Many times in my month of zapping I didn't want to go in to Barts. I wanted to stay in bed watching "Homes under the Hammer" and listening to the sessions on Lauren Laverne's 6 music show. As always though Barts is a big ol' perspective machine, and patients were being wheeled in on chairs and beds. If they can do it, I bloody well can. So you grit your teeth, exchange jokes with the receptionists in the basement and get on with it. 

The day after it finished and with the blessing of my Radiology consultant I jumped on a Ryanair special from Gatwick to West Cork. I spent 5 days driving around the hills and mountains, eating seafood and watching some brilliant local musicians. I slept for at least 10 hours a day and still felt knackered but it was good to escape. 

So back in London it was another round of Hospital visits, notably to Guy's where I met an ear surgeon who confirmed my deafness caused by one of my chemotherapy drugs, Cisplatin. My low levels are still ok , but mid range and treble are all gone. So I'll be soon fitted with hearing aids which should help. I'm finding it really difficult to be in noisy pubs or hold conversations in cars. I'm an expert in reading the acoustics of a place now. I'm really not a fan of the whole warehouse, stripped down aesthetic. Exposed brick and pipes just mean the sound bounces around and doesn't get absorbed. An old man's pub with leather benches and partitions is so much better.  If you want to find me at gigs I'll be one the one next to the Bass Bins. 

 I also saw my oncologist who was happy with all my blood counts. My ACP count which measures the amount of cancer activity in my  blood is now back to normal and my platelets and red/white cell counts have recovered from the last series of chemo. Until the PET CT scan in August to see if the radiology was a success, there's not much else to do.

I'm using this brief window of opportunity to try and go see as many of my friends as possible. Cancer treatment leaves you so exhausted most of the time you don't have the energy for visits. Often a trip to the local library and a coffee stop can leave me knackered for the rest of the day. As I don't know what's going to come in August though (there is always the spectre of more treatment over the hill)  that I'm travelling as much as possible. I was in Bristol and North Wales last weekend, before that Warwickshire. Next month I'm excited to be going to Colorado for two weeks to play in the Rockies and drink craft beer. Amazingly the US government has granted me a Visa. So I'm going to go before they change their mind / Trump becomes president. 

Also happily I'm still back on my bike plodding around on the new cycle superhighways. I get out of breath really quickly, and the lycra warriors are always impatient to overtake me. I don't care though, the feeling of freedom and normality to be able to get around without being on a bus or the back of a cab is great. Having Cancer is something that is going to be with me for a long time to come. I'm fed up of it dictating every part of my life, so doing something as simple as riding to Sainsbury's is almost a revolutionary act right now.

Even if the scans come back ok, I'll still be under strict monitoring and checks for the next year before my consultant will be happy. This is my reality. I just have to get on with it, and make the best of my time off for good behaviour.  

Currently I'm...watching Euro 2016, and cheering on Iceland!...reading "The Idiot Brain" by Dean Burnett, a great look at how our minds work...listening to Tegan and Sara "Love you to Death" great stuff from the Canadian duo.

The Next Episode..

Well this is a very belated blog post, nearly two months after the last one. But like the British winter I am so how still here, and on to the next phase of the treatment for the Cancer That Will Not Die (tm).

Since I last scribbled on these pages, I've finished my course of Chemotherapy and started on a four week stint of Radiotherapy. The chemo was as dull, boring and tiring as it always was. Subsequently I've managed to lose my hair for the third time, and my hat collection is still in full use. 

What's new is the exciting world of Radiotherapy. Images of lasers and James Bond films come to mind, but the reality of the process is a bit more prosaic than that. The Monday after I was finished with the Chemo I was in the basement of Barts having a CT scan to determine exactly what areas need to be zapped. Once this was done I had 6 small marker tattoos (3 for my lung, 3 for my pelvis) applied. I asked for a Tiger but  apparently they don't do requests. This was so the machine, called a linear accelerator (linac) knows exactly where to line up on your body, so it doesn't irradiate the wrong bit of you, leading to pain / death.  

 After a couple of weeks rest to let my immune system recover from the poisoning I embarked on the course of Radiotherapy. It's 20 sessions in total of weekday zapping treatments. I'm halfway through having done 10 now. The process goes something like this. You arrive in Barts basement and get allocated a machine. My one is called Mars (they're all named after planets) and is a temperamental little sod. Three times in the last week it's not worked properly or gone on strike in support of the junior doctors. This is a pain as they have to fit those patients in to another machine, which causes long delays. 

Anyway if the linac machine is working, you get undressed down to your pants and socks put on one of those stupid gowns with the gaping hole at the back. Then you lie on a bench and the technicians line you up using green lasers (see a bit James Bond like). This is basically being man-handled by the team into a position which you then have to stay in and *NOT MOVE FROM* Like playing a terrible game of statues. Once you're in the right position the linac goes to work blasting the cancer cells with concentrated radiation, in the hope of breaking down the tumour and killing it. As I have two sites, I get my lung done first. Then we stop half way through to set up the machine in a different way to do my Pelvis. If everything goes to plan you can be done in 30 minutes. If not you can be there for hours hating everything. 

I  was stupid enough to think that this was going to be a doddle compared to the chemo. In a way it is, there's less throwing up for a start. I'm cycling in everyday (5 miles) and continuing to go to work. The process doesn't hurt but it is bloody knackering though. I'm sleeping up to 10 hours a day at the moment just trying to get enough rest. My consultants are happy with the progress and hopefully when this treatment finishes on my birthday *cough* 16th May *cough* I'll be not needing treatment for a bit/some time / who knows* *delete as appropriate. 

As a treat to myself, the day after my treatment I'm off to West Cork in Ireland for a week to drink whiskey, read Yeats, look at the sea and have a mini-breakdown. 

So that's you up to speed. Everything is dull and repetitive but we're slowly getting there.

Currently I'm...still getting over the last Episode of Line of Duty.. listening to The Hamilton Soundtrack..riding on the new cycle superhighway. Bike infrastructure finally comes to London! 

All in the mind..

So what do you think of when you hear the word 'Mindfulness'? If like me you only knew it from buzzy articles in newspaper weekend supplements you'd probably dismiss it as a trend of the week, like clean food blogs or adult scooters. If you bothered actually to read any of those articles you'd here phrases like "being in the now" and "awareness" written next to a picture of a young women sitting on a yoga mat, on an island looking out in to the Aegean sea. (I know because I've met them, probably in Hvar Croatia, whilst being Mindful, you can guarantee that in the evening they'll be blasted on vodka mixers dancing to Euro House). So when late last year my clinical psychologist suggested that I attend a Mindfulness group organised at Barts, I was appropriately sceptical.

 In my brain addled post hi-dose chemo state I went along though. Mainly to get myself out of the house to be honest, but also to prove that I am open minded to such things. We all like to say we are "open minded" because it sounds nice. It's another thing entirely to commit to eight Thursday mornings to find out if you actually are. So even though a lot of what's been written about it pushes my buttons in the wrong way (mysticism, prominence of Eastern over Western philosophy, Tibetan Bells) I thought it would be good to experience it for myself.

So what is it then? Well the blurb we got in week one "Mindfulness is a way of being more present and aware" so far so psych 101. It's founded in Buddhist philosophy, though thankfully this was a secular approach on the course. I would describe it as using psychological techniques to examine what's happening in your mind so you can make better choices and decisions. As the autumn had well and truly scrambled my brain, anything that could give me a sense of control was worth a go. Well that's the theory at least, in practice it is somewhat different. 

Each week started with a meditation. I've never done it before, some in the group had (all were there because of Cancer). Just stopping the chatter in your head for a second is a really hard thing to do. Especially when then voice in your head is a bloody critical one narrated by Ian Paisley (see previous blogs for details). So it took a few weeks to get the hang of it. Even then some meditations were easier to get than others. The temptation to scold yourself when your mind wanders to something else, like what you need from Sainsbury's, is quite intense. One of the useful things I did pick up on was that that was no big deal. It's just a thought. It happens all the time. The purpose of the meditations is to try and ground you in the present and become more aware of your actual state by observation. This can be tricky as we're all programmed to keep thinking backwards and forwards, what has happened and what's to come. To just be present in this moment is a weird sensation and it takes a lot of practice.

Another concept that was taught to us that 'Thoughts are not Facts'. This was probably the biggest thing I took away from the course. When you go through any trauma, particularly a chronic disease, your thoughts can be full of negative experiences. There is no getting away from it. I go to hospital three times a week, see my GP regularly and get reams of letters through the post. It dominates your waking life (and with the joys of Chemo induced insomnia, it can dominate your sleeping hours). This can give you the belief that all that negatively *is* your life. So to understand that thoughts are impermanent and different from facts is quite a revelation. Giving space to other thoughts apart from Cancer ones is something which is really valuable. Being a Cancery person doesn't mean that's all you are. There's lots more going on, despite all the crap.

As well as the meditation practice we were also given weekly challenges. These ranged from taking time out in Nature, recording 10 things you are grateful for that day (recommended) to the more problematic "Random Acts of Kindness" This is where I lost my way a bit with the course. It's a trite bumper sticker slogan for people who want to sound profound on Facebook.  It was a task to connect yourself to the wider world through kindness. I think if you can't open a door for someone or buy them a coffee once in a while you're a bit of a dick, whether doing it Mindfully or not. 

Overall I think it was worth my time to go and do the course. The two psychologists leading it were friendly, enthusiastic and helpful. The others attending were all game to give it a go and it was really interesting to see how they experienced it (and I don't think I'm a "group person" it reminds me of Fight Club, and no one wants Meat Loaf crying on their shoulder).  Am I more mindful as a result? I'm not sure, but it's certainly given me more tools to use in my armour, which can never be a bad thing.

Currently I'm... Riding my bike again! I went for a spin this morning and it was great....Watching Hail Caesar! The Coen brothers romp through the Golden Age of Hollywood.. Listening to The Verb, poet Ian MacMillan's show on Radio 3.

Everybody's Talkin'

So this morning I did a talk to 30 psychology PhD students at the University of East London at Stratford. It was a fun thing to be invited to do. 

Here's some useful links I talked about. 

John Underwood's Blog :-

Rowenna Kincaid's Programme 

@TechnicallyRon's Mental Health site

If you were there and want to ask any questions I'm on or twitter @michaelormerod. 

Full Blog to follow.. 

World Leader Pretend

Cancer, like any other illness is a bore - Alan Bennett

Things that have happened to me that have generated more sympathy than in Hull in January - Matt Haig - Reasons to stay alive

Have you noticed everything's gone really Cancery right now? Not just just the celebrity deaths (does anyone *not* die of Cancer these days? Where art thou heart disease?) But the campaigns for funding seem to be ever present, the TV ads more frequent, charity events every weekend? I know part of this is cognitive bias on my part. The more you are invested something, the more you will seek it out even unconsciously. But really it's getting so prevalent now it's hard to turn off from.

I know the irony of writing this on World Cancer Day. It's a great campaign which I obviously support. Awareness is important, but action is vital. Do you feel a lump on your breast? Go see your Doctor. Have a cough you can't shift? Go see your Doctor. Feeling run down and lethargic? Go see your bloody Doctor. Half of all people born after 1970 will get cancer at some point in their life. It's not a strange boogey man which only affects others. It will affect you or someone you love. Them's the facts, we just have to deal with it. I at the moment whish I could get away from it all. Not read about a famous person "bravely battling" the disease, not have Philips corps promote CT scans on my Twitter feed or Cancer Research UK do heart wrenching videos on my Instagram when I just want to look at cats and cycling photos.

Talking of campaigns, Time to Talk has been trending all day on my social feeds. It's again a great idea to get more people to talk about mental health issues. I haven't talked too much about my own mental state as it's weirdly easier to talk about chemo drugs, losing hair and vomiting than it is about your brain. What goes on when all your neurons fire is deeply complex and slightly baffling. Are your thoughts real, or just thoughts? The process that made them is real enough. As with most people I have good and bad days but amplified because I have a chronic illness. My stressful day will be compounded by dealing with all the cancer stuff. So when last autumn I was told my treatment hadn't been successful, I went and sought help in coping with it. I'm lucky in having a great GP, brilliant McMillan nurse and fantastic psychology team at Barts. I go to therapy and Mindfulness sessions every week to pick through the maze of emotions and thoughts that week has thrown up. Everyone should have access to the same care as I'm getting, but they don't and it's a scandal. 

So all this is a roundabout way of saying I've managed to get through the first week of this phase of treatment OK. The chemotherapy hasn't left me too exhausted. I've gone to work and kept all my hospital appointments. I'll keep on doing that until I can't, because I don't know any other way right now.

Currently I'm... Listening to the new Bloc Party album, Hymns...watching David Englemans The Brain on BBC4... Reading up on Radiology.. I get to have a tattoo!


So when I look at my own life, you know, I have to admit, right, that I've-I've never been around a bunch of guns or violence, you know, not really. No political intrigue or a helicopter crash, right? But my life, from my own point of view, has been full of drama, right? - Ethan Hawke - Before Sunset

“I've been thinking with my guts since I was fourteen years old, and frankly speaking, between you and me, I have come to the conclusion that my guts have shit for brains.” - Nick Hornby - High Fidelity

Do you have a favourite story ? A book that you can keep coming back to? Maybe it's a classic like Dickens or Bronte or you're going back to War and Peace and the lavish BBC 1 Sunday night adaptation (I cheated and listened to the mammoth Radio 4 adaptation in a chemo induced psychosis last Christmas). Or it could be classic sci-fi, or comedy like Wodehouse, or Scandi-Noir. Whatever floats your boat its a great comfort to wrap yourself in characters you know inside out and a storyline which is familiar. 

Now imagine you are locked in a room with only that book for company. There is nothing else. And you have to keep reading that story over and over. Soon the characters you love will become annoying, the narrative which flowed will become jarring, the concept of the whole thing will get you reaching for the matches. Well cancer is my book and I'm tired of reading it. Actually It's an audio book and it's being narrated by the most annoying voice in the world. In my case it's the late Rev. Ian Paisley, ex leader of the DUP, noted god-bother, homophobe, sexist, racist and with voice that would wake the dead. The voice is constant now telling me everything is wrong, and that I've failed and useless. The voice says I'm not going to be ever clear of The Cancer That Will Not Die (tm).  The voice is exhausting. 

To recap these last couple of weeks. After a check-up clinic where they test your tumour markers in the blood, mine came back as going up. The first thing they do is a retest, to make sure it wasn't a contaminated sample. When that came back positive, it was time to get rescanned. First off was a trip to Whitechapel and the Royal London's MRI imaging centre. This was to check no cancer had spread to my kneck or brain. You are strapped on to a moving bed and put in a head brace for around 30 minutes. The machine spins magnets around at such a rate the whole thing vibrates like German techno. The next day it was back to Barts and the PET CT centre. Here they inject you with radioactive marker, sit you in a lead lined room for an hour then put you through a CT machine for deep tissue analysis. This helps the doctors find out where specifically the cancer activity is coming from. In my case there's a nodule on my lung and a small patch on my pelvis.

So back to Clinic to find out the plan. After 15 months of treatment involving chemotherapy, surgery, high dose chemotherapy and stem cell therapy, I had a deep worry  that there wasn't going to be many options left. My consultant is a sociopathic genius though and isn't going to give up that easily. So yesterday I started a course of Epirubicin and Oxaliplatin. I'm having four sessions of this chemotherapy and then I'll have about 21 days of radiotherapy. Luckily this time it will all be done as an outpatient so I can try and keep working, going to the gym and my therapy sessions. I'm so tired of having cancer being the dominate story in my life that doing *anything* else is a real blessing. It takes so much of your time up (I was in Barts for 6 hours on Tuesday and Thursday just to get ECG and Echo Heart scans). 

I'm going to Mindfulness sessions to try and gain some control of the voice and not let it take over the whole of my life. It's a kind of meditation technique to become more aware of what you are thinking, so in theory you can make better choices about how you react to them. It's for cancer patients and so it's comforting to know other people are going through the same thing. My rationalist / sciency brain has difficulty with the more spiritual side of the thing. One of the two group leaders Susan brought out some Tibetan bells last week and i was really tempted to walk out. If anything smells of Dolphin sounds or Enya I'm not going to participate. 

So my plans for the early part of this year have been derailed some what. But I'm determined to keep leading as much of a normal life as I can. The one thing I managed to do was go see friends and family and find out about their lives again. It was really good. I'm fortunate to know some really great people from loads of different walks of life. From scientists to comedians, actors and musicians to teachers and activists, medical specialists to TV and Radio folk. What is your story? I'm keen to hear about your latest work or creation. It's bound to be great and interesting. I want to hear other voices and perspectives, more I hate my story at the moment, and its being narrated by Ian fucking Paisley.

Contact me with your tales on Facebook, Twitter @michaelormerod Instagram @michaeljormerod or email michaeljormerod[@]gmail[dot]com.

Currently I'm...  Listening to Savages new album...Reading the Ladybird book of Mindfulness... Watching BBC4's Music Mogals series.

Blue Monday*

So this week has been pretty terrible in Cancer news. Although however hard you took the news of David Bowie and Alan Rickman dying spare a thought for Celine Dion. She lost her husband and her brother both to throat cancer in two days of each other this week. After the initial shock and sadness at the loss of two brilliant creative talents I spent a lot of this week looking at the way the media reacted and how it shows our relationship to Cancer.

At first there were heartfelt tributes from those that worked with Bowie and Rickman. 6 music did a very good job on Monday with Shaun Keavney and Lauren Laverne playing some great music linked with anecdotes from the listeners. People on my social media timelines expressed shock and then admiration for a life well lived (shall we gloss over Tin Machine?). 

Then the first glimmers of a backlash started, primarily by Sunday Times writer Camilla Long stating on her Twitter that the outpouring of sentiment was inappropriate and we all should grow up. Someone then awkwardly found an old post of hers from when Michael Jackson died and she stated that she was crying to 'Earth Song'. Policing grief can be difficult when facts get in the way. My main problem apart from thinking you should dictate how people grieve is bloody crying  Earth Song? It's a terrible dirge and one that Jarvis Cocker was right to protest at the Brit Awards. I'm not sure Jackson would like to be remembered like that when you've recorded stuff like Dirty Diana.

The next meme to bubble up was the fact that both Bowie's and Rickman's illnesses were not common knowledge. The tabloids went with " 18 month secret battle with cancer" which for a number of reasons is false. Just because the media doesn't know doesn't make it secret. His family knew, his band mates playing on "Black Star" knew, and I'm pretty sure his doctors knew. That is not secret, its just not splashing your illness over the cover of OK! Magazine. People handle having a critical illness in many different ways. Both Bowie and Rickman got on with what they did best, creating and let the work be their legacy. Better that than a mawkish interview in a Sunday paper.

Lastly is the use of adjectives like "heroic" "battle" and "brave" in describing their conditions. It's almost a default setting when writing about cancer. For all we know they could have spent their last days bawling their eyes out in a foetal position. It's our own fear of death and dislike of talking about it which makes these words come out. It's problematic because it implies that people who survive illness had enough fight in them, and that those who lives are ended, haven't. This is patronising and deeply wrong. Cancer happens to everyone without discrimination. Whether you're rich or poor, brave or cowardly or multi-award winning stars of stage, screen or music. Bravery and fight have nothing to do with it. That's the scary thing we don't want to face. Even the big Cancer charities are now playing on this meme and its bloody annoying.

Anyway let's hope we can have at least a week off from high profile cancer deaths. 

Currently I'm... Watching Jessica Jones on Netflix... Listening like everyone else to Black Star..reading Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari.

* Close followers of this blog will have realised that every post is a title of a song. So this one is referencing New Order not that bollocks pseudo depression January bollocks. See this by Ben Goldacre on why. Have a lovely Monday M x

Get Better..

So without too much aforethought I took the month of December off from this blog. I decided I needed to live a bit and get out in to the world. The last fifteen months have been pretty full on and it was nice to step back from it all and try to begin to take stock. Having cancer is like a dDOS attack on your life. Everything normal stops. Now (hopefully) I'm free of treatment for a while I can pick up the pieces of my life and see if they still make a picture. Like doing a 3000 piece jigsaw drunk. Anyhoo I'm not going to try and sum up this last year or so because where do you start? So like all start of January articles let's look forward to the year ahead. Lest anyone think I don't know how to jump on the passing bandwagon.

Resolutions patently don't work and you'll be back to your same old self by the 14th. So instead I'm focusing on what I love to do and y'know doing more of it in 2016. Here goes;

1)Get healthy - kinda an obvious one to start with but crucial to my well being. I'm sticking at the gym, it's not as grim as I thought it would be. Also I've gained nearly 5 kilos since discharge so something is working. Only another 10 to go! Mental health is also a big goal this year. Chemo scrambles your brain better than most things, so being more 'mindful' this year is essential.

2) learn to cook - like properly. I'm 40 so I'm not completely crap, but I've a long way to go. I'd like to be able to  bake more than a crumble and actually get rice right.

3) Live entertainment - I missed this a lot during illness. Going to a gig or a show is great and as I live in London pretty much any genre and style from music to comedy and theatre comes through town. So I'm going to go to as much as I can in 2016. Green Man festival anyone?

4) Travel - Last year was the first time in about 17 years I didn't leave the country for some adventure or shenanigans. I missed this too. I've already planned an America trip for July but want to go to some other new places too.

5) Reading & Writing - Chemo killed my reading in 2015. I read maybe 6 novels the entire year. I'll be making up for lost time this year. It did though get my arse in gear with writing this blog. So I'm going to keep this up and chart the whole recovery process. I enjoy writing this stuff so I'll be going more of it. Maybe pitching again to editors if I can get the motivation again.

6) Dating - Oh.Dear.God. The thought of it is as scary as getting a central line fitted. But who wouldn't want to date a guy who's half deaf, speaks like Mariella Frostrup after a hard night on the gin and has more psychological baggage than a Heathrow carousel. A top catch surely?!

Anyhoo that's enough to be getting on with right now. So happy new year and let's see what 2016 has in store.

Currently I'm... Listening to top French tune merchants... Reading Einstein and the Art of Mindful Cycling by Ben Irvine...Watching Portlandia on DVD.."Have you read..??"

I want to ride my bicycle.

So I had some time to kill between seeing my psychologist and my speech therapist yesterday, I headed to the Design Museum. A new exhibition launched last week called 'Cycle Revolution' which charts the latest developments in cycle design. Over the whole of the first floor a whole host of bikes were displayed, from Chris Boardman's 92 Lotus, Brad Wiggins Paris - Roubaix Pinarello to folding bikes like the Brompton. It was thoughtfully laid out and included little video interviews with cycling advocates like Sir Norman Foster and Paul Smith. They were all cheer leading for more bike use in our cities and making quite a compelling case for why. More and more of us are living in cities and bikes are a great way of easing congestion and getting people fit. 

I miss riding my bike. Even in a scary city like London it offers freedom and convenience like nothing else. As I was crammed into a Victoria Line train to Euston this morning I realised how much more preferable being out on the road is. Don't get me wrong I'm well aware how dangerous cycling can be and have had two accidents myself. Luckily in both cases no one was seriously harmed and my bike only had some minor scratches. My aim with the gym is to get my lungs working well enough by March that I can ride my bike to work again. It's a 5 mile jaunt through the back streets of Walworth and Borough, over Southwark Bridge and past St Paul's Cathedral to my studio in Farringdon. A couple of times construction lorries have nearly hit me but in general it's a safe and quick way to travel to and from work. Also the north - south cycle superhighway is being built between Elephant and Castle and Mount pleasant so that should help my journeys across the river as well. Cancer can rob you of the things you enjoy most in life, but I'm determined to wrestle them back, one by one.

Currently I'm... Speeding north on a Virgin train to Glasgow. This blog is bought to you courtesy of First Class free Wi-Fi. I'm taking Richard Branson for everything he's got!

New Adventures in Hi-Fi

Gyms are weird. People pushing machines. Hipster bearded muscle men staring at themselves, sadly. Time and mortality smiling invisibly - Matt Haig.

Thank God for Spotify. I've been given my recovery programme at the gym by the genial assistant manager, Hughie. It includes a whopping 30 minutes of cardio. So to alleviate the boredom I've asked my friends for some gym appropriate music. This morning my session on the treadmill was accompanied by some interesting french electronica. This takes my mind off the very utilitarian surroundings of my gym. It's not the most aesthetically pleasing building to say the least. Think of a council office in east Berlin circa 1974. Inside is not much better, strip fluorescent lighting shines on rows of machines. The room is divided roughly in half with the cardio and resistance machines on the left, free weights and sparring area on the right. I'm very much a to-the-left person. The guys who bear right are scary and big, arms bigger than my thighs big. I don't know how much extra help these guys (and it is all guys) take, but WADA would have a field day if they ever dropped by. 

Saying all this, I'm enjoying the experience. After months of feeling weak and miserable, it's great to get my muscles moving again. I miss riding my bicycle terribly and so hopefully I can train enough so I can be back on the road by March. Also there's an opportunity of going to the U.S Rockies in the summer, which would need me to really be fit, so these are goals I'm aiming for. 

Post gym I wandered through Camberwell and ended up at the new library again. It's fast becoming my favourite building in the area. It's full of brand new books chosen with care and thought. I picked up this years MAN booker prize winner Marlon James' A brief history of seven killings, and a rare Douglas Coupland book, The age of earthquakes. It's a bit overwhelming actually. I saw about 20 books I want to read and had to escape back home before I checked out more than I could carry. I think I'm trying to make up for lost time. 

Currently I'm.. Watching Arena's excellent documentary Night and Day celebrating 40 years of the arts programme...Listening to Death, Sex and Money podcast from WNYC.

Where is My Mind

Cancer is a particularly cruel beast when it comes to patients mental health. Physically the toll is great, but mentally can be just as tough. Not just the fact that cancer is your own cells rebelling against you, but the treatments are a particularly harsh water torture. In my last stay in hospital I left my room precisely two times in three weeks. Solitary confinement prisoners get better treatment. Most of the time I was hooked up to intravenous drips so I was confined to bed. Chemotherapy also stripped me of my ability to concentrate on anything for any period of time, soreading books was out, as was watching films. 

All this makes dealing with Cancer a profoundly depressing experience. The lows can get pretty low and I found myself wondering how I was going to cope with another day / week / month of harsh treatment and endless hospital visits. Now I've finished my treatment I'm faced with another big mental task, what I do next. I do not subscribe to the belief that surviving a critical illness bestows wisdom or insight on you. I mainly think it's a huge drain on many people's lives which leaves permanent scars. Never the less I have been given the time to reflect on what's important to me and how I can integrate that better in to my life. At the moment that consists of doing normal everyday things, like meals with friends or going to the cinema. When your life has been abnormal for so long, the most banal things can be infused with wonder and joy. 

Pulling your life back together after a major trauma like cancer is often difficult and bewildering, like listening to an Aphex Twin record. Over the course of the next few weeks and months I'll be using this blog to chronicle my attempt to make sense of it all. 

Currently I'm.. Learning how to use the gym equipment at my local centre. Everything aches right now...Supporting the Junior Doctors strike. Real-time pay cuts for your core staff is no way to run an organisation. 

We can work it out

I go to the gym three days a week. You have to or else - I don't want to be the guy that dies shoveling snow - Douglas Coupland.

So I've made a horrible discovery this week. Gaining weight healthily is a really hard thing to do. Doing it unhealthy is a doddle, just call Domino's and then mainline a box set or three on Netflix. You'll easily pile on the kilos but you'll look like Jonny Vegas at the end of it.  Trying to do it in a sensible way takes a bit more thought. For context I'm currently 57 kilos, and my fighting weight is around 69 kilos. So that's 12 kilos to gain and not be Mr Blobby. Chemotherapy does many things to your body but one of the main ones is  stripping you of muscle mass. This is how cancer patients lose weight so dramatically. 

Unfortunately there's only one sure fire way of regaining that muscle mass, the dreaded gym. This is how I ended up at my local centre being showed around by an enthusiastic man in a tracksuit called Paul. Paul detailed all the different machines and what they did, while I pretended to pay attention but I was really looking at the scarily ripped guys working out. These dudes had arms bigger than my thighs. The amount of weights they were lifting gave me heart palpitations just looking at them. And they weren't even breaking a sweat, like someone asked for help carrying their shopping home from Sainsbury's. 

I'm going back to the gym tomorrow for an induction and a proper go at some of the equipment. As currently I get out of breath climbing the three flights of stairs to my bedroom, I think it might be a bit of a challenge. But however much I dislike the idea of the gym, I need to gain my muscle back, and my daily walks won't do that on their own. Also an upside of going to the gym is that hopefully I'll be able to ride my bike again. I feel a surge of jealousy standing at the bus stop seeing other cyclists whizz by, while waiting for my chronically slow 45. So that's a goal I'm setting myself, being fit enough to be an annoying cyclist again!

Tomorrow I'm also seeing my local Dietician. Hopefully she'll be able to give me some pointers on how to gain the pounds. I've already changed to full fat milk, soft French cheese and cooking vegetables with butter. It's basically a diet of someone living in Lyon. 

Currently I'm... Learning all about brewing at London Beer Lab..Listening to History Hit! podcast by Dan Snow...Reading all about the ongoing horror that was last Friday in Paris.

Attempting Normal

I still can't quite believe it. I know I've been told by my consultant that I don't need more treatment, but a part of me is still expecting a phone call saying they have it wrong and I need more chemo. Even today I was back at Barts for my blood test results, half expecting the worst. When I saw on the screen how well my red and white cell counts were, I was genuinely shocked. I think I've gone through too much in the past year to accept yet that the horror may be over. Like an episode of Game of Thrones, someplace sometime something horrible is going to take place.

Saying all that, it hasn't stopped me celebrating this week. Wednesday I took a day trip back to the shires to see my family. As my sister was down from her home in Scotland it was a very rare moment of the whole family together. Like a Smiths reunion something that should happen but very unlikely in practice. Then on return to London, we had a big house meal with champagne. A fitting end to a good day.

On Thursday I went to a gig, my first in over a year. And what a great gig it was, John Grant at Hammersmith Apollo. He seemed genuinely happy to be there, and that vibe permeated through the set. I'm not sure if I enjoyed the music more or just the thrill of being out at a gig again, doing normal things like normal people. Also as most of the male portion of the crowd was 40ish and bald, no one batted an eyelid at my slaphead. I was in the majority, imagine! This morning saw a trip to the Speech clinic at Guy's. I was a little horse after the gig, but that didn't matter. I still have a left side palsy of the voice box following my heart surgery in February.  So my speech consultant advised I could have an injection which will bring my voice box closer together. I asked if she could make me sound like Barry White, but I think that's beyond her capabilities.

I'm now planning the rest of this year, trying to see as many friends and family as possible. It's exciting to know I have the freedom to get on a train and have adventures again. I'm attempting Normal, it's a very strange feeling.

Currently I'm... Studying national rail timetables, trying to find ways of getting to everyone I want to see..Watching Josh, the new BBC3 sitcom by Josh Widdicombe.

The Drugs do work.

Jeremy Corbyn is wrong. The nuclear option does work. Obviously not Trident which is a farce of a power game, but against cells. Cells which divide and mutate and divide. Cells which do not conform to pre-existing norms. In these circumstances the nuclear option works, and it's worked for me.

Like all nuclear options its left a heavy impact on it's environment. But instead of scorched earth and mushroom clouds its my body. To rid it of cancer I've gone through a lot. My weight is ridiculously low, my immune system is just about there and my mind has been scrambled. Serious collateral damage has been done to my hearing. But through all of the pain and suffering the plan devised by my Doctors has worked. I don't need anymore treatment. Just typing those words gives me an enormous sense of relief. I can now focus on my recovery.  Which will consist of the anti-diet to end all anti-diets and boosting my immune system. I'll be under constant monitoring by the hospital and on various medications for the foreseeable future. But for now my cancer is gone. I'm not in any way saying I'm cured, this Cancer is too tenacious for that. But the activity in my body has ceased, and that's good enough for me. 

So what would you do with such momentous news? I went shopping. It must have been the shock of it all, as I never go shopping, not least to Oxford Street where I ended up. Why do people go there? It's crowded and hectic and should have been pedestrianised years ago. I ended up there on a mission to buy a new pair of jeans. Due to my weight loss hardly any of my clothes fit me right now.  

I headed to Uniqlo purveyors of Japanese basics in all the primary colours. I found some jeans I liked but I was told they only come in lengths longer than 32 inches. What?? Have the Japanese become giants overnight? Is everyone at least 5'11" in Tokyo now??  I left in a hurry with only a new hoody as compensation. Then I decided to hit the department stores. They are in full Christmas mode and there seemed to be a competion over who can have the most lights on the front of their store. Inside is even worse as it's a barrage of red, green and gold. Exhortations abound about magical moments and special days. I ended up taking refuge in the pub. It was the only sensible thing to do when faced with such madness. In the end it was good old M&S which saved me. Do you know they do selvidge denim these days? When did Marks get trendy? Anyhoo i found a pair of jeans which didn't automatically fall off me, so they made a sale. By the time I'd bought dinner from the food hall i realised it was rush hour. Going through Oxford Circus at 1700 is a joy. How do people do it every day? Crazy scenes. 

Currently I'm...Watching London Spy, the new BBC2 drama with Jim Broadbent and Ben Wishaw...Listening to In Pod We Trust, a show about podcasts by the excellent Miranda Sawyer for Radio 4.

Monday update

Just a quick update for Monday lunchtime. I'm slowly recovering after my 3 weeks in Barts. It's great to be home and back in my own bed. It's really easy to get institutionalised after a long stay in hospital. I'm still waking up at 0600 expecting a nurse to walk in to my room and take my blood pressure. Walking is a big part of my recovery and I've managed to get out everyday, even if it's just to the park at the end of the road.

Tomorrow is a big day as I go back to Barts for outpatients clinic. There I'll find out if the high dose chemotherapy has worked, or if the cancer is still lurking in my body. I'm hoping to hell that it has worked, because I really don't want another round of Chemo. Psychologically it gets tougher every time I go in, I just really need a break from all the cancer stuff right now. Just to live a bit for a few weeks without tests, scans, schedules and schemes would be brilliant. In the meantime I'm off to Saintsbury's to buy my build-up diet. Lots of carbs, protein and vegetables! 

Currently I'm... Wondering at the marvel of the new Camberwell library. Yes a new library with new books. In this age that's a bloody miracle... Listening to Guy Garvey's first solo album 'Courting the squall'..Watching BBC4's excellent doco on cover versions.

Unknown Pleasures

So in an unexpected turn up for the books, I'm being discharged today. My cell counts have held up and my potassium, haemoglobin and platelet levels aren't terrible. After a very long debrief by my doctor I'm currently waiting on my doggy bag of drugs that I can take home. Apparently I'm a risk of catching everything under the sun. Weirdly I didn't have half this palavar after Chemo 1. Anyhoo I'll take any amount of drugs just to be able to sleep in my own bed tonight.