Do we all just sit around all day? patting our bald heads looking a bit mournful in between making 'inspirational' videos?
About a third of us develop cancer at some point in their life, with half of all cancers now treatable. But what does that actually mean and what happens in an average day? Karl from accounts won't be in for a while. When Karl returns a few months later he's lost some weight and there's a slightly different look in his eye. But we're glad Karl's back as this sales ledger is a bastard.
What happens to Karl in those months? Well if he's got Testicular cancer a treatment of surgery and chemotherapy will follow, depending on how far it's spread. It's very treatable but it moves fast through the lymph nodes, to other fun places like your stomach, lungs and heart, so early detection and treatment is vital.
I've just been discharged from Bart's on Monday. There's three weeks to try and get myself well enough to then go for the second phase of my chemotherapy. It's like training so you can be punched really hard in the face again. So each day I'm not in hospital is a mixture of trying to get enough rest, some exercise to try and activate the endorphins which help get blood around my system, and eat.
Eating is complicated when you have cancer, especially when you are having chemotherapy. The first cells that change are the ones in your mouth, so tastes alter wildly. Currently I can't touch anything involving chocolate, pastry and coffee. Pretty devastating right? But you can eat anything else in any amount that your body can stomach. I lost almost 5kg during my last stay of three weeks at Bart's, so eating enough is vital. As a diet I don't recommend it though.
The papers are full of what you should or shouldn't eat / do to help avoid cancer. There's a long list here from a few years ago. Mostly it's rubbish, with one concrete exception which is smoking. Your chances of lung cancer and emphysema are much higher if you puff away. But I've never smoked and I still got cancer. Testicular cancer adversely affects young men (I was 22) and there's nothing much I could have done to prevent it. Cancer is pretty psychologically devastating, as it's your own cells rebelling against you. Like a big pitch invasion at a football match, your cells should be behaving themselves in the stands, not running wild on the pitch hanging off the goalposts.
A day in hospital on the cancer wards has a completely different rhythm. The first observations are taken at 0600, and the last at 2200. The time in between can be taken up with all sorts of shenanigans. My high dose chemotherapy was five days of Chinese water torture via the medium of I/V bags. A mixture of very potent drugs and saline are put through you via a central line into a vein. The dosages are highly controlled and two nurses are present to check and double check that you are getting the right poison at the correct rate. This is controlled by pumps which are more sensitive than a crowd at a Morrissey gig. The smallest thing can put them into alert and emit a deeply annoying alarm. After a while you learn how to reset the damn things yourself so you don't wait 15 minutes at 0300 for a staff nurse to appear. The rest of the day is taken up with visits from your medical team to make sure you are still alive, bed changes and boredom. Cancer is one of those funny things which is both horrifying and completely boring at the same time. Being hooked up to a drip means you are pretty much chained to your bed, so visits become vastly important. My brain for some reason doesn't like reading on chemo so talking to people is the most entertainment you can get on a cancer ward.
So that's what happens. It's a joy being back at home at the moment to get away from that Hospital regime.