A cancer diary: Up to date without a conclusion
- Credit: Maurice Gray
Back in 2019, north Norfolk photojournalist Maurice Gray shared his cancer diary with us.
Three years on from his original diagnosis, he’s been bringing us up to date with a series of features about his treatment for the ‘big C’.
I am writing this instalment in my diary while having treatment, in the Weybourne Day Unit, at the Colney Centre at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, which brings me to the end of the first year of my ‘maintenance’, two-year planned programme. (It sounds mechanical!).
I will then be booked for a scan to see how I am getting on and the results will determine my next year of treatment.
I have kept an up-to-date diary while receiving my treatment after being diagnosed just over three years ago and kept as much detail, from day to day, as I could.
With my wife, Margaret, we were determined to fight cancer from the time we contacted our GP, who spotted the signs while we sat in his surgery thinking that I must have a bad cold that brought out lumps in my neck and groin.
But due to our GP’s vigilance, he was looking for more serious symptoms. “I need some blood”, he said (I thought, ‘don’t we all’), a sample he explained and added: “I’m making an appointment for an X-ray tomorrow”.
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My wife and I looked at each other saying, “Do you think it’s something more serious?”
“Yes”, he said while tapping on his computer keys, then took a sample of my blood from my arm saying: “I’ve made appointments for an X-ray for you to go to Cromer hospital tomorrow.”
Wow, we thought then, what’s next?
An appointment came within days to be seen by an ENT (ear, nose and throat) consultant surgeon, and after examination, within 20 minutes a biopsy was taken.
The diagnosis eventually came back as Non-Hodgkin Follicular Lymphoma, Stage 3 Grade 2. Difficult to remember, but it’s a ‘bloody’ cancer.
I was then referred to the fantastic haematology team in the Colney Centre where The Professor explained the chemotherapy suitable for me, to control the cancer.
He mentioned that this particular cancer cannot be completely cured and would be likely to come back (a worrying thought). But he said: ‘If you don’t have treatment now the situation would be very serious.”
Anyway, we logged everything, including the helpful and kind reception staff, nurses caring with a smile, doctors, consultants, surgeons, volunteers, and diagnostic staff who are all so caring too and devoted to their professions.
We noted everything we experienced, as well as that of others in similar situations, finding those who were more than willing to explain how they coped, family and friends.
We have made many visits to the Colney Centre, Weybourne Day Unit attached to one of the best hospitals, the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, famous for its care, teaching and team work. It’s almost becoming a family on first name terms.
During the three years, we met so many people, patients’ volunteers, doctors and we are both so very grateful to them all, including the hospital’s communications team headed by Janice. A big thank you for all their help.
We also thank the EDP and Evening News for allowing us to publish our experiences during treatment as well as mentioning to readers and encouraging them to get checked out if they’re concerned about feeling ill and/or find any lumps and bumps. to contact their GP or medical centre as soon as possible because it saves lives.
We have met lovely people, but in some cases, sadly their treatment came too late. That is why our gratitude extends to a very high level to all medical people involved in my care, keeping up with the hurdles but not jumping them: consultants, doctors, nurses, laboratory personnel, chemists, those who deal with diagnostic imaging, secretaries who work their fingers off tapping the keys and solving problems, therapists, volunteers and many more personnel who work on the front line and often behind the scenes (have I missed anyone)? They all work very hard.
We are very fortunate to have our NHS, thank goodness. I understand that the cost of my treatment to the NHS to date is well over £20,000, and rising.
While being treated, during a period of three years, I said I would record as many procedures and conversations as I could and do some research about cancer and the great deal of information that comes out.
Some stated very strongly about various suggestions, such as laughter producing ‘endorphins’ from the human brain, a substance very much like morphine - the body’s own type of anaesthesia/relaxant which helps human beings to sustain pain.
There has also been research into the effect of intensive states of depression, of brief anger and/or fear on cancer. And there has also been research into the impact of creativity and how having hope, faith and love can contribute towards healing and wellbeing.
A positive outlook is so important. So, go for laughter. Yet another good tip is that as we become older the memories seem to get lost, but we discovered by ‘humming’ favourite music/songs, once that settles in the brain, lyrics or words will come back. It could also help to avoid dementia and/or memory loss.
So keep up the laughter and humming, of course!
We picked up more good tips. For example exercise (not too heavy) is important and cutting down on the booze, which does not go well with medications.
While using a bath or shower regularly, for hygienic reasons, you can exercise at the same time with just a single towel. Using both hands, after stepping out of the bath, hold on to each end of the towel and pull tight while drying back, front, and under the arches!
We also mentioned a helping hand by using olive oil, cider vinegar and honey and don’t forget to eat fresh fruit and vegetables and drink plenty of water.
Here are two things to consider. Firstly chemotherapy. I had to accept that what goes in has to come out in some sort of way or other, but, once the cannula pumps the cocktail medications through the veins, which travel all round the body including the head and brain, this affects that area and I for one have experienced scrambled brain commonly known as ‘chemo brain’.
Also the treatments often make me ‘pee ‘more, so I am always on the lookout for the vacant signs or find an alternative!
I think by doing all of these things, it helped, along with my treatment, to keep me on the planet! And, Id like to give a big loving thank you to my wife, Margaret, who has certainly helped to keep me going, whilst continuing to deal with her own medical problem: an undiagnosed bone disease in her sacrum, complete with a large tumour on the inside of her sacrum, christened Charlie.
To date, she is still undiagnosed and has to be scanned regularly to check on the condition.
However, she continues, in spite of the pain, to carry on as normal and certainly looks after me. What a wonderful ‘nurse’ she is.
Although cancers seem to get at us, as well as the plagues that are nibbling at us all causing worrying times, there are various improved equipment and better diagnostic techniques nowadays.
Especially for checking and treating prostrate problems, which are less intrusive. But it is very important to check, with the GP, if in doubt.
For the ladies, breast screening is more refined now and less uncomfortable. More procedures are quite simple and the robotic systems are taking over.
All of us must press on, laughing and humming which keeps our endorphins going and throws some determination and creativity in.
A very big thank you to all the haematology team who have looked after me, and I will be back later this year with the outcome of my scan after my first year of my two-year planned maintenance treatment. Fingers crossed it will be a good result.
Bye for now!
Margaret’s poetry book is still available, raising funds for the Weybourne Day Unit at £2 including postage by contacting her on 07720 657918.