'If you're worried about lumps and bumps contact a doctor'

Photojournalist Maurice Gray

Photojournalist Maurice Gray who is almost three years on from his cancer diagnosis - Credit: Maurice Gray

Back in 2019, Walcott photojournalist Maurice Gray shared his cancer diary with us. Nearly three years on from his original diagnosis, he brings us up to date with a new series of features about his treatment for the ‘big C’. In the first part, he remembers his first trip to the doctor.

It all started in April 2018, which seems such a long time ago. Doesn’t time fly? I am now starting my third year of cancer treatment and care which has allowed me to still be on this planet and I want to explain more.

I woke up one morning with a twinge or ‘pang’ (that’s in the dictionary!), in my groin. I found a tender lump, thinking it was probably a strain in some way and would mend and go away. But it didn’t. Within a few days, I had a tight throat and lumps in my neck. Again, forgetting the groin, I thought the throat lumps were the beginnings of a cold and/or sore throat. But they didn’t go away either, so eventually my wife made a GP appointment stating the problem (in general us men do not like to bother the doctor, although we should, but I know there are exceptions). An appointment was booked for the end of the week.

Well, while sitting in the waiting room, it all kicked off. I was not expecting what was about to swing into action, and ‘action’ it was. Our doctor, who we have known for many years, called my name and in we went, into his little den.  
“Take a seat,” he said.
“What’s that lump in your neck?” he asked. 

I then mentioned my throat problem and my groin. He got quite serious and tapped out some details at his desk keyboard, saying, “I need to examine you, hop onto the couch and drop your trousers and briefs.” 
He started to check me everywhere and was definitely on the ball. I asked if he had found anything serious and he replied: “How long have you noticed these lumps?” 

I replied: “About two weeks”, but my wife interrupted and said “Longer than that”. Whoops.
At that moment, I still thought the lumps and bumps were just some little bug and would be prescribed some pills, everything would be okey dokey and the swellings would go away. But we were in for a big shock.

Maurice Gray's Pet scan showing his tumours

Maurice Gray's Pet scan showing his tumours - Credit: NNUH

The doctor cleared his throat and said: “I want to do a blood test now and I need an X-ray, which I will arrange for tomorrow at a local hospital”. He went on to say that he would be referring me to the ear, nose and throat consultant at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and the appointment would be a fast track one, which means the patient is to be seen within two weeks. At that point I swallowed hard and thought. Both sides of my neck were puffed out, like a hamster.

I kept a diary and the first part of the story started in the Eastern Daily Press on February 1, 2019. It had amazing responses from so many people, including patients, consultants, families looking after their loved ones and people who felt they should see their doctor, at last being persuaded by the article, and friends and colleagues. Many thanks for all your support messages. 
It was followed by the second and third part.

My coming account will explain, in a blunt way, how I and other patients felt, sometimes in rough language. At first, we all had to face what was coming to us and deal with it the best we could.
We will follow up from blood tests, X-rays, biopsies and diagnosis, the ups and downs, the medical team, amazing nurses and doctors, with some serious and some funny situations – but, all true. A good laugh, or in some cases, a good cry, by response, but a positive attitude to what’s coming is a way of trying to accept the future.

Persuasion, determination, exercise, diet and all this, plus help from my wife. How valuable they and all the procedures are dealt with by plotting a routine.
It’s coming up to three years since my diagnosis of Non-Hodgkin’s Follicular Lymphoma Stage 3, Grade 2, which is a blood cancer affecting all the lymph nodes in the body. It is never completely curable, which we were told right at the beginning, when the consultant suggested a choice of chemotherapy.

At that point I asked “what happens if I do not take up the offer of the treatment?” to which he bluntly replied: “If you do not have this treatment, within three months, at the most, before very serious problems set in”. I had no choice.

Treatment itself can be lengthy and sometimes quite uncomfortable, sometimes including lots of needles and various side effects. However, treatment these days has ways to avoid pain when needed. I have honestly, to date, have only experienced discomfort. Tough and blunt language is often quoted, so be prepared – most can be found in the dictionary!

Doctors and nurses are very caring people, who explain what they are about to do and the patient can rely on them. Even when they are working long hours carrying lots of responsibility they always have a smile. Once I asked a couple of nurses how did they manage to be so cheerful after their working day. They answered saying: “Not to be repeated!”

During the past two years we have spoken to and contacted various people and organisations, mostly about treatment and after effects of cancer treatment. You need a good sense of humour because lots of blunt noises come out of expressions during treatments.

There are lots of things to mention coming soon, such as getting stuck in a pet scan, the Red Waistcoat Volunteers, rattling with pills, the ‘brain scrambles’ and what a cancer consultant had to say, plus the thousands of pounds it costs for treatment, for just one patient, which is paid for by the NHS. 
Research is showing the frightening statistic that one in two people in this country alone have, or will experience, some type of cancer in their lifetime.

Now, suddenly, another dreaded plague, coronavirus, has hit us worldwide and already killed many millions. But there is a light at the end of the long tunnel by having a jab and being confined to stay indoors.
Having to deal with cancer as well as cope with a worldwide serious disease can be very worrying. But my wife and I hope to encourage anyone to contact a doctor if they’re worried about lumps and/or bumps of all sizes.