Support for Cancer Sufferers and their Families


I want to say a huge thanks to everyone for their wonderful ongoing support. It has meant the world to me. The cards, text messages, messages on social media from Twitter and Facebook to LinkedIn, phone calls, offers of driving me to and from treatment, somewhere to stay and recover (had an awesome three days with dear friends in Mangawhai over New Year’s when I had 3 days off treatment) have been amazing.

One of the things that took a bit of getting my head around was my family and how my cancer affects them. We have lost some of our closest family members and friends to cancer and I didn’t always appreciate how everyone else in my family was feeling. It’s something I noticed at the hospital that it was often the partners that were really struggling. We patients are more focused on how we are feeling and how to cope with side effects, keeping up at work and on my part feeling guilty for falling asleep at 7PM or earlier every night and going to bed early, leaving my wife on her own, evening after evening for months. I’m still doing that and could be for a little while yet.

IMG_3524After I left the radiation clinic for the last time, with instructions from the nurse, not to come back, which I was happy to agree to, I went to the cafe for my last coffee and cheese scone, staple diet to keep me moving.

IMG_3486Then off to the car to head to work for business as usual. I was feeling disoriented.

For 2 months my life had been focused on getting up around 5:30AM every morning and heading across the bridge for treatment and now it was over. The card from the staff may have been a factor, because it was like leaving your job, something that had become routinely normal. I wandered around a little bit as I headed to the car. I sat there for a little while, looking at the card, looking at the smiley face stamps on my appointment. Thinking about the PSA test in 3 weeks time and wondering what the oncologist would have to say to me when we catch up in a month, especially given that my PSA tests had never shown me to have abnormal levels, despite the tumors. Will I be clear or will I need more biopsies. I don’t like the idea of more biopsies because each one increases the risk, even slightly, that cancer material if there is any left, could then be passed into my bloodstream. IMG_2289

Anyway, got to work and got busy, then when I got home, I found a wonderful message on the front door from 7 year old Madison, which cheered me up immensely.

IMG_2261Mads (and all my family) has been tremendous, she is very empathetic but also great and grounding me.

Then it was off for a family dinner at Genghys Mongolian Restaurant with my family. I took it easy on the food, but the taste sensation  was amazing, even though I stayed away from the garlic and spices as instructed.

IMG_2290The piece de resistance was a cake, totally unexpected given that it wasn’t my birthday, which neighboring diners probably assumed. This brought tears to my eyes after a long two months and long day.

So now we wait and life gets a little back to normal. I still woke up at 5 this morning, but i was able to doze off again. They say its all about attitude and I have always felt that I am a survivor. I have also also felt that I have a guardian angel, my Oma, who had a 20 year battle with cancer (after she was told she would probably not live past the first year).

You don’t get through these things on your own. I’m a bit of a loner when it comes to dealing with stressful situations. Cancer has certainly changed that. I now gratefully accept the good wishes, the offers of support, the prayers and constant goodwill from colleagues, friends, family, acquaintances and total strangers. I’m also extremely aware that I am lucky, there are so many people worse off than me that have amazing strength and great attitudes.

I am focusing a little more on what matters. Family, lifestyle, maybe a little self indulgence to come, because you can’t enjoy the fruits of your labors when you are gone.

My immediate focus beyond my next oncologist appointment is the Auckand Relay For Life. As you may know, my daughters have set up a team called Early Birds, which recognizes that if I hadn’t had those PSA tests, we wouldn’t have known I had cancer. My prognosis would be very different.

I don’t know if I will be able to do the marathon distance I did last time, but I will do what I can and have a great team behind me. Our team isn’t just about me, although it is what I asked for when my daughters asked what they could do to help me. It’s about all the people that we and our friends have lost to cancer and those who like me are battling it still. It is to fund raise for the NZ Cancer Society that only survives through donations, sponsors and events like this.

If you would like to help and support us, you can:

  1. Join the team. There are no limits and it really is an awesome 24 hour event.
  2. You can make a tax deductible donation. If all my friends donated only $5 (the minimum amount that allows you to claim back against income tax) we would be giving the society a real boost in supporting cancer research as well as facilities like Daffodil House, where some of the patients I met in the clinic were staying for free, and the many other free services they provide like booklets, a library, free counseling and much more, without Government support.
  3. Come along for a visit. Especially the survivors laps at the beginning and end of the event. I can promise you a very moving experience with hardly a dry eye in sight.

Thanks again to all of you for your amazing support. I can’t tell you what it means, even just to have a ‘like’ or comment on my blogs and my social media.

 

 

Je Suis Fatigue – Day 25 of Radiation Therapy


I haven’t posted about my cancer for a few days, partly because it would be a boring read and partly because I am fatigued. I knew that the radiation would make me tired, but this is something different and I’ve struggled to find the words to define it.

Fortunately the Cancer Society has information online that helps. It describes it as an overwhelming tiredness (physical and emotional) not relieved by rest or sleep. That pretty much encapsulates how I feel at present

It also says that while the reason is unknown, it may be as the cancer cells die they release waste products. Your liver and kidneys have to work harder to get rid of these toxins, using valuable energy. I like that description because I can then take it that these tumors are being killed and I am beating the cancer.

It also says that the fatigue usually lasts 3-4 weeks after treatment but can continue to last for several months. I’m hoping that’s not the case given that I’m back at work on Monday.

alex harry wedding car

The Groom’s Bridal Car

So a couple of days ago I went to an awesome wedding in Tawharanui, a stunning location north of Auckland. I had done some research for a short speech I wanted to give. A little humor and a lot of love for the couple, the bride having been part of our extended family since she was 2 years old.

I couldn’t do it, emotionally I didn’t feel capable of doing something that I am skilled at, that I wanted to do, that I have done hundreds of times at conferences, training courses, weddings, funerals, birthdays and other events all over the world and I couldn’t do it in a place where I was surrounded by family and friends.

It was a wonderful wedding, but I was so fatigued I could barely hold a conversation. The following day, yesterday, was worse. Because we drove home after the wedding, I had arranged to have my radiation treatment moved from 07:30 to 13:30.

That was a mistake, it’s hard enough having a moderately full bladder and empty bowel first thing in the morning, but doing that early in the afternoon, plus a delay before I got my turn was a nightmare. My bladder was fit to bursting before I was called up, so I had to void a little and was about to get rid of even more a second time when they finally called my name.

I lay on the table praying that I would be able to last the amount of time it takes to get me in the right position, do a CT Scan, make minor adjustments and then start the radiation. It seemed to take forever and I was on the verge of jumping off several times.

The strain and pain of holding it back had me fighting an enormous battle between my dignity and my bladder control and I was looking for a button to call a nurse and call it off, but there wasn’t one.

I wasn’t going to risk getting off the table while the photon beams were radiating and risk damaging other parts of my body, but the intensity of holding my bladder was enough to give me a massive headache. When they came in to get me off the table I apologized and said “Sorry I have to run.” I meant it literally. I’m glad I still have that control!

Sorry about the detail, I’ve avoided talking about side effects. Let’s just say that going to the bathroom is not the satisfying ritual it used to be, but on this occasion the relief outweighed the negative aspects. I never thought I’d be blogging about going to the toilet, but this process has lowered my inhibitions.

I had a nurses appointment afterwards and he gave me a urine test to take home (given that I had just saved my bladder from bursting) in the unlikely event of infection and recommended I go home to bed. By the time I got to the car, I was busting again! So I went back and did the test and it was as if I hadn’t been before. It was like letting the air out of a fully blown up balloon!

Other notes:

  • Relay For Life rang and asked if I was prepared to do an interview in a local paper about why I am doing the event again. The answer was yes, although I feel that is a lot more public than my blog and social media. But, given that 7 people have been motivated by my story to get tested, that might otherwise have procrastinated and might not have caught the cancer early like I did, if I can help save one person from a serious condition, it’s got to be worthwhile.
  • songMusic. I’ve started reworking a song I wrote for a friend who died of cancer a few years ago and making it more generic. I’ve been waiting for my muse to come back. It’s good to get back into it again.
  • I’m hoping to get some more donations for Relay For Life. It’s a real struggle. I know it is still a couple of month’s away. I’m keen for suggestions from anyone as to how I can encourage people to part with $5. It’s tax deductible so you even get some of it back. If you can find the time, I would so appreciate that gesture. The Cancer Society are a charity, the first people I called for help and advice once I knew I had cancer and they get no funding from Government. We also have room for a few more members on the relay team if you can handle taking turns walking around a track for 24 hours. It really is a fun and moving event.

If you’re still here, thanks for supporting me on this journey. I am feeling a bit better today, hence the almost 1,000 words, but also looking forward to a quiet day inside while the storm rages outside. Wishing you all a wonderful weekend. I’m now going to reword the speech I didn’t give into a letter that I can give to the newly married couple.

Twice in one day! My journey with photons.


IMG_2184 (2)As I was sipping my pleasantly flavored urinary alkalinizer this morning,  I was thinking back to yesterday. Because I had a few radiation free days over Christmas, I had to go in to the hospital twice for my photon blast. Sounds a bit like a cocktail drink doesn’t it. Maybe I should invent one when I’m better. It’ll be a purple drink that will knock your socks off.

When I got home after the second bout I was planning on playing guitar or something but I didn’t really have the energy to do anything.

It’s an odd feeling. I was expecting to feel tired and I did, but its a different type of tired. The radiologist defined it quite astutely this morning, if not a little close to the subject of attention, when she said “A lot of men find themselves feeling knackered when they have two doses in one day.”

In my part of the world knackers are slang for testicles if I need to be any clearer, but in this sense it relates to the exhausted state at which horses or other livestock are no longer of any use to their owners and are sent to the knackers yard to be rendered into pet food or other items of greater usefulness.

IMG_2154 (2) Anyway, I was feeling a little more energetic as I got changed this morning for day 19 of my treatment. Back in the groove as it were, getting into my lava lava, chatting with others in the waiting room and then heading for LA 3 to watch the purple light on the radiation machine spin around my torso.

I feel like I should be doing something like walking, or painting the fence. But I might have to be a bit like rally driver Possum Bourne’s uncle who I used to work with at Tait Electronics. He said to me that whenever he felt like going for a run, he would lie down until the feeling passed.

I have written a speech this morning, which I hope to be allowed to give at a dear friend’s wedding next week, so I haven’t totally wasted the day.

Anyway, I hope you’ve all had a great Christmas and wish you safe travels if you are heading away to celebrate New Year’s Eve. I have 3 days off treatment and will be joining the throng heading for the winter-less north, although I have been receiving weather forecast emails containing severe rain warnings. Not a problem though, I’ll have a guitar or two with me and good company. I wrote the song Raglan Rain on just such a trip. Maybe my muse will come with me.

Talking About Cancer


This morning I was reading a great blog called Letter to the Newly Diagnosed, by Dan. It is really well written and I would recommend to people who have been touched by cancer.

Control RoomLike most men, I was pretty modest when it came to discussing my private parts and bodily functions. That changed on the day that I thought I was going to get a quick blood test form, but ended up with the finger.

Since then I’ve been pushed and prodded by a variety of people including doctors,  nurses, radiologists, oncologists and urologists. I’m adjusting to the fact that when I get to the radiation centre and I’m asked about how I am, they actually want details if there is anything  out of the ordinary. They need to know for my sake and it gets a little easier each day.

It’s interesting the questions I get from friends and family, which range from are you feeling the effects yet? Does it burn when you pee? Has the fatigue set in yet? The answers if you were wondering, are not yet. So far its more emotional, coming to grips with the reality of my situation and the impact it is having on my work and home life, because it’s not just about me. Everyone is feeling this, especially my family.

Once I get there its on with my lava lava.lava lavaYep, I’m allowed to keep my socks and shirt  on.

I’m learning new skills, like how to do number two without doing number one, because one needs to be empty and the other needs to be reasonably full.

Your full bladder helps push your other organs  out of the way so you aren’t getting radiation in the wrong places. If you have gas or worse in your back passage, that can push your bowel such that it gets more radiation than the little bit it will already get. I got shown some very cool MRI and CT images of what it all looks like. No I’m not taking a selfie stick in there.

So if you get up on the table and the CT scanner finds that you haven’t had enough to drink or you’re not ready, you will lose your place while you deal with it as appropriate. These are discussions I have regularly and I have been warned it happens to most people around 6 times during their treatment phase. They say don’t worry, but I do. I dread being told that I have to get up off the table and have an enema or something. That would be another first that I don’t need. I’m not beyond being a little embarrassed yet.

ARO LoungeI’m happy sitting in the lounge with my fellow travelers on this journey as we wait our turn in one of the rooms, but I don’t want to be going back for a second go.

I mentioned in a previous blog about How to Talk to Someone Who Has Cancer, I’m getting pretty comfortable talking to friends and family and even colleagues (don’t ask questions if you don’t want to hear the answer:) ), but it still feels strained talking to other cancer patients in the lounge while we wait for our turn on the table.

You don’t know how they are feeling, what’s running through their minds. So despite having unwanted intruders in common, its sometimes difficult to even get a good morning from people and you don’t want to push them. But then I’ve only had 6 days of treatment so far and I’m sure as our faces and costumes become familiar, conversations will happen, even if its just a bit of cancer humor.

Anyway, the sun’s shining and tomorrow I’ll be up bright and early at 05:30 ready to drink (water) and drive with the rush hour traffic for Day 7 and one more tick and smiley face stamp on my star chart.

Thanks so much for all of your support, it is wonderful how many friends and associates have come out of the woodwork, even people I don’t know personally who have reached out to me, who have been through the same process. It is very much appreciated.

 

Day One External Beam Radiation for Prostate Cancer


I was all geared up to start on Monday 7 December, but it turned out that they had several people starting with both chemo and radiation, whereas I’m just doing radiation, so they changed it to Thursday 3rd December. Minor problem, I was going to be in Christchurch so we met in the middle and yesterday morning I was up at 05:30 and on my way to Mercy Hospital joining the early morning peak traffic hydrating from a bottle of water I had to finish by the time I was about half way there.

When you have radiation treatment you have to have exactly the right amount of fluid in your bladder and your bowel needs to be empty. The water helps push your organs out of the way and stops them getting hit by the radiation beams. If you don’t have that right, they’ll take you off the table to drink more or have a bowel movement (one way or another) and then you have to wait while someone else goes ahead of you as they are treating around 100 cancer patients a day!

They told me this happens to everyone around 6 times during their treatment and I didn’t want that being me. This involves changing your diet, for me it means drinking a lot more water than normal (apparently I’m in good company, in that most men live their lives in a state of dehydration) and avoiding any foods that can create wind, because gas also impacts on the shape of your bowel. If anyone wants details, I can share them but the list makes it very difficult to eat at restaurants as I found in Christchurch.

So it was with a sense of trepidation that a. I would arrive at Mercy Hospital in the right bodily state and b. that I would arrive there on time.

Once I got there I was sent downstairs where I was issued with my lava lava in a nice yellow tulip colored bag, got changed and escorted to the control panel outside the radiation room and then into the room where it all happens.

Mercy ScannerThe 2 machines on the side make up the CT scanner. When I was prepped I had an MRI and a CT scan to measure the size, shape and volume of my prostate. The CT scanner in  this room is there to make sure that you are lying in exactly the same position as you were when they took the first image. That way they don’t kill healthy parts of your body. The part at the top is where the radiation beams from.

You lie on the table with your head on a little support and your knees on the blue half pipes. They prod you into place so that you line up as above and then leave the room. Like most scanning systems they have microphones and speakers so they can stay in touch with you while you are in the room.

Once they get started the CT scanner and the radiation head rotate around your body in one 360 degree circle. It felt like something out of a science fiction movie and just as I was settling in, thinking “this is interesting” it was all over, they came in and told me I was done and I could go. The whole treatment itself took about 1 1/2 minutes.

I got dressed, went to my car and drove to work for a $4 Subway breakfast sub and a coffee that I had been hanging out for (not from Subway).

Then something hit me like being knocked in the head by an out of control snowboarder in a white out. I felt overwhelmed for a couple of hours. I think it was all the underlying stress that I had been ignoring and the release that the first bout of radiation was completed, I had drunk enough, followed the diet strictly, hadn’t embarrassed myself by having to get  up off the table, all the time reading books and Doctor Google and thinking about side effects, planning for succession at work if I needed to call in sick, all the things I’m trying to get done at work before the Christmas break, a friend who had just passed away during the week, reassuring my family and more. I was in a funk.

I worked my way out of that and had a good day in the office (my colleagues have been awesome), went home and once again felt exhausted. I ended up crashing on the bed for a couple of hours after comfort eating some nuts and my mandatory Kiwi Crush (a pleasant part of my treatment diet).

Now a day later and I’m still feeling a bit tired, but much better knowing I am on my way to dealing with this cancer. I’m getting focused on the future. Things like adding to my bucket list (number one is of course beating the cancer) and looking forward to Relay for Life. My kids have started Team Early Birds. More on that later.

 

Let’s Nuke those Prostate Tumors


Since my first blog 6 men and one woman have decided to go and get PSA tests done for prostate and other conditions, motivated in part due to my blog. That is awesome, not only that they are doing it but also reflecting back to me. I hope I can increase that number through sharing my journey.

For those who I have motivated to get tested, I would like to reiterate the message from my blog about life and other insurances. If you test positive for cancer You Are Now Uninsurable. Please make sure you are comfortable with the level of your life and heath policies first. Once you find out you have a life threatening condition, even once you are in remission, it’s unlikely that you will ever be able to get health or life cover again. Even if you are confident you will be fine (like I did) and are just getting tested, (like I did) because its the right thing to do, or because your partner keeps telling you to (like mine did), if the test is positive, it is now too late.

IMG_2059First I’d just like to sincerely thank those of you who have left comments and messages of support, here, on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and other places where I have a presence. I’ve never been in the position of recipient for messages like these before and it’s very humbling. I have also had phone calls and cards from colleagues at work and many messages and prayers from friends, family and acquaintances including some who have survived similar journeys.

A lot of people sent me messages of support for Monday for which my thanks. What you didn’t know is that I wasn’t able to start on Monday as planned, because they had so many people who are starting on Monday with both chemo and radiation.

IMG_2049They wanted me to start on Thursday, but I was down in Christchurch enjoying the balmy weather. It was 32 degrees on Wednesday and 28 on Thursday. I’m usually looking forward to coming home for the warmer weather but it was the other way around.

So how was my first day? New blog coming.

 

How Do You Talk To Someone Who Has Cancer?


Last week my wife and I went into hospital to get me inducted into the process of external beam radiation. I’ll spare you most of the detail. It largely involved a CT and MRI scan to ensure that the radiation only hits the affected areas and to minimize radiating healthy parts of my body.

radiation Auckland Star 1903

Radiation Treatment according to the Auckland Star in 1903

Anyway, as I walked to the bathroom (part of the process is having the same amount of fluid in my bladder every visit), a woman piped up that she had more hair than I did. Her punchline was that this was because she was wearing a wig. I was taken aback, thinking “how do I talk to someone who has cancer?”

Then of course I realized that I have cancer and people will be wondering  how to talk to me. Funny how you have these moments of lucidity!

I realized that I now have the right to share black humor with other cancer sufferers because we are all on the same boat, so I quipped back that losing my hair wouldn’t be a problem for me.

I think humor is a very important aspect of health. People survive many tough times by engaging their sense of humor as my friend the Joyologist Pat Armitstead will attest to.

So back to my new compatriot under the wig. When she was called for her appointment, they asked her if she was well. REALLY? She responded with “I wouldn’t be here if I was!”

As she went off to her appointment I pondered on this topic and was a little disappointed in myself. Clearly she was feeling stressed and I could have sat down with her, engaging with a bit more of a joke or a chat. I will do that in future if I have the opportunity, particularly after my first bombardment with radioactive isotopes. Having become a veteran of cancer treatment, I will feel more empowered.

So how do you talk to someone who has cancer? Just like you would talk to anyone else, just keep in mind that they have a lot on their minds and may be distracted, oversensitive, tired, confused and most likely a little stressed. Lighthearted would be a good place to start. Some of us will be open to conversations and some won’t. Respect that either way.

How should you not talk to someone about cancer? The other day I was in the office lunchroom and an “exspurt” (deliberate misspelling) was giving an oratory on cancer. I was disappointed because he’s a nice guy and he obviously didn’t know that I have cancer. Anyway this kind hearted expert proceeded to tell anyone within earshot that as soon as any kind of cancer gets you, it’s all over Rover. “It will kill you, maybe not today or tomorrow,  but they all die from it”, he expounded.

I quietly left the room thinking that in our business, we not infrequently complain that every man and his dog are traffic engineering experts, telling us how to do our job. So if you have an opinion like that, I’d appreciate not hearing it. You never know who you are standing next to and what they are dealing with.

Footnote: This is my third blog about my cancer journey and I had some trepidation about sharing my adventure. It is helping me work through some of my thoughts, but more importantly:

6 people have now come to me and told me that they are going to get tested, motivated by my story and that’s really exciting. If I can help one person, who like me, is in an early treatable stage of cancer, that otherwise wouldn’t have known about it, what a wonderful thing that would be.

I really have appreciated the support from friends, family, colleagues and total strangers, some who have shared intimate experiences and all with kind thoughtfulness.

Don’t be afraid to talk to me or ask me questions, or simply leave a comment. Prostate or any cancer should not be a taboo subject.