What’s It Like to Have Prostate Cancer Radiation Treatment, a Bursting Bladder AND What Does that Have To Do With the Price of a Cup of Coffee?


Mercy ScannerI chose radiation treatment for my prostate cancer because it allowed me to continue to work and because it has a 95% success rate.

On the first visit to the clinic with my wife, we were waiting in the lounge to have the process explained to us and for me to have a CT scan so that they knew the shape of my body. This was so that every time over the 8 weeks of my treatment they would be able to focus the radiation on the specific area to be nuked and minimise the risk of damaging my bodily organs.

My wife and I were sitting in the waiting room when a man rushed pass at a frantic pace, loosening his belt as he ran for the bathroom in a cold sweat. He was in so much of a hurry that he was sitting on the toilet before he had even got the door shut.

One of the things you can lose in this process is your modesty. I wouldn’t ever want to be that guy, when all the heads turn in his direction, embarrassed for him, turning away again as he comes out, hoping he didn’t see them.

The process is that roughly 45 minutes before you have your radiation  treatment you need to have drunk enough water to have a full bladder when you have your therapy. The reason is that this helps push your organs away from the prostate treatment area, thereby protecting them from harmful rays.

IMG_2086I was lucky because I was often able to get the first appointment of the day, meaning that on those days I didn’t have to wait in the lounge with my full to bursting bladder for too long.

So you arrive at the hospital and check in with your calendar schedule and they ask you how you’re doing. I always had a stock answer whenever anyone asked how I was, which was “GREAT!”, with a big smile. Here they would say, “Actually how are you really doing, because when you are having radiation treatment, we actually need to to know?” That was a mindshift for me and there were times when I felt a bit sorry for myself and when other people asked how I was, I told them as well. I wish I hadn’t, but then they did ask right?

So the next thing you do is go downstairs to a changing room where you collect your yellow daffodil bag which contains your lava lava which you will wear for the next wee while, holding on to the water in your bladder. Your clothes go into the bag and you put it back on the shelf with the others, realising just how many people are currently getting radiation treatment like yourself. It’s all sorts of cancers of course, not just prostate.

I met some great people while waiting for my treatment, both patients and their partners and we shared battle stories. Often the partner was feeling more stressed than the patient. I met people who were from out of town who had to stay at Domain Lodge, a facility provided free by the Auckland Cancer Society for cancer patients because the distance was too far to travel each day. This had all sorts of consequences. Children still had to be looked after, bills still had to be paid and some of them were running their own business and typically the treatment was every day during the working week. This is one of the reasons why I am a staunch supporter of Relay For Life which is next weekend, the 10th overnight through to the 11th of March at the Millenium Sorts Institute on Auckland’s North Shore.

lava lavaSo it comes your turn and you adjust your lava lava so it won’t fall off and wander down the corridor, past the control room where they are going to watch you on camera, put your valuables on a chair. Then you lie gingerly down on the scanner bed, hoping you can hold your water. IMG_2256

The friendly staff chat away with you and each other as you get settled, with your head under the scanner and your legs on a pair of moulded supports. They put a pillow under your knees and you focus on your bladder.

Then they adjust your lava lava and with a pen of some sort draw a mark at the point where the radiation will centre, which becomes less embarrassing after the 20th time; and they leave the room. Then the noise starts up and they talk to you through headphones as the treatment begins. It only takes a few minutes and as it finishes, you thank them and rush for the bathroom to empty your bursting bladder as quickly as you can as they tell you how well you have done once again.

IMG_3512Sometimes you have to wait longer than your booking time and it can get pretty uncomfortable. One morning they had to do maintenance on one of the scanners and I had to wait so long that I had to go to the bathroom, empty my bladder and then drink another bottle of water and wait the best part of an hour for my already stretched bladder to fill up again.

The worst day was when someone before me arrived late and I had to wait over half an hour longer than usual before I got my turn. They said if I wanted to I could empty my bladder and start again, but I had to go to a meeting at work and I didn’t want to be at the hospital any longer than I had to. So I gripped on to the edges of my chair, tightened and loosened, tightened and loosened (not a typo) my core muscles focussing on not losing control of my bladder.

IMG_3437I came very close to having to rush to the bathroom several times, but I didn’t want to blow my perfect record. My pride rode to my rescue.

The pain and pressure was getting worse and I persisted. Nurses came to me a few times and asked me if I wanted to start again, pointing to a nearby water fountain (not the imagery you want at that time but well meaning). I replied that I would soldier on.

Eventually after about an hour I got my turn and barely adjusting my lava lava, just acknowledging to myself that by the time I got to the room, it might be unraveling from my body, I waddled to the machine and gingerly got onboard, hoping for everything I was worth, that I could hold it in.

We got settled and barely aware of the daily x (actually a little line) marks the spot being drawn by the nurse just above my privates. I just focused all my energy on my now very full bladder which was telling me that I wasn’t responding to the messages it was sending me. I was determined to hold it in, but it was getting more difficult by the minute and I was just wishing they could speed it up. Time seemed to go into slow motion, but the discomfort got worse.

Finally the nurses left the room and I lay there pulling up on my core muscles for all I was worth, cringing with the pain and being told through my headphones that I needed to keep still. “Easy for you to say I thought”.

No, I needed to pee and I needed to not pee and I needed to hold those muscles in. What if wet myself? What if I peed on the machine bed? I still had a little dignity and I remembered that guy, rushing for the bathroom on my first induction visit.

I almost got off the machine 3 or 4 times, but I hung in there. Then the radiation treatment started and amidst the din of he rotors, I thought to myself, “I just can’t hold on anymore, I have to get off!” Then realisation set in, as I was being reminded to keep still, that if I got off while the radiation was beaming at me, I could potentially damage other parts of my body.

I clung on for dear life, cringing, counting the seconds, trying to keep still and then after the machine stopped, I was halfway off the bed as the nurses were coming back and there I was.

Now I was the guy rushing for the bathroom for all I was worth, not bothering to waste time locking the door, letting the lava lava unravel to the floor as I dived for the toilet. Oh the relief through the pain!

IMG_2150I picked up my body with my bruised dignity, got changed, went to the bathroom again and finally walked up the stairs to the nurses station to get a smiley face on my monthly chart, to say I had my treatment for the day. IMG_2105

This had been one of the days that I was hoping would never happen to me, but they did tell me that we all go through it.

Eventually after 8 weeks I had completed my treatment and eagerly awaited my visit to the oncologist who I anticipated would have good news for me.

Unfortunately he didn’t. He said that while 95% of people respond well to the treatment and find themselves in remission, I was in the 5% who didn’t.

So after 2 months of drinking water, driving each morning to treatment and then off to work, I was no better off than I had been before I started. That was a bit of a body blow and whilst I understand statistics, I had thought about the odds and as a keen poker player had thought to myself that if I had gone into a casino for a tournament and been told that I had a 95% chance of being in the money at the final table, I would have been really excited. The 5% seemed really unlikely.

IMG_3516The Coffee

After each radiation treatment I would go into the hospital cafe and treat myself to a flat white and a huge cheese scone. I couldn’t have breakfast before the treatment, so this was my little reward to myself and I came to look forward to it. When I went back to the hospital for specialist appointments I usually went back to the cafe for nostalgia’s sake, but it never had the same satisfaction as it did on the days I had radiation treatment. IMG_3418

So here’s where the coffee comes in. A cup of good coffee costs around $5. Coincidentally, that is the level where a donation to Relay For Life becomes tax deductible. That means your $5 donation only really costs you around $3.50. That’s peanuts right? But what if all my readers gave that?

I was going to say, if you know anyone who has cancer, how about making a small donation in their honor, but you know me don’t you? You now know me better than you did before, because I have shared some very personal experiences with you.

Next weekend when I spend the night walking around the track at Relay For Life with my friends and family, I am doing so to help raise funds for the Cancer Society to help fellow cancer patients with accommodation, psychological help, research and much more. It is all rather meaningless if I don’t get donations and I haven’t even got a third of my modest target so far.

So here is my plea. Can you find it in your heart to make a $5 donation for a good cause? 1 in 3 Kiwis will get cancer. I hope that will never be you, but it will probably be someone you care about. Will you please help? I would be so grateful.

RelayForLife17f

This guy must have been really hot. The purple sash denotes being a cancer patient and survivor

It’s been a real struggle this year to get donations. So I really thank you for paying it forward and also am very grateful to my friends and family who are in Team Early Birds, relaying for 18 hours to support me and also people who they have lost or are still fighting the good fight.

 

I’m in Remission, New Song for Cancer Album and Relay For Life


What a week I had last week, back to work blues, PSA blood tests for my prostate cancer and the usual agonising wait for yesterday’s meeting with my oncologist after my blood tests on Wednesday and more.

Benji RoomSo the visit was short and sweet, my PSA levels have gone down a little, without the help of any more drugs and after prodding my stomach (not quite sure why and I didn’t ask) I don’t have to go back for another 3 months.

That’s a weight off my mind and I can refocus on getting on with life and I have so much I want to do.

First, there’s Relay For Life on 10-11 March. Team Early Birds is back for another year and I need your help. Our team is a little smaller than in previous years and if you would like to join us, we would love your company. You can get all the detail here.

iPhone 145If you can’t join us, it would be great if you could leave a little donation. Even $5 is tax deductible and it is an awesome cause. With one in three Kiwis getting cancer, anything we can do to aid research and the awesome work of the Auckland Cancer Society who have been a huge help to me, is welcome. Last year I raised $1,500. So far this year I haven’t got to $50. So either way, can you lend a hand?

My Big Project A Cancer Video EP, the Last Song

EarlyAs you may recall, dear reader, I am working on a HAG project which is huge, creating an EP and video series for people with cancer and those who are supporting friends and family with cancer in some way to help them on their journey. If you missed that story, details are here and again I need help.

The last song is called Dare to Dream and after the good news again on Saturday, it seems the right time to share the story and lyrics with you. This song is intimidating to me because it has tracks that I can’t play including a sax and a gospel choir. I have no idea where to find either of these, but I am confident that with some help from my friends, I will.

The song is about being told I’m in remission and trying to process what that means. I used to think that being in remission means that you are cancer free, but when I asked Benji, my oncologist about that he said “You will never be cancer free. Once you have cancer, you have cancer. Remission means it is in control and you don’t need any treatment, for now.”

IMG_2153So for the foreseeable future I will be stressed out on the last week of each 3 month period and hopefully like yesterday, will be told the good news that I continue to be doing fine. Benji thought I was looking very well and looking back at photos of my pasty pale face of a couple of years ago when I was undergoing radiation treatment and dealing with chronic fatigue, I look great!

So if you’re still with me, here are the song lyrics. Super Better is an awesome book by Jane McGonigal which now has a game and a Facebook page. There is also a great TED Talk by her for those who don’t want to wade through the book.

Verse 1
I’m in remission, it’s a reprieve from my condition

In 3 months I’ll know more, for sure

Pinch me am I dreaming? Please explain the meaning

Before I close the door, does this mean I’m cancer free?
Chorus 1

The winter sun is crisp and clear,

I’ll write a list for 10 more years

Of things I want to do and see,

Things that mean the world and

Dare to dream, dare to dream

So much more for you and me

So much more that we can be

Verse 2
I’m in remission and I give myself permission

To embrace each new day as if the cancer has gone away

I’m going to grab a power up a SuperBetter lift up

Cause there are many on our team

Who need to dear to dream.
Chorus 2 (gospel choir for alternate lines)

Dear to dream

Watch me lift my hands up high

Dear to dream

Reaching out to touch the sky

Dare to dream

Take off like a bird and fly

Can’t believe this feeling

Repeats after break with lead guitar and horn section

songSo there you have it. I’m currently working on the demo for my second song called Who Stole My Words, which is about an incident where the chronic fatigue brain fog meant I couldn’t come up with simple words like current and channel to explain how I found myself upside down in an ocean kayak, without any fight or flight instinct because I wasn’t producing cortisol or adrenaline. I was upside down, underwater harnessed in thinking ‘this is interesting’. Anyway, I’m having a bit of a struggle going from fingerpicking to strumming and staying in perfect time with the clicktrack so I can add a walking bassline. But that’s another story.

So, can you help with Relay For Life, either with a small donation, or joining the team for 10-11 March in Mairangi Bay at the Millenium Institute? I’ll be there all night relaying with family and friends to raise money for the Cancer Society and in honor of the friends, family and colleagues who are fighting or who have lost their battle with cancer.

Do you know an Auckland based Gospel choir or a small horn section, or at least a sax player who could help with this song? The album will be Not For Profit by the way. I know I will have to pay for some of the work, which I will crowd source, but the end product will be free.

Mercy ScannerWant more info on my cancer journey? You’ll find it here. If you know anyone else who might find this interesting, please share it with them with my thanks.

Where I first saw Martin Crowe play Cricket


Grendon RdThis is where I first saw #MartinCrowe play cricket. The Grendon Rd Oval. After school and weekends you would often find Martin Crowe, Jeff Crowe, Martin Foster (also deceased) and others playing cricket on the road. Little did we know that he would become a legend.
 
I wish I had gone to the funeral now, but I was just a kid who chatted with them as we walked down South Titirangi Rd after school. They were thoroughly good guys, but at that time, just ordinary school kids with a passion for sport. I think I would have felt out of place among so many dignitaries, so many legends.
 
I so felt for Hogan as he went through some agonizing times where he felt the world was against him, where misguided people ridiculed him, the classic Kiwi tall poppy syndrome. I think that took a lot out of him, but it didn’t stop him becoming a legend. Things people say, bad jokes and innuendos take a toll on people and affect their self esteem, often for life.
 
I am so happy that he received his accolades including the induction into the Cricket Hall of Fame.
 
His standards, his work ethic and attitude are an inspiration. He proved the point that if you put the effort in, day after day after day, you will get the results. I suspect that his commitment to his sport was one of the reasons he and Grant Fox got on so well, being another person who devoted so much of his time to practice, train, practice. Today many young professional athletes with natural skills frequently focus on the money and not on what it takes to be a star.
 
They say that if you do something for 10,000 days you can become expert at anything. It has been proven in sport, music and other areas. If you have the genetics to go with it, even more so, but ultimately it comes down to attitude and commitment. Also passion. For some people that is there from the start, for others it comes with success.
 
I hope that we as a nation are growing up and that those who like to shoot the tall poppy’s down think about the damage that they do to people. If you see or hear people doing it, don’t just stand by and watch.
 
Another man cut short by cancer and gone too soon. I do relate to Lorraine’s, Jeff and others comments about cancer saving him, giving him a chance to really think about what ultimately matters at the end of the day. “Authenticity, loving and full of prayer”.
 
As a cancer sufferer, I also tried one of the alternative treatments, because I was told he was trying it, a sea cucumber extract. It apparently helped him for a while.
 
As someone with cancer, I relate to his awakening and focus on living in the moment and enjoying whatever life throws at you. It’s hard to do and sometimes shit needs to happen before it really sinks in and even then living in the moment positively, day after day, while you undergo radiation or other treatments and wait each month for results isn’t easy, but it is important to stay positive and it was awesome to see him looking so dapper when he got his recognition.
 
When I do Relay For Life next weekend, I will be be remembering a kid ad his brother I chatted with walking down South Titirangi Rd when I was in my early teenage years. Just local Titirangi kids. I will remember watching him play in Cornwall Park, Eden Park and countless hours on TV.
 
RIP Hogan. You fought your cancer the way you played your support. With dignity and courage and you learned how to make the most of it with your friends and family. I am also reminding myself of my priorities, self, family and friends being at the top of the list. I doubt that you knew that many people suffering with cancer took strength from the way you dealt with yours. I’m grateful for you. We will remember you as a great person and a great Kiwi.