The Backstory on My Back


acc HELPHi, I’m ACC 18 Number 201905123684, I’ve swapped the numbers a little, although it probably doesn’t make any difference. I’m fairly well known.

My back story consists largely of digital files and probably a few manila folders and other storage media in several Accident Compensation Commission, medical, physio, specialist, hospital, surgeon, Occupational Therapist, Pain Specialist offices around New Zealand. They get shuffled from time to time.

Having said that, everyone on my journey has been friendly, thoughtful and most have tried to help me. A few, who I haven’t met, somewhere in the system have the job of helping ACC to not have to pay for my surgery, with considered justification. I’ll talk about that too.

Blackroom Relay for Life 2016 Print-47In March 2018, I hurt my back getting ready to set up for the Auckland Cancer Society’s North Shore Relay for Life event. The annual 18-hour relay, raising funds for cancer services which I have completed 6 times. I started with my family in honor of family members who have died from cancer, including my late father-in-law.

Then I got cancer myself, and during the fund-raising process I’m proud to say that over 30 men got tested for Prostate cancer because of my story, but I’m getting ahead of myself. I was given the honour of speaking at the opening, having refreshments in the survivors’ tent and carrying one of the flags in the first survivors’ lap. A humbling and emotional experience.

20170325_155154Trying, unsuccessfully, to awkwardly pick up a bag of tent poles out of a trailer provided at the venue by the organizers, for a 4 room tent, would set off a chain of events that has opened my eyes to the plight of many New Zealanders, who desperately want to work, but can’t, because the health system is underfunded, under resourced and inefficient.I became one of them.

I have a job. I hold a management role at the NZTA, a job I love with an awesome team of people who provide mostly Real Time Travel Information to motorists and travelers around the country.

It’s been 14 months since my injury.

My Occupational Therapist, GP, Pain Specialist and my Manager have agreed that I can work 2 three-hour days a week. ACC funds taxis to get me there as I could be a danger to myself and others, under the daily pain medication regime I’m on. That allows me to do something productive as well as socialize with my colleagues and not feel totally divorced from my work.

It was part of my back to work program, which has stalled since the Orthopedic Surgeon advised me that we had ‘painted our backs into a corner, having tried every alternative to fusion and discectomy surgery.’

I am incredibly grateful that the NZTA hasn’t dropped me under the bus and that I still have a job, although I am not currently able to perform my normal duties.

Over the next while, along with other activities, I’m going to talk about my life, one shared with my family and friends, colleagues and the health system.

I’m going to talk about what happened, about why I still can’t go back to work, why I am still waiting for surgery after 14 months. How ACC don’t want to pay for the surgery, how I can’t afford to pay for the excess if I went private, and my current experience with the Auckland District Health Board and North Shore Hospital, where I was referred as an Urgent Patient on the 9th of April.

I have not yet been able to connect with the person who makes appointments. When I rang them at the end of April, the hospital representative at the Patient Service Centre said they must see me within 4 months, and it was too early to ring. I was told it wasn’t worth ringing before the end of May and even then, not to get my hopes up. I rang today and left a message on their voicemail.

I have Prostate Cancer.

Mercy ScannerDuring the dark days of 8 weeks of radiation treatment, followed by chemicals, I think I had less than a week off work, on the odd day when I was so fatigued that I couldn’t function.

I arranged my radiation sessions to be around 7AM every morning so that I could go straight on to work afterwards, and still be on time. That’s how I roll.

I am now fortunately in remission, and my latest blood test last week showed a good result. The irony is that Cancer is fatal and there is every possibility that one day, hopefully decades away, it will kill me.

On the other hand, chances are very good that after back surgery, I will be a little sore from time to time, manageable with over the counter pain relief. Yet, for cancer I had less than a week off work and with a back injury it has now been over a year!

Mine is a common story, but one with which for the first 40 years of my working life I had no personal experience. I’d heard stories, mostly about people who allegedly don’t want to work, and enjoy living off the taxpayer’s dollar, but there are so many more people like me, who desperately want to work and contribute to society. If you have a look at my profile on LinkedIn you will read that my goal in life has always been to help people.

I consider my work important, a contribution to reducing the pain of traveling on our ever more congested road network by offering information about planned and unplanned events, about expected delays, alternative routes, alternate modes of transport, helping people plan for holiday road trips and much more.

I lead a team of awesome people who really care about you, their customers. It matters to me, but I’m being kept from it.

It’s funny, we talk about the cost to society of people who are needlessly killed on our roads. The cost takes into consideration the contribution they will make to the country’s GDP over their lives. Yet, the cost to taxpayers to get me back to work by providing me with back surgery, is far less than the cost of keeping me away from work.

As I said, mine is a common story, but it’s not one that people like you and I can easily relate to, unless we are directly affected.

Of course, in each instance, it’s not just the patient, it’s our partners, our family, our friends, our colleagues and of course the workload that must be done by someone else, or perhaps not at all.

seatI’ll try to make the story interesting, maybe even have the odd laugh. But let me tell you, this is no joke. I have gone from being super positive and highly motivated, with a bucket list of things I want to do which I prepared when I found out I have cancer, to being virtually trapped in my home, on the border of depression, not being able to stand, sit or lie down for any length of time without significant pain.

I’ll share an email I sent to ACC after having read a report prepared for them by a specialist, who said that “The patient appears to be doing reasonably well”.

Interestingly, this person who was paid by ACC to investigate my case did not once speak to myself, my GP, my Orthopedic Specialist, my Case Manager, my Pain Manager or my Physio.

I guess ‘reasonably well’ is a relative expression. I’m not dying.

The email is quite personal, but that’s really the point. I am a person.

Anyway, that’s it for now. I’m hoping to hear back from the hospital today and am getting on with other things in the meantime.

You may find my story interesting; you may be in a similar situation yourself. I know I’m not alone. I understand it was stated in Parliament Question Time last week that the number of elective surgeries completed last year was 10,000 ‘elective’ surgeries less than the year before. Reasons included strikes and funding. It’s little wonder it could take months for me to just be able to speak to someone.

Feel free to comment or ask questions. I know I’m not alone here and you may be in a similar situation to mine. I grew up as a fan of New Zealand’s welfare state. I learned that we are the system and that if we don’t stand up for something, no one else will either. I just didn’t know how bad it was.

So, you there. Have you had any experiences like mine? How do you get some action without ruffling people’s feathers and having your manila folder dropped down the list a little? Of course, that wouldn’t happen would it?

I welcome your comments.

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

Prostate Cancer, Gory Details, Treatment Choices and Relay For Life, Can You Help?


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A sign we walk past during the night in Relay For Life

I’m writing this blog to ask for your help in raising awareness and fundraising for Relay For Life, to support the Cancer Society in raising funds they need both for cancer research and to support people who need help, from counseling to transport and even free accommodation when people have to travel out of town for treatment.

The Cancer Society is funding research amongst others in the area of treating cancer like a virus, which is showing a lot of promise and would mean that people like me in future might not have to go through the treatments and processes I went through.

IMG_4287Can you spare $5 in support or in memory of a friend or family member with cancer. You can do so here. You can do it with a message, you can leave your name or mention the person you are supporting, you can do it anonymously and if you are in New Zealand it is tax deductible. I’ll bet that you, dear reader, know at least one person who has cancer. Several of you of course know me, so there’s one.

Like my previous blog, if I get some donations, I will spare you some of the gory details that we prostate cancer patients have to deal with.

I would dearly welcome your donation, I’m struggling in receiving them this year. Where I am doing well, is that the number of people who have told me that they have been motivated to get tested for cancer has now risen to 20! Every single one of them is cancer free and more importantly know so and have baselines.

So in my last blog, I spared you the gory details of the first visits to the urologist and trading my dignity for hope.  Now I am going to offer to spare you details of some of the side effects of prostate cancer treatment, some of which I endured and some of which I chose not to risk. I had to make decisions based on choosing life (if possible) and the most suitable treatment for my lifestyle and work.

IMG_2184 (2)Some of those side effects included painful urination, short term or permanent erectile dysfunction, never producing seminal fluid again, the length of your penis being reduced, damage to other organs, chronic fatigue, loss of libido and depression. Some of these are experienced by most prostate patients and some depend on the choice of treatment, which of course depending on the seriousness of the condition may not be optional if you want to live. It’s also important to recognise that everyone responds differently to different treatment.

The next steps were a series of biopsies. I’ll spare you the details of how they do that for prostate cancer other than that they approach it from behind. Initially they found 3 tumors and confirmed that they were malignant. Then over the next few months, scans and 2 more biopsies confirmed that I had at least 5 and they were slow growing.

They gave me 3 options. One was to implant radioactive seeds into my prostate a treatment called Brachytherapy. Here’s more if you’d like to know more about how it works. I decided against it because it meant staying away from my granddaughter and pregnant women for about 6 months. Besides not wanting to change my relationship with my beautiful young granddaughter, how do you know if someone in your circle, or even randomly sitting next to you, say on a plane, is pregnant? They might not know themselves.on

IMG_4479Basically you are emitting radiation, which while not powerful, could have unintended side effects for others. The percentage likelihood, very slim, but percentages weren’t working well for me at this time and I wasn’t going to have on my conscience that I could be sitting next to a random stranger, potentially damaging a foetus she didn’t even know existed. Obviously some people do that. You can’t exactly hop on a flight and ask not to be seated next to a young girl going through puberty or a woman of an age that she could be pregnant and perhaps not know it.

The urologist was keen on this option. It would mean a quick procedure and a couple of days later I would be home. It would have minimal impact on my work, but given part of my work is reasonably frequent air travel and what I just told you, it wasn’t a great option. It was a treatment he would perform with my oncologist, who I had yet to meet. Specialists tend to favor opportunities for surgery or treatment that is their specialty of course and I respect that.

IMG_2061The next option was 8 weeks of almost daily radiation on this beast, which includes a CT scanner which would first make sure that every morning, after drinking enough water to fill my bladder and push my organs out of reach of the radiation (where possible), that I was lying in an identical position.

It would give me a 95% chance of killing the tumours. They could accomodate me so that I could go in first thing in the morning, if I got up early and have the treatment before work. They could do it over December and January as well so that would mean 3 weeks where it did not impact on my job.

The third option was to remove the prostate altogether, so if the tumours haven’t spread beyond the gland (pretty difficult to tell), they might get it altogether.

At this point I felt I needed to be informed. What were the risks, benefits and side effects? I thought back to watching Sir Paul Holmes on TV before he passed away from Prostate Cancer in 2013, saying that he wished he had never known he had cancer at all.

So how do you choose? I purchased a book called ‘Winning the Battle Against Prostate Cancer, Get The Treatment That is Right For You‘ by Dr Gerald Chodak. Oh how I wish I hadn’t bought the book, but I’m the sort of person who needs to understand.

It explained in gory detail how the different treatments worked (including some chemical treatments that we hadn’t discussed). Every treatment came with side effects and after effects. I hardly got any sleep for the week it took me to read this book. It scared the hell out of me and whilst you need to be positive, as stress has an impact on your body’s ability to fight cancer cells, it’s pretty hard to make an informed decision that WILL impact the rest of your Teamlife without being informed. I chose the book over Doctor Google, because it was recommended by cancer patient support groups.

So in the end I chose the 8 weeks of radiation and yes it had lots of side effects. Most of these are now over, 2 years later, but I’d be lying if I said it had been easy. If you’d like the gory details, please don’t pop $5 into my Early Bird account.

lava lava

Naked barring my socks, each morning I lay on the scanner, watching them mark with a pen, where the beam should go, trying to hold on to my dignity and my full bladder

Unfortunately soon after 2 months of treatment they told me that I wasn’t in the 95% of people who found themselves in remission after the treatment, but I felt very happy for those who were.

I had side effects from the treatment and scans showed the tumours were still there.

I did work on positivity and put my energy into starting my EP The Cancer Diaries following suppRelaort from my friends when I didn’t have the emotional strength to pick up my guitars or play them. I also took up the offer of free counselling from an Auckland Cancer Society specialist cancer psychologist, one of the services funded by your donations. If you haven’t heard the DEMO of the first song called If I Could Turn The Pages, you can listen to it here.

I hope you don’t want the gory details and will find $5 to shut me up although if you have prostate cancer, or want to know more about getting tested or the journey you are facing, I’m happy to share my experiences with any individuals on request.

Several people have found it helpful to speak to someone who has cancer rather than well meaning people, who haven’t had the experiences or had to make difficult decisions.

Early Birds 2018

Our 2018 singlets have just arrived. The 18 for 2018 is made up of the names of people living and sadly past who we are walking or running for on 10-11 March. The day after my birthday.

So instead of encouraging me to talk in more detail about the physical and emotional experiences I’ve been through in the last 2 years, please drop a couple of coins in the virtual bucket and lets celebrate life and hope and support Relay For Life 18 with my team. The Early Birds.

Prostate Cancer. No Pressure. Need Help for Relay For Life 2018.


So when my GP told me that my PSA levels had increased every test over the last couple of years when they should fluctuate, he said there was a risk that I might have cancer. He told me to lie up on the bed in his surgery, pull my pants down and my legs up and before I had a chance to ask, “is this necessary?”, his gloved finger went where the sun don’t shine. To say that it was unpleasant was an understatement, but I barely had time to feel embarrassed.

We wasted no time in making an appointment with a urologist and off I reluctantly went. I’m not sure what I was dreading most, being told I had cancer (If I did) or having yet more insult and injury to my dignity.

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A sign on the track at Relay For Life

He was a very nice, gentleman who explained to me what was going to next and asked if I had any questions. I was feeling pretty much in shock and bewildered and was barely taking in what he said.

He asked me what my flow pressure was like when I peed. I thought it was OK most of the time. They told me on the phone that I had to arrive with a full bladder for a urine pressure test, so I was ready to relieve the pressure.

I had to pee in a basin that had a sensor in it and I thought I did pretty well, as he stood in the next room, watching the gauge. He then burst my bubble and said that my flow was well below average and asked, would I like a script for something that would make it flow faster.

I declined. Up on the bed and he started prodding my stomach and then asked me to pull my pants off, lie on my side with my knees hard up against my chest.

20160320_095520Now dear reader, you may be feeling squeamish, you might be feeling embarrassed, you might be thinking, I’m pulling out of this story.

You might be thinking, why is he telling me this? Is it necessary?

No it isn’t, but I want your help and if I get some donations for our next Relay for Life, I won’t share the next step with you and I won’t tell you graphically how I felt.

People ask why I share my story. I’ll tell you why. All around me people are either battling or losing the fight to cancer. One in 3 people in New Zealand will get cancer and we have to do something about it. We can do something about it. The numbers are pretty similar in the western world.

Early Birds 2018Relay For Life isn’t just for raising money for cancer research, it is about remembering the people we love, work with, our friends and family who are affected by cancer. It is as much a celebration of life as a sharing of loss.

We walk for 18 hours in relay, and the number 18 on our singlets if you zoom in, you will see it is made up of the names the 13 of us are walking for. Some have passed away in the last few months, some are battling, some have been gone for some time and some are in remission like me.

When you walk around the track and you see an 11 year old in front of you and on the back of his shirt it says ‘I miss you Mummy’, you know why you are there.

So to stop me sharing the rest of this visit to the urologist, how about going to the Relay For Life website here and making a small donation. $5 is tax deductible if you are in New Zealand and it would mean a lot to me to have your support. If you’re overseas, maybe you won’t get a tax rebate for it, but I’d still be very grateful if you could share the cost of a coffee.

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These are the bags we put our clothes in, when we go in for radiation treatment. Each one of these bags represents a person being treated for cancer at any given time, just in this clinic

I hate asking for money, but it isn’t for me. It may will help you or someone you care about. Remember that number. 1 person in 3 in New Zealand will get cancer at some stage in their lives. Draw up a little list of people in your family and then separate one third of the names on that list. Imagine if those people got cancer. This is personal folks.

This year Relay is on the 10th and 11th of March. We got through the night to symbolise the cancer journey. You don’t have to walk the whole time, it’s a relay, but many of us like to do as much as we feel able. Our team is quite small this year. So far only 13 people. If you feel you would like to join us please head to the Team Early Birds page and let me or one of the team know.

Will you join us in person or in your thoughts?

Shuffling of Papers


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HOPE

Yesterday I arrived at the Oncology office to see my specialist, confidently expecting good news. I thought that he would be telling me that my PSA had dropped to zero or thereabouts and we could start looking towards 6 monthly catch ups, despite the fact that the fatigue and frequent bathroom visits continued.

He shuffled the papers and took a little while, with a big confidence inspiring smile told me that not everyone gets over the radiation quickly. He reminded me that no one gets cured of cancer, the goal is to achieve remission.

I took confidence from his smile and asked him about my PSA levels. He had another look at the papers, frowned a little and then told me that they had increased by about 50%. He said that I am in the 5-10% of people who take 6-12 weeks to get over the radiation treatment, gave me a form for another PSA test and a script for more Ural and we arranged another appointment in 4 weeks.

So, not what I wanted to hear. I’m still digesting it and what it means. I need to take some action steps.

  1. I need to learn to pace myself at work and leisure. I’m not good at that. I’m at my best when I’m focused but when I get home I’m often asleep within an hour or less after walking in the door, even when I manage to get home early. Whatever I do one day impacts on the next.
  2. I need to drink more fluid. It was much easier when I was going to radiation for 8 weeks and had to drink my bottle of water before I got there.
  3. iPhone 145I’m starting to focus on Relay For Life and I hope you’ll join me in that, either supporting our team at Millenium on the 19th and 20th of March, either in person, or by making a $5 tax deductible donation Donation. $5 isn’t a big deal to any of us right, but I keep thinking what a difference we could make for people like myself if all of us gave $5. I’ve already used up the donations some of you have made with phone calls to the society, attending a support group (which costs money to run) and met people who get to stay at Daffodil Lodge for free because they don’t live in Auckland and it’s expensive to spend a couple of months here when you are getting treatment and not working.
  4. I need to see a podiatrist as I have a sore foot. I don’t expect to do 50km this year, that’s probably not consistent with pacing myself, but I don’t want to be cut short by a minor injury either:)
  5. As of this morning I’ve gone back on Pomi-T again. It didn’t help before, but I still have plenty and it can’t hurt.
  6. Focus on quality of life. Play my guitars more, write some more songs and have fun with my friends and family.
  7. Look forward to a better PSA result in 4 weeks time.

iPhone 274Thanks so much to you all for your support and positive vibes. It means a lot to me. I really am serious about the $5 donations. It may seem hardly worth the effort for the price of a regular flat white, but it truly is, both in lightening my spirit and in everyone giving a little, we actually give a lot. Can you do that for me? Don’t worry about the donations buttons for bigger amounts. I have so many connections, if each of us only gave that amount (which is tax deductible) it would add up to something meaningful for the Cancer Society, but each little one will also put a big smile on my dial and smiles generate endorphin which makes you feel good.

 

Support for Cancer Sufferers and their Families


unI 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


This was a year ago and I’m still tired and getting ready for the next Relay For Life on 25th and 26th of March 2017. If you can spare a fiver, it would be much appreciated. I’ve only got a third of my goal so far. It’s tax deductible and 100% goes to cancer research. Click here for more info.

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.