Soapbox time

I had my latest three-monthly prodding and squirrelling session a couple of days ago, this time with my original Consultant. He seemed happy enough with what he saw: it’s also the first time I felt completely comfortable with the nasal endoscope. All this time, it’s felt like my head is being violated and my nose feels physically detached from my head for a couple of hours afterwards. You endure the discomfort, but I’m cool with it now. Just a check on my thyroids to go and it’s ‘see you in 3 months time’.

It’s now two years since I noticed the original lump in my neck, and 19 months since I completed my treatment. As the first couple of years post-therapy are critical in terms of any reccurence, the closer I get to that milestone, the happier I feel. Now the next bit will sound like soapbox preaching, but it’s important, so please read on…

In the UK there is relatively little public awareness of head and neck cancer, but squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) is the sixth most common cancer worldwide. It constitutes about 4% of all cancers in the United States and 5% in the UK. Head and neck cancers often spread to the lymph nodes of the neck, and this is usually the first (and sometimes only) sign of the disease at the time of diagnosis.

This type of cancer is strongly associated with certain environmental and lifestyle risk factors, including tobacco smoking and alcohol consumption, Patients with these types of cancer are at a higher risk of developing another cancer in the head and neck area but – the crucial point – this cancer is highly curable if detected early.

The symptoms of head and neck cancers may include a lump or a sore that does not heal, a sore throat that does not go away, difficulty in swallowing, and a change or hoarseness in the voice. These symptoms may also be caused by other, less serious conditions.

I’m not writing this to frighten people: I just want to make you more aware of this particular type of cancer, and emphasise as strongly as I can that it is important to check with a doctor or dentist if you have concerns about any of the above symptoms. Who knows, you might thank me for it one day 🙂

Okay, sermon over with.

We’re soon to do a bit of sailing, this time around Sardinia and Corsica. We’ve sailed there before and had much fun, including one of the most startlingly beautiful entrances into port – sailing into Bonifacio harbour in Corsica. I’m very much looking forward to it!

Until the next time – enjoy life!

PS. Bonifacio from the air – pretty, n’est pas?



Medicate With Tea

I’ve just come back from my latest (now) three-monthly review, renewing my love-hate relationship with the nasal prowler. A different consultant, unsure of my past notes, but reassuringly thorough during the examination. He’s happy with my progress and fields my questions with ease: I feel suitably relieved, as do the rest of the family with this news. We march on…

I’ve had a number of unusual ailments recently, i.e. ones which don’t involve winter sniffles / man flu or falling over stuff. Its never been in my nature previously to panic, but now you can’t help feel that they could somehow be linked to the cancer. I’ve since had a number of additional blood tests and examinations, but the doctors don’t feel I’ve any need to be concerned – so I’m won’t be. I still can’t shift the mouth ulcers, or the nightly dry and sore throat, but the Lymphoedema has calmed down, so the need to massage is significantly reduced, and the Kinesio tape is consigned to the bin. 21 months after the cancer symptoms made themselves known, life feels pretty normal.

At present, there is much publicity regarding cancer awareness in both the media and social network sites, with many warnings about the increased likelihood of people developing the disease in the future. We’ve been vigilant to the dangers of smoking for many years now, but we’re gradually becoming more aware about how much our diet and alcohol intake can potentially be instrumental in causing cancers. A review of how both lifestyle and diet affects the risk was published in 2011, and it found that 4 out of 100 cancers were linked to alcohol, and around 1 out of 10 cancers may be connected with your diet. Factors included eating less than five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, eating too much red meat, not eating enough fibre and taking on board too much salt. Apart from obesity and alcohol, there isn’t much specific evidence at the moment that diet can reduce cancer risk, but a healthy diet may help and it will also lower your risk of other diseases, such as heart disease.

I’ve become far more conscious of my diet since treatment ended: this doesn’t mean I’ve become a born-again food fascist, just minimising processed foodstuff and taking on board far more fruit, salad, nuts, vegetables and fish. My strangest side affect is that I’ve developed a sweet tooth: I find it hard to resist chocolate, something I could previously quite happily live without. If I come round to yours, hide the Kit Kats (other processed choccy bars are available). I’ve also developed an addiction to infusion teas (otherwise known as ‘hippy sh*t’ tea to my friends). Considering I’d not gone anywhere near a teabag in my previous 55 years, this is quite a step change.

Apart from that, things are generally steady. Cancer rarely comes up in conversation until I think about the three-monthly inspections. It’s quite satisfying to be getting on with my life: it’s also great to be going to lots of gigs again. I’d forgotten how much I missed sweaty venues with sticky floors…

Until the next time!

PS. Yes, the title is yet another song reference: ‘Medicate with Tea’ by Emilie Autumn

PPS. The latest use for a Radioactive Mask (no.7): take it skiing.


The Journey continues…

I’ve just come back from the latest monthly check-up, and apparently all is still well (hurrah!). However, they have scheduled a PET scan for me within the next fortnight – the first scan I will have had since the treatment plan was completed at the end of October last year.

A PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scan is an imaging technique that produces a three-dimensional image of functional processes in the body. To conduct the scan, a short-lived radioactive tracer isotope is injected into my blood stream:  the tracer is then chemically incorporated into a biologically active molecule. This is particularly useful in identifying cancer cells. There is a waiting period of around an hour while this active molecule becomes concentrated in tissues of interest, and at this point they place me in the big imaging scanner for around 40 minutes. It’s a bit like the ‘Joe 90’ experience (a reference only meaningful to people of a certain age). I then remain radioactive for a few hours: I was disappointed to find out that this didn’t involve me glowing green in the dark…

I last had this done in August, before my Panendoscopy.  The latest one will provide a more accurate impression of what is going on inside of me than the few camera inspections I’ve had of the treated area. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly concerned, but at least it will remove any doubts in my mind – one way or the other. You really want to it to say “Alles Klar!” (it’s a German machine) there and then, but alas, no: results will be discussed in six weeks time. I shall be crossing my digits – not for six weeks obviously, that would be silly.

Apart from this, I spent a week sailing in the Canaries with Liz and a few good friends. Lots of sunshine, some good winds, so challenging sailing (certainly no cruising): the first time I’ve really pushed myself since all this began. It confirmed four things: I’m not as fit as I was, even though I’m back in the gym; I still need to cat nap on a regular basis; excessive alcohol intake is a thing of the past; I feel like a greased monkey with all the sunblock required.

I continue to find some foods difficult to digest, though I’m getting more adventurous with spicy foods (I’ve finally moved on from Kormas). Still find saliva hard to produce and the throat remains sore, especially at night – but I’m feeling better every day!

Thanks to all of you who have looked at this blog – it had over 1,100 views in the first month – and I hope that it gives you a good flavour of what the treatment and healing process is like. If there is anything specific you’d like to ask me, please do – I’d be happy to respond.

PS. Here’s the crew:


A wonderful sunrise after a bit of night sailing:


Radioactive Man at the helm…


The key to recovery

I mentioned previously that one of the key aspects to recovering post-treatment is the need for human contact – even if you’re not always up to it. That timeframe from treatment end to waiting for the results can be a very lonely period: you’re without the daily contact from/comfort blanket of the nursing staff, and you don’t yet know the final outcome. I was asked to do a piece with the assistance of Macmillan for the press regarding this period, and the link below is the first result (the newspaper version has my mugshot attached for additional scary impact).

The next update will be “the Partner’s Perspective”: I got Liz to put some thoughts into words about how she felt during the entire process. There are parts of her story that I wasn’t aware of at the time…