Tumour-Chemo-London Marathon

Tumour->Chemo->London Marathon – my life’s route…

I’m over the first, receiving the second and aiming for the third; that’s my current life as a British expat School Principal living in Serbia.

In January this year I was diagnosed with a tumour. I went to see a doctor at the start of this January because the number of antacid tablets (chalk) that I was using was getting a bit silly. In the six months previous I had gone from one a week to one after any meal. But they worked and running a school and having a large family meant as it worked and relieved my stomach problems then any underlying issues could be put off until it becomes serious. There was also some blood, very minor in my stools. The doctor listened and suggested a CT scan, xrays and a colonoscopy, with possibly gastroscopy if nothing came from the colonoscopy. So the following week I came back for that having spent the day before cleaning out my system and had all the tests done. Within 5 minutes of the colonoscopy the doctor told me I had a large tumour that would need operating on soon, and she also found some polyps. That’s the moment your life changes…

Less than a week later my wife and I had met a surgeon and and arranged for the operation to take place the following week at Bel Medic in Belgrade. All the staff at the school wanted to know who would be the surgeon as in Serbia there are unwritten league tables! Every one of them had heard of mine and told me ha was one of the only two they would want as well.

The operation went well, everything removed and sent off for biopsies to determine if the tumour/polyps were benign or malignant. I spent two weeks recuperating in hospital and then discharged with a very short list of things I could eat for the rest of the month whilst my stomach and below recovered.

Then I had a meeting with the surgeon a week later who told me that the results had come back and that the cells were cancerous. Given their location it was his opinion that I should receive chemotherapy for bowel (colon) cancer and he would arrange for me to meet with the doctor who specialised in this area. Now your life not only changes but it almost comes crashing down on you…

I am fortunate that I have a very supportive wife.  The Directors at my school have also supported and worked with me, even though I will be on 8 months sick leave, doing some work at home as and when I can.

Many people have heard about chemotherapy, fortunately far fewer experience it.

My wife and I met with the doctor (oncologist) specialising in chemotherapy who explained that I had Stage III cancer (out of max. IV stages) but the good news was that there was no indication that it had spread to any other organs.

Here’s a non-medical version of what I have to go through every two weeks for six month of adjuvant chemotherapy (the aim being to destroy any microscopic cancer cells that may remain after the tumourous cancer is removed by surgery and reduce the possibility of the cancer returning): I have intravenous chemotherapy via a cannula (a small tube inserted into a vein on the back of my hand/wrist). The drugs I receive come under the heading of FOLFOX5 (Fluorouracil + Leucovorin+ Oxaliplatin). 5-Fluorouracil (5-FU) with Leucovorin, is the standard treatment for patients with Stage III tumours. Oxaliplatin is a platinum compound chemotherapy drug, and causes the side effect of peripheral neuropathy. This is a change in sensation in the hand and arm, a burning or pins and needles. I notice this during the treatment as well as at home. Cold kicks it off, once forgot and picked up a tub of ice-cream from the freezer, dropped it within a second as both my hands and lower arms instantly started buzzing badly with what felt like a severe case of pins and needles. It went after 30 minutes or so but wasn’t nice. When I’m receiving the treatment the arm receiving the fluids is basically unusable, so if I want to use my laptop it a slow one-fingered affair.

In hospital there is a very simple routine. Blood and urine tests are run, followed by an ECG. If no problems then the treatment can begin. 3 hours of Oxaliplatin, 2 hours of Leucovorin, 30 minutes intense dose of 5-FU, followed by 22 hours of 5-FU. Then another ECG. The Leucovorin and 5-FU doses are then repeated, and once it’s all over a final ECG before I can go home. 52 hours of infusions over two and a half days. It then takes around three days at home to get over it and I am very lethargic during this time. The following week start to return o some semblance of normality, though become very tired easily if I do anything active, then back to the hospital for the next session.

So, all in all, not much fun; better than the alternative, but still roll on August when the treatments finish. Which is why the charity work comes in.

At the start of April I heard about Football Shirt Friday, raising money for Bowel Cancer Research via The Bobby Moore Fund. I decided to help, set up a justgiving page and let friends know. In total within the next couple of weeks I’d raised over £1200.

During this time I watched, as I do every year, the London Marathon. Each year I watch and reminisce about when I ran it in 2002 and 2000. It is such an amazing event to be part of. Running with so many others and the crowds mean the whole event, no matter what time you get or where you come, make it just such a fantastic experience. As soon as the ballot opens the following week I enter. Then every October I receive an email saying I was unsuccessful. By this time my initial enthusiasm has abated due to the daily pressures and stress of life and I always wonder what would happen if I was successful. In the last eight years as an expat entering via the overseas entry I have never been successful. But now my life has changed.

Now I do want the ballot to be successful, because I want to use the event to help others who could suffer from Bowel Cancer in the future. It’s not nice, it makes massive, sudden changes not only to your own life but to those around you, none more so than your immediate family, and I feel that I am fortunate as the prognosis for me is very good. I’ve also applied for a Golden Bond place with Bowel Cancer UK as well in case I am unsuccessful (statistically very likely again), as the, minimum donation they want with the motivation I have and the friends who have offered to help make this eminently feasible.

Having done a lot of running up until a few years ago and completing London before I know what to expect and the level of training required. My goal is to get round comfortably this time, not to go for my record and blow up part of the way around.

And whilst I want to help others focusing on something like this; helping others so they suffer less than you whilst aiming for something that is so special has such a positive psychological effect on myself.

A group of excellent, very professional friends and I are putting together a series of events to raise money, and using many forms of social media and direct contact will start this in earnest from the end of August.

Please follow this blog and my progress in achieving the goal of bouncing back from bowel cancer and running next year’s London Marathon (see the bottom of sidebar) and if you can help with a donation the buttons are on the sidebar (things are active so you can donate now but fundraising events haven’t started yet).

Thanks for reading.

You can also follow me @neil4bc and use the hashtag #neil4bc 🙂

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