Long Strange Trip

It has been more of an amazing trip than a strange one. I could go all the way back to my childhood and relive all the old pains. Why would I do that? For today, I’m just going to go back three years to 2014.

It all started when I woke up one morning and my hands were in severe pain and looked like I had been hitting a wall all night. I lived with the pain and the swelling for nearly two weeks, until it got to the point that I couldn’t open a jug of milk without using channel lock pliers to help me.

The doctor ordered blood tests and my mind began racing. I convinced myself that I had cancer. Within 24 hours, I found out that it was “only” my heart – that I didn’t have cancer. I was so happy! No cancer! Just my heart.

That’s how scared I was of cancer. Having open heart surgery is pretty serious stuff but I didn’t care because I didn’t have cancer. Ten days after my surgery, I had a check-up and within two hours, I was readmitted back into the hospital.

I had internal bleeding. After the bleeding was controlled I had a colonoscopy and found out that I had two feet in my colon that were covered with polyps. They ranged in size from peas to golf ball. Instead of removing all the polyps, the surgeon removed the two feet of my colon and sewed me back up. And once again, I waited in fear, wondering if it was cancer. And once again, I got the good news that it wasn’t cancer.

As I healed from these surgeries, I began to feel good about the future. I had plans to move to England and I now knew I had a clean bill of health. My heart was strong and better than ever and most importantly I didn’t have cancer.

In 2016, I left America and made the journey across the pond. I found a job within a month and for the first year everything was going great. It was when 2017 started that things took a turn. I developed a sore throat and it never wanted to go away. I went to the GP and was given antibiotics to help with tonsillitis. After the ten day treatment, I felt a bit better but still had some pain swallowing. I was given a second round of antibiotics and told if it wasn’t better in a week to stop back in.

After a week, the GP sent me to an ENT, who did some tests and he believed it was cancer. It still didn’t mean much to me. I just didn’t feel like I had cancer. I had surgery to remove the tonsil and to get a biopsy. This time the results did say cancer. My worst fears had become a reality.

My wife and I went to The Christie Cancer Centre. The number one cancer centre in Europe was practically in our backyard. I would have radiation and Cetuximab. Cetuximab is given like other chemo drugs, but it isn’t a chemo drug in the sense of the word. It belongs to a group of cancer drugs known as monoclonal antibodies. These drugs are sometimes called targeted therapies… It may also make the cancer cells more sensitive to chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

I was feeling confident with it all. Having been a caretaker for my ex-wife(breast cancer) I knew how chemo made her quite ill and very weak, while radiation didn’t seem to bother her as much. After three weeks of radiation I was spent. I was defeated and very weak. I no longer could eat and just speaking became a major chore.

I wanted to quit. I wanted to walk away from it all and just live for however long I had. The specialists wouldn’t have that and admitted me to the hospital where I would finish my treatment. When it was done. I went home and suffered the after effects for over a month. My neck was burnt and skin just fell off the right side of my face. From my lips, to the cheekbone, to my neck, my skin was burnt and everything I did was a new experience in pain.

As that began to get better, my tongue started to swell and swallowing became a new experience in pain. Now four months since treatment ended, my tongue is still tender but now I no longer use pain pills like I once did. The swallowing is still a challenge and at times I can choke on food quite easily.

Six weeks after treatment ended I went back to work in a bakery dispatch. It was very physical labour, but I managed and never complained and worked my ten hour shifts just like everyone else. I only wanted one shift a week until I built my strength back up, but after two weeks I wanted something new. So I applied for a job at Piccadilly in Manchester and was hired at the carpark working security.

At the beginning of May I went to see the oncologist and received news that a recent scan and bloodwork showed no signs of cancer. He said he couldn’t say “cured” (that takes five years) but he is confident about a cancer free future for me.

The last week of October, I learned I had cancer. Seven months later I am cancer free. I am back to work, at a new job, averaging 36 hours a week. While the timeline says everything has happened quite quickly, the truth is it has been a long strange trip.