Friday, 23 September 2016

A Break From Chemo in Corfu

A few weeks ago one of my Uni friends who is usually part of the Ibiza team mentioned that he was interested in going abroad somewhere towards the end of summer for a chilled out holiday, with the focus being set strongly on expending as little energy as possible and building up some sort of tan to take into the Autumn months back in the UK. This sounded exactly like the sort of thing I needed in between these cycles of chemo so I sent him a message and we decided to go into the travel agents with no plan and see what they had to offer us. As a result I made a trip to Cardiff and we went into Thomas Cook with the following brief: "Short holiday, no party islands, just a beach and a pool with guaranteed sunbathing temperatures". Half hour later we were leaving the shop having booked our trip: 5 days in a beach-side hotel in Corfu in September, just outside the high season.

So last Monday I was awake at 3am and headed for Bristol airport in an effort to make up for the typically appalling British summer by spending 5 days oiled up in the Greek sunshine. After a fairly standard couple of hours waiting about in the airport and boarding the plane we took our seats onboard the plane and were joined by a nervous looking man who, much to my annoyance, asked us to move along so he could go on the end. So I waved goodbye to my aisle seat (and the extra legroom that comes with it) and moved into the centre seat for takeoff. A short while later the seatbelt sign was turned off and our new mate got up and headed silently toward the back of the plane, never to be seen again. The mystery of the missing man bothered us throughout the entire holiday, and the only theory we can come up with for his disappearance is a Bond-style parachute exit through the back door.

After landing and collecting our luggage we headed out to the coach pickup area in search of the bus to our hotel. "Kavos is it lads?" Was the response we got from every rep we approached. "Hell no!" Came our response. As fun as I'm sure Kavos is, I'm not 18 anymore and was looking for a pensioner-style holiday involving less partying and more drinking soft drinks next to a pool. Having found our correct bus (as well as our fellow holiday makers who all seemed to fit the pensioner bracket we had expected).

Our hotel was a nice building, set among surprisingly green gardens, with a pool and a beach bar as well as beach sun loungers available for free to all guests. The beach this bar was attached to then spread a fair distance in both directions, adorned by a multitude of restaurants and beach bars, every other one advertising that they sold "The Best Gyros" in Corfu. Having sampled a gyros once on a lads holiday to Zante I was filled with excitement at the prospect of daily Gyros, especially as the hotel bar was selling one of the so called "best" gyros. I was to be left disappointed however when not one of these locations could live up to their marketing as the kebab meat failed to live up to UK standards, let alone Greek standards that had been set so high half a decade ago in Zante.

A few hours on from the gyros debacle I awoke to brilliant sunshine creeping through the balcony doors, beckoning us back out and into our first full day of Greek heat. We decided to skip the pool, as it had minimal early sunshine, and head behind the hotel and to the beach bar where we got two nicely placed sun beds on the beach, right by the bar. As I got a round of cokes in for us I asked the barman how you say "thank you" in Greek to be a bit more polite than just speaking in English all the time and, as a result, returned to the sun beds with two pints on the house as well as a new word added to my Greek vocabulary (taking the grand total up to three).

After a couple of hours sun-worshipping we decided that the best way to avoid the food-based disasters of the day before was to get away from the beach bars and head into Corfu Town itself. A half hour taxi ride later and we found ourselves in a typically Greek town with plenty of restaurants to try and find an acceptable meal at, as well as a backup McDonalds just in case the foot proved as bad as we had experienced the evening before. Fortunately this wasn't required as the restaurant recommended by the taxi driver served lovely grub with the benefit of being near the pick up point to get back to our hotel. That evening, fully fuelled by some successful grub, we got to the beach bar just before the entertainment started and chose a table near the space that had been cleared for the dancers to use. This would come back to haunt us a few minutes later when they picked random people to join in the dances and we were both selected for the honour of making fools of ourselves in front of fellow guests. Luckily I was paired with an attractive brunette dancer for the duration (a combination of attributes that I have been known to favour in the past as it happens) whereas my friend was saddled with a portly greek lady, edging towards pensioner status.

On our third day we decided to investigate the water sports that were available just around the bay from the hotel and, having perused the options, we decided to go with parasailing. This gave me a chance to break out the GoPro for the first time and get some shots of the picturesque scenery as well as some unflattering shots of us crashing into the sea from a height. After an exhilarating ten minutes of parasailing we swam/limped back around the beach to our towels as somebody had come up with the bright idea to walk to the water sports place without our flip flops on a beach made up mostly of razor-like rocks and pebbles. When we got back to the sun beds a couple of British girls had parked nearby and were struggling through a crossword and were stuck on the following: 9 Letter word, begins with the letter P, clue: "supporter or follower of a cause". I'll leave you to think about it for a while before I post the answer. Fortunately what the girls lacked in crossword ability they made up for in local knowledge, and as a result they pointed us towards an area away from the beach with more restaurants to try, meaning that night ended with a succulent fillet steak as opposed to a dodgy lamb kebab.

The View From Up Above

Mac and Jones Flying High


After the experiences of these first three days we were fully prepared for our last full day in Corfu. We knew to wear flip flops to walk around to the water sports for a trip out on some inflatable seat contraption; we knew to avoid gyros by heading back to the nicer restaurants off the beach; and importantly we knew which seats to avoid if we didn't want to be dragged onstage to join in with the greek dancers that were the final nights entertainment.

Due to the numerous delays I've had in my chemo I returned to the UK just before a planned blood test to check my eligibility for chemo to begin a week later. Fortunately this time my platelet levels had risen way back up to where they should be, enabling me to begin cycle 4 of 6 of my treatment and prompting my oncologist to recommend a holiday before each blood test.

So there we are, NHS prescribed holidays. I can live with that. Now just to get them to pay for it too.

Post Scriptum
Once again, this trip would have been impossible without the help of InsuranceWith who provide affordable travel insurance for many people with pre existing medical conditions, such as cancer. In honour of this please click here to vote for them in the British Travel Awards: http://britishtravelawards.com/btaform.php?nomLink=253

Oh and the answer to that crossword question? Proponent. Did you get it?


Thursday, 18 August 2016

Gaps In Treatment Filled By The Teenage Cancer Trust

Since my last blog I have been able to have one more cycle of chemotherapy but have also had a second one delayed a couple of times due to low blood test results. Although this has meant a delay in my treatment it has also meant I have been able to attend a number of Teenage Cancer Trust events without having to worry about the increased tiredness and increased susceptibility to illness that comes with being on a chemo cycle.

Firstly I had a place on the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust trip, which would see me spending a few days helping to sail a yacht around the Isle of Wight. We began by travelling to Southampton and boarding a ferry across to Cowes on the Isle of Wight where we met up with representatives of the Trust who led the way to the Trust base for some introductions and team building exercises.

There were groups of young people from a number or areas of the U.K. which, like 'Find Your Sense of Tumour' last year, comprised people at various stages of their treatment for a variety of different cancers. Over the next three days we spent time being taught how to sail by being shown, amongst other things, how to raise and lower the sails, how to steer the boat and how we should conduct ourselves and position our bodies while out at sea.

After a day of sailing we would dock and were free to mix with the other boats to socialise with the other young people over increasingly tense games of Uno. I'm still reeling from a game on the first night where the girl to my right viciously lined me up with a number of 'pick up 4/2' cards just when I thought I was in with a shot of winning.

On one evening we anchored at an island that had been prepared for a group BBQ and, after a spin in a speedboat on the way there, all boats joined together to eat and chat. However, what we hadn't prepared for was the bug swarm of biblical proportions that surrounded us as we began to eat. If there ever was guaranteed way to ruin a burger, the risk of ingesting little flying creatures on every bite was it. Having said that, it was a highly enjoyable few days that I would recommend to anyone given the opportunity to go.

A few days after we returned from the Ellen MacArthur trip another event had been arranged by the Cardiff Branch of the Teenage Cancer Trust, a trip to the Cardiff Bay Glee Club. I was massively looking forward to this as I'm a big fan of stand up comedy and haven't got anything against free food either. I met up with the rest of the group outside the club and, after a bit of Pokemon catching, we headed inside to find our table and seats. The evening would involve three comedians as well as the compère entertaining the audience in between the acts. As part of the compères routine we were encouraged to tweet them throughout the show so that they could respond when they were on stage. Not needing much of an invitation I got my phone out and proceeded to see if I could 'poke the bear' and get one of the comedians to make some cancer jokes with the following tweet:

The Tweet That Got Us Roasted

I wasn't sure I had succeeded until we got close to the last comedian of the evening. In the gap before the act was introduced the compère began to go through tweets he had received, inevitably stopping on mine. I had been fairly confident of getting a mention as my Twitter profile practically invites abuse with my profile picture and the blue tick. As expected this was the angle the compère took to begin his roasting of me. What I had never noticed before was the exact angle he would use by pointing out the similarity of my profile photo to a famous image from the 90s. I'll put both photos below and you can judge for yourselves whether he might have had a point or not:

I Have No Idea What He Was On About...

As the accompanying music died down he asked who we were exactly and, in fairness, remained pretty confident as he continued the roasting, knowing that we were with the Teenage Cancer Trust. Although the crowd did take a second to assure themselves we were laughing and not offended before laughing at the cancer jokes themselves.

At the end of the evening a prize of four free tickets was to be awarded to someone that had filled in a competition slip on their arrival, however the girl that won hadn't stayed until the end so the comedian said "fuck them then, we'll give them to someone else", deciding to pick someone who had tweeted in instead. When he opened up Twitter my profile was still on the screen and he said "actually, shall we give them to the cancer guy?". Most of the crowd applauded this and I was given the prize of a free ticket for four to the Glee Club Cardiff. "Wait a second", the compère shouted, looking in detail at the tickets, "These tickets have a November date on them, how long do you have?". Every one of us with the TCT fell about laughing, followed a split second later by the rest of the crowd.

Since that day I have once again faced a double delay in chemo that will hopefully come to an end the week after next (blood count permitting), allowing me to begin cycle four of six and stay on track to finish treatment before the end of the year.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Delays

I ended my last blog post by saying that my chemo had been delayed because of a chest infection and expected this post to be about how I'd started back on chemo a week later, however things haven't quite gone to plan. After my initial week long delay I returned to Velindre for my pre-chemo appointment which included having my bloods taken to check various levels were appropriate for the start of chemotherapy. As it happens my white blood cell level was a little low (the benchmark level to start chemo is 100, whereas I was sitting at 96), meaning that I would be facing a further week long delay in the start of chemo. I was however quite thankful for this as it meant I would be able to have a drink at the two Teenage Cancer Trust events that I was attending that week.

The first of the events was a trip to the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff to see Busted live. They were being supported by Wheatus who transported the entire room back over 15 years when they smashed out Teenage Dirtbag and A Little Respect. I would've been happy enough if the gig ended there and then, but there was more to come as Busted appeared and made the life of 11 year old me by busting out all of their classics from the naughties.

The following night the TCT had a cocktail masterclass planned in the Sports Bar attached to Bierkeller Cardiff. This made me especially glad for the chemo delay as making a bunch of cocktails only to give them away to everyone else didn't strike me as the most fun way to spend an evening. As the only member of the group with years of bar work experience I was first up and managed to not embarrass myself despite the weakness in my left side that very nearly resulted in a smashed cocktail glass and strawberry daiquiri everywhere.

Having recovered from my night of steins and cocktails I received my latest blood results and found that my white cell level had dropped further to around 48, meaning a further week long delay to give my body a chance to recover from the chest infection before blasting it with poison.

During this third week long delay I had a text from the Cardiff TCT organiser asking if I wanted to go on a trip with them in conjunction with the Ellen MacArthur Trust. Due to this I'll be pushing my chemo back a further week to enable me to spend part of next week sailing around the Isle of Wight with a group of other young people affected by cancer. Hopefully my blood levels stay up where they should be so that I can get back onto chemo the week after and get to work on shrinking Timmy even further.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Even Tinier Tim

Last week was a week of appointments, which saw me in Velindre three times with a trip to the dentist thrown in the middle for good measure. Over the last year or so my dentist has been reluctant to X Ray my mouth for fear of introducing extra radiation into the head while I'm undergoing treatment. This time, having the Velindre appointment so close to my dentist appointment reminded me to ask the oncologist whether that was necessary. The answer to that question was in simple terms, no. More specifically, the amount of extra radiation from a dental X-Ray is negligible. However, any dental treatment would be advised against while I'm on chemo due to the increased risk of infection and, as a result, there probably wouldn't be any point in introducing the extra radiation into the area when no action can be taken regardless of the results.

Following on from my dental check up I had my first trip to Velindre of the week for my first MRI scan since chemo began. I followed my standard procedure and turned up after minimal sleep so that I could try and kip through the scan, but didn't quite manage to drift off amidst all the bleeping and whirring reminiscent of R2D2 and Mrs R2D2 caught in an intimate moment just outside the scanner.

Two days later I was back in Velindre for a pre-chemo check up. I was weighed and found to be down to only 64kg, which is something I need to address as that puts me at a stone lighter than when I was diagnosed. Fortunately all that means is I need to increase my calorie intake and time in the gym, which I'm more than happy to do, doctor's orders or not. Because I wasn't seeing my usual oncologist as well as it only being two days after my MRI I wasn't expecting any results and so was surprised when the doctor began the appointment with "So shall I start with the scan results?".

Slightly wrong-footed by this surprise I mumbled something in the affirmative and he began:

"Well it's shrunk"
*Shocked silence*
"It's shrunk?"
"Yes, do you want to see the scan?"

He showed me the scan and, sure enough, the tumour had shrunk yet again. From 28.6mm at my last scan down to 25.5. This is a total of nearly 7mm from what it was when it was first discovered, all those months ago, which works out as roughly a 1/5 reduction of the diameter of the tumour since treatment began. So regardless of what else is going on the radiotherapy/chemotherapy pairing seems to be working at the moment.

Bearing this in mind I was positive en route to start my latest course of chemo a couple of days ago. However a chest infection has come along as a bit of a spanner in the works, meaning my chemo start date has been pushed back until next week. Looks like I'll have something to blog about sooner than I expected.

Monday, 4 April 2016

The Chemo Begins. Again.

Since I last blogged I have had the first of six chemo sessions to come over the next 9 months. As I mentioned previously, this began with an intravenous drip in the hospital before a course of tablets to be taken at home as before.

On the day of treatment I arrived at Velindre and was directed to a part of the facility that I was unfamiliar with for a change. On entering the Chemotherapy Outpatient Unit the first thing I noticed was how comfy the chairs looked. But if you're going to have people sat about having poison pumped into their bodies I suppose the first step you take is to at least make the chairs they're sat in comfortable.

I was directed towards the back of the room and into a chair of my own. If it wasn't for the attached IV drip I would happily have one of these chairs at home, right in front of the TV.

To begin with my arm was submersed in warm water to bring out the veins as much as possible. Due to my abnormally high level of everyday vascularity this is something I've never experienced before, but I suppose I must have been having a bad vein day that meant they needed a little help finding the right vein for the job.

Once I was attached to the drip a bag of saline solution was attached to the other end to keep the vein open while the chemo drip was prepared. Other than a chilly sensation where the solution entered the vein this part of the process had little measurable impact on me, as is to be expected.

The chemotherapy drip itself came next and was over surprisingly quickly, taking little over five minutes for the bag of liquid to completely empty into my system.

I was then provided with my party bag of chemo tablets to be taken over the following week on an alternating schedule of 4 tablets one day and 3 the next.

I'm pleased to report that during the week itself, as well as the days that followed, I experienced very little in the way of side effects. I was a bit more tired and lethargic than usual but had no sickness to report. I'm currently waiting for my second cycle to begin but do have a week left to go before that comes around. Hopefully this first cycle will be a sign of things to come and I'll be able to train through this entire period as well as a couple of trips away to escape the monotony of home.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Guess Who's Back, Back Again. Chemo's Back, Tell A Friend

After another appointment at Velindre a few days ago I've been informed that, although the tumour appears to be stable, the fact that there was clearly some activity that lead to my recent admission to hospital means the oncology team are inclined to believe I would benefit from having further treatment sooner rather than later.

As a result I will be beginning a course of chemotherapy on Tuesday. This will be different from my previous chemo as it will involve a combination of tablets and IV drip, whereas my previous chemo has all been in tablet form. This method of chemotherapy is called PCV (Procarbazine, Lomustine - known as CCNU, Vincristine) and will consist of an intravenous drip on day one of each treatment cycle followed by 10 days of chemo tablets. I will then wait until six weeks from the injection date for my next cycle to begin, and I will be having a total of six cycles.

As the mathematically astute amongst you may have realised, this means that I will be under treatment for a total of roughly nine months. After nine months of sickness, scans and hospital visits I'm half expecting to give birth to Timmy at the end of it all, although I have a feeling he'll manage to hang on in there like some sort of annoying, life threatening, brain dwelling embryo.

One small mercy is the fact that this type of chemotherapy does not usually result in hair loss, although it will likely mean a return to the sickness and sleeping problems that I so enjoyed last time around.

In other news the stitches in my stomach have finally dissolved and I'm expecting imminent delivery of a bunch of Bio-Oil so that I can start working on minimising the visual impact it will have on my abdominals.

This does also mean that I won't be able to go on my trip until at least this time next year. If it's true what they say and good things really do come to those who wait then it should be absolutely unbelievable by the time I eventually manage to go.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Convalescence

Since my last post I'm glad to say I've left the hospital behind, along with the dreaded catheter and cannula that they had installed during my stay. While I'm on that subject,I don't know about you, but I had always assumed there was some clever way of removing a catheter involving special valves or a clever twisting manoeuvre, this assumption was shattered into a million pieces however when the time came to have mine taken out. Instead of some clever manoeuvre the approach turned out to have a lot in common with the process used when starting up a troublesome lawnmower, which as any males reading this will attest, is not a particularly welcome way to treat that part of your anatomy.

In the time since I'm glad to say the jaundice and bruising my arms were displaying has all but vanished and, as a result, I'm looking fairly normal, especially after I had an emergency procedure on my haircut to restore some order to the top of my head after my latest brain surgery partial head shave.



Despite having my head and stomach cut open as part of the shunt fitting, the biggest down side of this latest stay in hospital was having to postpone my travels. Working my way through all my hotel/hostel bookings and clicking cancel on each was nearly as painful as the moment the catheter was yanked out of place a few days earlier.

Due to this unexpected visit to hospital my Oncologist arranged a new MRI scan to take a look at the tumour and assess the situation now the shunt has been fitted. Once again I didn't follow my own advice and neglected to make sure I was hungover enough to sleep through the scan. Instead I lay there in the machine, wide wake, listening to noises reminiscent of how I imagine it would sound if R2D2 got stuck in a blender for half an hour.

Following the scan I asked if there was anyone that could take a look at the stitches in my stomach, as they didn't seem to be dissolving very quickly and the wound looked quite aggravated and red. There was a nurse available and she came to give her opinion on the wound. She was followed by another three nurses who came for a browse at the stitches when they heard rumours of abdominals being displayed, so at least I know my stomach won't be completely ruined aesthetically by the scar I'll be left with when the stitches eventually dissolve.

I've now had a phone call off my oncologist stating that there doesn't seem to be any significant change in the tumour, so at least the latest episode was not caused by a flare up of growth in the tumour but more likely by smaller changes that happened to be in the exact place the fluid was trying to drain away. Although I still need to wait to find out if any immediate treatment will be recommended after discussions between my oncologist, the other specialists in Cardiff and the specialist from the Royal Marsden in London.

In other news Piri must have been feeling left out and decided she was due a trip to hospital herself. We noticed a problem where her eye was watering a lot and took her to get it looked at. At the vets we discovered she had an ulcer developing in her eye and she needed a temporary lens fitted as well as medication and eye drops. So in the house at the moment we have two of us convalescing but obviously priority goes to Piri as she's far cuter than I am. Especially with her cushion secured around her neck.

A photo posted by Piri (@pirithepug) on