It’s interesting to wonder what comes into peoples minds when they are asked to guess what C-word we might be thinking about in certain circumstances or to describe certain conditions. The obvious one is THE C-word Curse. Even The Guardian prints that straight out nowadays. They did a full article on the propriety of using it in plain text a couple of years ago and I laughed when I read it and found myself feeling somehow liberated that a main stream broadsheet would enter into that fray. The Guardian is, of course, totally unique in that respect and revels in breaking new ground in journalism. THAT word, however, remains outside the conversation of polite society and is certainly not something women appreciate hearing. Men, on the other hand have come to use it more and more and it has taken on a life of it’s own with some measure of affection attached to its’ delivery. ‘Hey up you old c..t, how you doing?’ ‘Ah you silly c..t, what are you up to?’ are lines that can make blokes feel they are part of a group of mates. Delivery can, of course, be made with extreme malice and it remains an effective way of making sure people know very clearly what you think of them. It all comes down to the delivery in the end.
Otherwise, the C-word can be synonymous with something of a Curse in terms of being Cursed. That context is a totally different case and is generally something which nobody, but nobody, wants to hear used in terms of their own precious temple.
Nobody wants to hear it in relation to themselves. It’s always used when talking about other people. The thought of it being US who might succumb is something which we generally refuse to believe, preferring to think it’s someone else who will get it.
So, as a confirmed invincible immortal, it came as something of a surprise to discover I am just as ordinary as anyone and have the same statistical chance of getting Cancer as anyone reading this. A couple of weeks ago, I got the dread news that I have been diagnosed with prostate Cancer.
All sorts go through your mind when you hear the news. First thoughts are about dying of course. Then the resolute bit kicks in with ‘the c..t won’t get me!’. Next comes the philosophical where the line between dull acceptance and active resignation is drawn. Not sure where I am at the moment but I can say I am not desperately stressed about it for some reason – denial possibly or still stuck in my philosophical mode.
It was sad to hear the news. Not so much because of THE NEWS, but because it came from my wife. I had an inkling that things might not be good after having had a full health screening at a fantastic hospital in Jakarta, Indonesia. RS Pondok Indah completed a top quality job in their Executive Health Screening process. It was thorough and the results were presented incredibly professionally.
When they saw an enlarged prostate with a PSA of 11.29, they made the right recommendations and we were carried off on the great investigative train that transports you from department to department as they seek to establish what exactly is going on. In the end I was sent for a transrectal biopsy of the prostate and, no matter what anyone says if you search websites looking at what that is all about, it IS without doubt the MOST miserable and painful experience I have ever had. I was sick on one level or another for about two weeks after the biopsy and I would have asked for an MRI scan first if I ever knew the option existed for exploring the state of your prostate – the biopsy is, of course, rather cheaper.
I was setting off for UK on my own on the Saturday, and we went to review the biopsy results on the Wednesday before. It was not really good news but not all bad, so I resolved to take the flight and see what happened. The seed was planted in my head by then of course and I was mentally setting myself up for mixed news. I didn’t bargain, however, on the short and very sad call I got from Ulan on the Monday, confirming that the additional studies that were done in Indonesia to confirm the real detail of the biopsy result had revealed Cancer. Doctor Arry Rodjani of RS Pondok Indah had called her 6 times to tell her that I needed to get very urgent attention because the new results confirmed that the Cancer was there and was still treatable with a Gleason index of 3+3=6.
I really don’t know what happened inside my head at that moment. I told myself to settle down and carry on as normal. I walked over the road to my doctors surgery, carefully carrying all my notes and the results of all the tests and confirmatory printouts indicating the scale of the problem and asked for an appointment. The receptionist informed me that I was no longer registered at the practice I had been with since 1984. We had a discussion about this and she eventually decided to offer me an appointment the next day with one of their new doctors but didn’t register me. I went back home and called my brother and told him. He said he knows someone who is friendly with a urological oncologist on Harley Street. I rang his practice and they took me straight on and offered me a consultation with this great man the very next day.
I went out for a long stomp around Bedford Park and discovered what a beautiful place it is. I went out and bought the new Tony Bennett Duets album and spent time listening to some of the old songs with some of the greatest modern talent singing with him. I cooked myself some dinner and went to bed at about 8 in the evening. I slept surprisingly well and started the new life with Cancer.
The web – Google – becomes your friend when you hear news like this. BUT……. don’t do it. Stay away from Google as much as you can. There are so many conflicting lines, so many different points of view but most importantly, so many attempts to tell you what prognosis you might have. Statistics are not your friend because they depend on what they are trying to tell you and they can be quite daunting and certainly very depressing. You have to look inside yourself and feel how well you are for yourself. If you can do that and try to feel optimistic and try not to suddenly interpret all your normal aches and pains and little sniffles or coughs as being cancer rampaging through your body you will come through it fine.
I failed that test.
I decided that all the aches and pains were the cancer rampaging through my body. I was definitely going to die….. and soon. And so it went on for the next day or two. I felt very, very lonely and Ulan and I had several teary Skype calls.
Fortunately I have my brother. He is just amazing and really stepped up for me. After the consultation with Dr Peter Harper in Harley Street, I was referred to Professor Roger Kirby at The Prostate Centre on Wimpole Street. Bryn let me stay over at his place when I needed the company and he escorted me around all the places I had to visit. The Nuada Medical Centre for a 3T MRI scan – amazing machine and a long session lying there as the polo mint spun this way and that making incredibly loud banging and clunking sounds. Prostate Centre again for a discussion with Professor Prokar Dasgupta (the man who introduced Da Vinci robotic prostatectomy to UK) who has become my consultant. The Harley Street Clinic for a bone scan – I was injected with a radioactive substance, then I had to wander round London avoiding all young children and pregnant women for 3 hours before returning so they could do the imaging. And so on.
I stayed with Bryn for several nights and was really so lucky to be able to go and watch him at his work – he took me to the rehearsal of Brittens War Requiem at the Barbican and then to the full concert in the evening – now it means so much more to me and I am a definite fan. I also went to watch a solo harp concert by invitation only at the Purcell Rooms on the South Bank. He introduced me to Boris’s Bikes (which should really be Kens Bikes) so that we could cycle everywhere we went for next to nothing. We walked miles and miles and stopped for refreshments at Pattiserie Valerie whenever we saw one. We ate at Porcelli in Soho and had a wonderful time together as brothers. Bryn also got me going on the buses. Now the use of a London Bus holds no mystery for me and I will use them as much as I can from now on. It’s been absolutely wonderful to rediscover our brotherhood.
What was also simply wonderful was the way Ulan managed, at 34 weeks pregnant, to wangle a flight back to UK to join me. She cajoled and persuaded all the right people to let her fly and it was with pure and absolute joy that I drove down to Heathrow to collect her and Alix and bring them home to share my troubles with me. I had already persuaded myself that she would never do it and I would have to face the coming months on my own: missing the birth of our daughter and seeing her for the first time only in the new year, but also, having to face the prospect of the unknown consequences of the tests I was having. It was SO GOOD to have the family all together again so that we could work through everything. Our time together has always been precious, but now it is even more so.
Telling Sam, was not so easy at all. His Mum died of cancer at the age of 44. Sam was only 17 at the time and the prospect of telling him that his Dad also has cancer was utterly distressing. When I called him in the Maldives to tell him the news, I cried my sad little eyes out…. there are few more miserable things to tell your son, although I have to say that the day i told him his Mum had died was without doubt the worst imaginable.
But now we are in the routine. We travel to London for appointments as a family now. It means that Ulan and Alix can get to know the people who are caring for me and can build a relationship of trust. Poor Ulan, at 36 weeks pregnant, valiantly waddles along the streets of London as we find our way to the Prostate Centre on Wimpole Street and then as we walk to find somewhere to sit and rest and have something to eat as we wait to head back to Bedford. We have found the Garden Cafe in Regents Park does really good and healthy food so that is our preferred destination nowadays.
The other big adjustment we are making is a huge shift in lifestyle. Nowadays we are cutting red meat out of our diets and are treading the vegetarian path. To be honest, when you get down to it, vegetarian cooking is excellent and I am slowly managing to lose my lust for Full English Breakfast, choosing instead to eat muesli, low-fat yogurt, dried fruit and lots of nuts. We still eat white meat occasionally and are getting into much more fish. Salmon is emerging as a favourite and with Ulan’s ‘fancy’ rice, we are tucking in and enjoying. Now, in the evenings, we are eating a big plate of fruit and nuts and yogurt for our desert but are cutting down alot on food. I have become a resolute pomegranate fan and take concentrated pomegranate juice with some of the more commercial types. It is said to have great properties in combating prostate cancer so it is now top of the list. I drink cranberry juice and smoothies as treats now and have cut out caffiene almost entirely. Green tea is becoming very palatable but i still miss my cup of real tea in the morning and have made it decaf now.
I am feeling GREAT believe it or not. I get out and stomp around the park almost every day – up to 9 km now. I also go swimming at the Robinson Pool at the end of our road and do 20 or 30 lengths to build myself up for the challenges ahead. I have managed to lose nearly 8 kg since mid-September so I’m feeling a bit smug 🙂 Now I have only another 12 to go…..!!!
Now, after all the too-ing and fro-ing, discussions with so many people and scrutinisation by so many machines, we are on the road to treatment. On this coming Monday (7th November) we will be going to London again. We will stay with my ever-supportive brother and then at lunchtime on Tuesday I will find my way to The London Clinic to receive my radical prostatectomy. The surgeons will be using a Da Vinci robot to do the work and it will all be done through 6 keyholes in my abdomen. Having never really been sick in my whole life, it is a very daunting prospect but I am looking forward to my 3 hours at the mercy of a man-driven robot. It is supposed to be an amazing operation and, if I am lucky, the entire prostate will be removed along with absolutely ALL the Cancer.
Here’s hoping. Can’t wait to see our new little one being born in a few weeks time 🙂