Recovery

18-Green shoots…

30 June 2020

Just finished the first two weeks post-treatment. What a trip! No surprises though, others had told me these could be the worst and they were pretty much spot-on.

The first week post treatment was awful – the neck burns had worsened and involved a trip to the local A&E along with almost daily attention by nurses.

My neck is unfortunately a difficult area to dress burns. Even though I’ve lost over 20kg, I still have more chins than a Hong Kong phone directory, so this did at first challenge the nurses. It took an unexpected trip back to see the radiologists at Cheltenham, where they had the perfect answer.

The pink coloured dressing is called Polymem and is a very sophisticated product. Read more about it here

The worst parts of the burns were additionally treated with Intrasite Gel and morphine mixture. This gave additional topical pain relief, exactly where required.

Within 10 days, the results have been amazing and to all intents and purposes completely healed. There is long-term damage to the skin though. I must moisturise this area twice a day – forever. Also, sunblock factor 50 must be applied whenever exposed to sun. Again forever.

I won’t dwell on the remainder of that week, suffice to say I never want a repeat. Finally, this last week of June has seen the first green shoots of recovery.

My voice is coming back bit by bit, although still squeaky. The coughing and thick mucus is still there 24/7. I’ve been tentatively trying to eat, although the burns in my mouth make for a quite unpleasant experience. And that is still really painful, even considering the morphine dose I’m on.

First thing I tried was some Manuka Honey from New Zealand (thanks Gill). Difficult for me, although Samros and Nisa love it.

A soft-boiled egg did go down, but that was a lot of effort. So I’ve decided to wait a week or so, before attempting solids again. I’m in no rush. I have my liquid nutrition feeds 4 or 5 times a day, giving 1200-1500 calories total.

So, all in all a very slight improvement day by day, but I’m pleased with that and hopefully the worst is over.

It won’t just be over for me though.

I receive so many best wishes and notes of bravery – and they’re all sincerely appreciated. But as is said – behind every man is a great woman and there’s no truer case than mine.

Samros has been an absolute pillar of strength. And I don’t say that lightly.

This is a woman that is not only grieving the loss of her mother in mid-April and of course, because of covid-19 not able to travel to Cambodia for her funeral, but also coming to terms with a husband stricken with stage 3 cancer.

I guess I’m fortunate that because of the lockdowns and shutdowns, Samros is on furlough and therefore she’s been taking care of me continuously, day and night. I can see the pain in her face as she sees the pain in mine.

I’m now in my 3rd week of sleeping sat upright on the sofa. It helps alleviate coughing due to the mucus. So Samros now sleeps on the lounge floor alongside me. If I wake with say, coughing - she’s immediately awake too. Ready to get me a sip of water, add some more medicines through my PEG or just to comfort me.

I try not to show the pain and we laugh off as much as we can. This humour has been one of our great strengths in the 7 years we’ve known each other. So the little in-jokes, the smiles, glances, touches and a lot of ‘ I love you’s ‘ are for sure been the best medicine I could have.

My next scheduled meeting with doctors is on 7th July. This is the first of monthly check-ups that I understand will be for the next 5 years. I won’t have any definitive answer about the tumour or prognosis for a few months, while we wait for all the radiology to settle down.

So in line with these meetings – and unless there’s anything significant to write about in-between (eating a decent plate of anything comes to mind), I’ll update the blog monthly after the doctor meetings.

In the meantime, if I could just convince Samros to buy a nurses uniform, that would be the ultimate aid to recovery 😉

19-On the right track

13th July 2020

Sorry to be mixing metaphors – from boxing ring to motor racing (or horse racing?), but I’m really pleased to feel I’m on the right track to recovery.

I had the first of my monthly meetings – post treatment, with the ENT team. We discussed how I’m feeling – and they definitely caught me on the best day so far.

My voice is getting stronger and is good for 15 mins or so of conversation, before it weakens. I guess many people would prefer that to be permanent 😉

Still only managing a tiny amount of solids and liquids by mouth, but the team are pleased I’m trying different textures of foods, to see if any work.

My taste buds are effective perhaps 5%, in that I can barely taste anything – but the they seem to work well for things I should enjoy, but now taste awful. Goodies such as marmalade, chocolate and trifles unfortunately fall in this category.

So I’m still with Ms Peggy the PEG for my feeds and medications. I still need the morphine for the left side of my mouth, which continues to be extremely painful.

The thick mucus is subsiding – and that’s a real blessing. In some respects, it’s the worst of all the side effects from the radiology treatment.

The physical examination was good – I had the scope thingy put up my nose again. Not painful at all, but it does make me want to sneeze! Anyway, the doc said things look very good and there didn’t appear to be any sign of Larry the Lump.

We’ll know better about that in September, when I’ll have a full scan.

But for now – I feel I’m definitely on the right track to a knock out.

Also…

I’ve just started preparing some fundraising for Macmillan Cancer Support

This is going to be by way of their annual ‘Worlds Biggest Coffee Morning’ to be held on 25th September 2020. Here’s a promo video of how anyone can host a local event.

Of course – Wozzer has to be different. So I’m hosting a ‘virtual’ coffee morning, with friends, family and of course my wonderful blog subscribers around the world.

I’m planning to combine Zoom Video Meeting and share a meetings link, so that we can see and speak. Timezones won’t be an issue – I’ll do my best to meet you for a coffee, wherever you are in the world.

I’ll update my blog with more details and times as we get closer to the day, but for now there’s some information with an RSVP link here

20-Off the wrong track…

It’s been a funny old month really. I had a 2nd checkup last week, a bit cursory really – just a feel around by neck and chin(s). No lumps that shouldn’t be there, but really I’m waiting for September’s scan, so that I’ll have a proper answer on my status.

This scan will be head to foot (more or less) and the objectives are twofold: first to check on Larry the lump in my throat and second – more importantly, to see if there’s any spread,

So that’s just a waiting game.

I still have to smile at the irony of my medics insistence that I don’t lose any weight – and we almost got into an argument at last weeks checkup, because they say I’m losing too much weight – too fast. I must admit, they may have a point.

It’s a bit of a difficult one – I’m pushing myself to eat and am certainly doing better than a few weeks ago, but the actuality is I can’t eat much of anything. Mostly because I still have very little sense of taste. But also, because of almost mon-existent saliva production, it’s difficult to eat without drinking some water with every mouthful of food, else it won’t go down. So I don’t have much appetite for anything and waste a fair bit of food, because I rarely finish anything.

I did decide to cut down on my reliance of Peggy the feeding tube. And now I can see that set me back – a combination of low-calorie intake, some dehydration and cutting down on morphine, left me feeling pretty poorly for a few days.

Hey ho! Back to doing what I should and amazingly, I feel better. Until the next time.

Also in this last month was my 65th birthday. That should have been ‘retirement’ day and I’d have been a pensioner. What an awful thought 😉

Yeah, for Wozzer this was a milestone to become more active. Or should that be simply, active? Anyway – what better than a cycle ride in the nearby Forest of Dean. There are a number of trails and bike hire there – downhill mountain biking looked a bit iffy for me, so we settled on the 10 miles Family Trail.

I mean, how hard can that be?

Actually, I hadn’t been on a cycle since 2009 when I was volunteering in Siem Reap, Cambodia. I used to cycle around 3 km each way to the project.

West Baray, Siem Reap - Dec 2009

It was murder every day – not only all the locals (especially the kids), ranging from staring agog to outright pissing themselves with laughter at the sight of Wozzer perched on a rickety bike. But also the 30-35 deg C heat and humidity had me puffing and dripping with sweat. And that was just getting on the bloody thing!

It took a little while of leaving it unlocked at night, but finally thankfully – someone stole it. And I swore then it would be my last time on a bike.

Shame my memory failed me when I most needed it…

 

Back to present days… We started off well – for the first 50 yards anyway. Then it was a rocky downhill section. Better that I got off and pushed.

On to a long steady upward incline (on an old railway route), which was nice – but interspersed with me not having much stamina, meant a few brief stops  - we got some great-looking family shots here.

But – what goes up must come down. I mean – you have to try picture this…

All 115kg of Wozzer , hurtling downhill on a well-oiled mountain bike. We were in a line – Nisa up front, me in the middle and Samros at the rear.

Then we weren’t in a line.

I hit a rocky section on a bend, pulled the brakes too hard and ended up tumbling off the track and rolling about 20 feet down a ditch. Oh boy, that hurt a bit – I did bang myself up on a few rocks and even worse, slid through what must have been the local nettle farm.

Nisa stopped cycling when she heard Samsos’ scream. She turned round and noticing one missing and asked ‘where’s dad’?’

She got her answer when looking down in the same direction as her mum. And there I was, lying face down, bike on top of me and trying to say “ I’m okay, just trying a short cut”.

The real pity was they were both too shocked to get a photo of me, in that prone position.

So that kind of cut short my birthday trip – but in fairness, it was a memorable day!

Also, I’ve done a bit more planning for the ‘World’s Biggest Coffee Morning’ in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support, on 25th September 2020. I’m hoping to chit chat with friends, colleagues and family around the world – so I’ll be hosting the video ‘meetings’ for 12 hours (7am to 7pm UK time).

This should allow coffee mornings in the US, coffee afternoons in the UK and Europe and Beer O’Clock for those in the Far East and down under. Hopefully you’ll all fine some time to get online with me – even if only for a few minutes. Donate the cost of a coffee or two and we’ll be eternally grateful. It all counts and all donations are going to a great cause.

I’m using Zoom Video Meetings. It will work on all devices (Windows, Apple, Android etc), it's FREE to use and can be downloaded in advance by clicking here

If you don’t install in advance, no worries – when you click the invite link that I’ll send next month – it will download and install on whichever device you use. Just say yes to the permissions it requests (use audio, video etc) and you’ll be good to go in just a few minutes.

Until then, stay safe and well 😊

Oh, and please feel free to share this post with anyone you might think would like to join-in. Also my Macmillan page is here

21-Cold Turkey and a CAT

All in all, I'm happy to report a pretty good month of improvement. Some the pain has gone. Well, my pain that is. I'm still a pain to my lovely suffering wife, who has to contend with my regular moans and groans! Eating has become easier in terms of swallowing, but unfortunately my sense of taste is still minimal, which makes for a less than enjoyable eating experience. A minor issue in the big scheme of things, but a bugger to someone like me who really enjoys his food.

Of course, this has also had some 'upside' in that I've now lost aorund 33kg / 5 stones / 73lb since January of this year. I'm well happy with this - but my NHS dietician not so.

Dropped 3 dress sizes too, from 5xl to xxl. Actually, the photo from this Tuesday shows an xxl shirt - and even that's becoming a bit baggy too 🙂

Cold Turkey

As I mentioned, all the pain has subsided now - so I was preparing to ease off the morphine. I've have been quite hooked - being on a pretty high dose since mid-May.

Oh - easier said than done! I mentioned it at last months hospital meeting and they seemed pretty cool about it. 'Just ease off the dose over a while' they said. But perhaps their idea of a 'while' was a few weeks, whereas Wozzers idea was 3 days..

Oh boy oh boy, I really went cold turkey last week. I was a real mess, with the typical junkie runny nose, aching joints and mad dreams. I put up with it for a few days and was tempted to start on the morphine again. I spoke with my GP after 4 days and she said I should be over it in a couple more days - and she was quite correct. By the weekend, I was back to my normal (mad) self, instead of a drug-induced mad self.

PET/CT Scan

Yesterday I had my first scan post treatment. As they promised for September. It was a CT scan with 'contrast'

It was a full-body scan, one to check on the treatment so far and two, to check if there's any further spread of cancer. This is pretty much the main concern of every cancer patient post-initial treatment.

The procedure itself is painless. It starts with an IV/drip of saline with a mild radioactive drug, which shows areas of the body where cells are more active than normal, indicating the possibility of cancer. This is the 'contrast' bit.

CT (CAT) Scan

A CT scan is a test that uses x-rays and a computer to create detailed pictures of the inside of the body. It takes pictures from different angles. The computer puts them together to make a 3 dimensional (3D) image.

My medical team will have the scans this week  and will discuss during the next week. I'll have the results good or bad, within a couple of weeks from now. Hopefully in time for our coffee morning zoom video meetings on the 25th September. Which brings me nicely on to updating you with the details...

I'm pretty much ready for the ‘World’s Biggest Coffee Morning’ in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support, on 25th September 2020. I’m hoping to chit chat with friends, colleagues and family around the world – so I’ll be hosting the video ‘meetings’ for 12 hours (7am to 7pm UK time). Please, please join at any time that suits you.

This should allow coffee mornings in the US, coffee afternoons in the UK and Europe and Beer O’Clock for those in the Far East and down under. Hopefully you’ll all fine some time to get online with me – even if only for a few minutes. Donate the cost of a coffee or two and we’ll be eternally grateful. It all counts and all donations are going to a great cause.

 

WIN THIS UNQUE COFFEE MUG

With a thank you note and spersonally signed by Wozzer!

This Macmillan Coffee Morning mug will be posted to the winner anywhere in the world - subject of course to delivery being available. I might even put a stamp on!

All zoom visitors get one entry, and the winner will be picked by an online random generator thingy.

I’m using Zoom Video Meetings for the all-day fundraiser.

It will work on all devices (Windows, Apple, Android etc), it's FREE to use and can be downloaded in advance by clicking here

If you don't download in advance, clicking this MEETING link, should start the download automatically:
https://us04web.zoom.us/j/73794084522?pwd=TER5amVWN3FVbUdJbVZRNVhyaHBJZz09

Just say yes to the permissions it requests (use audio, video etc) and you’ll be good to go in just a few minutes. If it asks for meeting ID or Passcode they are shown here:
Meeting ID: 737 9408 4522
Passcode: 8cmAGM

Also my Macmillan donations page can be viewed by clicking this text

or this link: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/warren-garber

If you have any problems on the day, please SMS or WhatsApp to me on +44 770 82 92 274

Finally (for now), please feel free to share this post with anyone you might think would like to join-in.

Hopefully see you some time on the 25th xx

22-Macmillan Coffee Morning (and Beer)

Let me start with an apology!

24 September 2020

When I started planning for the Macmillan Worlds Biggest Coffee Morning, they also set up a donations page which I could use to raise funds for the charity. Alas, for such a large and well-known charity - it appears their fundraising platorm isn't as good as it could be.

It appears it was very difficult for donors (friends / relatives) to leave their name and any note for me. Also, they could only accept payment by a card registered in the UK. Of course, that's not so easy for many of my friends / family around the world.

So it's impossible for me to personally thank anyone that has donated. And for that I sincerely apologise.

The image below shows kind donations from the last week or so. Please feel free to comment if you donated - or send me a private message on facebook or email to wozzer (at) warrengarber (dot) com

Recently received...

Justgiving for Macmillan

I have a new fundraiser page on Justgiving (the funds also go direct to Macmillan) and there are links below -or just click the image. It's ever so easy and you can leave your name and/or a message.

If you haven't already, donating even the cost of a coffee (or two), makes a difference!

So, with this post I'm ready for the ‘World’s Biggest Coffee Morning’ in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support tomorrow.

I’m hoping to chit chat with friends, colleagues and family around the world – so I’ll be hosting the video ‘meetings’ for 12 hours (7am to 7pm UK time). Please, please join at any time that suits you.

This should allow coffee mornings in the US, coffee afternoons in the UK and Europe and Beer O’Clock for those in the Far East and down under. Hopefully you’ll all fine some time to get online with me – even if only for a few minutes.

Take care and chat soon 🙂

Wozzer

 

WIN THIS UNQUE COFFEE MUG

With a thank you note and spersonally signed by Wozzer!

This Macmillan Coffee Morning mug will be posted to the winner anywhere in the world - subject of course to delivery being available. I might even put a stamp on!

All zoom visitors get one entry, and the winner will be picked by an online random generator thingy.

I’m using Zoom Video Meetings for the all-day fundraiser.

It will work on all devices (Windows, Apple, Android etc), it's FREE to use and can be downloaded in advance by clicking here

If you don't download in advance, clicking this MEETING link, should start the download automatically:
https://us04web.zoom.us/j/73794084522?pwd=TER5amVWN3FVbUdJbVZRNVhyaHBJZz09

Just say yes to the permissions it requests (use audio, video etc) and you’ll be good to go in just a few minutes. If it asks for meeting ID or Passcode they are shown here:
Meeting ID: 737 9408 4522
Passcode: 8cmAGM

Also my Macmillan donations page can be viewed by clicking this text

or this link: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/warren-garber

If you have any problems on the day, please SMS or WhatsApp to me on +44 770 82 92 274

Finally (for now), please feel free to share this post with anyone you might think would like to join-in.

Hopefully see you some time on the 25th xx

23-What a day!

My Macmillan Coffee Morning 25th September 2020

It was astonishing, astounding, surprising, breathtaking (literally), awesome, phenomenal, extraordinary, incredible, unbelievable, wonderful, marvellous...

Yep - it was a pretty good day!!

My thanks to everyone that joined-in on Zoom video throughout the almost 13 hours that I was online. And to all of you that kindly donated... Well, you contributed towards a total donation of 1300 GBP / 1675 USD.

To put this in perspective, this would pay for a Macmillan Support Worker, helping people with cancer for almost 2 weeks. I've been a direct beneficiary of this support, so I'm humbled at the response from you all.

On the day, I started at 7am here in the UK and soon enough has some past work colleagues (also great friends) now living in New Zealand. Soon enough Australian friends were on line - followed by Asia, Europe and finally the USA. There were 28 people (well more including couples) from 10 countries. Some I hadn't seen since perhaps 2010, when in Cambodia. Some were more recent friends, including some of my Macmillan team - thanks Sarah and Olly for dropping by!

It was truly heart-warming to not only catch up again, but to know everyone took the time and trouble to join me and reminisce.

I must make a special mention to Dally in the Philippines, who had the unknowing misfortune to buy a ticket on the Mekong Express overland coach from Saigon to Siem Reap. A journey that takes around 14 hours. That in itself is bad enough, but finding that Wozzer was in the next seat for the whole trip...

And so the day went on and I loved it all. I really can’t thank everyone enough.

Draw for the Macmillan Coffee Mug

I screen recorded the draw, using a list of unique participants (as reported by Zoom), each with a number and an online random number generator. You can see how I did it (for transparency and fairness) in this short video.

I wish you could have all won – all are equally deserving. But one winner only for the jackpot, which goes to Phil Butterworth, now living in the USA. As it happens, Phil was (is) a great mate from our Cambodia days. He’s a helicopter pilot, used to do sightseeing flights and also some pretty cool commercial stuff too. I distinctly remember him flying with university professors to discover (and map) a completely hidden ancient city.

There’s an excellent article and video here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-29245289

I had many nights out with Phil, including one outstanding Haloween / fancy dress pub-crawl around the Old Market (Psar Chaa) area in 2010.

We knocked ideas around on one of our many man-dates, over beers and a curry. He thought I’d make a pretty good Shrek and I thought he’d make a very good policeman – and so it came to pass…

Man oh man, what a night. I had literally hundreds of tourists wanting to pose with me – mostly Korean as I remember. This allowed me to get into full character – complete with a dodgy Mike Myers Scots accent… “What’s up with you? Have ye never seen an fookin ogre on a Saturday nite in Siem Reap’??

They had no idea what I was on about 🙂

Phil also really went to the limit. Well, past it really. He obtained a full, real police uniform and stuffed all the pockets with banknotes - imitating in real-life the local corruption that goes on.

It was a real hoot - until the real police carted him off. I was terrified that they'd lock him up and forget about him (as they were prone to do in those days). As it was they relieved him of his uniform - and all his money, and he was back with us within an hour or so. Scary though !!

Back to reality...

Next week (6th October), I have my appointment to discuss the results of the PET/CT scan that was done a couple of weeks ago. Watch out for my next blog update a few days after.

Until then - take care.

Woz x

 

25-A Quickie Divorce

18 November 2020

Well, I suppose I did know this day was coming – but didn’t know exactly when. But I can now reveal that Miss Peggy the PEG and Big Wozzer were today divorced at Cheltenham General Hospital. The separation ceremony was performed brilliantly by the ever lovely and professional Vicky, my Macmillan Specialist Nurse.

It was an emotional morning. Miss Peggy has been with me since mid-April, some 7 months and we’ve been very attached – quite literally. She always knew the way to my heart was through my stomach.

During my darkest days post-radiotherapy during June and July, she kept me alive as this was the only way I could take any water, drugs, or nutrition.

Sure, in more recent weeks my dependence on tube-feeding has diminished, while I attempt to improve eating and drinking by mouth. That’s not perfect by any means and I still have to be quite careful in my choice of food and drinks.

When I say choice of food I, along with most that are recovering from throat cancers, find moist and soft foods are easier to swallow. Saying that, almost every bit of food must be accompanied by a sip of water or whatever, because the lack of saliva makes things difficult -to say the least. It is improving by fractions each week, but could be many months or years, or never - to be back as before. A small price to pay in the big picture – but also a constant reminder of my condition.

Anyway, I don’t have Miss Peggy to fall back on anymore, so it has to be onward and upwards with solids now!

And just for completeness – for those that want to know, the PEG removal was fortunately very quick and painless – except for a couple of seconds as the extraction through my stomach wall and skin, caused me to wince.

The PEG tube has been held in place by a ‘balloon’ or ‘mushroom catheter’ and an internal ‘retaining disc’ which stops it being pulled through.

There’s a very thin wire inside the feeding tube and for the removal procedure, the wire is pushed into the balloon, which deflates it and then it just requires a sharp tug to pull the tube to the outside – the flexible retaining disc being the bit that causes the sharp, but momentary pain.

Here’s a diagram which roughly illustrates my description.

And CLICK HERE if you really want to see the real Miss Peggy as just removed.

So that’s about all to report for the moment. My secondary tumors are not causing me any pain or distress – except for knowing they are there, so to speak.

As written previously, I’ll know more hopefully sometime in January when I expect to have another scan and results. In between of that, I’ll have a meeting with my care team in December and will write a quick update post in around a month from now.

Until then, thanks for following me on here or Facebook and for your kind notes and comments. I do really appreciate it

 

Woz xx

26-What a year that was

Friday 11th December 2020

Today is exactly 6 months since I finished radiotherapy on Friday 12th June and ‘rang that bell’. So I thought a good day to reflect back over this mad year, which is both forgettable and definitely unforgettable…

And what a year indeed.

It started for me quite normally – as with most of us I guess. January started good for bookings in the travel business and then later that month, news of the coronavirus was starting to appear. I spent most of February cancelling the majority of our guest’s bookings. And then from March on – along with everyone else in the world, trying to make sense of things.

Reading back through my blog, it was the last day of March – while the UK was in ‘Lockdown 1’ that I strolled into Gloucester Royal Hospital A&E with my (now infamous) niggling sore throat.

And here I am now.

Larry the Lump has gone – beaten and K O'd in the final round by Radical Radiotherapy, although he gave me quite a hammering along the way. But I had an amazing team in my corner - so I was more than confident all along 🙂

My recovery from the radiotherapy is still going in the right direction. But fatigue; lacking a sense of taste and issues swallowing food are constant reminders of the effects of the cancer and treatment. As is the slightly numb left ear which has some nerve damage, also as a result of the radiotherapy.

But all in all – I’m told by the medics I’m in better shape than many after just six months post-treatment. Of course, the secondary tumors that were identified, are a constant reminder that there’s still a way to go. I’ll deal with them next year and of course, it will all be dependent on what further scans show.

It's not all bad though...

I’ve lost a lot of weight – some 35kg / 77lb or 5.5 stones. In fairness it was needed because I did need to shed some blubber, but I’ve gotta say – it’s a tough diet and is not recommended at all as an aid for weight-loss 😉

Still, I’m down a good three dress sizes and getting into clothes I’ve had (literally) hanging around since 2005. They’re almost back in fashion too!

Also in September was the ‘worldwide coffee morning’ that I held on Zoom, raising funds for Macmillan Cancer Charity. I have such fond memories of that day – meeting up on video with family and friends all around the globe.

Also – avid readers of this blog may remember there was a prize winner drawn from all the people that were on zoom with me that day – and the winner is a good mate of mine - Phil Butterworth, who I’ve known since my early days in Siem Reap, Cambodia, around 10 years ago.

I had comissioned a commemorative mug from Macmillan - specially printed and then shipped to the USA, where Phil now resides. Here’s a lovely selfie as sent to me from Phil.

Enjoy it mate!

So that nicely wraps up this chapter and the final one for 2020. I’m scheduled a further PET/CT scan sometime during January 2021 and I’ll update this blog with information, when I have the results from that.

But for now on behalf of Samros, Nisa and me, we extend our sincere thanks for all your messages of support and to wish you peaceful holidays and a healthy and happy New Year, wherever you are in the world.

Take care
Woz x

28-Recollections of a first year with cancer – and more!

31 March 2021

Well, what a year it’s been for me since last March.

Actually, I guess the same can be said for everyone and there must be unthinkable grief for so many families who have lost loved ones through the pandemic.

It's a year to this day that I popped into my local hospital to ask if someone could have a look at my sore throat.

Sure, my year has been life-changing, but I’m still here. Over 120,000 went into hospital in the UK with maybe little more than a cough and never came out.

So yes, even with all my ills, I count myself as one of the lucky ones. I say that because the treatment and medications I’ve been on notwithstanding, I’m still here to tell the tale and enjoy life as it is.

Looking back over the past 12 months (and it’s hard to believe it’s just on a year), I can say I’ve had more than my fair share of ups and downs.

From the first examination of my throat and waiting for confirmation of cancer; through the prepping for and subsequent tough radiotherapy treatment; to the long recovery from that treatment (still ongoing) and of course the amazing support from not only family, but also friends and colleagues around the world, and especially so for all the teams that have taken care of me at Gloucester Royal Hospital and the Oncology unit in Cheltenham – again I thank you all and appreciate it - more than I can say.

Paradoxically, my throat cancer seems to be clear. Technically it's 5 years of clear scans required to make that statement - but it doesn't feel too bad right now. Speaking; eating and drinking is improving in small, but positive steps. Dry mouth will be an ongoing issue because of treatment damage to my saliva glands.

And I have this horrible-looking lump under my chin, which is Lymphedema. I did have cancer in lymph nodes in my throat and these were also treated by radiotherapy. I think 'treated' in this case means irreparably damaged.

It’s more of a cosmetic issue than medically dangerous. Massaging the swelling does reduce it for a while, but the fluid build-up always returns. But believe me, at my age – I need all the cosmetic help possible 😉

This leaves me very much working through the mental side of coping with incurable tumours and preparing for the next cycles of chemo or immunotherapy or whatever. I’m trying to readjust to dealing with scan results in 3 months chunks.

So currently there's a further full scan due in May and then another discussion with Dr Grant to consider the treatment options and prognosis.

Mind you, I'm planning for quite a few 3 months chunks yet!

Although for me – the man who almost always has a plan – honestly, it’s a bit of a bummer.

But – there’s also been a bright side to always look at 😉

I got to thinking about being known as ‘a man always with a plan’. Sure, for the past 10 years I’ve been a travel consultant, planning trips and tours for visitors to Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos. I’m so lucky really. Travel has been such a passion for me – and it was a dream to live in Cambodia while extensively traveling those countries - and get paid to do it.

But it started way before that – my very first time on a plane was a Laker Airways DC10 ‘Skytrain’ from London to New York, with my parents and brothers around 1974 or 1975. I was about 18 years old.

If ever there was one man to thank for introducing long-haul travel to the masses, it must be Sir Freddie Laker.

Since then, I’ve always been planning a trip somewhere for someone – family, friends, or workmates. Whether to Devon or Florida with family, Nice or Amsterdam with workmates and friends, or my own adventures in many countries.

So much so, some had given me the moniker ‘Woz Tours’.

I fondly remember in early 2008 planning a side-trip for a couple of Aussies – Wendy and Phil, who I hadn’t actually met – we did everything on Skype and email between Queensland (where they lived) and Spain, where I was living at the time.

But when we did meet at Malaga Airport – oh my, it was an unforgettable time – with a suitably crazy story, which I recounted from my first attempt at writing a blog back then and which amazingly is still live online.

https://woz.typepad.com/wozzer/2008/07/6-spanish-authorities-attempt-to-ground-woz-tours.html

In a nutshell, I was already booked to stay with Wendy and Phil in Proserpine, Queensland in late 2008.

I’d already joined the Couchsurfing community. It was like a forerunner of AirB&B, but with a much more social emphasis. No money changed hands – one could be hosted for free and indeed was expected to host others. It was fantastic back in the day.

Wendy and Phil were ‘Couchsurfing hosts’, who were traveling to Europe in mid-2008. So I invited them to stay with me for a few days on the Costa del Sol, which was prior to me staying with them.

What a blast we had. Among lots of beers, tapas and live music gigs, the UEFA Euro championships were on – Spain won the tournament, beating Germany 1-0 and the whole country – football mad at the best of times, went absolutely crazy! (that is NOT me in the picture!)

They, like so many other people that I’ve met over the years left part of their hearts in mine. Wendy unfortunately succumbed to cancer some years ago, but she and Phil still bring a wide smile to my face whenever I think of them.

Which is often.

But back to today – with it seems the world waiting to travel, I for sure am already planning my next trip to S E Asia. I'm just waiting for the politicians and scientists to let me fly again.

I’m ready for some Mee Cha (fried noodles) in Cambodia and a good many glasses of Bia 333 in Saigon.

Both are easy on the throat – strictly for medicinal purposes of course! 😊