Radiotherapy

7-Getting down to business

21st April 2020

I meet my next specialist – and I guess who will become the most important person for me for a while. I’m now firmly under the care and attention of the Oncologist who will be leading the team taking care of me. Although at that time I didn’t realise what an amazing team it is.

Anyway – he introduces himself – Dr Warren Grant.

Another Wozzer I thought, that’s an amazing great omen 🙂 I’m sure he felt the same about his new patient…

He has the confident but calming style of confirming what is what. ‘You know you have throat cancer Warren, and the good news is there’s no spread away from the throat. There were some patches seen on a lung but the MRI scan confirmed they are nothing to worry about – although nothing will be left to chance and we’ll keep an eye on that going forward’.

And so, it’s down to work. No messing or waffling. The treatment is fairly aggressive he says – six weeks of radiotherapy x 5 days a week and additionally two cycles of chemotherapy on weeks 1 and 4.

Honestly that left me reeling a bit. I was expecting radio only and had already researched some that reckon it’s enough on its own.
There’s good reason though. He continues… ‘This particular type of cancer has a good possibility of eradication, with a human survival rate of around 75% after 5 years. Of course I’ll take that – and try and increase the percentage.

The cancer has an official name: Squamous cell carcinoma, left oropharynx, with TNM staging of T3 N2 M0 HPV16 positive.

The explainer below is courtesy of Cancer Research UK

TNM stands for Tumour, Node, Metastasis. This system describes the size of the initial cancer (the primary tumour), whether the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, and whether it has spread to a different part of the body (metastasised). The system uses letters and numbers to describe the cancer:

• T refers to the size of the cancer and how far it has spread into nearby tissue – it can be 1, 2, 3 or 4, with 1 being small and 4 large

• N refers to whether the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes – it can be between 0 (no lymph nodes containing cancer cells) and 3 (lots of lymph nodes containing cancer cells)

• M refers to whether the cancer has spread to another part of the body – it can either be 0 (the cancer hasn’t spread) or 1 (the cancer has spread)

From this it’s clear the cancer has been developing for a while (T3), but it’s never given me any indication, save the mild sore throat on and off over a couple of months. The main thing Vicki advised me later is M0 means no spread to other areas of the body.

Dr Grant continues… ‘We’ll being treatment in around 3 weeks, say mid-June and finish at the end of July. On average expect the treatment to intensify as it progresses and then some months of discomfort, but hopefully feeling better towards the autumn time’.

Before treatment begins, there’s more to be done and more of the team assigned to me, make initial contact:

Speech Therapist; Dietician; Radiology team for Mask making and Endoscopy team for inserting a feeding tube. And Lead Nurse Vicky is never far away.

Just amazing – and I don’t know half of it yet, except this Gloucestershire NHS Foundation Trust is an extremely well-oiled Rolls Royce of a machine. Every single person I’ve been in contact with – or staff that have phoned me are not just professional, but very personable – without exception.

It’s easy to say this, but I really mean it that I’m feeling pretty good about my condition – because I have total faith in this highly experienced team, who seem to give me the impression that I’m their only patient 🙂

And lets not forget we’re in the middle of a pandemic, causing the UK’s greatest ever drain on NHS resources right now.

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