The Butterfly Effect

Inspiration is a funny thing, a bit like a butterfly that lands on you, you can hardly feel its presence when it lands, but the beauty of the creature and the fact it has landed on you somehow make it special beyond the actual experience.

In the past few days I have been quietly and profoundly inspired by both people I dearly love and know very well, as well as those I have just met or only known a short time. My partner Sadie is a constant joy and my most treasured butterfly, she has kept me both sane and grounded by blending a realistic, factual outlook with the deepest and most tender love a man could ever hope for. You can’t have my Sadie, not a chance, but if it were possible, she should be prescribed to everyone suffering from cancer.

I went to a birthday party yesterday. It was my Tai Chi teacher, Anita’s, party and she was 60, though looking at her its difficult to believe. There were family and friends and it was a really good turn out. Some of the people there knew my condition and even read this blog, the funny thing was I had made up my mind not to go. It’s very difficult to explain why I didn’t want to go, I really wanted to see Anita and the gang but at the same time, suffering with cancer can make you feel sub-human and broken, with a desire to hide yourself away from normal people. Perversely and despite these feelings I decided to go and I’m glad I did.

The things I witnessed at this party made me realise how important human contact is. Anita as a teacher has inspired many people to become active and stay fit or regain fitness and movement where they have lost it. Tai Chi is so much more than learning the movements and sequences, many of the people there had been inspired by Anita and had learned not only the movements but also a little of the spirit of Tai Chi and its philosophy. None of this is explicit, it is just a synthesis of art, form and expression together with bags of personality. This idea grew in my mind as I was watching everyone interact and it suddenly became obvious when Anita performed a fan dance for all of us, the butterfly metaphor and the movement of a butterfly’s wing effecting everything, popping into my head.

I met another blog writer there, Julie, https://hopeaftercancer.wordpress.com/

She has been an inspiration to me while writing these blogs and it wasn’t till I met her yesterday that I really understood how powerful these blogs can be. Turns out she has been inspired by some of the things I have said on these pages. How did Julie inspire me? Hope, a strong sense of hope, that however glum things get, as long as you are alive, you have hope and that it really can translate into wellbeing and health. We of course chatted and exchanged notes on our conditions and how things were going, but like the gentle touch of a butterfly I left feeling a profound sense of hope and that maybe things will be ok.

I guess whenever you go to a family event to celebrate or remember a person, it becomes clear that the connections that go out from that person are wide and varied. Just within my little circle of friends and relatives I know how many people have been shocked and affected by my cancer and almost everyone says, ‘but you look so well?’ It is almost too hard for them to bear at times and I find myself supporting them. If you are suffering from cancer open yourself up to the ripples of energy that come from people who want more than anything for you to feel better and in return make sure that the beats from your wings, that will affect countless others, are good. It’s the least we can do for each other.

My operation to remove my cancer is on Thursday and if everything goes according to plan I will be in intensive care for three or four days before going out to the ward. There probably won’t be any posts for a little while until my brain reboots and comes back on line. In the meantime thank you for reading this, I hope it brightens an otherwise gloomy subject and if you are healthy do everything in your power to stay that way, maybe try alternate day fasting? Whatever you do send a little positive energy my way, I could use it, and I’m here to tell you, it will make a difference.

The Last Hangman

I went to the hospital yesterday for the pre-operation checks, it’s the one shown in the picture above, more like a plush hotel than a hospital. I was checked in and a barrage of tests followed, delivered very professionally by a single nurse who clearly had a high workload that day.

The professionalism both calmed me and disturbed me at the same time. The routine the nurse was going through was clearly one she had done many times and this was comforting, these people clearly know what they are doing and I am in good hands here.

Perversely that same feeling of professionalism also scared the living daylights out of me, it reminded me of the film, Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman. Why? I hear you ask. Well Pierrepoint was very good at his job and very humane (yeah, I know). The procedure was done very quickly and before the inmate knew what had happened to him. In short the prisoner would be marched down a corridor, suddenly turned in through a cell door, simultaneously a hood would be placed over his head, followed a split second later by the noose and a second later by the trap door opening. The prisoner was dead before he knew what happened.

The process I have been going through has been dealt with by the loveliest and most professional of people, who all appear to want the best for me and the best possible outcome. As my operation, and with it the certain knowledge of what is currently inside me, approaches, I feel a bit like the prisoner being marched down that corridor. The difference here is, I know what is about to happen.

At the moment I can have the luxury of denial, it will probably all be fine and finding the cancer this early may be the best thing that ever happened to me, like winning the lottery. The surgeons will remove this thing and all will be fine. On the other hand, next Thursday, if they tell me that they have found something which can’t be fixed, all my hope could be taken from me in a fraction of a second with no hope of a last minute reprieve from the prison governor.

The prospect of death accompanies the statistics that surgeons (at least in the UK) will give you. In this case there is a mortality rate of about 3%; these are pretty good odds but there is still a chance, and I guess this is the same for anyone going for surgery. Of course as the operation draws nearer you start to think about these things. This reminds me of the film Dumb and Dumber where Lloyd says to Mary, ‘What are the chances of a boy like me ending up with a girl like you? Mary replies, ‘Not good’. Lloyd says, ‘Not good, like one in a hundred?’ Mary says, ‘I’d say more like one in a million’ Lloyd replies with the classic line, ‘So your telling me there’s a chance?’

For me there is no choice, there is no way I’m leaving this thing inside me, which means surgery is the answer. Besides which there is a small chance that it could be something completely different and not cancer at all, I love denial. It’s a great place to hang out once in a while, but not a good place to live.

 

YMMV

Going back to work and returning to my normal schedule has been very odd. It is not really normal as I am handing over my responsibilities to one of the team, in that sense it is very abnormal and almost feels like I am preparing for my end. Of course this is not true, I am hoping for and clinging to the idea that everything will be OK and the doctors will sort it all out for me. I won’t know that until after my first operation.

Showtime, or the date of the operation to remove part of my lung has been set for two weeks time and I am on a countdown until that day. Some years ago a friend of mine, also a non-smoker, contracted lung cancer as well. We both worked in the same office. He unfortunately died on the operating table while having a stent put in to keep his airways open. I mention this because the past plays a part in how we view things, something that affects all of us. If you have cancer, of any sort, REMEMBER!!! you are an individual and your cancer is individual to you, your mileage may very well vary, as they say.

A friend of mine told me about a book called the Chimp Paradox, I had seen a really funny TED talk about procrastination involving said chimp

so I was very interested in the book. I can highly recommend it for helping to put things in perspective for anyone, sick or healthy.

Having an optimistic outlook and a sense of humour, especially when confronted by a situation with no good outcomes, works better than any medicine, I know. This helped me to realise that just because bad things happen to other people, it doesn’t mean they will happen to me (Your Mileage May Vary). Keep this in mind, if like me, you find yourself researching the internet for your condition.

It’s a recurring theme, making the most of every day and extracting what ever you can from them. Did you see how few boxes there were in the life calendar in the video above? You just never know when suddenly that number could be slashed in half or worse. Don’t put it off, whatever it is, take life by the scruff of the neck and wring all the goodness out of it, but most of all do it with a smile.

Alternate Day Fasting

About three years ago I watched an Horizon program on the BBC starring Michael Mosley called ‘Eat, Fast and Live Longer’. It was ground breaking at that time in that it employed research, testing (on Mr Mosley) and tangible results. In my usual way, I verified the results and took up the diet myself.

My research uncovered some interesting points. The first one I was really interested in is that alternate day fasting is the most effective. A Spanish experiment was carried out in 1958, where a doctor randomly picked residents in an old people’s home to be on the diet or not, seemingly without their permission, this was OK because ethics hadn’t been invented yet. Of the half that were on the diet most remained fit and well while the half that ate normally, died at the expected rate. The effect of ADF is to switch over a number of key mechanisms such as growth hormone IGF-1 which seems to be responsible for age related disease and protection against cancer. By reducing the production of IGF-1, cells are put into repair mode and help prevent errors that naturally occur in replicating genes.

A number of alternatives diets based on similar ideas exist, such as the 5 & 2 diet where you eat normally for five days and fast on two and while these are far more friendly for the participant they are probably less effective.

I gave up the diet after about a year, up until then I had been pretty good with it. If I fell off the wagon on a particular day, I would simply fast the next day instead. Holidays saw me returning for one or two weeks to ‘normal’ eating habits, but in the end I gave it all up. Now I have an additional motivator and getting back on the diet was easy.

ADF has been linked to more effective chemotherapy and radiation treatments. The principle is that during the period the participant is taking part in ADF their normal cells slow down their own metabolism and go into cell repair mode. This means that less chemotherapy is absorbed by healthy cells. Cancer cells being ‘broken’ absorb the chemotherapy at an increased rate, meaning that these cells are effectively targeted.

There are many papers outlining the benefits of ADF for cancer sufferers and from a personal point of view, I have very little to lose and everything to gain. For me, not eating after my evening meal until breakfast the day after next is no big deal. Lets face it, many people stop eating and drinking altogether for religious reasons; I still continue to drink loads during the day which helps quell any hunger issues.

The above is simplified so that I don’t bore you to death, but if you are interested, resources like Google Scholar are you friend for research. I am not medically trained and I am not a dietitian. If you are considering taking this up you should really consult with a health care professional and certainly don’t take my word as anything that can be relied on. Instead, do what I did and research it for yourself and draw your own conclusions.

If you have access to the BBC Iplayer, the program ‘Eat, Fast and Live Longer’ is still available (in the UK) in the archive section, it makes for some interesting viewing.

In the next post, Showtime! and going back to work

 

A Special Day

It was my birthday yesterday and I turned 58. Not very old in the grand scheme of things.

My son and daughter took me out for breakfast at a local restaurant called Bill’s and wow what a breakfast! Following that I was taken to Brooklands Museum, the home of a banked racing circuit from the early 1900’s and now a museum housing cars, motorbikes and aeroplanes, including a couple of my favourites, Concorde and a VC10.

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A Concorde ‘experience’ had also been arranged for me and we boarded just before midday for our ‘flight’. For anyone who will go there one day, I won’t ruin it for you, but it was great fun for an aeroplane enthusiast like me.

As a child I was very privileged and flew many thousands of miles at a time when most people couldn’t travel by air. My father’s job, building power stations, took us as a family to some great places, including Hong Kong where I spent my formative years. We always flew with BOAC and to this day I still have my Junior Jet Club Log Books which I would present to the captain of each flight to complete the aircraft type, destination and mileage. This of course would be accompanied by a trip to the cockpit to see the Captain, co-pilot and yes engineer at work. My favourite aircraft was the VC 10, an elegant aircraft designed to cope with short take offs and landings and reach out to the four corners of the British Empire.

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This particular VC10 belonged to a very rich gentleman who had decked the aircraft out with bedrooms and gold plated toilets (since removed). I was more used to a typical commercial set up of the 60’s and 70’s where large comfortable seats and a lounge area were available for all the passengers, not just first class as is the case now.

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Here is a picture of a VC10 in my favourite BOAC livery.

In the evening I went out with Sadie for a lovely dinner followed by a film. It was just the best of days.

The point of all of this is that I had a day that was devoid of drama and hospital appointments. It was a day full of laughter, joy, happiness and maybe even hope. It was a day with my loved ones and a celebration for me. There have been days that are without hope and there maybe more of these to come. What is important in life is that we concentrate and are thankful for days like yesterday and do our best to cope and get over days that aren’t.

In the next post I will be talking about my diet, to help me overcome cancer.

 

 

 

 

 

Fly on a Windshield

Last Saturday was busy for me. Two appointments at the hospital, one with the gallbladder surgeon and one with my chest doctor.

I’m still trying to make up my mind whether this blog is a good thing or bad. It does make me confront my illness for what it really is and stops me putting my head in the sand. On the other hand, having one’s head in the sand and being in denial is a really great place to be, life returns to normal as quickly as it changed.

The gallbladder surgeon welcomed me into to his office and there on multiple screens was me or at least a combination of x-rays, CT scans, MRI scans and PET scans. Don’t get me wrong, this didn’t phase me but it does bring reality into sharp focus. He showed me the legion which could be anything from a polyp to cancer, there is no way to tell and its not really a great idea to do a biopsy as bad stuff could leak all over the place potentially spreading the cancer. Of course if it is cancer, this is a secondary cancer and therefore pretty dire for me. If it’s something else, I am in with a far better chance. The surgeon was was again very matter of fact, he would remove the gallbladder using keyhole surgery about five weeks after my lung surgery, this would be followed by chemotherapy.

My chest specialist saw me next, really just a catch-up and chat about what the surgeons had said. It’s funny but I left there with real hope, hope that I would be completely cured.

Some people like to know all the details (me), others like to face things as they come along. Looking up illnesses on Google can be a really bad idea for some people as they always end up with the most dire predictions. If you have lung cancer and are one of these people finish here and move on to the next page. Do it now!

Statistics do not make good reading, some studies suggest that only a small percentage of people make it to five years after lung resection. Of course these figures are quite old and take no account of up-to-date treatments. Some papers suggest that if the cancer is small, less than 3 cm, then you could have an 80% change of making it to a median of 7 years. Understanding statistics makes it easy to understand that these are all just generalisations that help people to draw comparisons. Each person may react differently to the disease and treatments, much depends on factors such as age, where the cancer is and whether it is localised or spread. If it has spread (stage IV) then most agree your chances are greatly reduced. In my case if my gallbladder is a secondary cancer, well then I’m back to twelve months again. No option is great and I find myself diving head first down a rabbit hole.

My time machine has now caught up to real time dear reader and I am waiting for my first surgery date. I am reminded of a lyric from Genesis, the rock band.

‘…and I’m hovering like a fly, waiting for the windshield on the freeway’ 

The Calm before the Storm

I have a Google calendar like millions of others, but I will never look at it in the same way again. With death in the next twelve months a certainty, my mental calendar stopped but my Google calendar went on. It showed me events and appointments that I would probably never get to see. Everything that I have ever wanted to do was going to have to be crammed into less than fifty-two weeks. Then, in a moment by the Thames, I had been thrown a life ring, I stood a chance. I have no idea what that chance might be but it was there, suddenly I have as much chance as the next drowning man.

That night I slept like I have never slept before, a deep dreamless sleep. I woke up the next morning and like many people who have suffered a loss or had bad news, for a second I had forgotten, then I remembered how ill I was, but this time I also remembered that I might be OK, I could get lucky. The day was rather mundane and before very long I had forgotten everything that had gone on before, I was back to my normal self.

Danger! Danger! After almost a whole day of being me again, I started to doubt. This was such a huge change from no chance to maybe a chance, I was forgetting the detail and this is where the little red guy with the horns prods you in the bum with his pitchfork. No one has said this is going to turn out OK, I have a chance but how big a chance? I just don’t know. I was back to square one. My appointment with my chest specialist would sort this all out, just be patient all will be revealed in a couple of days.

The morning of my appointment arrived and with it a phone call, ‘I’m afraid the doctor is ill, how about Saturday?’ My world was back on hold, I was stuck in this steep sided chasm of having a chance but not daring to believe it in case my hopes were dashed. Hope came from an unexpected source, a friend from a class I attend started to email me about his experience with cancer.

My friend told me how he had come close to the edge of losing hope and being pulled back again. His accounts paralleled my experience and I was able to understand his despair. His theory about fighting cancer was an interesting one; we talk about losing the fight with cancer or how a person bravely fought cancer and won. The title of this blog is about fighting and that is how I have been thinking about it but maybe there is an effective alternative? Fighting encourages tension and angst, but concentrating on positive experiences such as love, laughter and the kindness of support may be a better way to go?

Friday came and with it my appointment to see my thoracic surgeon. Surgeons by and large are practical people and mine was no exception. He explained that he would almost certainly use a keyhole method to remove the section of lung with the cancer in it and that combined with chemotherapy should give a good result. If things became complicated he might have to open me up further, the only real difference would be the recovery time but he was confident of success. You can probably imagine how this lifted my spirits, things were sounding better by the minute. One caveat, the thing in my gallbladder, well I would have to wait until the next day to talk to the gallbladder surgeon on his thoughts.