It’s so awesome to be able to take my girlfriend out to celebrate her birthday last week, but to get an all clear on my full body scan on the same day just made it so much better, a little drink to celebrate before heading out for a nice meal ❤
After finishing all my treatment at the end of April and getting home to recover, we set our sights on a much much needed holiday abroad. I was still battling fatigue and would be for the coming months, but we were told that by June I should have just enough energy to get away for a holiday but would need to take it easy. My girlfriend and I needed to get out of the country, get away from it all and just relax, so the first two weeks of June we headed off to sunny Portugal.
I had to stay out of the sun most of the day as chemotherapy thins your skin short term so you can get quite badly burnt very easily. I was told factor 50 all the way and a hat at all times. I was still napping during the day a lot and didn’t have a huge amount of energy, but we were on holiday, hitting the ice cream hard, seeing some nice sights, enjoying the food, and enjoying ourselves. Nothing like a break away to clear the head after being through such a tough time. My hair was also growing back fast by that stage too which was huge, losing all your hair, including all your eye lashes and eyebrows is really not easy to deal with.
Fighting for an appointment
When I got the all clear at the end of March, it had been explained to me that due to the aggressiveness of the cancer I had that I would need another scan in about six months just to make sure everything was ok, this would have been around the end of September. As the months went on, I found that trying to get an appointment with my specialist was absolutely impossible. It felt like as soon as I got the all clear and finished all my treatment that I wasn’t a priority or a concern anymore, and well that was exactly the truth of it.
Looking back at my time in hospital, I found that there were a number of times I had to push, follow up, and fight in order to get something organised or arranged, whether it was to get a bed in the ward for treatment, or a scan, or an appointment. For someone dealing with the stress of having cancer, and going through such a difficult treatment schedule, it made life so much harder. I got my Mum to make a lot of these calls for me as I just didn’t have the energy to do it myself. This is something I will be discussing in more detail another time.
I managed to get in for an appointment with my specialist in July and it didn’t last too long, it seemed they didn’t think it was necessary for my full body scan as I was doing so well, I was just to continue on with my blood tests and bone strengthening medicine for now.
I did have a scan on my head in September after meeting with my radiation specialist, as he wanted to make sure all was ok in my head where I had the radiation, I was experiencing bad pains behind my eyes, thankfully all came back ok so it was just put down to post treatment side effects. Sometimes I got quite worried when I had those pains behind my eyes but once I got the all clear after a scan, I could relax about them a lot more.
At the end of June I had an x-ray on my femur followed by a meeting with my orthopedic specialist, it was looking much better, and had repaired substantially, so he said he was going to put me on a six week trial to test my leg to see if walking and jogging was ok, or if it caused me any pains or issues. The trial was on a treadmill as he didn’t want me running on the roads due to the extra pressure it would put on my legs. He gave me the six week plan and off I went to give it a go, with the very strict instruction that if I felt any pain I was to stop immediately and return to him.
The six weeks were tough but it all went well, it was based around three days of very short light exercising a week. I returned to see him in August and after reviewing everything he was happy to let me loose and continue to build and increase on the plan he gave me, and said that when I felt ready to move outdoors to do so, I was delighted. I continued indoors on the treadmill waiting for the right time to move outdoors.
Come October I managed my first run outdoors since June 2015 in the beautiful city of Galway, I was delighted, it was the beginning of my return. I will never forget how stiff my legs were the next day after being out on the road for the first time in so long. I loved feeling that stiffness, I was getting to give my legs a good go again.
Return to work plan
I was beginning to get hopeful about returning to work, I hated sitting around so much, but I was still recovering. I had been off work since the previous August so I just wanted to get back to work and get my life back on track, and even though they explained that I would be going back on a phased basis, they said that they wouldn’t be signing me off as fit to work until early in the new year. I was happy enough, I thought about how nice it would be to have a lovely long Christmas at home then return to work ready to go in the new year.
Thailand, a dream holiday
My girlfriend and I thought that after everything we had been through that we deserved to go away on a dream holiday, so after getting the go ahead from the hospital, we weren’t long booking flights to Thailand for three weeks. It would be a holiday to put the last year of hardship behind us, the start of good things again, one we both thoroughly needed and a nice break for us, then getting to return home to enjoy Christmas.
It was an absolutely amazing trip, the weather, the food, the sights, we loved every minute. As we were away for three weeks and we both enjoy exercising we continued going to the gym a couple of times a week while we were there. I really wanted to keep up the bit of exercising for my legs seeing as they had been out of action for so long. I didn’t want them to stiffen up again.
When we arrived home at the end of November the house was fully decorated for Christmas as a surprise for us, we had been really looking forward to Christmas especially considering I had been so sick the previous Christmas, all was great.
I can’t explain how much the two trips my girlfriend and I took were needed, physically and mentally. After going through so much hardship, getting out of the country and in to some nice warm weather to relax was really really great.
NEXT BLOG: I can’t breathe!
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I am definitely an outdoors type of guy, especially when it comes to running, I don’t care about the cold, rain or darkness, I’ll still go out running whatever the season, so I found going from running outside five days a week to being mostly bed bound in hospital really difficult to deal with.
Seeing as I was so determined to get back running when I finished with all my treatment and my leg healed up I had to consider the highly likely scenario of muscle atrophy, especially in my legs, and I certainly didn’t want my leg muscles to waste away. I asked the doctors if there was any way of exercising my legs while in hospital, and a stationary bike was provided, one that I could cycle while sitting in my own chair, so it wouldn’t put weight bearing pressure on my healing femur. It was left in my room as I was the only one in the ward who seemed to want to use it. I would try and use it a little bit every day but with the fatigue caused by the treatment it would just depend day to day, sometimes I would end up falling asleep on the chair straight after using it, but that was ok as it was important for me to keep my legs moving a bit, and I probably would have been asleep anyway. My orthopedic specialist who was looking after my leg was considering putting pins in my leg as my femur was so badly damaged, but I explained to him how much running meant to me and of course the impact that it would have on my running going forward so we agreed against the idea.
I told my girlfriend that I wanted to run the Dublin City Marathon in 2017 and that was my goal. So I had the whole of 2016 for my leg to heal and hopefully walk myself back to fitness before starting to jog again.
Bye bye St Anne’s, bye bye crutches!
On the 22nd of February 2016 I finished all my chemo treatment, all seven sessions, and my girlfriend came to pick me up from the ward to bring me home. Much to her delight, I had kept the secret that I was coming off my crutches that day, and so when she picked me up and we began to walk out of the room, I left the crutches behind, after six months of not being able to put my foot to the ground I was finally able to walk properly again, she was delighted, especially with it being just one week before our 1 year anniversary.
I also arrived home to a lovely surprise, cheesecake and bubbly 🙂
The all clear!!
On the 22nd of March I got the all clear. I can’t even begin to explain the stress or the anxiety that I had leading up to the scan, and the results. All the worst case scenario questions you ask yourself, the worry, the fear, the what if questions. The effect it has on me, on my girlfriend, my family, friends, it’s a very difficult thing to process. I was due in for my results on that Friday, but on that Tuesday I was lying on the couch watching TV, and I received a call from the Nurse who was looking after me, she just blurted it straight out that I got the all clear, she didn’t want me suffering all week waiting for the result. I remember just saying, oh, wow, that’s great news isn’t it. We were both very happy. After the call I lay back down on the couch and turned the TV back on, I am pretty sure I was in shock, I didn’t know what to do.
Regardless of getting the all clear, I was scheduled in for radiation treatment for three solid weeks in April but thankfully as an outpatient. The radiation specialist explained that they still wanted to proceed with it to rubber stamp the job the chemo had done to ensure the cancer wouldn’t come back. It was quite a tough experience, the way you were positioned on the bed, strapped down, even the sound of the lasers when they are turned on, the smell, the side effects such as severe nausea and vomiting, and just the thought of what it was doing to your body. You are lying on a bed behind a big safety screen that keeps the staff safe from radiation while you have to endure it.
I had the radiation treatment to two main areas, firstly to where the tumor in my leg was, and secondly to the sinus in my head. Even though both the chemotherapy and radiation treatments where being used to save my life, they are two things not meant for the human body, not natural, and certainly not healthy. Just seeing the forms of treatment that cancer patients have to go through to try and get back in to remission really opens your eyes as to how savage cancer really is on the human body.
After finishing the full radiation treatment schedule I made my way home from hospital, it was the end of April. It was time to recover, physically and mentally. I was still in hospital every week for blood checks and monitoring and so on but at least the worst was over. I was also in monthly for bone strengthening medicine to help repair my femur after it was damaged so badly by the tumor. The specialist explained that between the bone strengthening medicine and natural healing I would be able to eventually get back running. Being the determined type of person that I am, I had already set my sights on the Dublin Marathon in 2017, but my aim for 2016 was to complete a 5km event before the end of the year all going well.
I found both sets of treatment pretty difficult, but I made a calendar and counted down the weeks until I was finished and would be free, and while I was counting down I just focused on my return to running to pull me through and that really helped me a lot.
NEXT WEEK: My recovery
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Health is everything
I wanted to post the below picture as it highlights two things. Firstly it highlights a guy who has just crossed a marathon finish line in a time of 3:06 with not a bother in the world. More worryingly it is a picture of a guy with quite a developed and aggressive cancer growing inside.
Leading up to my diagnosis I had zero symptoms to suggest anything sinister was going on, every racing event in all distances that I ran leading up to the marathon was a PB (Personal best). I had never been fitter or faster in my entire life. Not that I want everyone to turn in to hypochondriacs but I would say to people that when it comes to health, it’s better to be safe and get things checked out, than be sorry. Listen to your body.
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