“Even more tests!”

February 29, 2016

Nearly Easter – 1986

I spent the week undergoing many tests and investigations as part of the staging process. It was a pretty traumatic time, I remember during that first week I had no fewer than twenty-four blood samples taken. I didn’t have a needle phobia but this level of intensity was causing me some serious anxiety.

Despite the needle trauma, I thought nothing would compare with the bone marrow biopsy until I had something called a lymphangiogram.

 

IMG_0639They injected die in between all my toes which made my eyes water a lot. This was apparently to expose  the lymph vessels on the top of feet so they could cut them insert cannulas which were attached to two large syringes full of blue dye!! The die was then injected into both my feet simultaneously very very slowly. I remember the weirdest sensation and pain all over my body as the dye forced it’s way into a place I am sure wasn’t designed to accommodate it. After about thirty minutes I was then taken to yet another scanning machine, which took numerous images of the lymphatic system throughout my body and seemed to take forever.

Much to everyone’s bemusement shortly after the lymphangiogram, blue dye started running down my leg. The dye they’d put in was just coming back out again!! My surgery wound was open again and required dressing every day. It did amuse me every time a new nurse changed it as I watched their reaction when they saw what looked like blue blood in my dressing and I said “Perhaps I was really royalty and you should’ve given me that general anaesthetic after all?” Not that anyone else found it amusing.

The content in my blog is provided for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for a health care professionals advice. Please consult your own appropriate health care provider about the applicability of any of my opinions with respect to your own symptoms or medical conditions. The information in my blog does not constitute legal or technical advice….sorry!

“Just a few tests, that’s all”

August 30, 2015

March 1986

Cancer perceptionI spent the first day at Cookridge Hospital going back and forth to the pathology department, suffering one blood test after another. There were no mobile phones or lap-tops in those days (well, not in my world) so keeping the family up to date wasn’t easy. There was a ‘mobile’ payphone, which could be brought to your bed area but in the old style ‘Nightingale Ward’ there was little or no privacy.

In between the blood tests and visits from numerous people in white coats, I began getting to know the other ‘poor souls’ optimistically hoping that I would be spending a lot of time with them. It turned out five of us were from the same town and we were all twenty-five years old or younger. Two of us had non-Hodgkins lymphoma, two had testicular cancer and one had Hodgkins disease. How likely was that? I often wonder if the large ICI plant in our town which made weed-killer had anything to do with that……..I’m just saying!!. Almost everyone was totally bald and those who’d been on treatment a while had a yellowy ‘ill’ look to their complexion and everyone seemed to have tubes going into them or were they coming out of them? It was difficult to tell. Nevertheless they were becoming my friends and it was good to make some friends.

ChemotherapyIt was like moving into a new neighbourhood, everyone knew each other except me and they were almost competing with one another to offer me advice. Some of their information was useful, but some totally useless, such as their assurance that I had nothing to worry about with the bone-marrow biopsy I had scheduled for the next day. It later transpired my advisors were lucky enough to have had a general anaesthetic when they had theirs done, a luxury I was to be denied as a result of the operating theatre being refurbished that week………Lucky me!

Around six O’clock my Dad arrived on the ward, looking almost as ill as my new friends. It was like the kryptonite effect on Superman, he really didn’t do illness and hospitals but it was good to see him. Unfortunately I had very little to tell him other than that the investigations had started and that I had made lots of new friends he probably doesn’t want to meet yet. I felt so sorry for my Dad that evening he was so uncomfortable with being there but at least he got to see me and I hadn’t lost any hair, or turned yellow. My Mum on the other hand was stuck at home 30 miles away and was probably going mad with worry and as for my wife, well I can only imagine what she was going through.

The content in my blog is provided for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for a health care professionals advice. Please consult your own appropriate health care provider about the applicability of any of my opinions with respect to your own symptoms or medical conditions. The information in my blog does not constitute legal or technical advice….sorry!

“Selling my soul to the Devil!”

August 25, 2015

IMG_0575It was Summer 1994; I had been a nurse for just over eight years and was beginning to feel I was losing my personal war against inequality of cancer care, when I decided to look for a full-time position in the pharmaceutical industry. It hadn’t been an easy decision or an obvious one for that matter, I had spent weeks soul searching, just to make sure I still had a soul to sell, to the Devil.

I had found the last eighteen months as an oncology nurse working in a district general hospital extremely challenging. I had learned some new things; like how to dodge a karate kick, cope with patients’ guilt ridden sons and daughters, oh and where to find their parents when they disappeared off the ward. (Which was usually at the bus stop just outside the hospital) On a more constructive note; I had also learned CPR to the highest level, which sadly, had never been my intention. It was time to re-think things and focus back on cancer.

Knowing that the largest amount of cancer research investment came from the pharmaceutical industry I figured it might be worth while taking a closer look. But what could I do for them? As luck would have it, Amgen (a large U.S. biotech company) were looking for a nurse advisor……..’I could do that’ I thought. ‘For a start I’d advise them to lower their prices!’ Yes, I’m afraid I was just as naive as everyone else.

Selling my soulThe company was looking to hire two experienced oncology or haematology nurses to provide a free educational service to UK nurses working in oncology. Despite having an inherent aversion to public speaking, it didn’t take much for me to overlook such a trivial issue. As an NHS nurse it wasn’t difficult to be impressed by pharmaceutical company salaries and this job would come with a company car, complete with phone and a lap-top! How cool was that?

First though, I would have to be interviewed, which would entail a trip to their impressive UK office in the university town of Cambridge! Time to dig out my cancer books and re-familiarise myself with all things cancer and of course elephantiasis!

I didn’t own a computer in those days, so I was restricted as to what I could find out about my prospective employers . I knew they were a significant player in the world of bio-technology and that they had a new drug I couldn’t even spell……….and that was pretty much it. I had a week until my interview, so I could either use that time; to do as much research as possible, go and buy a suit, or figure out a way to bribe someone into giving me the job. Instead I chose to do neither. ‘Besides working in Pharmaceuticals was probably rubbish anyway, right?’………..

The content in my blog is provided for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for a health care professionals advice. Please consult your own appropriate health care provider about the applicability of any of my opinions with respect to your own symptoms or medical conditions. The information in my blog does not constitute legal or technical advice.


‘I still have a cracking plan……’

August 18, 2015

“No long faces now?….”

It was the day of my check-up when I heard I had passed my nursing entrance exam! However, in light of my recent illness the nursing school said they would need a reference from my Oncologist before they could confirm my acceptance.

I was quietly confident my Oncologist would be very supportive of my cracking plan. So I was quite surprised at what he said when I saw him during my check-up.

Oncologist: “Are you sure you want to be a nurse?”

Me: “Er, yes”. (I actually wanted to say ‘Er no, I think you’ve got the wrong patient’ but I thought better of it)

Oncologist: “An oncology nurse?”

Me: “Of course.”

Oncologist: “It will be very hard work, both physically and emotionally.”

Me: ” I know, I used to be an engineer.” (He didn’t even smile at my joke)

Oncologist: (Following what seemed a very long pause) “You can’t go around with a long face you know”

I was surprised he felt the need to say that; I thought my engineer joke was quite funny. Then again it wasn’t that funny and I guess he was used to seeing me under very worrying circumstances and understandably may have thought I was a bit of a miserable sod!

I assured him he had nothing to worry about. “Good” he said, “Because I’ve just written to the Chief Executive of the hospital telling him how disgusted I am that the health authority sees fit to ask me for a guarantee that your lymphoma won’t relapse. Instead, they should embrace your enthusiasm and support you in getting your life back.”  Then he smiled and said “Don’t let me down, will you?”

“Day one as a student nurse. Excellent, I wasn’t the only male and I wasn’t the oldest in my group….nor the tallest!  Although I did have the least hair, sadly”

I was delighted when I eventually heard that my application had been successful and I would be commencing training in the summer. It was time to hand in my notice at work and tell my burly engineering colleagues that I was leaving……….. to become a Student Nurse!

As I told people about my nurse training course the question of salary increasingly came up. I was trying not to think of that too much, it was hard enough getting my head around such a huge career change without dwelling on something as trivial as a 70% pay cut. “Yes it would be tough financially” I would say to them, “But I think I need to do this”

My wife and my Mum were very supportive, however my Dad seemed less impressed. With a one-year old at home and my wife only working part-time we were below the national poverty line which meant our older child got free school meals. It was a bit embarrassing I guess, but then it would only be for three years!…….would it not? I figured perhaps it was time to do some serious money-making cartooning!

The content in my blog is provided for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for a health care professionals advice. Please consult your own appropriate health care provider about the applicability of any of my opinions with respect to your own symptoms or medical conditions. The information in my blog does not constitute legal or technical advice.


“I have a cracking plan!!!”

August 15, 2015
How do you revise for a nurses entrance exam?

‘Elephantiasis is…….”

It was Spring 1987, just under a year since I had finished my cancer treatment. It seemed a great idea to me;…….. I would apply to my local hospital for a place on the nurse training course and then become a cancer nurse, simples! Unfortunately however, because I was a mature student I first had to sit an entrance exam. I had no idea how to prepare myself for a nursing exam. I thought I might start by digging out my readers digest health books again and revise what I already knew about elephantiasis.

Fully swotted up on everything you ever needed to know about elephantiasis, I arrived for the exam. The room was full of eighteen-year old girls who all looked like exam experts. Probably because they were so used to them, having not even left school yet. I was definitely the oldest, ugliest and male-ist of them all!

I remember feeling glad that I hadn’t told too many people about my brilliant plan to become a nurse. Just think how embarrassing it would be, telling people I couldn’t even pass the entrance exam. Not only did I need to achieve a minimum exam score just to be considered for a nursing course, I also had to perform well enough to secure a place on the higher qualified Staff Nurse course, (which was crucial for my plan to work). There was quite a lot at stake,….at least I was clever enough to know that much. As I scanned the exam paper I had a pleasant surprise; just about every question was mathematical in nature, it was perfect for an engineer.

After the exam I felt quite smug as I joined the other applicants for a coffee and listened to them complaining about there being far too many numerical questions. I was fairly confident I’d done pretty well in the exam, however the big question remained as to whether or not the Health Authority would be willing to invest in training a twenty-six year old ex-engineer, who had barely finished his cancer treatment!

"Who would have thought it, Maths in a nursing exam!"

“Who would have thought it, Maths in a nursing exam!”

After the exam I had an interview with the course tutors and told them I really wanted to do the three year staff nurse course. They told me I would have to do very well in the exam if I wanted to get on that course. They also told me they had requested a reference from my oncologist on the assumption I would get the required exam results. I hadn’t thought of that! I began wondering what my oncologist might say about my potential to be a nurse. I was going to see him for a check-up later in the week so I decided I would ask him.

It was a long week, not least because of my impending check-up with the oncologist; which always put me into some kind of ‘pseudo-disease relapse state’ where every ache and pain seemed a signal that my disease was returning. But also because I was still waiting for my exam results. I hated getting exam results, because mine were usually bad! I began to have self doubt about my plan; “Who was I trying to kid? Why am I doing this so soon after my cancer? Do I even care if I don’t get into nursing, it’s probably rubbish anyway?” I asked myself, trying my best not to pin my hopes too high for fear of failure. I spent most of my spare time that week drawing cartoons, which always seemed to help whenever I was stressed…….

The content in my blog is provided for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for a health care professionals advice. Please consult your own appropriate health care provider about the applicability of any of my opinions with respect to your own symptoms or medical conditions. The information in my blog does not constitute legal or technical advice.


“Let’s talk about it” – (Part 2)

August 10, 2015

It was just two days later when I had to go to hospital for a week. The plan being that I was to undergo numerous investigations and tests to further determine what course of treatment I should have and then hopefully start it as soon as possible.

I’m not sure what upset people the most, that I had cancer or that I was going to Cookridge. Many cancer specialist hospitals in those days had an unfortunate reputation similar to that of a haunted house, lots of people go there, but very few come out alive.

My Dad took me to the hospital, he worked in Ilkley so it was pretty much on his way. He dropped me off very early at 7.30am because he had to be at work for 9.00am (I guess that’s where I get my conscientiousness from), I didn’t have to be there until 10.00am!.

Cookridge HospitalAfter sitting for a couple of hours in the reception area, I was taken to a separate building, which could only be described as an old air raid shelter. There I was introduced to other young men who were being treated for cancer. Some of these guys looked really ill. I began to think perhaps I’d been in denial up until now, I don’t think I really believed anyone my age got cancer, it’s for old people like those in the waiting room. It was then I began to realize why my Dad insisted on dropping me off so quickly. He hated hospitals at the best of times, how the hell was he going to cope with this when he called in on his way home from work!

The content in my blog is provided for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for a health care professionals advice. Please consult your own appropriate health care provider about the applicability of any of my opinions with respect to your own symptoms or medical conditions. The information in my blog does not constitute legal or technical advice


“There’s good news and bad news” (Part 2)

August 7, 2015

“The baby will be starting school soon”

…………..Continued.

We arrived at the specialist clinic in good time, along with about three hundred other people with the same 2.15pm appointment, but we were different, we were younger by about fifty years for a kick off and we were carrying an eight week old baby. I remember thinking neither would be the case if this queue doesn’t speed up. I was ageing fast and the baby would soon be starting school!

Eventually our time came, I went into the consultation room alone, thinking I could ask dumb questions if I was alone. The Specialist popped his head in and asked if anyone was with me. He wanted my partner to be present and said he would be back in a few minutes. The nurse called her in from the waiting room and she took up position standing at the bottom of the examination table with the baby in her arms.

We exchanged puzzled looks and then the doctor and nurse returned. I remember vividly his reaction when he saw my partner and new baby son in the room. He asked if we knew who he was and if anyone had told me why I was here. We both said no, much to his dismay, as he suggested my partner take a seat. Perhaps it was a ‘fight or flight’ reaction that suddenly hit her but she refused his offer, assuring him she and the baby fine, after all we’d been sitting in his overcrowded waiting room for an eternity!  “I’d prefer to stand” she said.

“I was clearly out of my depth”

I can’t remember the exact words he used other than cancer was in there somewhere as he explained what was wrong with me. I do remember he said something about going to a hospital in Leeds for treatment. Unfortunately I do remember exactly what I said when he asked if we’d any questions, “how long will I be off work?” I don’t think he expected that.  Either I hadn’t heard a word he’d said or I was the most conscientious person he’d ever met. I knew it was neither, it wasn’t the first time and certainly wouldn’t be the last time I’d feel out of my depth in the world of Oncology.

 


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