“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!

‘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 1)

August 9, 2015

March 1986

I don’t think either of us spoke during the journey home after our meeting with the Oncologist from Leeds. I remember thinking I must tell work, but tell them what? They might sack me. Times were hard for the engineering industry, I’d already narrowly escaped two rounds of redundancy and who knows when the next might be.

“Bad news travels fast!”

I decided to strike while the iron was hot and went to work the next day to tell my bosses. I figured if I went while I still looked okay then they might think it’s not that bad. So I told them, but I’m not sure what they thought, in fact I wasn’t sure what anyone thought about my illness because they never told me. Mind you, what do you say to a twenty-five year old who eight weeks ago was showing off his newly born son and was now telling you he had cancer.

After that, I was on a roll, so I decided to tell my Mum and Dad next. They had moved down from Scotland recently, having aborted their attempt at early retirement. I think my Mum was behind that decision, she probably wanted to be nearer her grandchildren. Whilst I wasn’t their only child, my older brother’s lifestyle as a freelance artist and song writer afforded him little incentive to consider a long-standing relationship, let alone start a family.

Telling my parents was the hardest thing to do. I remember thinking I could be a doctor as I made up my mind I would explain using anything other than the ‘C’ word.

“I have lymphoma”. That was easy.

‘What’s that then?”

After a painful pause, “It’s a type of cancer”

Doh, there I said it.

“Where do you have it?”

“In my lymph nodes”

“What are those?”

And so it continued, the blind leading the blind, what I really wanted to tell them was that I had cancer and I had no idea what happens next because I’m stupid……………………..

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


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