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We are proud to provide patients with the best standards of care in a world class cancer centre.
In December 2013
I was diagnosed with late stage 2 non-seminoma testicular cancer and bizarrely
I was not surprised.
I had an
obvious lump, but I had never mentioned this to my GP, mainly due to
embarrassment and worrying about having to take time off work - both fairly
stupid reasons with hindsight.
What I had
told him about were some of my other symptoms, like shortness of breath, sudden
weight loss, abdominal pain not unlike irritable bowel syndrome, difficulty keeping
food down and what seemed like a kidney stone.
I had tried
various medications to tackle these with varying degrees of success. My GP eventually
referred me to the gastroenterology unit at Macclesfield District General
Hospital, for a double endoscopy/colonoscopy session, something I was not
looking forward to.
someone at Macclesfield had the bright idea of putting me through a CT scanner.
I presumably ‘lit up like fairy lights on a Christmas tree’, judging by the
phone calls I had later that day in quick succession to cancel the
endoscopy/colonoscopy (phew!) and arrange an appointment with a urologist to
sort out an orchidectomy.
later, I was on the operating table at Stepping Hill hospital to have the
primary tumour and my left testicle removed. The original plan was for me to go
home the following day and recover over Christmas before starting chemotherapy
in the New Year.
my secondary tumours had other ideas. What should have been an overnight stay
turned into four days with infections making me rather unwell and not fit to
return home. One of the tumours was partially blocking my left kidney, which
meant having a nephrostomy (a narrow tube) inserted into my side to help drain
it. The stoma bag surrounding the tube needed replacing every couple of days or
so, which meant this was the bane of my existence for six months! The
antibiotics I received to deal with the infections also gave me candida (oral
thrush), which made eating quite difficult.
Clearly I was
not doing very well and a decision was made that my chemotherapy could not wait
until 2014 and I had to have some as soon as possible. So on a wet and chilly
Monday morning, I was put into a wheelchair and bundled into an ambulance.
About twenty minutes later, I was helped into The Christie, which (as it turned
out) would be as near to a second home as I would get for the following four
months or so.
I was going
to receive a three-day course of some EP (cisplatin and etoposide) chemotherapy
to start attacking the troublesome secondary tumours. This would be a stopgap
before I started the main 5-day BEP (bleomycin, etoposide, and cisplatin) regimen
So far so good,
but there was one problem! The first day of this three-day EP course would be
24th December. I therefore had to stay in The Christie for Christmas
Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day … no family Christmas at home for me in 2013.
in hospital over Christmas is clearly nobody’s first choice, it was actually
not so bad an experience. All of the people working at The Christie – the
nurses, the cleaners, the doctors – were very nice and sympathetic, helping me
through the chemotherapy itself and various other treatments beforehand and
afterwards. Even while I was hooked up to my chemotherapy drugs on Christmas
Day, everyone there helped cheer me up. Not only did I get a turkey dinner (even
though the candida meant I was unable to eat very much of it), I was also given
some shower gel and deodorant as an additional Christmas present. Being hooked
up to a drip machine for most of my visit meant I could hardly use them while I
was there, but it was the thought that counted.
quite liberal visiting hours – 12 noon to 8pm each day apart from protected
mealtimes – were also extended to essentially 24 hours during the Christmas
period to make it easier for people from further away to visit. This was an
absolute godsend for my family – some of whom had come from as far afield as Lancaster,
Suffolk and Dubai – and it meant that they could visit me at least twice a day
to keep me company. I later learned that my family were understandably not in
the mood for a full Christmas dinner on the big day itself, which they postponed
in favour of a stir-fry!
Like a lot of
people from my generation, I rely on being connected to the Internet for
entertainment and keeping in touch with people, which is why The Christie’s
free wifi was so useful while I was stuck in bed. I only had my trusty iPhone
and a charger with me – I had not intended to be in the hospital for quite so
long, so I had not brought in my laptop – but this was enough to keep up with
emails when I could concentrate, and to play games when I couldn’t.
chemotherapy did indeed help improve things. The abdominal pains almost
completely stopped and, when I could actually eat, I was able to keep my food
down. I still had to stay an extra five days to deal with some residual stuff,
such as a blood transfusion to help boost my iron levels, filgrastim injections
to try and boost my white blood cell count and waiting for a rash on my back to
clear caused by a newly-discovered allergy to allopurinol. After all of that, I
was finally discharged on New Year’s Eve and I saw 2014 start at home with my
my next visit to The Christie was considerably sooner than I expected. I had to
be readmitted about 24 hours after I had left due to an infection while still
neutropenic, possibly because the top of an impacted wisdom tooth had broken off
(I had visited an emergency dentist and an out-of-hours GP, all to no avail).
around, I had to be put into a side-room in one of the wards to prevent
infecting other vulnerable patients and be attached to an antibiotic drip.
Fortunately, the antibiotics managed to work well enough to allow my white
blood cell count to recover and I was able to return home a week later. This coincided
with my birthday, so being allowed to go home again was the best birthday
present I could have wished for!
The rest of
my 5-day BEP chemotherapy sessions were less fraught than the EP cycle I had at
Christmas. I was better prepared for my four 21-day cycles. Not only could
friends finally come to visit whenever I was there, I was also able to bring in
my laptop to give me something to do while the drugs were being put through me.
I work as a computational scientist for one of the UK’s research councils, so I
was able to do a little bit of programming and catch up on reading research
articles while receiving chemotherapy as an in-patient. The candida also cleared
up thanks to mouthwashes, so I could actually eat the various meals available.
Fish and chips on Friday lunchtimes were my favourite.
gained some kind of infection each time I was neutropenic and had to return to
The Christie (always on Day 10 of each cycle) to be given antibiotics and allow
my immune system to recover. I reckon I must have visited every single ward and
most of the side-rooms in The Christie! My hair also fell out, so I had to
start wearing hats to keep my head warm.
positively, I met quite a few other patients being treated for various forms of
cancer, including someone else who lived in my hometown. The doctors and nurses
were as nice and helpful as they had been at Christmas, telling me how well the
chemotherapy was working (very well indeed) and helping me deal with its
various side-effects. I had my last top-up of bleomycin in early April 2014 and
since then I have only had to come in as an outpatient for scans and check-ups,
as well as removing the nephrostomy (hurrah!). My cancer has not returned since
the end of my treatment and I am almost certainly in remission.
memorable Christmas has made me more grateful of how hard doctors and nurses at
hospitals like The Christie work, especially when most people are having a
peaceful time with their families (as I certainly will be this year).