Beating Bernard

After three months of going through my wife Julie’s tonsil cancer, it was discovered a week or so ago that I have bowel cancer. I’m calling it Bernard purely for comedic and alliterative purposes, mostly with reference to Richard Curtis, who always puts a Bernard into his films because that was the name of the man who stole his girlfriend in his younger years, and his Bernards are always pathetic figures. This is not to belittle cancer of course, it’s just my way of dealing with it.

We didn’t shout about Julie’s cancer, because she didn’t want to, although I did post updates to a private OneDrive folder and gave a link to close friends and family. However, if you didn’t get the link, it doesn’t mean we don’t love you! But now we’re near the end of her treatment, which thankfully hasn’t been as bad as we’d feared, she doesn’t mind that our wider circle know, in the context of my own. Just to be clear though, it has been very rubbish for her, and hard for all of us, and while as I write we ‘only’ have one weekly chemotherapy session left and seven radiotherapy sessions, there are still weeks, possibly months of recovery to come. Of course, mine isn’t a special cancer like hers, as she is already pointing out, but I’m going to blog about it anyway. At the beginning of Julie’s treatment we found a blog by a woman calling herself Radioactive Raz, who had also had tonsil cancer, which we all found extremely useful, and while I’m sure there are a million bowel cancer blogs out there, I’m going to add mine to the list, just in case it helps someone else.

The history is as follows: back in mid December I had a toilet bowl full of blood moment. I was used to a bit of blood now and then – I’ve lived with haemorrhoids for over thirty years – but not that much. So very anxiously I went to the doctor, with my daughter as support (I still feel guilty at ruining her day off). Gloved fingers were inserted, and blood tests taken, but the initial opinion was that the blood was indeed probably down to haemorrhoids. The blood tests came back almost all clear, except for one – the bowel. This was obviously a little worrying, as my grandfather had died of bowel cancer. So they did a routine sigmoidoscopy, and found a polyp, which they decided to take out with a colonoscopy, which happened last Wednesday. Except they didn’t take it out, because during the procedure they found a rather angry-looking lump in the bowel, which on Wednesday was confirmed as cancer, although the colonoscopy people had already said it was, so we knew that already. The good news we got on Wednesday was that they can just cut it out, which they will do in the next few weeks, along with the associated lymph nodes, and no need for a colostomy bag, which is a relief. Officially it’s called a Right Hemi-Colectomy, wherein they cut out about a foot of the ascending bowel and sew the bits back together.

However, and it’s potentially a big however, they also found ‘an area of concern’ on the liver. It’s a very small spot, and it might not be cancer (Julie had a similar ‘area of concern’ on her cervix that turned out to be nothing), in which case they can ignore it, and it may not be connected to the bowel cancer, but we won’t know until they do an MRI scan, which they’re doing on Monday. If it’s not cancerous, then it’ll just be the bowel operation at Yeovil and that will be that, unless the biopsy on the section shows a need for follow-up chemotherapy. If the spot on the liver is cancerous, then it’ll mean chemo first and then an operation to do both bowel and liver, and that will have to be in Bristol. So best case scenario is just an operation, worst case is chemo then larger operation. As ever though we’re now back to waiting again, but, as we did with Julie’s, we’re not speculating on what may or may not happen, we’re just doing things day by day, hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. The good news though is that it hasn’t spread anywhere else.

So just as Julie comes to the end of her treatment, I’m starting mine. You couldn’t make it up.

The weird thing is that it was pure luck that they found it. If I hadn’t had piles, I may not have had the bleeding, and wouldn’t have gone to the doctor’s, and if the sigmoidoscopy had been more successful (the enema didn’t work properly), they wouldn’t have needed a colonoscopy to take the polyp out, and thus found Bernard. Even more luckily, if I’d had the routine bowel cancer screening three years ago at 55 when everyone gets the letter in the UK, and hadn’t wimped out of it, there might not have been anything to find, and Bernard would have got a lot bigger before he made his presence known. But don’t leave it to chance, please – get yourself screened, it’s a very simple process as it turns out, and not as scary and unpleasant as I’d made myself imagine.

The first thing anyone asks you when you announce you have cancer is ‘how are you doing?’ It’s impossible to know what to ask, of course, and that’s the obvious. The answer at the moment, for me, is numb. After three months of Julie’s cancer, the odds of me getting some form of it as well, and at the same time, are just so ridiculous that I’m just, OK, whatever, bring it on. Hopefully it will all be a bit of fuss about nothing, the liver spot will turn out to be a red herring, they’ll cut Bernard out, that will be that, and this will be a very short series of blogs. But we’ll know more after the MRI on Monday.

As to how the family is doing, it’s not for me to say here – you’ll have to ask them. Generally though we’re doing OK, albeit a bit shell-shocked right now.

I will end this in much the same way I ended the first private blog about Julie’s cancer. I know this is very treatable, and very survivable, and I am very conscious that some of our dearest relatives and friends have had much worse and survived, or very sadly haven’t. I’m not saying what we have been through, and are maybe about to go through again, is any worse or more worthy of attention, as it most certainly isn’t. I’m just trying to let everyone know how we’re doing in one go, and maybe give someone else hope.

Lots of love to all,

Alastair xx


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