Last time I wrote about Cancer, I was five weeks from treatment and not feeling very well. In fact, my whole world fell apart ...
I saw my ENT specialist last week and, as usual, he stuck a camera up my nose (yak!) and had a rummage around my nasal cavity. The good news was that it was all clear and there's no growth in the empty space that my tumour used to inhabit. In fact, he declared everything 'normal' which was a great relief for me.
Then he asked me if I wanted to hear the other good news? I'd forgotten that I'd had an MRI just after I saw him last month and he was able to tell me that the scans were all clear too. My tumour had completely gone; there was no trace of it and the Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy had done their job well.
I say 'right now' because survivors have a bigger chance of it coming back somewhere else as either a primary Cancer or a secondary one, caused by the previous tumour. It is possible; some Cancer cells could have broken free and settled in another part of my body, but unless it starts showing symptoms I've been told not to worry from now on.
I have to admit that I do worry. As does every other Cancer survivor out there. We worry that any ache and pain could be a resurgence of our old nemesis and it's out to get us again. Will we catch it in time? Or will we just plod along until we're too ill to continue? It's anyone's guess, but it is something that is always in the back of our mind for the rest of our lives.
And that brings me onto something that people just don't get: Yes, I've finished treatment. Yes, I look fine on the outside (apart from maybe my very short hair), but no, I'm not ok thanks; just thought you should know!
Only people who've had Cancer, or cared for a close friend or relative going through it, will understand that Radiotherapy is 'the gift that keeps on giving'. It could take months, even years for the symptoms to abate fully. Sometimes they never do. Remember, I was burned to a crisp from the inside out and that damage is still with me on the inside, I can feel the lumps of scar tissue in my neck!
I still get incredibly tired and from one day to the next, I don't know how tired I'll be or what time of day the fatigue will strike me. The weekends are the worst, when I don't have to do anything, so I sleep for a lot of it.
My saliva glands were damaged during radiotherapy, so my mouth dries out very quickly. This probably contributes to the daytime fatigue as I regularly wake up during the night to sip water when my mouth and throat dries up and starts to hurt.
I still have random Tinnitus, terrible indigestion most nights and, about once a week, I'll eat something that my stomach simply doesn't like and sends it back up. It just spasms and I have no control of it. Sneezing, coughing, vomiting ... until my tummy is completely empty, then retching until my body gets the message that there's nothing left! Quite embarrassing when it happens in company. Thankfully that's quite rare.
I joined a Head & Neck Cancer Survivors group on Facebook to ask about various symptoms and I realised quite quickly that there are people far, far worse off than me. I've seen pictures of people with 1/2 their face removed, of massive long term scarring, of tongues removed and jaws rebuilt from transplants. I've read about people who will never taste again or will need feeding through a PEG line for the rest of their lives.
Yes, I do feel blessed, but conversely, I also feel very glum right now and have to admit to becoming a bit of a hermit over the past few months, purely because I felt so tired all the time and didn't want to see anyone.
But thanks to the support and understanding of my GP, I am emerging from my embrace with the Black Dog. I've started to network again, I'm seeing my friends more, I'm even trying to eat different foods when I'm out and about although it'll be a while before bread, pastry and chips will be back on the menu.
When I'm driving around, I see Snowdrops, Crocus, early Primroses and the odd Daffodil in flower and it does lift my heart. "No, I'm not ok" is my official answer to enquiries, "but I'm a lot better than I was last month and will be more so by this time in April".
It really is only a matter of time, but please treat me gently for now.
If anything I've mentioned here resonates with you, do call me on 0333 335 0420 and let's see how I can help.