12th May 2020, Royal Marsden Hospital, Sutton, Surrey, England.
Well, this is awkward
I’m on day one of the chemo, and I have radiotherapy booked in later too.
It’s dead posh here, they even give you an electric blanket for your arm!
“Has anyone spoken to you about sex Mr Little?”
I thought it was an unusual greeting from the ward doctor, but I felt like I was on pretty solid ground.
“Not since 1991, but I was a handsome boy, went to a rough school and just worked it out myself. I did surprisingly well in the 90’s”
<somewhat unimpressed, he presses on>
“Mr Little, you’re going to have a course of very strong drugs. Has anyone spoken to you about sperm banking?”
“Well yes doctor, and I made it clear I’ve completed my family now”
“Ok perfect. I must remind you that your bodily fluids cannot end up inside your wife for around six weeks. This is very strong stuff”
<actually rather enjoying this direct dialogue from Dr Khan>
“Well, I tried it twice so I certainly know the dangers of strong stuff ending up inside my wife. I’m guessing someone else’s wife is ok?”
“Mr little, please try to be serious”
The rest of what he had to say wasn’t very interesting so here we are.
Fill me up, buttercup
The chemo was an adventure. I had to drink 3 litres of water through the session. Have a bag of saline, anti sickness pill, then steroids. Then another bag of saline, anti sickness and more steroids. Then a bag of chemo, and a bag of saline.
At the moment, I’m OK. But I felt like I’d been in a fight earlier when my left kidney was sore. I took a 3 mile walk earlier, and my legs are really stiff but there’s only fizzing and tingling now. I’ll take it one day at a time!
Cancer treatment in a global pandemic? Business as usual really.
It’s week two of the radiotherapy and week one of chemo sessions.
Every day. I turn up for radiotherapy. There are perhaps 10 or 12 machines at the Sutton site, so it’s certainly a mega high volume cancer hospital.
Because of COVID, there’s no visitors allowed. But, it’s still busy every day, and everyone makes an effort to remember you and say hi.
I could see any radiotherapy team, and they’re all brilliant. They’re all interested in the you and your plan. The thirst for knowledge, willingness to help and incredible pride in their work goes a long way. They clearly love their hospital too.
The treatment itself hasn’t left much of a mark yet. I’m only a week in though, and it’s hitting all brand new flesh after the surgery in December. It could all fall off soon!
I will have blood tests twice a week, 12 vials a time. I’m going to participate in some clinical trials, and meet the consultant once a week. I’ll have four hour round trips every day, 12 hour days on chemo day.
For the next 5 or 6 weeks, this is a massive slog, but it has to be done. So, as with everything else I’ll try to make the most of it.
The Royal Marsden is clearly a very well run hospital. Everything is systematic, precise, focused on excellence and ultimately individual patient outcomes. There’s no panic, no fuss, no fuck ups – it’s extraordinary.
Hopefully I’m not speaking too soon, as this place is still an NHS hospital.
From my own personal experiences with the NHS, they tend to permanently operate like there’s a fire somewhere. I don’t mean the theatres, or A&E, it’s even the carpark and medical records.
I’m hopeful though, the Royal Marsden has the very best reputation, it’s a national icon.
It’s just one foot in front of the other, and the same again tomorrow
I see so many people at the Royal Marsden. There are tiny children being wheeled out of theatres by their surgeons to see their desperate parents. End of life patients, younger than me on a constant cycle of drugs just to eke out a few more weeks or months with their families. Those on the road to being cured, but covered in PPE, cowering, terrified of a new enemy taking them away.
BUT, there are plenty like me too. People bouncing around, happy, positive and with a good story to tell. Maybe we’ll give some people hope too, that having cancer doesn’t always mean you’re going to die. That cancer doesn’t always mean you’ll be in a massive fight you can’t win. Or that the odds aren’t always stacked against you, and you can’t just get on with life.
Because a lot of the time…. you just can.