Those days are behind me, but I’ve maintained fighting fitness through years of kickboxing. Both physical fitness and mental fortitude will be needed to push through this ordeal of cancer. I have an appointment with the ENT surgeon, Mr Hogan, who refers me to an oncologist for assessment with the parting words “See you on the other side.” I look at him and hope that’s true.
A week later, my wife, Michelle, and I meet an oncologist at Mount Vernon Hospital, who initially tells me the PET and CT scan results are good. That’s a relief and a big step in the right direction. She says the best radiotherapy treatment for me is IMRT, which is a new form of radiotherapy where both the beam and dose of radiation can be tailored to the tumour site. This ensures the radiation is concentrated on cancerous cells whilst the dose decreases for adjacent, normal tissue. Radiation will hit the cancer from several angles to kill it and prevent further growth. IMRT will be especially important in my case because the cancer is so far back in my nasal cavity that the cells are beside my eyes and brain. If the usual radiotherapy treatment is used, there’s a real prospect of brain damage. She just convinced me that IMRT is the way ahead. But, even with this new treatment, there are serious potential complications.
“These side effects can include loss of your eyebrows, partial or total hair loss, blocked tear ducts, mouth problems, soreness in the treatment area, nausea, vomiting, memory loss, blindness and deafness,” she explains.
“I think I can handle the eyebrows and I’m prepared for the sickness and hair loss. But possibly going blind and deaf is a bit of a shock,” I reply. Besides Michelle has just bought me an iPhone and I’ll be really pissed off if I go blind and deaf.
“Those are the potential side effects,” she continues. “And there is only one chance to use radiotherapy to eradicate the cancer. If it doesn’t work, the consequences are likely to be horrific.”
As a way of preparing a patient, those words are brutal. I guess that, if this goes wrong, I’m dead.
The oncologist says she is getting the IMRT equipment and specialist operators in a matter of weeks, but that will be too late for me as I need the treatment now. She refers me to The Royal Marsden Hospital in London because everything is already set up there. In the meantime, I will need to start the IMRT planning process, which involves another scan and making a mask shaped to my head and shoulders.