Different Thinking

Since I got cancer, I have been asked several times by doctors and nurses if I smoked. I assume this was to find out if the cancer was self-inflicted. Each time I replied ‘No,’ they looked at my hands, presumably for nicotine stains. There were never any. Continue reading

Over The Years

One autumn afternoon, I’m at The Royal Marsden Hospital for a check-up with Dr Gavaghan and the latest CT scan result. It pours down as I walk along the South Kensington streets and pause by the green doorway to reflect on how ill I’d been there. I get to the hospital, check in and wait for an hour, flipping though newspapers and messing about on my iPhone. Eventually, I’m called into a small room and wait there alone. The familiar feeling of fear is in the pit of my stomach. My breathing is quicker and I can feel sweat on my brow. Heartbeats seem to reverberate at the front of my throat. Dr Gavaghan walks in and wastes no time in checking my neck and doing a nasendoscopy. I close my eyes and gag during the procedure. He sits back in his seat, looks over the top of his glasses, smiles and puts two thumbs up. Continue reading


The mental aspects of going through cancer are enormous. I have literally been given a new lease of life. I feel different as the weight of illness lifts. I enjoy the small things more, like the feeling of raindrops on my face and the morning sunlight shining through the branches of trees. After enduring a sustained period of sickness, I savour being able to go for a run, eat a salad or just drink water. I am happy to be alive. Continue reading


I now have CT scans about every six months to see if there are any signs of the cancer returning. These are at The Royal Marsden Hospital and I do my usual walk from the tube station listening to music and turn right onto Fulham Road, cross over and head towards the hospital. On the left are some shops and I always look at the street corner where I used to vomit before going into the radiotherapy sessions. My experiences there are drilled into my brain. But I take reassurance from how far I have come since those times. Continue reading

Hospital Again And Again


Appointments at The Royal Marsden Hospital alternate between Dr Gavaghan and Mr Harker, and extend from a monthly basis to every six weeks, then to two months and eventually four-month intervals. I go to each appointment with an immense nervousness in the pit of my stomach because it is a check-up to see if the cancer has returned. The routine includes the doctors looking into my throat and externally checking my neck and face. Then it is the nasendoscopy, which involves me sat down facing the doctor wearing a circular head mirror to reflect light into my nasal passage. Local anaesthetic is sprayed up my nose and the 30cm tube inserted into a nostril. A few sniffs and often a swallow so it is into the nasal cavity and down my throat for a good look. I keep my eyes shut for this procedure and concentrate on staying still without retching, so it is over quicker. Continue reading

Back To Work


I have to at least try the proposed quick return to work. Michelle, Lucy and Jack rely on me financially. I do not feel ready for this. Physically, I may look like anyone else but, mentally, I am not sure. It might all go wrong and maybe I cannot handle it. But I will never know if I don’t give it a go. Continue reading

Greatest Asset


It is nearing the end of my sickness certificate, so I brace myself for going back to work. I practice walking to the train station and am in a right state the first time I make it to the entrance at the top of a small hill. I lean against a wall, completely out of breath, and realise this will take some time. I do this slowly a few times a week and eventually manage to get there without looking like I am about to have a heart attack. The time soon comes for me to contact human resources at work and I arrange a meeting. I have had near radio silence from work, apart from keeping in touch with a few friends there. I meet with human resources and they are keen on my return to work. Continue reading

All Coming Together


It’s as if the all-clear is a catalyst for everything else to fall into place. My ears start to make cracking sounds and I discover if I hold my nose and blow, my ears clear for brief periods of time. Slowly but surely, my hearing returns to normal and my eyesight becomes sharper. Also, the patch on the back of my head goes from being smooth to having some fluffy down on it. Soon the hair thickens and then grows back. The new hair is a darker colour and looks like a target on my head, but I cannot have everything. I spend the following alternate months with consultations between Dr Gavaghan and Mr Harker at The Royal Marsden Hospital. I’m nervous each and every time, but they consistently give me a clean bill of health. The results of CT scans are equally good and I can start to think about the future. Continue reading

Result Time


The big day arrives. I have a Wednesday appointment at 3:30 p.m. with Mr Harker to hear his post-operative opinion about the cancer. If the radiotherapy has worked, the cancer will be gone; if it has not worked, I would have to face the “Potentially horrific” consequences I had been warned about. Continue reading

Emergency Cord


By the time my bed is wheeled back to the room, I have been away for over three hours and Michelle is looking worried. It was supposed to be a minor operation, but the pain is far worse than the other operations. I settle down and ebb in and out of sleep with bandaging strapped under my nose. When I wake up properly, it is late afternoon and I’m feeling sick. The nurses try to get me to eat something but it is no good. My stats are regularly taken and the results are well below normal. Different coloured pills are brought in for me. A decision has to be taken and the nurse does not want to risk sending me home, so I’m in for the night. I talk with Michelle for a while and she has to get back for the kids, who have been with their grandparents all day. I am feeling too unwell for company anyway so it is best if Michelle goes back to reassure the kids I’m okay. Continue reading