Marks to prove it
Ahh February, that nothing month, frustratingly not Spring, and the excitement of the Christmas period has long gone. February also happens to be Orchid's Male Cancer month, and coincidently it just so happens to mark a whole year since my last cancer smashing treatment, which I shall tell you about now.
Quick note before I start, I'll warn you, down at the bottom of the blog is a photo of my post op wound, if you're eating your dinner, finish it before you check it out because it's not my best angle.
Way back In December of 2014, in that festive no mans land between Christmas and new year, I got the results of my post chemotherapy scan. Whilst the chemotherapy had eradicated all the detectable active cancer cells in my body, doctors were still concerned about a lymph node which had continued to grow since my last scan. Whilst this was not immediately life threatening, it had the potential to turn cancerous at any time, and they were not sure what it contained, a sort of self made time bomb that was nesting inside me. This was news no one wanted to hear, it meant that further treatment was required to remove it. The operation? A Retroperitoneal Lymph Node Dissection, or as it's shortened to, an RPLND. This operation is standard procedure to American men who are diagnosed with Testicular Cancer, however as it's such an invasive treatment, us Brits try and avoid it if necessary, unfortunately I couldn't. It sounds simple enough, just remove the enlarged lymph nodes, but the positioning of them makes it a whole bag of hurt, they sit near the spine behind everything and there is only *one way in, through the front. The operation is also only done at a couple of Hospitals in the country, mainly Addenbrooke's in Cambridge. After the doctor told me, I was devastated. I sat in the waiting room and cried, I didn't want the op, it sounded painful as hell. My Oncologist described it on the severity scale as 6/10 (my first op being 1) it's not what I wanted to hear, I didn't want to go to Cambridge, but I didn't have a choice.
January past with not much news, they kept an eye on my bloods, but whenever I tried to find out when I might be having this operation I was told they still didn't know, it was all kinds of frustrating but no news was good news to me; not having a date didn't make it feel so real. I started back at work, doing reduced hours then one Wednesday, I got a phone call out the blue. It was from a Doctor I'd never heard of at University College London Hospital ringing to me I could have the operation that Friday, and that it would be recorded and transmitted live to other hospitals for surgeons / medical students to watch, I would become world famous! An offer I politely declined. The thought of having my op recorded wasn't for me, it’s a decision I still stand by. As the months ended I was given a date for my operation, I'd need to be at Addenbrooke's, 7am on February 27th.
I went up to Cambridge a few weeks before my operation scope out my surgeon and to make sure I was fit and healthy for my operation. He went through what would happen which was reassuring, then listed all the potential side effects/ complications of the 6 hour operation. The list was pretty long, some highlights included I may need to have a kidney removed when they got in there, or that there was potential to damage my aorta (the massive artery running up your body) and a shocking one, and I'm only over sharing with this because I know there will be men out there worried about this pre- RPLND, is potential loss of ejaculation due to nerve damage. In the days running up to my operation I was convinced I was going to die under the knife, I don't know why, but it seemed like the inevitable outcome.
The 26th soon came round,to kill time I kicked about in the Olympic Park with my partner Lara for a few hours trying to distract myself from the impending doom, then it was time to head to Cambridge. My parents drove me and Lara up in the evening, and we were put up by Helen & Adam (family friends), who took amazing care of my parents and Lara whilst they were up there. That night I didn't sleep much, being in an unfamiliar bed and the fear seemed to make bad conditions for sleeping, but before I knew it, it was morning, the day had finally come.
It was a wonderful morning, in terms of the weather anyway. We got to Addenbrooke's Hospital nice and early, headed to the day surgery, I got some lovely stockings and a gown on, and we waited and waited, the waiting was bittersweet, on one hand I wanted to get the operation over with but on the other hand I was glad to still be alive. The surgeon and anaesthetist both came by to reassure me it was going to be alright, unfortunately there was nothing they could give me for nerves. It was around 2pm before I was finally called, and it was terrifying. I said my goodbyes to my family, and headed out of the ward and into the operating theatre.
I entered a room full of people dressed in scrubs, it was a terrifying sight, I sat on the table and for some reason, fear made me half shout the information they wanted back at them, I still find it a bit strange I did that. It was incredibly stressful. I leant forward on the bed in preparation for my epidural, which was no fun at all, they tried 3 times to get it in and each time got more uncomfortable, after trying for a few minutes they gave up and said they would try other pain killing methods. I laid flat on the table, put my feet into a couple of foot holders, I'm sure thats their technical name, and I was gone.
6 Hours later, I woke up in recovery, I was alive, I was euphoric, which may or may have not been caused by the countless drugs they had pumped me with. It soon became apparent to myself that I had tubes coming in and out of everywhere, I looked like a marionette. The most impressive looking of these was the arterial cannula I had sticking out my wrist, the least was the catheter coming out of, well, you know. I seemed to always have the best time in recovery, I made good friends with the nurse looking after me, I don't remember much about him apart from he was from Mauritius and we chatted about how I could pass my scar off as a shark attack, he was awesome. Weirdly I also had very specific part of Dammit by Blink 182 in my head that I kept on muttering to myself. After a few hours in recovery, and having been reunited with the family, I was taken up to my own little room on the Urology ward.
The next morning I woke up and had what I call my "Saving Private Ryan" moment. I felt my bed and it was wet, I assumed my catheter had leaked and I'd wet the bed, until I looked down. The dressing they had given me was drenched in blood and it had leaked onto the bed, just what you want to wake up to! I quickly sought medical attention, a doctor took a look and said to me "Oh, you're not bleeding, you're oozing" apparently, they are completely different things, who knew! This understatement was then followed by the most caveman but affective piece of medical attention I've received. He just leant on me, applying pressure to my wound, luckily I had a ton of morphine in me so I couldn't feel a thing, and it worked, they taped up my wound and it stopped oozing. Im still impressed by how simple it was.
The weekend past without much incident, I picked up an infection, lost my dignity to a bed bath, had awful wind, lost horrendously in a morphine fueled game of Bananagrams and they had got me out of bed. On the Sunday night I was moved to the main ward from my room. I wasn't impressed at all, I liked the privacy of my own room, having people come and go as they pleased and not having to listen to anyone else snoring. On the Monday morning I felt frustrated with the whole situation, the pain killers were wearing off, I was fed up, and having to spend the rest of the week on the ward was a low point. It was also around this time that the evenings started getting a bit strange, there was a doctor working the nightshift who made it his goal to find the source of my infection. Every night he would disturb me with blood tests and even sent me for a chest x-ray at 2am in the morning, a night I wont forget, not because of the x-ray, but because he stood and degraded the porter who was wheeling my bed around, by pointing at his stomach and telling me not to end up like him. I didn't like that doctor one bit.
The week did soon pick up, the Physio went well, they got me up and out of bed on my own every day, had me walking up and down some fancy wooden steps and around the ward. Getting back on my feet was a good feeling, theres only so much time you want to spend horizontal. The only issue was I was getting some awful referred pain in my shoulder, it was like an intense stitch, it was the only real pain I had directly from the operation, there was no pain from the wound, just this sharp pain at the top of my arm. I was also able to goto the loo in the week, this was an important part of my recovery, I wasn't allowed out of the hospital until I had been to the loo. This is due to the digestive system going to sleep after its handed. Its pretty common but they just need to check its come back to life after they've prodded it around. That came easier than I had expected, which was good because I was quite worried about going.
Eventually Thursday came round, my infection was heading off and so was I, a day early! This was the best news. I had my catheter removed, woah! the feeling is probably somewhat similar to giving birth, just a little quicker, I imagine. We waited around for my suppositories, then headed back to Helen & Adams, we stayed for the night then headed back to me mums in Eastbourne, it was March 6th. My recovery from here was pretty straight forward, I spent a lot of time relaxing, playing xbox and eating. I also pushed myself to keep walking, I was getting back ache from not being able to use my stomach muscles correctly which was annoying but apart from that I tried to keep as active as possible, I think it helped my recovery.
6 weeks later I returned to Addenbrooke's to see my surgeon and to get the results of my lymph node biopsy. It contained mature teratoma but there were no sign of active cancer in it! It was the best ever news you're going to get after being diagnosed with cancer. I also hadn't suffered from any of the side effects or nerve damage that they had pre warned me about, everything was good and I could officially say I was in remission and I still am to this very day!
All in all, the operation was worth it. I would say to any guy that is having to have an RPLND the same thing I was told going into this. The bark of the RPLND is much worse than its bite, it's such an intimidating prospect being spliced open, but, compared to chemotherapy, its better. Each day you see your progression, each day you feel better and better, so stay positive and it'll soon be a distant memory.