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Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Quite a Social Week

This time last year I had just seen my GP and we had a conversation about the biopsies that I had had done. The results weren’t back from the biopsies, but we were aware that there was a tumour in the stomach and I was anxious to find out if the tumour was malignant or benign. My GP was not sounding to hopeful about the outcome, and I remember as I got up to leave he also stood up, moved around his desk and hugged me. I only just kept it together, but as soon as I left the surgery I spoke with my wife Leonie and then called my mum. On the phone to my mum I broke down and had to hang up. Although I hadn’t received any results, it had suddenly dawned on me that this could be the beginning of the end. That night was also the works Christmas party, and I went along. Everyone was enjoying themselves and was so happy, I put on a brave face and made it out like I was having a good time. All the time my own mortality was on my mind, I was asking myself questions like “if this is it, what do I do until the end?” My mind was on different things, and I got drunk to try and forget it. It was a difficult weekend for me and probably one of the hardest, and at this point I was even sure if I had cancer. Roll on 12 months, and I have had cancer and beaten it. What a difference a year makes. Having being told you have cancer, the whole world changes, your view on the world shifts. It is hard to put it into words but I know many people are delivered similar news and in many cases, worse news than I have got. But at the time, I remember speaking with Leonie and saying that we can’t change anything like this, it is bigger than us and what will be, will be. The most important thing is to stay strong and be positive, and more so if there are kids around. We decided that we would carry on as normal as possible for the sake of the children. I am glad we decided on this, as to them I have been a little ill, but they were never aware that this potentially has the capability to take me away. I was lucky that it was found in time to be treated and removed, and that I still here, and that I have a full life ahead of me again. It would have been devastating if it hadn’t gone this way. I am extremely happy still to be here and able to enjoy time with my family. This week has been a bit of a mixed bag of events. We visited our friend in Poulton-Le-Fylde on Friday eveing and had a walk around the town to see the lights with the children. Then we had some Christmas drinks in the evening, a bit of mulled wine. On Saturday we took all the children for a walk along the beach at Cleveleys before heading home in the afternoon. Saturday night we went out again to see all our friends. We went to the Ferret on Fylde Road and had a drink and dance, it was good to see so many of our friends out and we all enjoyed ourselves. This meant that Sunday was spent recovering. I was back at work on Monday, but on Tuesday afternoon, I had an appointment with my Oncologist and Specialist Nurse in preparation for another dose of treatment on Wednesday. This Avastin treatment is quite easy to take; it is only a IV drip for half an hour. Before treatment I went to Cop Lane School to see both Oscar and Sidney in their school play, “Children Of The World”. I was so proud of my two little boys, and they looked happy to be taking part. It is amazing how much both of them have developed since starting school, Sidney only being at school since September, and now he is writing all his own Christmas cards and having a part in the school production, completely amazing. Tonight I am going to the Rosemere Volunteers Celebratory evening at Deepdale and a few of my supporters are coming along with me. I am looking forward to a night out to celebrate all their efforts and help they have shown throughout the last year, there are so many people that I owe a great deal of thanks too for the last 12 months, I am eternally grateful to every single last one of them. This Christmas is a special one, the first one of my new life, my second chance. I will treasure these moments with my family and close friends as I am lucky to be here.

Monday, 8 December 2014

December Update

It has been a while since I typed a blog but in all honesty now I am back at work full time, it is hard to sit down for a while and have a think about what is going on. I still write for the Lancashire Evening Post on a weekly basis and this makes up the weekly updates for the blog. Generally I am feeling great, I still get the odd pain now and again or if I forget my tablets the next 12-24 hours can be a little unpleasant but I can't really complain about it and am now leading a full and active life. The boys are keeping me active too, always running around for them or with them! I am really looking forward to christmas and already the big day is creeping up on us quickly. As with any usual christmas period, the social calendar gets a little hectic too and has been filled up for some time, and we don't make it easy for ourselves as we keep adding to the calendar. After all that has happened this year I will be glad to see 2015, but at the same time, I won't forget this year to easily. I am not wishing time away but I really want to get to the 12 months since diagnosis, not for any reason other than to say its all over and done with and I can look at 2015 with a new outlook and perspective. I want to achieve a few things in my life and I have thought about this over the last year, and next year I will start to complete my bucket list. I really want to visit some places and see the world but at the same time I have some more ambitions closer to home. If there is one positive out of this, it has given me a renewed motivation. I really do have a second chance now and I want to make the most of it.

Photos From November

Hot Tub Time

As we are getting ready for Christmas at home, I am becoming busier with bits and pieces and with the seasons socialising too. I was off work last week and didn’t really get many of my planned jobs done as I was busy with appointments and the kids. I did manage to fit in a couple of gym trips though! I went to Cop Lane Christmas Fair with the boys on Thursday after school and we were treated to a few songs from the cast of Frozen, we saw Anna, Elsa and Olaf and all the kids enjoyed the evening. The next morning we were back at school for the morning assembly as Oscar had earned a merit at school for good work, it makes me feel proud that both my boys are doing well at school and times like this are special and reinforce my thoughts that they are good, smart kids. I had an appointment on Friday with my psychologist and we talk a lot about thoughts and feeling, it’s good to get things out in the open and speak with someone who is in a neutral capacity and doesn’t judge, I have support at home but sometimes it’s good to speak with someone outside of my support network. At the end of the week we received a message to tell us that our friends Laura and Lee (who were on holiday in New York) had just got engaged. They make a really good couple and it was good news to find out. The week of rest and relaxation that I had planned didn’t really work out that way but that was about to change for the weekend. Ema and Dan were visiting again and although Leonie was working they were to arrive on Saturday afternoon. In the morning we went to the St Leonards Church Christmas Fair and enjoyed the atmosphere, the boys got to see Father Christmas and both received a present, on the way home we popped into the chip shop for some lunch, then a quick tidy up for our guests to arrive. Having Ema and Dan visit us a fair few times this year has really helped and they have been great friends, I am lucky to have them around and it’s a shame that they live in Wales, but on the other hand it makes it special when they visit and something to look forward to. Ema loves the Christmas period, so our annual tradition is to go to Barton Grange and see the Christmas displays, Ema always buys some more decorations then we go for lunch at Guys and have a very festive weekend. On Sunday afternoon after Barton Grange and Guys, we dropped Oscar and Sidney off at my sisters for a sleep over, Ema and Dan were treating us to a night away in a cabin in Cheshire. We arrived at the lodge and it was a very picturesque setting with the log cabin nestled in amongst a forest of fir trees. Each lodge had its own private decking area and a hot tub. We had some food and relaxed in the hot tub and enjoyed a few drinks, when we got out we played scrabble, I had never played scrabble before and I won! We were in the hot tub on and off until after midnight and we never noticed how cold it was. Although we had to get back to pick the boys up from school on Monday, we still managed a quick dip on Monday morning before packing up and leaving. It was relaxing and fun night away – we could have stayed a lot longer, and now I want a hot tub of my own to enjoy anytime I want to. Tuesday I was back at work and although I like my job, it really doesn’t compare to lazy days spent in a hot tub and I missed my weekend away! Work is busy and we are beginning to get ready for year end. There are plenty more social occasions to enjoy though and the Christmas night out to look forward to. Next week I have my chemotherapy treatment again and although I am still recovering from surgery I feel fighting fit and ready for the festive period. I still haven’t fully accepted the fact of what I have gone through this year, yet I am glad that it is almost over. It has now been 10 months since I was diagnosed with cancer and now the treatment is coming to an end and I am clear of the tumour, the NHS have been fantastic and acted quickly to ensure everything was checked and completed properly, I couldn’t fault them on anything that I have been through this year and owe them a lot of thanks for what they have done in saving my life. I feel as though I owe a lot of people for their help, care and support; I want them all to know that what they have done is appreciated and that I will continue with my enthusiasm and thirst for life just as I did before I found out I had cancer, if I was asked what I have learnt from this experience I can easily answer with the following: I am not indestructible; you have to live life and enjoy it; never be too proud to ask for help; you can overcome anything with focus and a strong mind; and that we all need someone in our lives, family and friends alike, to share the good moments and to support you in the bad times.

Week Off

I was looking forward to Thursday evening and it really didn’t disappoint. I had been invited to go and see The Jesus and Mary Chain at Manchester Academy with my brother in law, David. He has always been into music and was my main influence when I also became interested in music, in fact Dave bought me my first alternative album, Pulp. Since then I have developed my own musical tastes, but I owe it to Dave for starting me on the journey. The Jesus and Mary Chain were mainly active during 80s and 90s so I don’t remember them the first time around, but they reformed and are touring their album PyschoCandy. The gig was awesome and I really enjoyed it, the band were on top form and the gig was loud. I was back in work on Friday after a late night getting back from Manchester. It was my last day in the office before taking a week off on annual leave. I handed over some pieces of work to the team and was excited to have some time off. On Saturday I was down at the gym again. As I have been a few times now, I find that it is getting a little easier so will probably increase the circuit over the next few weeks. I want to be able to feel the benefits of the workout. In the afternoon my sister, Sheila, dropped off her three girls, Amelia, Lottie and Evie as she was out for the night. We were looking after the girls overnight and as a treat we took them to 9th Penwortham Scout Hut to watch a film (How to train your Dragon 2) which was being shown to raise some money for the scout troop. While all the kids were watching the film we popped round to see my mum and catch up. It was a lazy morning on Sunday as we got the kids ready and Sheila popped over to pick them up. In the afternoon I watched the final Formula 1 from Abu Dhabi and was please that Lewis Hamilton won the Championship. In the afternoon the water went off and it made me think about how lucky we are and what we take for granted. The water wasn’t off for long but those couple of hours where we were stuck saw us having to adapt, we struggled and thought that this is definitely a first world complaint when a lot of people around the world don’t have access to clean water. This week I have spent a lot of time doing things around the house, planting some raspberries and repotting some indoor plants. I have been enjoying doing the school run with the boys and also been swimming with Leonie on Monday. I have been going to the gym for a workout each day but decided to take a day off on Wednesday. It’s nice to be off and have some lazy time after the busy few weeks. I have even managed to start the Christmas shopping as well, and I have noticed that I have generally been more active than when I am usually at work, but perhaps this is walking to school and back each day. I am looking forward to this weekend as we have Ema and Dan visiting again and we will be getting into the Christmas spirit by going to Barton Grange, and getting some ideas for decorations. It has become an annual tradition over the last few years and it is something to look forward to. This year we have an added bonus for the weekend as we are going away to Chester for the night on Sunday and having a night in a lodge with a hot tub. It is really something to look forward to and will be a good start to the Christmas period.

Gym and Treatment

On Friday at work we had organised a Bake Off to raise money for Children in Need, we also had a dress up day with the theme being “Superheroes”. I wore a Spiderman costume and also was lucky enough that some people made Gluten Free cakes, so I was able to enjoy a Victoria Sponge cake in the shape of Pudsey. The Bake Off competition was a success and from selling the cakes we raised lots of money for Pudsey and Children in Need. The weekend was another busy time for the family. As it was Oscar’s birthday last week we had planned a joint party with his best friend, Ben and himself on Saturday. This meant we invited his whole class from school as well as cousins and other friends. In total we had 35 children. The party was in the church hall at St Leonard’s, and we had a bouncy castle, games, music and face painting. All the kids loved it and we had a great time. The two boys, Oscar and Ben, were very lucky and received lots of presents which took most of Sunday to open and play with. It was an excellent family weekend with lots of fun and laughter, a good memory for years to come, I’m sure. Sunday morning I was back in the gym and took my time completing my circuit training but pushed myself so I had a proper workout, I am really enjoying going to the gym. It is tiring and hard work but I like training and keeping fit. I am now recognising a few faces and a nod of the head and a quick hello takes your mind off the fact that you are pushing hard. Although my muscles ache from the weight training I can already feel the benefits of the gym circuits and soon will be able to push harder. On the back of this my appetite has increased and I have started to put weight back on, almost near my original weight from back in January at the time of my diagnosis. This is a real boost as I can see changes in my body and having the muscles come back from having a bit of a lean time over the last year. I tend to hit the gym early in the morning so it gives me a boost for the day, it’s a good way to start the day and in the past I tended to workout (run, cycle or row) late at night once we had put the children to bed, but now I am more inclined to work out in the morning so I am at the gym before 7am and I don’t know why I didn’t do this previously as I get my evenings to spend with my family, instead of being out pounding the pavements. I will continue with the morning training sessions as this is working really well. At work I have been doing half days this week as I have appointments in the afternoon. On Monday I went to Vine House on Cromwell Road which is a cancer support charity. Leonie came along too and it was a good session where they introduced themselves and the services that they offer. We discussed how the children were coping, as well as how we have handled the past year. It was good to talk to them and we learnt a lot but were able to get a lot out and it was an open discussion which we both appreciated. On Tuesday I went to see my Oncologist and Nurse, Dr Mitchell and Claire. It is always good to see them, and especially so as we didn’t catch up before my last treatment. In a way I will miss these sessions, we have built a good relationship and get along well; they put their patients at ease and are really helpful with treating any side effects. It’s a very open and honest which it has to be so we talk about everything that is going on. They are pleased with how I am coping and surprised at how well I have recovered from surgery and how I manage the chemo and the after effects. I popped into the Rosemere office too while I was there and had a catch up with the charity team, who are all so friendly and approachable. While I was with Dr Mitchell and Claire there was a point where I was a little shocked when Dr Mitchell said that there are on three more sessions of chemo after this week. It seems as though the whole year has gone so quickly. In some ways it doesn’t seem like that long ago that I was in a room with the surgeon and Leonie, being told I had cancer. It is a very vivid memory, one that will never leave me and sometimes I find it hard to comprehend what has actually happened throughout this year, I also don’t want to forget it as it is a big event in my life, not defining my life but something that changed me massively, in terms of physically and mentally. Sometimes I stop and think for a minute, and it is pretty strange to think I have overcome cancer and now have no stomach. I was back at the hospital on Wednesday and went to see the nurses in the Upper GI unit as it had been a while since I last saw them. I am due to see the officially with Mr Ball, the surgeon, at the end of December, but it was great to see them and catch up. I then went to have my treatment in Rosemere. All the nurses are genuinely happy to see you when you go in. It isn’t something to fear as they make it so welcoming, again something else I will miss once the treatment finishes. Over the past year my life has changed quite a bit but I have made some new friends and had so many memories – although it has been a difficult year, it’s one that I won’t forget.

Oscar Turns 6!

It has been another busy week; I seem to have so much going on the moment but I like to be kept busy. At the weekend I took the boys to the first heat of the Rosemere Cake Off at Kingsfold Community Centre. The boys loved the tombola and the other little games that they could play, it helped having my father in law to look after them while we judged the cakes. There were some excellent entries; very professional. Unfortunately, being a Coeliac I was unable to taste most of them, but there were Gluten Free entries too. I met some nice people as well; the prospective South Ribble MP, Seema Kennedy. She was very pleasant and we had a good chat. I also met a lady who had herself beaten oesophageal cancer some years ago and had experienced some similar symptoms as me. It was good to chat with her and she provided some very useful information too. After a coffee morning the winners of the cake off were announced and they will be heading to the Grand Final which will be held in February at Deepdale Football Ground. Overall it was an excellent event and it raised much needed funds for Rosemere. On Sunday it was Oscar’s 6th Birthday. We let him open his presents before going to the cinema to watch the book of life which I was surprised at how good it was for a kid’s film. In the afternoon we had the family over to celebrate and Oscar was spoilt with so many presents; lots of Lego which I spent the afternoon building. He really enjoyed his birthday and we all enjoyed it with him. It seems like only a short time ago that Oscar was born and I remember the day so well, I was so proud to become a father for the first time and filled with so much happiness to have a little boy. Over the six years, Oscar has grown up to be a well-mannered and intelligent little boys and he is so playful but at the same time likes to be serious about what he does and he is a little bit of a perfectionist which is good as he tries until he gets it right in everything he attempts. I was up early on Monday morning as I had my gym induction at 8am as part of the “Activity For Life” scheme which is run by the NHS Fit Squad. The instructor listened to what my goals were and developed a training circuit to meet my needs but try and push me so that my fitness would improve. Then she took me through the circuit and as a person who hasn’t been to the gym a lot (I’m more just a pavement pounder runner) found it a real workout but lots of fun. I left the gym and went straight to work but going to the gym in the morning really set me up for the day, although my legs were feeling slightly tired climbing the stairs at work in the afternoon. Work is really busy at the moment and there are a lot of changes happening and sometimes it’s hard to keep up, in the evenings I do feel tired but I know that I am getting back to full fitness and it will take some time, this won’t stop me though, I aim to be stronger and fitter than before my operation to prove that cancer shouldn’t stop you and can be a springboard to a better you. With this new motivation I am determined to get to the gym as much as possible and I went back on Wednesday morning before work again. As the weather worsens over the winter and the dark nights are here to stay for a few months, I feel as though going to the gym will be a good bed rock to start running again properly in the spring time when the weather improves. The work out on Wednesday was tough but the people in Penwortham Leisure centre are really friendly and are easy to chat to while working out to keep your mind off the struggle! This weekend will be another busy one as we have family coming to stay and Oscar’s birthday party where we have invited his whole class from school. The next week I have a few appointments and more of the Avastin treatment, it’s easy to forget that I am still receiving chemo, but the battle continues.

Winter Wonderland

If last week was good this week was even better. The avastin treatment went well last week and on Thursday we went to see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at the cinema as a treat for the boys. I had an appointment with the psychologist on Friday and that was really good and I feel as though I can be honest with her. At the weekend we spent time with the boys before dropping them off at the grandparents on Saturday afternoon. Ema and Dan were visiting again, but tonight the four of us, along with Laura and Lee, were going to the Winter Wonderland organised by Emma Grandisons friends. The charity event was to raise money for two charities, Rosemere Cancer Foundation and the Neo-Natal Unit at Royal Preston. It was a formal evening and we all dressed up and had some champagne before going out. It was an excellent night and the venue was dressed up. We had some delicious food, before the Raffle and Charity Auction. The event raised almost £10,000 and we had a great night; while the drinks flowed we danced and laughed the evening away. While I was there I managed to have a quick chat with Emma. She is doing fantastically well considering the treatment she is currently undergoing. I also got to speak to another friend I have made through Emma and Chemo, Sharon. She had some fantastic news; she had been told that she was in remission. This is great news, another friend beating cancer! The following day, after having a full cooked breakfast we went to Barton Grange to meet the grandparents and collect the boys. While there we bought some new plants and food. We had a nice afternoon and in the evening I went to church for the All Souls Memorial Service. My mum, dad and Sister were also there and we remembered my grandparents and brother. I thought about David, my brother who died over 8 years ago and although it is very different to what has happened recently, I consider that I was very lucky in being diagnosed early and having the right treatment. On the other hand, David was unlucky in not being diagnosed with Pneumonia early, and his treatment began too late. It is unfortunate and he is missed by all of us. After having a week off for half term, I started back at work full time on Monday and I feel glad that I can now finally do a full day and week at work. It’s busy with a big project but I like it and prefer it this way, rather than not having anything to focus on. As part of the Sports and Social committee we started planning the diary for next year and I thought about actually how close to the end of the year we are and looking back at this whirlwind of a year, it just seems to have been so quick, it has passed by much quicker than I thought it would do back in January when I was diagnosed. I honestly thought it would be a long, tough road, but for me personally it has been relatively smooth and flat. There have been bumps along the way, but I would say I have coped pretty well with them all. It has now over 9 months since my diagnosis and almost 5 months since my surgery and it feels as though it has happened to someone else. Probably next year it will hit me that it all happened to me but at the moment it hasn’t really sunk in. On Tuesday night I went to the Ferret on Fylde Road with my brother in law, Dave, and my friend, Rob. We went to see a blues artist called Bob Log III. He is incredible on the guitar and his performance is not like anything else. He is a one man band and his performance is unbelievable. I ended on stage with him and it was a really good night. This was followed up by another good night on Wednesday when we went to see the firework display at Pear Tree Park in Penwortham. The boys loved it and it was a good display for Guy Fawkes Night. I also went to an appointment with the Fit & Quit Squad and it was really good, I like to plan for the future and with the help of the Fit Squad and the psychologist I will hopefully be fitter and stronger than before.