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Op seems to have gone well. Hooray! Once the feeding tube has been tested I should get home tomorrow

Update 3 November 2013 Once again there was more to this brief update than meets the eye. Although the op to put a feeding tube into your stomach is fairly straightforward for most people, it wasn’t for me.

The standard technique is to put an endoscope, a small camera, down your throat so you can see what’s happening in the stomach. But, my throat was so swollen from radiotherapy that they didn’t know if they could get the endoscope down it. If they failed it would mean several more days waiting for a more major op when they’d make a bigger hole in my stomach to see what they were doing.

Fortunately they managed to get the endoscope down my throat and the whole process was mercifully without incident…



Knocked the feeding tube out of my stomach. Day and a half in a&e. Now in normal ward being fed through a drip. Hope they’ll be able to put a new tube in early next week.

Added 3 November 2013:  Actually, there was a great deal more to this episode than my brief upate suggested at the time. I knocked the PEG out of my stomach when I was drying myself after a shower. It wasn’t difficult. Nobody told me what I should do if this happens, but I now know that you can often just put it back in within 24 hours. As it happens, I did try and put it back in myself and it seemed to work until I was fed through the tube. It went straight through which was not nice. (I’ll spare you the details.)

So it was the following day I went to Can Misses hospital in Ibiza. At “urgencias” I eventually saw the duty surgeon who I recognised because he’d carried out a hernia operation on me a couple of years ago. Fortunately I was unconscious for that. Having seen him in action I wouldn’t want him to operate on me again.

To get the tube back he first tried forcing a variety of other PEGs into the hole. None worked, although it was agony. I should also mention he was being observed by a student. When the first method failed he moved on to other implements including a pair of scissors, all the time repeating the mantra: “Just relax…” Eventually he gave up.

I thought they’d be able to put a new tube in fairly quickly. Then I was told it would take at least a week. The complication for me was that I had to get food and water into my system. That meant through my veins. There’s only a finite amount of time you can do that into your arms as things keep collapsing.

For the first day I was in a gurney in a corridor, then I was eventually moved into one of the noisy a&e wards. It was an improvement. Thanks Barbara for pushing them to get me moved. I then spent most of a day waiting to see if they could find a room for me in one of the ordinary wards. Fortunately they did. Even better, the other patient sharing the room was allowed home for the weekend. So I had three peaceful nights to myself.

In the end, I only met my room-mate briefly, a local guy with inoperable stomach cancer, though you’d never have known he was ill. He was replaced by a young Senegalese “looky looky man” who made his living on San Antonio’s beaches selling sunglasses and “bling-bling”. Nice guy, in perpetual agony from a leg abscess.

Meanwhile, as I waited for the op to put a new tube into my stomach the veins in my arms had all collapsed. So I needed another op. This time it was to put a shunt straight into my carotid artery. This is regarded as somewhat risky because it offers a direct route for infections to get into your heart. Unfortunately there was no operating theatre available, so they just had to improvise and do it on my bed with maximum hygiene precautions. Or so it seemed.

A couple of days later it became clear just how risky that little op had been. My Senegalese room-mate was persuaded to take a shower. As soon as the bathroom door shut nurses and doctors rushed in. I was told I’d be moving and within five minutes I was next door. The results of tests had come back and it turned out I was sharing a room with somebody. He was now quarantined with nobody allowed in without a mask and gown…

Back in Ibiza… and in a Reggae Band?

I’ve been home in Ibiza for a week now. This is my first posting since I got back. It’s not been an easy time.

After weeks of having my days structured around dragging myself to radiotherapy every day (with a lot of help from Barbara!) there’s nothing. And the treatment has left me knackered to an unbelievable degree.

But the thing which has really stopped me from going anywhere is my voice. I haven’t been able to speak for over a month. So frustrating.

Despite this I have been offered a gig playing triangle with a reggae band. They say it’s okay for me to stand at the back and ting…

After my last chemotherapy session

I’m feeling surprisingly chipper after my third and final chemotherapy session yesterday.  Last time it left me feeling really lousy for about three days. This time it’s come with a positive side effect which gave me the best night’s sleep I’ve had for weeks. The radiotherapy may have killed my saliva glands, but in revenge it’s massively increased my production of mucous. It had got  to the point where I was having to clear my throat every hour through the night. Last night it dried up. Bliss.

It’s just as well I feel physically better today. I got back from the hospital yesterday feeling shit. Not only had I been on a chemo drip for five and a half hours and had radiotherapy, but I’d had a couple of appointments with specialists that brought back to the surface a few uncertainties I’d carefully buried at the back of my mind. The doctors reminded me my life has too many “ifs”:

“IF your voice comes back…”

“IF you can swallow…”

And, most worryingly: “Until the swelling goes down we won’t know IF the treatment has been effective…”

But we booked our flights to Ibiza last night, re-watched Trainspotting for the first time in years and I got a decent night’s kip.

Now I know I might not be able to eat, drink or talk, but I will be out dancing under the stars before this Ibiza season’s over. Fuck cancer, let’s dance.

(To Scottish friends who feel the last statement shows my illness has somehow affected my mind, let me say it’s not that. It’s the ongoing presence of a yellow disc in the sky that has probably addled my brain over the last nine years. And I’ve never found a Spanish or Catalan word that means the equivalent of “driech.”)  

Nearly there

On Friday I had treatment number 25 of my 30 radiotherapy sessions. So I’ve got five more to go, which is a week’s worth or would be if the machine wasn’t closed for maintenance tomorrow. It means, assuming no other problems arise, we should be home in Ibiza on Tuesday August 13. Hooray.

Actually finishing on a Monday is, perhaps, not a bad thing. Otherwise we’d arrive at Ibiza airport on Saturday. Ibiza airport on a Saturday in August is not the most relaxed place on earth.

Also, next Wednesday, I have my last dose of chemotherapy. I didn’t have much in the way of side effects from the first one. The second one left me feeling pretty shit for two or three days. Who knows what’ll happen the third time? Again, an extra weekend to recover is not a bad thing.

Apart from that, I’m still not using the pain-killing patches. When I saw him on Wednesday the oncologist described this as “muy valiente” which I think translates as “bloody stupid”. The radiotherapy doctor, on the other hand, said she thought it was a good idea to avoid the patches and their side-effects if I could. Hmm. There could be a gender difference here in attitudes to pain.

It is getting increasingly difficult not to count the hours before this painful exile is over. Although I won’t be able to rush out and play even when I get back to Ibiza. The oncologist said it would take three to four months to recover from the radiotherapy. Of course that doesn’t include the effects of the surgery. Hopefully my voice will come back fairly quickly and the persistent wet cough – the least unpleasant way I can describe it – will disappear equally fast. Learning to eat and drink again will take a little longer. With a bit of luck, though, I’ll be able to get out and about a bit by September. (And, frankly, I’m happy not to have to go anywhere in Ibiza’s August. Worst month of the year.)

I also hope to start writing again in September. I got a nice note from my former boss at the Wall Street Journal telling me there’d be work available when I’m ready. I’ll also finally get on with writing the novel. All I need to do is get through these last five sessions of radiotherapy.

Two-thirds through

Yesterday I had my 20th radiotherapy session. That’s two thirds of the way through. But I’m reluctant to celebrate as I always have to bear in mind that the worst is yet to come.

One of the strange things about cancer is it’s such a macho disease. People always talk about “battling” or “fighting” it. You wouldn’t say the same thing about heart disease, strokes or whatever. If there is a battle going on with my cancer, it’s not really me that’s fighting it. The people who are doing that are the surgeons and radiotherapists. I’ll just have to cope with what’s left after the slash and burn is over. (There’s not much subtlety in cancer treatment even now.)

So far things aren’t too bad. If my neck was any redder I’d be married to my sister. But my throat’s not too bad. I can only talk in a hoarse whisper. It doesn’t hurt much though. So I’m still not taking anything stronger than paracetamol. I’ve got powerful patches in reserve. But once I start with those I can’t stop until I go through withdrawal.

I did get a bit of a scare on Monday night. My throat was sore enough to keep me awake, especially as it was pleasantly combined at the other end with the gripes of constipation. (Being full of shit has been a lifelong challenge and career choice for me.) But as one of the common side-effects of the patches is constipation it looked as if I was going to face an uncomfortable decision. Fortunately “Gone With the Wind” took on a whole new meaning and my throat settled down too.

So now I’ve got 10 sessions of radiotherapy to go. That should be two weeks. But there’s a day of maintenance on August 5 so August 13 is probably the earliest I’ll be home in Ibiza. I can hardly wait.

Halfway there

Yesterday I had my 15th session of radiotherapy and my second of three doses of chemotherapy. (I should have had radiotherapy today, but the machine’s broken, a piece of news hardly likely to inspire confidence. It’s bad enough being shot by a ray-gun, finding out it’s dodgy is worse.) But that’s me at the halfway stage with radiotherapy.

I also had my halfway appointment with the oncologist. He always seems a nice guy, but he’s probably too used to giving bad news. In my case it was really a matter of no news that I didn’t know already. My throat’s swollen from the treatment which is why I’ve lost my voice. And that was about it really.

The oncologist also gave me what’s probably the standard prescription for people at my stage of treatment – strong mouthwash, anti-fungal mouthwash (a common risk with radiotherapy in this area) and Fentanyl patches. Fentanyl’s much stronger than morphine and just as addictive. So withdrawal’s something else to look forward to. It’s also a none-too-subtle warning about what’s in store.

Apart from that I’ve got almost perpetual hiccups from the steroids I get after a chemotherapy session. You can now see where the rays hit my face from where the hairs are disappearing as the follicles die. I’ve now got an accidental goatee.

At the end of another week of radiotherapy

At the end of another week of radiotherapy my throat is definitely feeling sore, I’m exhausted all the time and I can only speak in a hoarse whisper. I don’t mean by that I’m talking to our four-legged friends, although I have taken to wearing a sort of straw cowboy hat to keep the sun off my neck. It’s effin hot here.

Every time I put it on my head I’m reminded, for some annoying reason, of this joke my English teacher, in an attempt to be one of the lads, told the class when I was in Lower V C (bottom stream, always the proud under-achiever).

“What’s the difference between a cowboy and a  cowgirl?”

“A cowboy has a prairie hat…”

Hopefully, that’s now been exorcised from my brain and y’all can suffer from it instead.

Meanwhile, the way my throat has suddenly become more painful is particularly frustrating. I had an appointment with the head of ear, nose and throat yesterday and he was very pleased with the way I was progressing. I told him I was eating yoghurt and the odd banana. (I hadn’t actually been told I was allowed to. It can be dangerous.) He told me to carry on and demonstrated a technique to make swallowing easier. (I looked up “swallowing techniques” on the Internet afterwards and found a lot of other information. But most of it wasn’t exactly what I was after at this point in time.)

Anyway, I was definitely looking forward to trying out some of the suggested foods which are supposed to be easy to swallow, such as mashed potato with lots of butter. Unfortunately, my throat’s so sore that eating or drinking is probably off the table, so to speak, until at least a couple of weeks after I finish the radiotherapy. That means September some time.

Que sera. I’ve got a couple of days off radiotherapy so hopefully we’ll escape from the old folks’ home and into Palma once or twice.

Jesus Shaves, But I Can’t

Yesterday I had my first blast of radiation for the week. The machine  was being serviced on Monday. I don’t know means if they were able to add a little bit of extra oomf or not.

Anyway, the radiotherapist took one look at me and said: “Your cheeks look very red.”

I tried to explain that I was British and temperatures over 20 degrees, let alone 30 degrees, will have that effect. But, no, he says it means I must stop shaving. Now. He explained it wouldn’t matter as the treatment would soon destroy the follicles so I wouldn’t need to worry.

The thing is, it’s not that I’ve ever enjoyed shaving. One of the joys of being a freelance journalist was that in cyberspace no-one could see your stubble. But being told not to shave is one more little loss of choice.

Meanwhile, in a couple of hours I’ll have my tenth treatment, which puts me one third of the way through. This far I’m suffering no painful effects, although there’s a long way to go. I do, however, have perpetual mild tinnitus, no saliva and my voice is fading fast. I could completely lose the ability to speak for several weeks. Or more. And, I’m told, what comes back could be different. I live in hope. I was never that keen on the sound of my own voice.