Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Enjoy yourself (It's later than you think)

Autumn was always my favourite time of year. Specifically now, mid-autumn, when Keats' mellow fruitfulness is coming into its own but we haven't quite got to the mists yet.

I should perhaps add that Keats' poem goes on to witter about bees for whom "summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells". I'm not keen on the image of clammy cells o'er-brimming at the moment; what with the brain cancer and everything, I feel there's been quite enough of that sort of thing going on.

Still, I like mid-autumn. I like the light and the colours and the smell of the season, and even though it's the time of year when things are dying off, ready for the bleakness of winter, for some reason it always gives me a sensation of excited optimism. And not just because there are conkers to be had.

So it was into all this that I stepped from hospital yesterday, walking into the cold, low sunshine of a beautiful autumn afternoon in which it was good to be alive and abuzz with the knowledge that, for the time being at least, I'm fine.

I'd just had my latest set of scan results, the pics from my third quarterly intra-cranial photoshoot. They came out nicely, thanks. No change - I'm still prettier from the inside out.

I still have a hole in my head, but that's it - no extra tumoury bits are visible.

So I have another clear quarter to look forward to. That's the pattern from now on: another scan, another set of results, another all-clear. Grabbing life in three-month chunks.

The next session in the big, bangy machine is around Christmas, with the results due a couple of weeks later. Until then, no worries.

Yesterday was also something of an ending, as it was the last time I was needed at the Beatson's Clinical Research Unit, where I'd been taking part in an experimental vaccine programme. I gave my last round of blood, and my involvement was over.

When I joined, at the end of December last year, I was among the first on this programme being conducted at the Beatson and a few other centres around the UK, which was slowly accumulating willing and suitable subjects on whom to test a vaccine which had been used successfully against other cancers, but not yet on glioblastoma.

Sure, there was some small risk, but it seemed like no choice at all. I was assured it would have no adverse effect on my other treatment, and since at this stage they were testing for side-effects, I'd get a full therapeutic dose, not a placebo. So if it failed, I reckoned, no problem, I'd still be getting the gold-star treatment in which the Beatson specialises; but if it succeeded... well maybe, just maybe, it would help that treatment along, maybe even save my life.

So I signed on the dots and since then I have had eleven pairs of itchy intradermal injections into the same bit of my leg, and given blood in various quantities, but no ill-effects. The programme is getting close to its required number of subjects, which is heartening, my inner geek is pleased at getting to contribute to cutting-edge science, and my sense of social responsibility is satisfied, too. I'm proud to have been part of it.

Looking at my MRI pics, each shows a kind of rind around the hole where the tumour once was, and that's apparently been seen in other recipients of this vaccine. It's not cancerous and is perfectly harmless, and I like to think of it as a barrier, either defending against or containing the bad cells: I realise this is probably nonsense in medical terms, but I like the image.

I'm under no illusions: I know that radiation, chemo and vaccines notwithstanding, the cancer is likely to come back. Not least because the doctors keep telling me that, which I think is a good thing, as time is short and precious and it's important not to fritter it away in the warmth of a false sense of security. With or without cancer, we all waste too much of our least renewable resource when we should be making the most of every minute.

And right now, I feel good. My fatigue is less frequent and less unpleasant, and the stiff legs are easing off.

I was told yesterday, "This is your time feeling well. Enjoy it."

Yes. I think I will.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Welcome to paradise

A year ago from Tuesday, I was to all appearances perfectly well, just back from an autumn break in the Highlands.

A year ago from Wednesday, I was sleep-dancing across the office floor, on the right side of my ribcage and with the sides of my tongue clamped between my teeth, wakening in a wheelchair to a paramedic's kind offer of air and a bewildered trip to hospital. The first of many.

The time between has been packed with scans, bad news, surgery, worse news, fear, intra-dermal injections, radiation, blood tests, chemotherapy, fatigue, steroids, stronger adjuvant chemotherapy, more jags and sangrial sampling, a gastric problem which could have pebble-dashed a warehouse, marriage, euphoria, more adjuvant chemotherapy, more fatigue, more scans, more blood, even more fatigue, stiff legs and the resultant Cyberman stride. Yet it honestly doesn't feel like a year. Time flies when you're enjoying yourself.

One year ago today, October 4, 2011, I was at home; slumped, drained and bemused, on my leather couch with which I would become so familiar, on my first of so many sick days with which I would become so bored, wondering what the hell was going on.

A year later, I'm sitting at a picnic bench under a big tree, in an almost perfect little cove on the north shore of Bermuda. It's 28°,  the sea is blue, something's singing in the next big tree along, and there's just enough cloud cover to let me see my tablet screen and type this. Soon I will go in search of beer. Life's tough.

We're here in this island paradise as guests of my friend and former colleague Raymond Hainey: gentleman, journalist, and all-round good chap; and also one of the finest operators the Scottish press has allowed to escape. While he has been chained to the type-face, Clare and I have beached and lunched and beered, and when he hasn't, Raymond has generously driven us to the sights while we have generally got under his feet and cluttered his flat.

And I feel much better for it. Sure, I sunburned my feet on day two (I never burn anywhere normal, like on the shoulders - for me it has to be somewhere awkward, such as the ankles or forearms or feet), and I twisted a knee falling down the stairs in a pub (it was lunchtime, and I'd only had the one pint), but I feel so much healthier; lighter even.

I'm not going descend into hippy wittering about a healing atmosphere, because that would be nonsense. But sunlight lifts the mood, warmth relaxes, and the light exercise of sight-seeing is probably doing me no harm. The Boris Karloff stomp has eased off as my legs feel stronger, and although I still get tired, it feels cleaner, a warm sleepiness compared to the sickening, bone-deep fatigue which hit before. It would be nice to think that easing will continue back in Scotland.

Of course, I will have to return to the results of the scan I had just before leaving.

But in the meantime, I'm relaxing in Paradise. Still with a hole in my head, but relaxing.

I'm not worried. I feel good.

So far it's a happy anniversary