These blogs can get a little bit repetitive now and again, and possibly a bit depressing too – it is about cancer after all. So I’ve decided to dedicate the odd blog for stuff that has kept me happy and sane over the past few months. It will make me happy writing them, so hopefully it will make you smile reading them.
For the first of these – let’s call them the Keeping Matt Sane blogs – it would be unfair to start anywhere else but Italy. Nothing has brought me more joy over the past few years, let alone months, than Italy has. Or, more to the point, the stuff that happened in Italy. It was three weeks of bliss in an otherwise stormy few months, and it kept both myself and my fiancée Gemma going for weeks afterwards.
Until a few days ago it had been an awesome start to 2016. With my first IL-2 treatment completed I caught up with friends new and old, set up this website, went on day outs and fell ill just two or three times in seven weeks – something unheard of before Christmas. I woke up every morning feeling more and more like myself, and would smile as I ran my fingers along the cancerous lump in my neck with the knowledge it felt smaller than yesterday.
And that’s what made last week’s news all the more surprising.
I’ve been on what can sometimes feel like a UK tour of hospitals in the last year. Consultations here, appointments there. We’ve wanted as many opinions as possible and that’s taken us all over the place.
And every single hospital I’ve been too has one thing in common – the way they treat smoking.
When I was first referred to a professor at The Christie Hospital in Manchester and told about a treatment called IL-2, I didn’t really want to know much more. There could be loads of pieces like this already over the internet, laying out what it’s like to have IL-2, but ignorance was bliss. I didn’t want to know what I was getting into.
But now I’ve experienced it I thought it would be worth jotting down what’s happened so far. If it helps one person prepare for it then I guess it’s worth it.
Only two hospitals in the UK administer cancer treatment Interleukin-2 and it’s not too hard to see why. It’s seriously expensive for a start, but it’s also quite new and very intense.
This isn’t like my other blogs. It’s not an update or a blog about an experience or treatment. Instead, it’s exploring something. This week, something happened that made me question my decision to go public with my cancer diagnosis.
I woke up to the news David Bowie had died of cancer at 69. For music fans everywhere it will have been an extremely sad day, and I definitely felt it too – even if I must admit to not knowing much of his catalogue beyond the obvious stuff! But it wasn’t his death itself that made me question certain things – it was the way he handled it.
That’s because Bowie hadn’t told anyone about his illness. He had kept quiet for 18 months, released an album and then died quietly a few days later. It made me wonder whether that was the right way to go about it – apart from the death bit, obviously! But a few people on twitter who I follow certainly thought so.
I will always remember when it dawned on me that doctors were taking my case seriously. It was the end of September 2014, and I had just been admitted into hospital. I was three weeks into a brilliant new job as news editor of the ambitious Stratford-upon-Avon Herald, and in my mind I was desperate to make a good impression – even if my body wasn’t.
When I had accepted the job I really did think I was fine. Yes, I had lost weight and was struggling with my energy levels – but I just thought I was unfit. So it was a big shock when the call from Warwick Hospital came.
I certainly didn’t think I warranted the ensuite room they had given me. It was situated next to dozens of old and frail people who all looked genuinely ill, while I was sat in bed all day happily watching DVDs and reading magazines. Nevertheless, the doctors seemed worried. A couple of days of blood tests followed before a CT Scan eventually revealed a four-inch tumour in my right kidney.
One of the first – and biggest – things I did after being diagnosed with cancer was completely change my diet. For years I was a a chocolate-loving, fizzy drink-gulping sugar fiend, and it soon became clear how that lifestyle could have caught up with me – especially for someone who has never smoked or really drunk much alcohol.
A few months on – after employing the help of a specialist nutritional therapist – I’m now a sugar-free, organic-loving water drinker. I’m definitely not perfect, and I’ve succumbed to temptation on more than one occasion, but at least I’m giving my body a break from the massive sugar and carb-fuelled hangover it used to deal with.
It all started in October 2014, a few weeks after diagnosis, when my consultant told me surgery would clear the visible tumours but not catch any other cancer cells that were hidden elsewhere. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy weren’t on the table and, although surgery would see the tumours removed, he was firm in his belief that the cancer would probably return.