Choking Out Cancer
Hybrid Executive Director Jon shares his very personal encounter with Cancer in the hopes of encouraging you to get checked regularly.
It seems nowadays that every month is a different Cancer awareness month, and every October, it’s Breast Cancer Awareness.
Cancer has been a huge part of my life in the worst possible way, and dare I say the best way at times as well. I’m aware of the irony of me a male sharing my thoughts during breast cancer awareness month, however Cancer does not discriminate and neither should we. I support all cancer awareness equally, I don’t care what type it is, it all equally sucks not just for the individual but for the friends and families of those people who are unfortunate enough to be hit by this shitty disease.
1 in 3 people will be touched by cancer at some point in their lives which is a shocking statistic, so most of you reading this I’m sure have your own stories and thoughts on this subject. But for what it’s worth, here is my story and my opinion on things we can all do to help fight this terrible disease.
September 15th, 1986; a day I will never forget.
My mum is one of the strongest women I have ever met. She came home from having visited my dad in hospital.
“Jonathan,” as she called me which I hated, “Andrew,” my brother who is two years younger than me, “come into the living room I need to talk to you, your dad has just passed away.” He was just 47 years old and those few words changed our lives forever.
This doesn’t even begin to tell the story of how this horrible disease affects lives. If anything the end is a relief to those suffering. Rewind to 3 years before my father passed away and I was 9 years old. Like most 9 year olds, in my eyes my dad is super human. He was brought up as a farmer and is tough as old boots. At this point in time he worked as a mechanic and built coaches for a living…and then he was diagnosed with Cancer.
I’m 9 years old I have no idea what Cancer is at this time. I’m under the impression he will just go into hospital get fixed and everything will go back to normal. However this is not how cancer works.
For the next 2 years, my dad is in and out of Christie’s Hospital in Manchester, battling this disease that is slowly spreading through his whole body. At the time, we were living an hour away from the hospital, and every day after school when all my friends were playing football my mum would pick us up and we would make the trek to visit my dad in hospital. My brother and I would go in, say hello, and as we didn’t really have a clue how serious it was, we would literally go outside and play football until my mum shouted at us to come in and say goodbye when it was time to leave.
As far as we were concerned, it was just a matter of time until he got better and everything would be okay. Also my dad being my dad never let on that it was serious. After 2 years of this back and forth, the doctors moved my dad to a hospice closer to our home. Again back then at the age of 11, I had no idea what a hospice was. I thought it was a fancier type of hospital which was closer to home – I just thought they were doing us a favour.
Little did I know, a hospice is where they send you when the cancer has spread so much that it has become terminal. Those last few months I saw my old man deteriorate at an alarming rate. I won’t go into detail here, but he didn’t resemble the man I knew as my father.
What they don’t tell you is when the cancer finally hits the brain, it’s not just the appearance that changes but the personality, the memory, everything – they are no longer the person you once knew. Whether I was just too young to acknowledge it, or I genuinely just didn’t understand – I still believed it was only a matter of time until the doctors fixed him.
It still came as such a shock when he finally passed away when I was 12 years old. Had I been older, looking back on the series of events it would have pretty obvious what was going on.
I hate the term cancer survivor. Whilst I have the utmost respect for anyone that has battled cancer and survived (me being one of them), I hate it because it’s like saying people who don’t survive were not as strong.
I watched my dad suffer, and the bravery and strength that it took to hide it from my brother and I is something I cannot put into words. Winning or losing your battle with cancer takes equal effort in my eyes. If I manage to show even half the strength my dad showed in his lifetime during mine, I will have done okay.
Fast forward 8 years from when I dad passed away – I’m 20 years old. I drive a fork lift truck for a living. Not a glamorous job, but I had left school with zero qualifications, was a hard worker, and following in my dad’s footsteps.
I thought manual working class labour was my only option (that didn’t last very long). I worked nights, and on one particular evening jumping on and off the forklift loading boxes which I did every night, I had a sharp pain in my groin.
Something didn’t feel right and as the night went on, the pain got worse and worse.
I thought I’d get on with it and finish my shift. When my shift ends, I jump in my old rust bucket of a car to drive home and again felt a sharp pain when I sat down. At this point I don’t know why, but I hadn’t physically checked what was going on. When I arrived at home, I finally pulled my pants down and checked myself.
One of my testicles, and I’m not exaggerating here…was the size of a tennis ball!
I try to get a few hours sleep, but by this time the pain was excruciating. I decided to go to the doctor, and he tells me it could be a tumour. The doctor sends me off for some tests, and at this point I’m still in denial. “It could be benign,” I think to myself.
The tests return, and its positive. I have testicular cancer.
Nothing prepares you for those words “you have cancer.” It hits you like a ton of bricks. To this day, I still don’t take time to let things sink in and this occasion was no different.
“Right,” I said, “So what do we do about it?”
The doctor explains the procedure to remove the testicle, and that we’ll need check to see if the cancer has spread, which would determine whether I’d need chemotherapy. The next few days are a whirlwind; I’m admitted to hospital, and I undergo the surgery. Fortunately, the surgery is a success. I go through the tests and nothing has spread. I caught it early enough.
Apparently, the pain and rapid growth of the tumour was unusual, but luckily for me this means we caught it in time. The way I coped mentally over the next few years is a separate story and something to save for another time. Right now, I’d rather get to the point of me telling you all this.
I was lucky. I wasn’t strong. I didn’t battle. I didn’t win anything. I was lucky enough that my symptoms allowed for EARLY DETECTION.
Early detection in my opinion is the one area we should be striving to educate on.
There have been many studies on how we can prevent cancer, none of which, in my humble opinion, carry much weight. Although we must continue to do as much research as possible with the aim of one day eradicating and preventing cancer from happening in the first place, but we are currently a long way off from that day. One common theme from everything I have read which will save lives is EARLY DETECTION.
After you have had Cancer and go into remission, you go for an annual check up for 10 years. The tests include blood work, and a chest X-Ray to check for signs of cancer cells. This became a lifeline for me. Every year when the time came, my mind would wander and fill with dread, “What if it comes back?”
The relief once the tests came back negative always outweighed the dread, and gave me a new lease of life. So much so, that after 10 years when the doctors told me I don’t have to be tested anymore (as the chances of the disease returning were practically zero), I asked if I could continue coming back annually just for peace of mind. My doctors were amazed – apparently no one ever asks to come back!
This is how much I value early detection and peace of mind. If I am ever struck again by this terrible disease, I want to give myself the best chance of fighting it. Now I am older, I have had to add in the old man tests for colon and pancreatic and prostate cancer, which are not the most enjoyable of tests! However for me annual testing is a must.
It’s not cheap, but you cannot put a price on your life. The knowledge that I am clear and healthy every year is priceless.
If you take away anything from my rambling, please take care of your health and have regular check ups. Male or female, there are simple tests out there; mammograms, blood tests, chest x-rays, self checking for lumps, cat scans, MRI scans, unusual moles on your skin. Get everything checked out at the first sign of an issue, trust me it might just save your life.
The other and most obvious thing I suggest is that you exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet and support your immune system. This may not completely prevent cancer, as I’ve seen even the healthiest people struck by the disease, but to aid in your recovery should you need to. I truly believe that the fitter and healthier you are, the better the chance you have of beating any disease and coming out of the other side.
Cancer is a shitty disease that I despise with a passion, but I also respect its power. I honestly believe that I am a better person for all the experiences I have had with it. Rather than look back and wish it all never happened, I look to the lessons I have learned and how they have helped mould and shape my life.
I am in full support of all cancer charities, research and education all around the world. We are all fighting the same battle, and my heart goes out to anyone going through cancer right now and their families. Stay strong, have faith one day we will beat this disease and have it on its knees choking out its last breath. But for now, we must do all we can to create as much awareness as possible, and to raise as much money for research as we can.
We are a long way from finding a cure but we have also come a very long way over the last few decades. We have more options for treatment than ever, more people continue to survive, more individuals battling for longer and receiving better care and quality of life during their darkest times. This is all down to the good work of charities who work tirelessly year-in year-out to provide funds for research, drugs, awareness, specialist centres and doctors.
Everyone I know that has been touched by cancer will never give up in the quest to rid the world of this disease in order to a better future for all human beings. But it isn’t all doom and gloom, I believe in science, I believe in the medical profession, and most of all I believe in the human spirit to endure and overcome.
One Love, One Life.
Show your support and visit Hybrid on Saturday, October 26th, 2019 to help raise funds for Breast Cancer Awareness.
Please refer to the links below on early detection and Cancer support: