On Thursday, 10th of March 2016, I returned home from a hospital appointment and broke the news to my wife and children. I had throat cancer. Stage four. Inoperable.
Over the following months, I underwent intensive courses of both radiotherapy and chemotherapy in an attempt to eradicate this evil disease.
Everything seemed to go well until, shortly after my treatment ended, I contracted double pneumonia and sepsis and was rushed into Intensive Care where my family was informed that, unless I started responding to treatment, I had approximately two hours left to live.
Thankfully, I fought my way back from the light (and there was light) and slowly began to recuperate, eventually leaving hospital just over a month later.
Since then, I’ve been working hard to get well again – but it hasn’t been easy. I lost over 13 stones (182 pounds) in weight in a single year (I was hugely overweight when first diagnosed) and became incredibly weak as a result. I was provided with a hospital bed to sleep in the living room as I could no longer make the stairs at home – and the first time I tried, I fell and broke a rib.
I began to suffer with lymphedema and trismus (a form of lockjaw), and developed a severe stoop. The first time I saw myself in a full-length mirror, I collapsed in tears.
I looked like a badly wrapped skeleton.
Further courses of treatment soon began, targeting these new health problems in an effort to help me learn to eat and speak again.
I could no longer visit schools to teach creative writing and talk about my work as an author. I missed book deadlines and was forced to drop out of several projects. Due to of all this, I began to struggle financially and could no longer properly support my family. We were living on disability benefit, but didn’t qualify for help with rent or council tax because the carer’s allowance my wife received for looking after me full time took us three or four pounds over the threshold.
All this caused me to sink into a deep depression, and I began to have weekly counselling sessions just to keep going. Thankfully I had some wonderfully supportive people around me: my wife, Kirsty; my two amazing sons, Arran and Sam; my brother and sister and their families; plus scores of friends around the world.
And, I wrote a regular blog which helped me to understand how and why my world had turned upside down so quickly. I later turned that blog into a new book – Tommy V Cancer.
The hospital told me I was finally cancer free!
Slowly – very slowly – I began to battle my way back to health. With the help of my family and friends, I began to talk again, I was able to eat small amounts, and I even put a little weight back on. I could sit at my desk and write again – not as much, or for as long as before – but it was something.
For the first time in almost two years I was looking forward to the future. I’d done it.
I’d beaten cancer.
Then, just before Christmas 2017, I began to suffer with pain and discomfort on the right side of my jaw. And there was swelling there, too. When I next saw my oncologist, he examined me, confirmed there was a lump there, and booked me in for an urgent CT scan. I had the scan two days before Christmas.
I received the results on 16th January 2018. My oncologist sat me down, recapped what had happened a few weeks earlier, and explained that the lump in my jaw was NOT a return of the cancer. Most likely, it was a deterioration of my existing lymphedema.
I breathed a sigh of relief.
But, he wasn’t finished.
“There’s something else,” he said. “And it’s not good news.”
He told me the scan had revealed a tumour growing in my left lung. A tumour that hadn’t been there before.
I had lung cancer.
As I write this, I’ve been referred to a chest cancer specialist and I’m waiting for a date to see him. He’s likely to take a biopsy to find exactly what we’re dealing with, and then I go into treatment. Again. That could be surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, or all three.
When I was dealing with throat cancer, writing my blog really helped me to take stock of what was happening, and keep everything straight in my head. I was as open and honest as I could be; I left nothing out. And I’ve since been told that what I wrote helped others who found themselves in a similar situation, and didn’t know what to expect.
Now the cancer has spread to my lungs, I’m going to do it all again. I’m going to write about what I’m told at appointments, what I’m given in terms of treatment, and how it is all affecting my state of mind.
Some of it won’t be easy to read, but I’m not going to apologise for that. For this blog to benefit me, and hopefully others, I have to tell the truth at every turn. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
So, cancer has decided to return for round two, eh?
Believe me – it’s going down. Again.
18th January 2018