It can feel like a game of Snakes and Ladders when you are undergoing cancer treatment.
One moment you are rushing up the board, with MRI and CT scans and radiotherapy to attack the beast inside you. And then, with a poor throw the dice, you come crashing back down to earth with a delayed operation, an infection or some other medical mishap that seems to put you back to square one.
That’s how I felt several times recently.
First, there was an uncomfortable swelling at the bottom of where I was cut open for my bowel cancer surgery, which turned out to be an incisional hernia as I mentioned in my last blog!
That needed a second operation at the beginning of June to repair the hernia and a further three-day hospital stay, with strict instructions not to lift anything heavier than a tea pot when I go home for the next month or so to avoid further complications.
The operation meant putting back the start of my chemotherapy for at least a few weeks.
And then, when I was finally about to start what I hoped might be the final hurdle of my current treatment (a six-month course of chemo) the brakes were applied again!
The latest setback was caused by another swelling, this time towards the top of the scar, or wound to give it the correct medical name: the area just under my belly button.
It all started a few days after the staples that helped hold me together after the hernia operation were clipped out by one of the district nurses.
At first I thought, ‘Oh No, not another hernia!’
Like the top of a hard-boiled egg
I called out the district nurses again and they cleaned the wound and put a dressing on.
The following day (June 23) I was due to have a blood test at James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough and arranged for Tracey Pugh, one of the specialist bowel cancer, to have a look.
She said it didn’t look like a hernia, and said there was some fluid underneath the swelling that needed to come out. She didn’t appear to be too worried, so I took that as a good sign.
However, next day, when I expected to pick up my chemotherapy tablets, the doctor was concerned enough to delay the start of the medication: You need to be as fit as possible when undergoing chemotherapy treatment in case of side effects, so they don’t like to take chances.
That night, I woke up at about 4:30am with what appeared to be melted chocolate all over my lower tummy and some blood in the middle.
The dam had certainly burst. After cleaning myself up, I put on a new dressing and went back to sleep.
The district nurse appeared more alarmed than me when she called in the morning, but I reassured her the gunge was better out than in. So she cleaned the wound and put a new dressing on and hoped I was right.
I had a routine visit to see my consultant surgeon Doug Aitken the next day (June 26), and he managed to squeeze a little bit more out. He thought I should be well enough to start chemotherapy, but said it was up to the specialist doctor who I was seeing again five days later.
I must admit I was getting a little panicky at this stage, as I had been told the chemotherapy needed to start two to three months after my bowel cancer operation and the delays were pushing us beyond that deadline!
Swab just in case
Anyway, the specialist thought my consultant was probably right, but took a swab just in case.
Then I was given the Capecitabine chemotherapy drugs, with instructions to take ten a day for two weeks, then have a week’s rest, and then take ten tablets a day for another two weeks, and have another week off, and go on like that in a cycle that would last until nearly the end of the year.
As it was my birthday the next day, we agreed that I would start on the Friday.
Stop taking the tablets
I did this, but just before 8 o’clock at night I got a phone call from a nurse at the James Cook Hospital telling me to stop taking the chemo tablets and arrange for someone to pick up a course of antibiotics as the swab revealed I had an infection.
The antibiotics seemed to do the trick, and I started chemotherapy tablets again on July 16.
I’ll let you know how I get on with them next time. Until then, keep an eye open for the tell, tell bowel cancer warning signs (See box).