Cancer 17: Heightened sensitivities

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Cancer 17: Heightened sensitivities

Paul Brasington 2023
Published by Paul Brasington in Good health · Wednesday 01 Sep 2021
Tags: Cancer
The oncologist confirmed pretty much everything I'd expected. The entire tumour was successfully cut out. There were microscopic traces of cancerous cells in just one of the eighteen lymph nodes they removed, so the team was recommending adjunctive chemotherapy to clean them up and minimise the chances of a return.
I'll have a course of four three week cycles, starting in mid-September, so taking me to the end of November. Each cycle starts with an intravenous session which lasts a couple of hours, then I'll need to take a tablet morning and evening for the next two weeks. Any side effects will reach their peak after the first week in each cycle and by the time I get to the third week I should be feeling reasonable, until the cycle starts again.

Dr Soultati stressed that reactions to the drugs vary considerably from individual to individual. She said she'd seen some patients who suffered no side effects at all. Among those effects I might feel persisting nausea, possibly some temporary hair loss, and a heightened sensitivity to cold. I'll need to be careful what I touch, and indeed be particularly careful of cold liquids, which can cause a dangerous spasm in the throat (so, just red wine, whisky and real ale then, not that I imagine I'll want any alcohol for most of that time). Perhaps most worrying for me as a musician, I could suffer some neuropathy in my fingers and toes, and in some cases this can leave permanent damage.
Or I may suffer very little of this. I won't know till I'm in the middle of it.

The RA hurts
I've had to stop taking my rheumatoid arthritis medication again, and I'm certainly feeling the effects of that, in my fingers and legs. Ironically perhaps I'm hoping that because the chemotherapy is itself a powerful immuno-suppressant it will relieve at least that significant pain.

Whatever happens, from mid-September till the end of November I'm going to be mostly back in a kind of personal lockdown. It seems quite likely Covid prevalence in Britain will continue to surge as schools return, and the last thing I need when in a super-vulnerable state is a dose of the virus. I will have to make an exception for my wedding day half way through (I'm not postponing it again), but at least we can control that environment.

The isolation is inevitable but looking at my general well-being and the way I had recovered from the operation Dr Soultati expressed some optimism that I would be able to handle the chemotherapy without too much grief. As so often through this process I will hope for the best while understanding it can be no more than a hope.

A calm before the next storm
Faced with that isolation we've grasped the opportunity to spend the two weeks before the treatment begins away.

I'm writing this from the courtyard of my house in south west France. I'm very aware that this is a privileged position, even when compared to the lives of many in the UK, let alone somewhere like Kabul. I'm not sure what anyone can do with that reflection, balancing a guilty acceptance of my privilege with gratitude (an abstract gratitude to be sure, not least for the fact that I am still alive when in not so distant times, let alone many current locations, my cancer would have been a painful death sentence).

I did want to note that this heightened sensitivity goes beyond the apprehension of what the chemotherapy might do to me. I've been finding that I react with intensified unease to any news of a cancer-related diagnosis or death, whether among people I know or in the more remote worlds of celebrity. The last time I looked the exact cause of Charlie Watts' demise had not been revealed, and it's true that he had reached what seems an acceptable old age, but the fact he had some cancer 15 years ago is a reminder of the track this disease can put you on. Then there was Nanci Griffith and Sean Lock, the latter only 58. From day to day and in company I'm inclined to make light of my experience, using it as a way of raising a nervous laugh, but I know full well that having got this far relatively lightly does not exempt me from more serious morbidity in the years to come.

Perhaps above all it brings home the brutal, inescapable fact that the number of years left to me when I can reasonably expect good health is diminishing. This is true for anybody in their early 60s, and it brings a poignancy to days like this, sitting in the late afternoon warmth of the courtyard between the two buildings that make up this recently-acquired French home, feeling this is how I would have liked more of my life to have been, but as it is, all I can do is make the most of it, savouring each moment (and looking forward to the point too beyond the chemotherapy when I can be out here with my RA back under control, and out of the shadow of the cancer, all treatment completed).

Blighted Blighty
These are happy thoughts. It is wonderful being away from the UK right now. God knows France has its problems, not least that the next presidential election is likely to come down to a non-choice between Macron and the appalling Marine Le Pen, but at least the daily business of government here is not characterised by constant lies, pervasive incompetence, venality and blatant cronyism. It is hard to comprehend quite how low Westminster has sunk, cheered on by what is generally the worst media in the western world. The idiocy of Brexit pushes itself forward from time to time in our daily lives here, but as time passes it's hard not to feel that Brexit is not so much a cause of current problems as the symptom of Britain's self-deluding decline, a retreat into the fantasy world that's the only place the mentality embodied in our government can survive. It's tragic because it could be so different. Of course the UK still has strengths, and possibilities, but they are unlikely to be properly realised while we continue to tolerate such a plutocratic kleptocracy, grabbing all they can before the seas rise.

I live in the short term hope that the surviving power of the NHS will soon deliver me from this illness. It is much harder to believe that the medium term will be so rosy.

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