Being Unwell

This year I felt a bit tired. Post-pandemic and coming into London more, maybe I was just a bit unfit? I’d also had a really busy year. As well as all the regular stuff, I led on the deal to sell our Podcast Awards business to Haymarket and I got married too! Maybe it was all just a bit too much and I am just getting older after all.

Post-Honeymoon, I still had this nagging feeling, and so called my GP. My GP is an app, the pretty good GP at Hand from Babylon and a video-call later, they suggested I pop in for some blood tests at their sparkly centre at King’s Cross. No problem.

I stopped in, made my deposits, and then headed to the office for a catch-up and some Zooms before heading home.

Just as I was walking through my door I suddenly had a slightly panicked call from the blood test centre saying that I should really go to hospital very quickly. Turns out my HB (Haemoglobin) was 50, when it should be around 150.

So a visit to the hospital, and after a few days, they’d pumped three packs of new blood into me (thank you donors!) and a pack of iron too (which kind of looks like you’re getting a bag of HP Sauce put into you). I’d also been scheduled a couple of weeks later for an endoscopy and colonoscopy – a camera having a look into me from both ends.

Obviously these aren’t the most fun things to have done, but I would say if faced with it, it’s not actually as bad as it seems. Especially if you say yes to all the drugs. I chose not to watch-along in glorious technicolour on the big screens.

The results from that, though, were pretty surprising. My general thought was it was likely to be something like a bleeding ulcer. It turned out to be a diagnosis of colon cancer.

The doctor and a nurse told me the news a little after the camera work, in that hushed tone you’ve seen on a hundred TV dramas or heart-string pulling ads. I’m more of a make a joke person than a burst into tears one, but obviously there’s lots of things whirring in your mind. How bad is this? Terminally so? I’ve still got loads of stuff to do. You also think, god, I’ve got to tell my wife and family about it as well. Also at this point no one knows any of the actual useful details other than that there’s a problem.

The device they do the colonoscopy with is pretty multi-functional, so they do some snips so they can run some tests on it. You’re also booked in for a load of scans and more blood tests. And then depending on when the results come in and the proximity to a Wednesday (hospital admin day) you’ll then find out what’s next.

For me, less than a week later, it was confirmed that it was colon cancer, but there were also some things they wanted to double check on my liver – which didn’t sound the greatest news. Irrespective of what was happening with the liver, I’d be in for surgery within 10 days to remove the tumour and a chunk of my colon.

The most calming aspect of all of this news was how unfazed the impressive surgeon was about the actual operation. It would be her directing a robot for three hours and then about a week in hospital recovering. One of three that day she was doing. Another week later we’d find out a bit more of what was going on in there and whether there would be any additional work to be done.

As I gradually came around later that October afternoon and evening, the pain drugs were definitely helping even if I was a little grumpy and groggy. Staying in hospital is never fun, particularly when you’re sore. My stay was massively enhanced by some expensive Sony noise-cancelling headphones – both to sleep, and to opt-out of hearing my neighbours’ medical discussions. I also got a new belly button (as they cut down from it to remove the tumour).

Less than a week later I was home, with encouragement to be up and about. Quite literally no rest for the wicked.

A few days later and we were back at the hospital getting the results of the operation. Tumour and area around it removed, with no indication from blood vessels or nearby lymph nodes that there had been any spread. Liver turned out fine after all. Phew. Looking at the tumour they removed however, two out of 24 lymph nodes has something in them.

Basically overall it was pretty good news, all low risk now, but the insurance policy, because of the lymph nodes issue, is to have three months of chemotherapy just to make sure. This started a couple of weeks ago. It has not been a breeze, but my body is starting to get used to it.

Something I feel very fortunate for is that diagnosis to removal was less than two months. There are lots of stories at the moment about NHS waiting lists, but for me it’s been incredibly swift and all the many elements have been really efficient. Also, it’s hard to feel sorry for yourself too much when you’re spending time in hospital next to others who have it all much much worse.

The two big things that have struck me are around people and disruption.

Telling people the news is quite tough. Not because it’s hard to say anything, but because you then take on some of their worry and, whilst it’s nice that people care so much, it sort of generates more of an overhead in your own thoughts, when you have quite a bit to be thinking about yourself. It’s partly why I haven’t really talked about this up until now.

The second is obviously how disruptive it can be to your life, especially when people rely on you for very normal things like jobs! Overall I haven’t really been that unwell, but there are moments when you have a bad day, are just really tired or have medical-related appointments at short notice – which makes it really difficult to be consistent for anyone else. I’ve been very fortunate that the Folder and Podcast Awards teams have picked up so much in my absence (Macmillan, by the way provide grants to cancer sufferers who aren’t so lucky and you can donate and support that here). And obviously Annabel at home has had lots of worry and has had do to some heavy lifting – quite literally in some cases as I’m not allowed to pick heavy things up.

So the tl;dr is – got colon cancer. Had it all removed. Fortunate it hasn’t spread. Just started three months of chemo. Hopefully more back to normal in March.

  1. All the best wishes from Hugh, Laura and the boys. It’s things like this that put other, lesser ups and downs into perspective. Keep strong!