So my ex-girlfriend and my sister thought it would be funny to write a song about my prosthetic ball. Here is the rehearsal version. LAUGH IT UP.
P.S. I promise to write a proper blog post again soon.
Recently I have had the good fortune to spend 5 weeks training in and around Los Angeles. For the final week I used the website AirBNB to find me accommodation near Laguna Beach, C.A. I was to stay with a Californian lady by the name of Josephine (may not be real name). Here is a transcript of a series of emails I sent to a friend of mine over the first two days and an account of the final few.
*** Email: 8.30pm ***
And now there’s a sex scene on tv and I want the ground to swallow me up. This is the third in as many minutes.
We are eating Oreo’s together on the sofa watching Antiques Roadshow.
We have high-fived at least twice.
She has dated both David Frost and Richard Burton.
Josephine: “So, are you training for the Olympics?”
Leo: “Well, that’s kind of the idea”
J: “Well, well, well. An Olympian staying in my house”
L: “We’ll see”
J: “So I may see you on the tv then? I’ll be able to tell my friends!”
L: “Haha. Er yeah. I guess. Certainly the people I train with will be there”
J: “Well if you want you can bring them over for a barbecue”
L: “Oh that’s ni…
J: “I mean not because of what you’ve just told me”
L: “Oh, no of course n…
J: “I’m not like that”
(‘has she finished?’)
L: “No, of course. I’ll see whether they’re free”
J: “Hmmm, interesting”
*thinks* ‘Interesting’? What could be ‘interesting’? Is she planning on COOKING them?
[At this point, I’m just slightly awkward]
[I had been watching stuff on my laptop so I now replace my earphones. Conspicuously. To end the conversation]
J: “You know. I was talking to my girlfriends ab… Leo? LEO!”
L: *takes out earphones nervously*
J: “I was just saying, I was talking to my girlfriends, the ones I mentioned earlier, about you today”
J: “Yes I was saying to them ‘So I have this guy staying with me, when I saw his picture I thought “he looks a bit w-e-i-r-d*” – I told you this already haha – but then, I answered the door and there’s this… GORGEOUS… BUFF… *gesticulates male body*… HUNK of a man and I thought “Woah Mamma”‘.
At this point my face was fixed into the kind of gritted, horizon-staring grin only exhibited when you wish you had a remote control to fast-forward life itself.
Anyway, she continued..
J: “… and they were like ‘You be careful there Josephine, don’t you do anything stupid'”.
L: *grinning stops*
J: “…and I was like ‘haha, don’t be silly girls'”
L: *0.0000000000000000001% relief*
J: “…’but then had I been 20 years younger and 30 pounds lighter'”.
L: *5 billion% panic*
L: *weakly* “ha, oh… don’t… be… silly” (there might have feint ‘?’ sound here)
J: “Oooooooooh yes, believe it. Anyway, Oreo?”
(*The night before, over dinner, she had brightly informed me that I looked ‘really terrible’ in my picture on my AirBNB profile – which is linked to your Facebook account – despite the fact that I am, apparently, “wholotta hottie”. I actually just gagged typing that. Anyway picture attached here to make your own mind up).
[We sit both watching tv again]
Advert: “…7 days of sex”
*** Email: 10:30pm ***
So I went to sleep this afternoon. When I woke up she was nowhere to
be found and this was left outside my door.
The following day, I drove up from Laguna, where Josephine lived, to LA for a training session. We’d been due to eat that evening and I’d noticed an additional place set at the table when I’d left. On the panic scale of ‘Jeremy Kyle DNA results’ to ‘accidentally emailing your lifetime’s internet history to your Mum’ this was roughly ‘sneezing the contents of your sinuses into your hands, moments before meeting the Queen’. As it turned out, my training ran over, I hit typical LA traffic and I wasn’t home until almost 10pm. I loped in to see a forlorn plate of cold roast chicken and limp vegetables and Josephine sat watching tv. Apparently her ‘friend’ had been and gone so I was left to apologise profusely and rabidly enthuse about how much I ‘prefer cold food after training’ (WTF?). Encouraged by this she sat with me and pulled out her camera as I was eating. Instinctively I put my cutlery down and smiled.
J: “Oh no, don’t do that, I want one natural”.
L: *thinks* Yes because naturally I stick sprouting broccoli to the gaps in my teeth and dribble orange juice down my chin.
Having got the ‘munching’ picture she then asked for me to pose for one too. This was quite one of the most uncomfortable pictures ever taken. I had no idea what the next day had in store.
So the day came where I was due to leave. This was despite Josephine kindly offering me as many days as I wanted ‘for free’. I knew that ‘for free’ might not come without a terrifying caveat so I politely declined. The friend with whom I had been emailing had left me with all sorts of instructions ranging from leaving love letters hidden within her books, winking at her slowly and seductively, to walking across the corridor to the bathroom naked (one of these I completed), however there was one I knew not only was altogether achievable but also one that took away a token of our time together.
Leo: “Josephine, it’s time for me to leave. Thank you SO much for your hospitality, you’ve been an absolute star and one of the most IN-TER-ESTING people I’ve ever met”.
Jospehine: “Oh Leo, it’s been my pleasure entirely, you should come again”.
L: “So, I was wondering, since you have so many of your own, that perhaps I might get a photo of us together for me to take home”.
J: *brightly* “REALLY? I’d be delighted!”.
J: “I have one request though”.
L: *panic now reaching ‘internet history’ level* “Ooooh?”.
J: “You need to take your top off”.
J: *slow smile*
L: “Josephine, you know that I can’t do that”.
J: “But Leo, how am I going to remember that body?”
L: “Please don’t remember this body!”
L: “OK. Compromise. I’ll take off my hoody but the vest stays on”
Ladies and Gentlemen. Leo and Josephine. Laguna Hills. April 2012. In my fucking vest…
I am at absoute pains to point out that Josephine (not real name) was absolutely one of the funniest, kind-hearted and interesting people I have ever met. I am in no way mocking her. I am still in touch actually. Although we exchange less photos.
Leo Barker is well.
My results came back to tell me that I am in remission. I now need only have blood tests every six weeks and a CT scan at 12 months and 2 years.
I’m so sorry for not writing sooner. The next entry will probably explain a little more.
During the 1970’s a friend of the family (and brother of my Godfather, keep up!), Jeffrey Bernard wrote a column for the Spectator. So frequently was he absent (mostly through booze-addled carousing in Soho) that in place of his column, the editor would simply write ‘Jeffery Barnard is unwell’. This phrase grew in infamy when it became the title of a play about his life starring Peter O’Toole. Now I should start out by saying that my absenteeism has not been down to booze, nor has it been down to death and I would most certainly hope that my blog wouldn’t be described as “suicide note in weekly instalments” as Jeff’s column was, but I have, frustratingly, been unwell.
The last we spoke, I had skipped through my first dose of chemotherapy with very few issues. I’d even managed to get back to training before the second bout started. Things looked very easy. The first fallout (excuse the pun) was with my hair. I had been secretly hoping that the extent of my Chemmomunity would extend to this as well and I’d be able to keep the floppy fuss of fluff I call a haircut. Sadly, this was not the case. I first noticed a few strands come out at training almost exactly when my oncologist had predicted. I didn’t think too much of it as it wasn’t really enough to concern me. By the next day I’d noticed a few more on my pillow at night. And by my next training session, I went to show my coach that it was coming out and pulled way more than I had expected clean off my head. At this stage, I wondered whether much more than a gust of wind would leave me looking like someone had thrown a handful of hay at a sticky egg, and so did the rest of my training indoors. So I headed home with a friend who had promised to help clipper it off. When I say ‘help’ she had also said that it was highly likely that she would cry throughout the whole process rendering it traumatic AND emotional. As it turned out, there wasn’t the slightest sign of either (more than a mild disappointment). And the best bit was that I didn’t look as much like a terrified marble as I had expected.
The next dose of chemo was a little worse but I was still almost fully recovered a few days, and again I was out training before my third dose was due to start. But then, I crashed. Now when I say that “Leo Barker is Unwell” I didn’t really mean so much physically but what few braincells had been left intact by the treatment decided to fill my mind with a fusty fog of fart, fear and failure. For a while this was put on hold as I spent the week in hospital experiencing a level of nausea akin to letting Jeremy Kyle tongue your gag reflex to infinity whilst being forced to listen to the ‘Go Compare‘ opera hummungotwat singing his catchphrase to you. In your bed. Forever. But once I was free of this again, my brain flicked me the most almighty V-sign, decided to turn itself inside out and pissed itself. Every little issue I experienced was now magnified to galactic levels. And so I retreated into my room for days where I obviously wasn’t going to sit over-analysing every angle of every negative thought*. (*This is a lie). This really isn’t like me. Those that know me will know I am spectacular mix of sneering cynicism and delusional, delirious, hedonistic positivity. But more than anything I need to try and find humour in anything and everything. This, however, was not a funny period.
But in the past couple of weeks, I’ve started training again and that’s made the world of difference. It fills my day, keeps me entertained by friends and floods my body with addictive endorphins. Obviously, this is one of the first steps to completely getting my life back. Which has been the worst part of all of this. The feeling that I’ve had it all hijacked. So I have now regained perspective on the events of the past few months that had contributed to my brain melting into a puddle of grief-gravy.
Anyway the point of this much-hurried scribble of sickening self-indulgence is that today I have a CT scan. Now, although my blood was not showing any abnormal tumour markers a week or so ago (the signs that there is still cancer somewhere in my system), there is the chance that it has returned and is sitting back in my lymph nodes. Apparently the chance is around 5%. This wouldn’t normally be anything to worry me, but I have felt a dull ache in a few of the places it was previously spotted (collar bone, shoulder and lower back). Nothing like as bad as it was when the lymph nodes swelled up before but enough for me to know that my main concern this time won’t be about whether the injection given during the scan is going to be nearly as arousing as last time!
I won’t go into the repercussions of a the cancer returning as it’s pointless now. So instead, I’m going to go to training, run my bollock off, joke with friends then go to find out whether I can make the title of the next post “Leo Barker is Well”. Very well indeed thank you very much.
When I was a lot younger than I am now, I looked forward in fevered anticipation to the time when I’d need my first x-ray. Not because in some horribly sado-masochistic way I was hoping for a broken bone, but because I thought it would be then, and only then, that I would be confirmed as special. Not just brilliantly unique, but scientifically “Get the President” kind of one-in-a-million. I was convinced that my body was more likely to be made up of Fraggles and Doozers than bones and joints. That I would be lying there watching as teams of ever-more-important Doctor’s and Surgeons were ushered into the X-Ray theatre to review the miraculous findings as the prints were sent off to Britain’s equivalent of Area 51 for comparison. It was through snorted disdain that when I finally did require such tests I was ushered out of the hospital without so much as a “Sir there’s something we need to discuss with you, but first a call from The White House…”.
You see, my point is, that by and large we don’t change an awful lot. We grow and we mature and we learn (so far so Jeremy Kyle) but essentially I’m still the precocious little shitflap who can’t see any reason why he shouldn’t be the best at everything he turns his hand to. And this includes Chemotherapy. My hope going into my treatment was that the symptoms so commonly associated with ‘Chemo’ (sickness, fatigue, hair loss, ulcers, etc.) would not appear at all and I’d be first in history to sail through untainted by it’s toxic hand. Initial signs were not great.
My treatment consists of 3 ‘cycles’ of drug therapy.
Each cycle starts with a period of 5/6 days in hospital where I am pumped full of Ifosfamide, Etoposide and Cisplatin for 20 hours each day before being sent home to rest for 2 weeks before the next cycle. It’s in the period of ‘rest’ that your white blood cell count drops and you are left to feel the full (side) effects. My first few days in hospital were a breeze of friends, family and food. The next few were pretty ropey.
My temperature soared and I could barely get out of bed. The worst part of it all is that, for all but about 4 hours of the day (and night), you are connected to a drip. I can’t tell you how quickly I lost patience with my bladder’s insistence that, despite deliberately not having drunk anything for the past few hours, it would very much like now to deposit as close to a litre of liquid into the bathroom. ‘A litre’ you ask? Yes a litre. ‘How do I know’, you definitely don’t ask? Well I’ve been told to ‘log’ (sorry) amount going in with the amount going out in case my kidneys pack up from treatment.
Anyway, I was finally unplugged and sent on my unsteady way, accompanied by my sister back home to stock up the fridge and prepare to hibernate.
Except that’s not really how it’s worked out. Other than a couple of days where I’ve spent most of the day sleeping, I’ve been pretty much ok. I’ve managed to get out and I haven’t yet been sick. I have experienced some cravings and changes in my taste-buds. But this is no worse than expecting a lime chilli taco and getting a mouthful of oyster-hammock. In fact the worst part so far has been the fact that for the first week my brain has been replaced by a satchel full of fog and wet wipes. I’ve developed a sudden incapacity to remember where I was coming from or going to. Like walking into a room and not only forgetting why you’re there but wondering how it is that gravity works. This goes for conversations too. Beyond simply losing track of your train of thoughts, I have got to the point where I find myself looking in on my on conversation watching the whole thing implode in a cloud of ash and ‘WTF’. Everything seems to take a lot longer, and generally needs restarting (e.g. I began this blog post in 1989). Now, where was I? Oh yes, The Cuban Missile Crisis…
So far, so to be expected. Then I ran out of a couple of my anti-sickness drugs (one of which my oncologist said was ‘total shit’ anyway) and for some strange reason I have now returned almost completely back to normal. I should emphasise the ‘strange’ there as well, given that I was left a message from said oncologist this afternoon who told me that after my blood was taken yesterday, they’ve found that my white blood cell count has dropped prematurely and that I was most likely experiencing chronic fatigue. I listened to this message whilst enjoying a meal at Wagamama‘s shortly after a 30 minute run. I’m now beginning to wonder whether in fact the bags full of toxic chemicals weren’t mistakenly replaced by a large pouch of Um Bongo.
Through the course of the final week before I was due to go into hospital I must have looked like a ‘bucket-lister’. Every meal I had, or friend I saw was ‘the last before treatment’. I rushed around seeing as many people as I could, packing in as much fun as possible. I even raced up to Norfolk with a friend the day before hospital to drive an old sports car to the beach where I lay wondering if it might be alright if we could all ‘forget about the whole cancer thing thank you very much’. But it came. And went. As did hospital. And you know what? It’s not been that bad*. So here I am, almost 2 weeks down. 7 weeks to go. I’m about to go to the gym. At least I think it was the gym. It was the gym or Button Moon. One of the two. Let’s just hope I don’t break anything and need that X-Ray.
(*this line will be deleted if it gets really bad – never, ever quote me on it).
There’s nothing I like less than being beaten by something. Firstly, as you may well know, I’m an athlete. Losing is just awful. It’s painful. So when I’ve had a blog written, proofread and ready to post for the past week or so, I really don’t like having the point of that blog undermined. You see, if you’d read my last post, you’ll know that I was at a quandary. I needed to decide as to whether I should take preventative chemotherapy for the cancer that had just been cut out or whether to wait and hope it didn’t return. The reason I say that this has all been undermined, sadly, is that the cancer has spread.
Last week, I developed a throbbing backache which I was sure hadn’t come from training. It felt very much like a sack full of sticklebricks was being slowly forced into my left kidney by an impatient child attempting to understand the process of osmosis with a hammer. I knew this wasn’t good as it was the one thing I kept being asked by my oncologist when he was trying to establish how severe my cancer was in the first place. Then over the weekend in a wild gesticulation of storytelling brilliance* (*flapping about excitedly) I skimmed a lump on my neck, just above my shoulder blade. On its own, simply a swollen gland perhaps but I knew this was where a lymph node sat and combined with the backache I resigned myself to the fact that I was probably facing a recurrence. Well I say that, what I actually suggested to my friend at the time was that it was probably the beginnings of the same issue undergone by Richard E Grant in How to Get Ahead in Advertising and that a more straight-talking Leo was ready to burst out of my neck.
So it turns out that there were some little cancer cells kicking around in my system and they’ve decided to find a new home in my lymphatic system and my lungs. I called my Oncologist on Monday and he ordered me straight in to see him followed by a blood test and CT Scan. They all showed that despite being given the all clear only 3 weeks before with only 25% chance of a return, I had already managed to find new homes for the cheeky little chaps. How hospitable of me. So not only am I an able sportsman, musician, artistic, academic – sorry you get the idea – but, as it turns out, I’m also bloody good at cancer.
The more eagle-eyed readers will have spotted that the title of this blog isn’t a macabre spin on my recent attitude towards death or cancer but an anagram of ‘Chemotherapy‘. So now the decision has been made. Or rather it’s been taken away from me. I am due to start 3 doses of ‘VIP chemo‘ next week. This isn’t my final attempt at getting any kind of special treatment but an alternative treatment to the standard ‘BEP’ Chemotherapy that is given to most testicular cancer sufferers. The main reason for this is that, despite the fact it is quite a bit more toxic and has worse side effects, it should leave me with no lung damage which one of the ingredients of ‘BEP’ is prone to. They will each take 21 days and involve an initial 5 days in hospital. During this time I’ll have the three different toxic chemicals pumped into my system before being sent home to let them take hold of my immune system, eradicate most of my protective white blood cells and then allow me a week to recuperate before the cycle starts over. So in total I’ll be ‘in treatment’ for 63 days before I am able to attempt any sort of recovery. It’s an odd feeling. In fact feeling is probably the wrong word. Knowing that the treatment itself will be more troubling than the issue it’s attempting to cure. But I am led to believe it’s extremely effective and I know many people have to endure way worse. I am, however, expecting it to be hellish.
I should quickly return to the part many of you have asked me about since the last post. That being, the results of my super-funstravaganza poll. They are thus:
I can’t say I’m hugely surprised by the results. I think that most people have naturally looked to eradicate the issue immediately, and I didn’t expect anyone to appreciate how much I want to succeed in my sport. Therefore, I had originally decided with my Oncologist that I would take my chances and hope the cancer didn’t recur. Now, for all those smug little smirkingtons out there ready to say “I told you so”, I will add that I’ve since been told that the speed at which the cancer has returned would have meant that the single ‘preventative’ dose would not have been enough. See? I’m THAT good at cancer. So THERE!
Probably the hardest part of this all is the fact that I have to snuff out the flickering embers of hope I had for having any success in my athletics this season and I am having to come to terms with the, now growing, possibility that I won’t get another chance ever. No one knows how badly you’ll be affected by the treatment and how many of the side effects will remain with you, but I have to focus on staying alive first and kicking the living shit out of my sport afterwards. It was pretty heart-breaking to have to put away my athletics kit for the season as early as June, despite the fact I was breaking my personal bests with every outing. I had even just spent almost £500 on new specialist footwear. But I am now even more determined to train harder than I thought possible in order to find the success I am seeking. Many of you may point to Lance Armstrong and the fact he won the Tour de France twice after his surgery and chemotherapy but then he was 25 when that happened. A relative youngster in the sport. And a sport in which it’s possible to continue on later into your 30s given the non-reliance on fast-twitch muscle fibres (the first to lose their effectiveness in age), but I am 32 already. By the time I’m recovered fully (if that happens at all) I’ll be on my way to 34. This is an age almost no athlete, and certainly no Decathlete really continues through, irrespective of a body riddled with cancer.
Anyway, I’ve been alright about it. I’ve started preparing myself by reading up as much as possible. I’ve got my pessimistic expectations on DEFCON 10 so that I am not surprised by how awful it is. Interestingly I have found a huge amount of supportive and detailed information on the Macmillan Cancer website‘s Forum. I was however a little taken aback by one of the threads regarding remedies for particular side effects. Having asked a relatively straight-forward question about what whether there was an effective alternative to avoid the revolting Bonjela for expected sore gums, I got the very sharp reply “For God’s sake just try some, ginger!”. Slightly offended that someone had chosen this forum for name-calling, how could she know, if my profile picture was black and white, that in *SOME LIGHT* my hair has flecks of red (shut up)? The penny finally dropped that the sentence contained an errant comma and that one of the best thing for this ailment is ginger – the root.
So yes, I’m a sore loser. It’s hard-wired into my competitive psyche. When I mentioned what had happened to fellow multi-eventer turned 400m runner, Olympic Medallist Kelly Sotherton her response was that I’d come back lighter and more aerodynamic for my aerobic training. Now I know she’s joking (you were, right Kelly?) but it goes a long way to giving an indication of just how single-minded you need to be. It’s not that as athletes we are in denial, more that there is no room for negativity. There’ll always be others more than happy to provide that. Success requires an unfaltering, bloody-minded, blinkered belligerence. After all, no one else is going to get up and run repeatedly up a snow-covered hill at 9am on a Saturday morning in winter.
To give you an idea of the joys we athletes endure, this past year I ran so hard that on the final ‘rep’ of my session, I reached the top and threw up a pile of virtually undigested Cheerios. So far, so standard for those of us used to heavy lactic training in winter. What I wasn’t expecting was a passing walker to lose control of her Yorkshire Terrier who circled me a few times before diving in and lapping up said breakfast with glee. On its own, already quite the image. Imagine then when you are feeling as ill as I already was how this might appear to someone hunched over, gasping for air only inches away from the feverish inhalation of sloppy cereal and bile. This scene only improves when I tell you that it only resulted in me somehow finding a little more inside and ejecting another bilious, biscuity cocktail all over the little cretin’s back. Seeing the owner’s horrified face was about the only time I managed a smile that day.
So you’ll appreciate that what drives me in training will also drive me through this. I didn’t like being beaten to the last blog post by my this latest recurrence. I don’t like being beaten in sport. But I certainly won’t be beaten by the cancer.
Now, where’s that ginger…
There’s a scene in Master and Commander: Far Side of the World which seems apt given my pending decision about chemotherapy. Russell Crowe’s character asks his friend, the scientist Dr Stephen Maturin, played by Paul Bettany, which of the two beetles crawling on the table he’d choose. Dr Maturin, ever the academic, splutters about the fact they are the same species and there’s nothing to decide between them. Aubrey pushes and Dr Maturin reluctantly picks one that is marginally larger. Aubrey’s response is to tell him that he’s completely missed the point, and that in service “You should always pick the lesser of two weevils”.
Now, I don’t mean to trivialise what is clearly a huge decision but the fact of the matter is, there is so little to choose between my decision to go ahead with the chemotherapy as to make it impossible to ever settle. But more importantly, I’ve dealt with the whole boring debacle with as much humour and self-deprecation that cancer allows so that’s why I have decided to put it to you. I’m not saying I’m signing a binding contract to your decision. You could all play a joke on me and I’d be pretty unhappy about that, but it’s also interesting to see what you’d do, given the circumstances. So I’ve decided to try and write as fair an appraisal for both sides of the argument that I can and then leave you with a poll. I just thank Dawkins that I don’t have David fucking Hasselhoff sat there SHOUTING EVERYTHING FOR NO REAL REASON OTHER THAN THE FACT HE’S DEFINITELY NOT DRUNK BUT I’M GOING TO USE THE BUZZER ON YOU REAL GOOD LEO WHAT SHOW IS THIS AGAIN WHERE AM I AND CAN I DO IT IN SLOW MOTION? After all, it’s only Cancer, LOL.
So as it stands, after my pant-droppingly awesome meeting with my oncologist last week, I have been told that as far as they can tell, the cancer is more or less out of my system. The CT scan, ultrasound and blood tests all show it in remission. The last of these shows that a cancer ‘marker’, specifically a protein created in the liver, that shoots up when cancer is in the system, had dropped by half since the surgery and sat only slightly higher than normal. I was told that this was good news and even more so in that it means that I have a strong indicator of when/if the cancer returns. Apparently not everyone has this. WIN! But wait *cue dramatic music* I have also been given some pretty juicy statistics to really fuck with my mind. Currently, there is a 25% chance of the cancer recurring within the next 3 years. If I pass that point, I’m essentially clear and anything I get in the future would have no relation to this ordeal. This percentage decreases every month. So by this time next year it would be down to about 10% and the year after that about 5%. However, if I were to choose preventative chemotherapy, ‘adjuvant’ treatment, then this drops to 1% immediately. Now I’m going to attempt to play a game of decisional chess against myself for your viewing pleasure…
Chemo – I want you in me
Katy Perry (she of boobs) released a song with the lyrics “Infect me with your love, fill me with your poison”. She was talking about this very conundrum I’m sure.
The percentages basically speak for themselves. I’m giving myself the best possible chance of being free of cancer. Forever. I’ve already had a month off serious training so it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world simply to disappear for a couple more months and hope that I’m able to rebuild myself, free in the knowledge that it won’t recur and I can have a good few years training hard to reach my potential before retiring from my sport.
What it also offers me over any other option is the advantage of control. If I were simply to leave it and hope it didn’t recur, if it did return I could potentially have to go through a worse dose of chemotherapy at a more critical stage of my training, leading up to a particular competition or championship that was important to me.
The final point is that I would only need one single dose of chemo. Although it wouldn’t mean a lot less time out of training, it would be a slightly less intense period. A single ‘dose’ is a 3 day stint in hospital before returning home to feel like Coleen Rooney the moment Wayne calls for ‘playtime’. This would be at its worst for the first few weeks before I’m left with all the side effects of lethargy, sickness etc. for as long as it takes (up to a few months). If I chose not to have the chemo immediately and it returned I’d need 3 doses over 9 weeks with roughly the same recovery but the symptoms are elevated.
Uh. No thanks.
It needs to be made very clear here that I made some poor choices with regards to my athletics early on in my career. I was a promising junior athlete. I won the English Schools at both the hurdles and multi-events (Octathlon), also breaking the British age-group record in the latter. I represented both England and Great Britain at Junior and Senior level before I was 19. Things looked pretty good. Some very good coaches told me I could go a long way and talked about real chance of success at major championships. However a mixture of injuries and hedonism veered me down a different path. When I wasn’t injured I always consoled myself with the thought that I would always slip back into athletics easily and fulfil my potential once I’d had all the fun that University and freedom from school would allow me. Obviously, it doesn’t work like that. I barely competed for 7-8 years, keeping myself in only moderate shape. When I did return to athletics I would have only managed a few months of training (punctuated with various injuries made more likely with my absence) and proceeded to post results that weren’t indicative of my potential in the slightest. Disheartened, I would go back to enjoying myself elsewhere. It has only been the past two years, realising I’m running out of time, that I have begun to eschew all other temptations and dedicate myself to the sport. This has also resulted in me being as happy as I’ve ever been. I have a routine that works, the injuries haven’t been so severe and, with my first full winter of training behind me, I’ve started to post times and distances that look like I’m not only on the right track but could still do some damage in the sport. All of this needs to be understood, so that you realise the gravity of what I’d have to give up in order to miss 3 months of training or more at a time when I need to capitalise on my improvements and fitness. This amount of time off training completely, added to the fact that I may be left with lasting side effects that could stay with me for up to a year, would really compromise my athletics.
On first glance the odds don’t look great. 25% is a lot higher than 1%. But then, when you look it further, 75% is a lot higher than 25%. In fact, you should remember that it’s essentially 3-4 times more likely that the cancer won’t return than it will, even without interference. Every month that passes, these odds improve further. Yes, there is still a chance that it might come back, but if it did then fine, I have the chemo. This eradicates it just as effectively as the ‘preventative’ dose and doesn’t risk anything more. The only issue to consider then is the timing of the recurrence. Obviously, if I was in shape to qualify for something huge, that I’d worked incredibly hard for, I would rather avoid a dose of chemotherapy that would ruin this for me. However, the chances of it coming back again at that time (perhaps 2 years or more down the line) are particularly low – around 2-3%. The last thing to say here is that I’m not in any way ‘playing God’ with the decision. The chemotherapy has an equal effectiveness whether it is done as a preventative measure, or as a reaction to it being picked up very quickly in the 4-6 week blood tests that I’ll have over the next few years.
Essentially, I have worked too hard for this to let it interfere any further. I have enough regrets about the way in which I missed out truly realising my potential over the past 10 years. I’m not sure I could live particularly well with the thought that if I hadn’t taken that 3 months of chemotherapy and knocked myself so far back off course, I might have actually done something I’m proud of, rather than just shown promise.
So there you have it. I think that basically covers it all. My appointment is later today and I will have the opportunity to ask a few more questions before I decide what to do. People of the internets, it’s over to you.
P.S. I have kept the results hidden so you aren’t tempted simply to play devil’s advocate you sneaky little Moomins.
I would like to take a moment to thank a few people. Firstly, I’d like to thank the whole of Twitter. You’ve all been absolutely brilliant. Both those I know in real life, those that I sometimes communicate with and then other, equally important, ‘tweeps’ who’ve messaged me with support despite having only ever seen my dripfeed of daily diarrhoea online. I can’t tell you how much your comments mean. I would thank you all individually if I could. And I intend to. Overwhelming and totally undeserving.
Secondly, you. People of the Internets! Incredibly, (and probably mistakenly) my blog was featured on the ‘Freshly Pressed‘ section of WordPress’ front page. I received more attention than that time I literally pissed myself in school orchestra. (“KEEP PLAYING LEO, KEEP. BLOODY. PLAYING.”). The comments section of my blog included some of the most touching empathy and heart-rending personal accounts I’ve ever come across. Your bravery has bolstered my own resolve. And also made me feel like a bit of a twat for going on about myself. Thank you.
I’d also like to thank those friends who’ve barraged me with calls, texts and messages telling me the cancer couldn’t have happened to a more deserving person. You’re absolutely right.
I’d like, quite obviously, to thank the Doctor’s, nurses, specialists and, most importantly, surgeons who have helped me through the past few weeks. I will, however, never forgive myself for forgetting to write a note of wince-inducing offence on my body to be discovered mid-surgery. Next cancer, I promise.
A particular shout-out should go to my training partners with whom I was due to travel last weekend to Austria for the World’s biggest Decathlon competition. All international-standard athletes themselves, they managed to grab some pictures with the winner, and reigning World Champion, Trey Hardee and some others too with a sign name-checking the one-ball chump who got left behind (see alongside). Don’t worry Rog (holding sign), the fact that I told you it wasn’t worth coming back if you failed in this mission in no way lessens my opinion of your efforts. All that colouring-in…
My family has been an absolute rock for me. I think, frankly, I could have done with a few more tears but they have rallied around me and continued to treat with me the same sneering vitriol that I have come to expect. It’s what grounds me. In all honesty though it is their stability that has meant I haven’t felt like the world was falling apart, when so many others are going through so much worse. I should also apologise to them as well given that I have been an absolute nightmare blend of belligerence and breezy nonchalance. I’ve been the absolute epitome of familial concern whilst acting like an asinine twat-hammock at every turn.
A final, special mention must go to a particular friend of mine. She has rearranged her entire life this past couple of weeks to make sure she could accompany me to all of my appointments (she of the ‘harvesting’ offer here), has helped put things in perspective (“You’re a dickhead, with OR without cancer Leo”), and has cracked me up throughout (lying on a busy cancer clinic’s waiting room sofa crying with laughter was one of the best – and probably most inappropriate – moments this year). She has a frustratingly good measure of when I’m lying through my teeth about the fact “I’m fine, honestly”, but more importantly knows what to do when I’m not.
She is one of the most selfless people I know and has . (I am turning a blind eye to the fact she spent the day counting her new Twitter followers outloud as a result of her last mention). Thank you Luce.
Thank you again everyone. I really hope you all get cancer soon so I can return your kindness.
Post-surgery – days 0-5:
It’s not often that athletes get to bloat themselves up on all manner of rich, carb-heavy delecto-treats similarly enjoyed by Mr Creosote. Much less so when the medication you’re on is creating a digestive ‘tailback’ that had progressed from amusing, through impressive, to just plain worrying. The indelicacy of the subject prevents me from going into too much detail, suffice to say that in the first 3 days I was recovering in bed I managed to put on almost 5 kilos, and only a few days later I had lost every one of them. Lush.
So here I am 2 weeks post surgery. “What the hell has been going on Leo?” I hear absolutely none of you asking. Well, I’m going to tell you anyway. Having spent 4 days irritating my family from a bed at my Sister’s flat, I returned home to recuperate there instead. I don’t actually remember a huge amount of this period as the devilish pain-relieving drugs I was on rendered my mind an opaque fog of gormlessness and subdued frustration at almost everything confusing me . And before any of you say it, I mean even more so than usual. I tried to get out and about but even short walks flattened me. I managed a 20 minute run (well, ‘speed-shuffle’) which felt amazing but found me virtually unable to move from bed for the next 24 hours. By the time it came to the weekend, despite having to return to my GP for a top-up of the pain pills, I decided to come off them as soon as possible. I felt almost immediately better and my strength had begun to return to the point where I could get out of the flat and enjoy the weekend with friends. Tramadol? I’d rather sip Ebola through a straw.
During this period I had also dropped in to see my cancer surgeon for the follow-up appointment. I already knew that, as far as they could tell, the cancer hadn’t spread so I was hoping to get some clarification on the necessity for chemotherapy. The fact that he was unwilling to talk about it and had deferred all opinion to an Oncologist he’d arranged me to see on the following Monday didn’t fill me with confidence but I’ll return to this shortly.
One of my favourite new games is “Fuck you, I’ve got Cancer“. Strictly speaking I don’t anymore, but it’s too fun not to try at every given opportunity. Essentially it involves publicly and loudly exclaiming the phrase regardless of whatever accusation has been thrown my way (and on some occasions for no reason at all) to try and humiliate and embarrass whichever poor soul has decided to spend time with me. Never have the words ‘insufferable’, ‘wearing’, ‘tiresome’, ‘obnoxious’ and ‘wildly inappropriate’ been used about one person, in so short a space of time. One of my very closest friends sadly beat me at my own game when she boomingly retorted “…and I hope you also get AIDS“. Well played Lucy, well played.
Anyway, Monday came round quickly and I sped up to Essex to meet the oncologist to get a better idea of whether I would need ‘adjuvant treatment’ – either chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Having arrived over 1/2 hour early (‘Chemo-Keeno’?) I sat in the waiting room with the aforementioned friend firstly ensuring that all my questions were set straight and remembered, and then devising various childish games including ‘Suck my Foam’ which had everything to do with the cappuccino machine and nothing to do with additional sperm storage. (Sorry Mum).
Once finally beckoned into the appointment with cancer specialist Professor Tim Oliver we sat down to a rather leisurely chat about my athletics, training and general self-interest (something I wholly enjoy and rather excel at). We moved on to more serious matters and I managed to get a good idea of where I am with regards to treatments and cancer recurrence. The Professor then wrapped up the appointment by suggesting ‘we have a look at you’. Now I should first preface this next scene with the fact that over the past few weeks I have lost (almost) all shame on the numerous occasions I’ve had to strip off and I’ve developed quite a talent at incidental chat whilst first my trousers and then my pants drop to the floor. Anyway, I turned to Lucy and rather suggestively stated that I’d “see you later then”, nodding towards the door. I stepped behind the curtain with the Professor and followed the usual drill. It was only when I looked up, (hoody on, pants off) to see the once composed, intellectual tour-de-force, reduced to a bewildered old man staring at a stranger’s genitals, that I realised something was up. “Oh. Oh… Yes… Oh… I really only meant to check your stomach”. Time froze. Then got colder still (at least that’s the excuse I’m sticking to) whilst I prayed that I’d heard Lucy leave the office. “I don’t know what just happened behind there but I really hope it’s what I think”. “I took off too many clothes and now I don’t know what to do” I replied with absolutely no irony. I mentioned in a previous blog that I hoped that getting a groin examination whilst humming the theme to Thundercats made me a medical first. Well if this hasn’t secured my place in that pantheon of greats I don’t know what more I need do.
I left feeling strangely elated. I say ‘strangely’ as the facts I was presented with weren’t exactly overwhelmingly positive. The biopsy had shown that my cancer was mostly Seminoma (better, or ‘Lion-O‘ to continue the theme) but did contain a small element of non-Seminoma (worse – ‘Mumra‘). This meant that the likelihood of recurrence within the next 3 years sits at 20-25% if I don’t take treatment. If I were to get immediate preventative chemotherapy this drops to 1%. I won’t go into this decision just yet as I’ll return to it another time before it needs finalising, but it’s certainly given me food for thought.
This brings us up to date. I’ve started more regular training over the past week and the hernia has absolutely no pain. I have however hurt my calf muscle but nothing a brain-full of denial won’t cure. I’ve also booked another appointment with the Nutty Professor (come onnnnnn, that was good!) on Monday by which time I hope to have decided what I’ll do. In the meantime I intend to pre-empt the possible chemotherapy weight loss by filling my face with food. Purely in the name of my sport you understand?
First the facts:
So my last post was on Thursday morning. How about I take you through the rest chronologically? What? This needn’t be a democratic process? Ok fine, “Seig Heil” – on we go.
I will backtrack slightly as I hadn’t included my trip to the hospital, in which I was due for the operation, to get my CT scan the day before. The only noteworthy thing to happen there (and by noteworthy I mean cringe-inducing, wince-worthy embarrassment for me, and nose-scoff chortle-fodder for you), was my body’s reluctance to appreciate the difference between the words ‘warm’ and ‘erotic’ – a common mistake you’ll agree. As those who have had one before will know, a CT scan requires you to be injected with a ‘contrast’ dye of some sort into your bloodstream. You are normally warned that this also induces a strange feeling of warmth that spreads across your body, which can be quite unusual. Unfortunately for me, my brain decided to short-circuit this distinction and, awash with confusion, decided that what was expected was the kind of inappropriate arousal that is not only best not shared in public but also certainly not immortalised on a photographic instrument the size of a small car, that sees straight through your clothes and then posts the results on a bright, expanded screen. Oh cancer, I love you already.
Anyway, back to Thursday. Shortly after publishing my last entry I carefully destroyed almost a day’s worth of calories with the aid of my face, before the “Nil by Mouth’ cut-off at 9am.
I then packed up my overnight bag and waddled into town to pay my second visit to the ‘Andrology’ clinic. There I had a meeting to discuss the findings from the previous day’s sample. Apparently my sperm count was low.
What little swimmers were there, weren’t swimming a huge amount and most were simply twitching like epileptic worms. I was told that if I did want to conceive later in life that I should pay close attention to my lifestyle. No binge-drinking, no smoking, no drugs. I sat there, bathing my face in the revolting glow of a saintly smugosaurus, ignoring the relevant facts, and simply happy in my self-righteousness. It turns out that this low count is very much down to the 30+ hours of training I do every week, rather than any hedonistic moonlighting. Not exactly something to be proud of though. Idiot.
From here I raced over to my hospital, chased by some frantic calls that I was now due in surgery 2 hours earlier than expected. This rush probably helped my demeanour as it didn’t allow me any time to drop off my magnificent high and I met my sister to check in. I was immediately greeted by the nurse, one of my two surgeons, the anaesthetist and a food menu that provided another ample distraction (two pages of main courses!). I fitted myself first into some quite delightful compression socks, only to be presented with a pair of rubber-soled slippers that I have barely taken off since.
A few half-arsed updates to Twitter, last minute BBMs to friends, scrambled text messages to family and I was called up for surgery. For some reason the one thing I do remember about this moment is being mildly miffed that I had to walk there myself. Perhaps I’ve watched too much ER but I was fully expecting to be wheeled off down a corridor whilst my family waved on, choked with tears, to a Sarah Mclachlan soundtrack. As it was, I spluttered a ‘seeya’ to my sister and then spent most of the walk trying to make squeaking noises with my new slippers along the glistening hallway.
After surgery I found myself in quite a bit of pain and managed to secure a fair dollop of Morphine into my arm before adding a squirt of Tramadol too. I was wheeled back (much more like it) to my room to flick the bird at my sister upon arrival (universal sibling code for “everything’s fine”), and was then met by the surgeon to let me know that it went well. I spent the next 12 hours trying to impress the staff with both just how low my heart-rate was and the sheer volume of urine I was able to secrete (I had been asked to log it). Their final thread of patience snapped when, on the morning of my departure, I tried to high-five a nurse during the last pulse measurement (52bpm FYI). She left me hanging so I took a picture of myself instead. (See left). Is it any wonder I’m single?
I checked out and was met by my lovely and cosseting mother who helped me back to my sister’s flat in North London. I have been here ever since, a weakened hybrid of Cartman and Caligula, with ever more extravagant demands. I am testing everyone’s patience to the limit and expect to be sent home very soon. Yesterday Mum popped her head round the door ‘to check whether I was still alive’. Turns out her look of concern is not enormously dissimilar to one of grave disappointment.
As for the state of my mind, I’d say that nothing has really changed. In the scarce moments of real lucidity that the painkillers allow, I still seem pretty happy. There is the slight concern as to the, still very real, possibility of my needing chemotherapy. We’re all led to believe this is a pretty nasty process to go through and I don’t doubt it. But there’s really very little I can do about it if it’s required. My main concern, yet again, is that it would further push back my return to full training. I have my sights set on competing at a Decathlon in Holland at the end of August and, judging by my early season results, there was every chance that this could be a breakthrough year for me. I know this might seem odd to those outside of the sport, but Athletics (or Track and Field to our American friends) is an unforgiving little blighter. There isn’t any real money in it (outside of Olympic medallists), you ride your luck every season with regards to injury and your enjoyment of it all often comes down to your success. I have spent the best part of my life injured, having shown some initial promise as a Junior International and age-group British record holder, and I don’t have a lot of time left in which to realise at least some of my potential. When you’ve made as many sacrifices as us athletes have, you really hope that there’s some pay-off. This season looked to be that fruition for me, perhaps leading on to further progress next year. So, although my general health must come first, much of my anticipation rides on the results of my biopsy and the implications on my training therein.
Anyway, for those that are wondering, the ‘replacement’ feels interesting. Not exactly the same, but near enough. I actually forgot about that element of the surgery until about 4 hours afterwards as it was only the hernia area that really hurt. Speaking of my, now errant, testicle, many of you’ll remember I mentioned in the last blog the lost opportunity to call my defective groin-dongle a ‘Clegg‘. What, of course, I wasn’t aware of was the fact I’d need to be shaved quite so extensively in the area, so, prompted by a friend of mine, perhaps the best term for this cancerous plum-reject, and in keeping with topicality, would actually be a ‘Sheen‘. Enjoy your dinner.
So here I am 3 days after surgery. I am reasonably well. I am woozy with pain-relief drugs almost every waking minute. I am pretty sore still, including my throat where the tubes were fed during the op. All semblance of athletic definition has been engorged with the 398 cakes I mentioned above. But I’m alive. I find out on Friday about the chemotherapy so for the next week I will drift in a state of blissful ignorance; a purgatory of wellbeing. I may even try a slow jog. The journey back to the track starts here. Leo: – 1. Cancer – 0.Follow @decath10n