Tag Archive: Health


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:

To all those 'Boobs' out there, you're lucky this was Anonymous.

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…

Advertisements

Cancer 22

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”.

"I've used my 50/50 so can I ask the audience?"

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.

What do you mean? This picture is RELEVANT!

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.

How could you poison this? HOW COULD YOU?

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.

Conclusion

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.

*ahem* Adidas, you seeing this?

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.

Lucy's kindest gesture of sympathy during my own illness- liver failure.

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:

  • Calories in: 10,000.
  • Calories out: 0.

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.

University education: justified.

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).

What? This old thing? Oh, just a scratch. (Disclaimer: not real scar).

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?

  • Calories in: 0.
  • Calories intended: 10,000.