Wednesday, November 23, 2005

1. First Post

Seems very non me to be starting to write a diary. Started writing one when I was 12, mainly about the girls in my class and a few private details until my older brother got hold of it. Can't really remember what happened next...probably gave me a little brother knuckle or teased me until I got upset. Didn't usually get upset but when you have a brother who went through puberty at age 10 and was a giant, the only option was to either stay and fight or run to the safe area around mum or dad.

I'm here writing now because my old man and a few people said it would be good to look back at one day. The other reason is the fact that on 19th October 2005 I was first diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia. It's much easier to write the words than to say it, not because it upsets me but because I don't feel like I have anything wrong with me. The docs say I would have had it for about 1 year and I was very lucky in which the way it was found. At 27 years old, although I'm starting to "ripen", I still feel fit enough to play rugby and do most things I have over the past 10 years. It was about 8 weeks ago when I was in fact playing rugby in Scotland and had a pretty hard game. We weren't too far into the game when I went in for tackle, the other bloke on the opposition team came in with a swinging arm and his fist mashed the side of my face, I could feel something crack and next minute I was laying on the dirt and the game continued. After a few sips of water and a few words of wisdom from the coach I was back on there again with my head feeling like a squashed melon and ears ringing. Maybe 10 minutes later I had a 17 stone guy on the opposition trample on my calf muscle with studded rugby boots. That was the time I thought I was over the hill and ready to hang the boots up...also a fair bit of persuasion from my fiance, her mum and my mum.

Next morning I woke up to a face that made the Elephant Man look handsome (not my fiance, I was looking in the mirror). My eye was black and my face was swollen as too my calf muscle. Two things went through my head : whats Karen going to think and whats another sport I can take up. I waited a couple of weeks and with my calf muscle still swollen, my face still swollen bruising when I have very rarely bruised in all my life, I decided to drag my old body to the doctor and get it checked out. It was explained to me that it's most likely a deep bruise and it's just taking a while to heal. The other thing done and the end of the consultation was to take a blood test...

A few days later a Private Number appeared on my mobile must be a drunk mate from back in Australia. I answered the phone to speak to Dr McKlintoch who, quite frantically, told me to come into Glasgow's Western Infirmary to speak with her regarding a "high white blood cell count". I understood that a high white cell count was due to infection, therefore I knew that the puffy calf muscle needed some antibiotics.

I was told to take my shirt off and losen my trousers...I guess she's only human! I was thinking it was odd to do this examination for a leg injury. After a quick chat about healthy siblings, etc, the words that next came out will haunt me and stay with me forever.."we are quite sure you have Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia". In with a sore leg and out with cancer...all in a days work.

2. Reactions

The first reaction when you're told you have unwelcome cancer living in your body.... fear overcame any other reaction. I had been playing a fair bit of sport lately so I felt quite fit, so the thought of having a disease that 'only old people got' was a bit distressing. Thought I'd deny I had anything wrong but instead I could only condure up images of what I thought leukaemia looked like. And when you ask the doctor how long you have to live and waiting for the answer is situation I never want to ever go through again...

I never knew that leukaemia was a cancer. I never knew that Oncology meant cancer. I never knew that a 'normal' person had a 'normal' white blood cell count of between 5 and 9 and 166 wasn't considered 'normal'. If you had asked me what a donor lymphocyte infusion was 24 hours earlier I would have stared back crossed eyed and told you that it was a drunken snack you eat on the way home from the pub.

The fact is, everything in my life changed in one instant. Luckily Karen's job was in Clinical Research and had an unbelievable knowledge on anything to do with medicine, so apart from the comfort I felt from having her around, she could also understand what the doctor was saying and catch the bits that went in one of my ears and out the other. I learnt mostly about CML (Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia) from when Karen was on the phone and chatting to friends or family...I'd turn down the telly and listen to what it all meant and I could piece together bits of info I'd picked up along the way.

My initiation into the cancer community was a quick introduction to the needle. We'd met a few times before in the past and never got on too well. Over the next few weeks we were to get to know each other very well.
What followed was a series of confirmation blood tests, the next day I was in another hospital hooked up to a cell seperator machine. Simple explanation : one tube leaving one arm and passing through the cell seperator, collecting a lot of immature stem cells and then passing the blood back into my other arm. The 3 hours hooked up to the machine wasn't the worst part, it was hanging out in an oncology ward that I felt I didn't belong in and hanging out with guys with no hair. I don't have much hair myself but this kind was the kind that had left the body due to the harsh treatment of chemotherapy. Again, I know it is life saving treatment and these guys were extremely brave but I didn't feel I belonged there.

The next day was the day I had heard others talk about. The bone marrow biopsy... Large, large needle, into hip bone, remove sample of bone marrow, lots of pushing and jabbing...that'll sum up the experience.

The next day was Saturday was a very welcome hospital appointments! I had a nice sleep until the phone started ringing from worried friends and family. I really did like talking about and to people as I wanted to reassure them was I was ok and still looked the same...although most people had the same image in their head as I did when I found out. Kas had left for a hair appointment, so 2 minutes later I went down to give my receeding bouffant a trim at the barbers. My heart completely sank as I heard an almighty smash and the grinding of metal on metal and a car engine been revved in neutral. My head said that Kas was a few minutes up the road in the car but my heart made me sprint into action. The path was a bit slippery so I must have looked like bambi on ice to anyone watching... Out the front was a car that had driven into a bend in the road and not turned. The noise I had heard was his car smashing into a parked car. All I could see in the car was a man slouched over the wheel and the airbag that had gone off! One guy was there before me and LUCKILY was a doctor, the other was a quite small lady that wanted to help. The man doctor looked around and announced to me (untrained and shitting myself) that the man wasn't breathing and had no pulse! I shat even more when he then said 'hey you, come and help me get him out of the car'...holy shit!
2 days after finding out about my illness and genuinely believing that I am the unluckiest man in the world, I found myself at a huge car accident pulling an old man out of the front seat, carrying him and placing him on a blanket on the footpath littered with broken glass and debris.

The man doctor said he probably had a heart attack before the crash...the next morning we looked down from the flat and saw a bunch of red roses on the telegraph pole. As horrible as that was for the old fella and his family, it put things into perspective for me. I have a prognosis that is quite promising and in the care of some of the worlds best. Wouldn't now say I am the unluckiest man in the world... I've already been taught so much from what I'm dealing with and I'm very sure I'll learn alot more over the course of my treatment.