Russell's story

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I was diagnosed with cancer back in April 2011, but had signs of a problem about six months before that.  It wasn't as if I hadn't been to my doctor, but on each occasion I was given antibiotics for a UTI (Urinary Tract Infection) and the problem (blood in my urine) stopped, for a while.  

By January 2011 I was noticing more and more blood in my urine.  In fact I would say there was more blood than urine, so I knew something was not right.  After returning from a holiday in March 2011 I happened to hurt my foot and instead of going to my GP I went to my local walk-in surgery at Finchley Memorial Hospital in North London.  The doctor there treated my foot and I mentioned the blood and he got me to give him a sample.  With a cursory glance he knew it was not a UTI and suggested an immediate trip to hospital to get myself scanned.

A little apprehensive I went to the appointment and was given an ultrasound which showed a problem (a blockage I think they described it as) and went for a cystoscopy shortly after. Although not a pleasant procedure, it was more uncomfortable than painful and showed that I had a tumour growing within my bladder.  Not so terrible, a good recovery rate and although a little shocked, I was OK.  Now all I had to do was tell my partner, my daughter, family and friends!  Not the easiest of conversations, when cancer is mentioned everyone is shocked and upset, understandably so I guess.

Anyway, things moved quickly from now on…  More tests, scans, and the operation to remove the tumour scheduled and rapidly approaching.  I felt OK, I really did.  I was told the tumour was non-invasive, easy to remove and treat and so who was I to argue?  Piece of cake.   

So, I underwent the op and things got a little more complicated.  It was not so simple after all - the tumour was invasive and aggressive, so chemo and a much bigger op were needed.

I listened to all the advice from surgeons, oncologists, Google (!), then decided to go with the chemo which was to give me a 5% better survival chance - 5% is good when chances are 50/50 - sort of swung the odds in my favour.

Chemotherapy was the first time it sunk in that I was in a little trouble.  Having that stuff injected in you is not a moment I remember with any good feelings - in fact it was the first time I wept a little (but not the last, as it turned out)…

Nine weeks of chemo later, I found myself in Cornwall on holiday - I say found myself and that's exactly what happened - I had somehow spent the last four months on autopilot -  floating from one scan to another, from one appointment to another - almost looking down on myself going through this experience.   Maybe that's the help your brain gives you to cope.

Well, during the chemo I was given a date for my operation.  The date was my 53rd birthday!  Now, as I had spent my entire life doing nothing on my birthday, no school (it is late August), always taken the day off work etc, I was not about to change the habit of a near lifetime (not you will note an entire lifetime!), so I decided to change the date to early September 2011.  

The operation was to be 8 and a half hours long.  It involved taking away my bladder, prostate and several other things I decided not to ask about and replacing my bladder with a Neo bladder - a bladder made from my bowel which meant I was spared a stoma, a bag on the outside of my body.  I am 53, not totally unfit, young enough to take such a big operation. Not everyone is so fortunate, but the stoma actually didn't sound so bad when explained to me, however I opted for the advice I was given and had a reconstruction.

The operation was very successful and I am now feeling well, fit and very happy to be writing this story. There were some complications but I won't bore you with those, suffice to say I am here and having had my first post op scan, happy to be well again.

It was not a very good 2011 for me healthwise. But it was a marvellous year in some other ways. Family, friends (some) were fabulous. My daughter, twin sister, cousins, friends were fantastic.  I am in a great relationship, with a wonderful woman who cares deeply for me and I am grateful for everyone who was there for me.  I should mention my medical team now.  These people are amazing.  Surgeons, Doctors, Nurses, as well as cleaners and porters, all helped me when I needed it most.  I will be forever thankful and grateful to them for saving my life.

Cancer is still a shocking word, a hard experience and a difficult path to walk, but there is life after nowadays.

Catch it early and many cancers are now survivable. I was a little late but not too late I'm glad to say.  GO SEE YOUR DOCTOR, DON'T TAKE NO FOR AN ANSWER. If you feel unwell and have symptoms, GO TO YOUR DOCTOR.   Don't leave it, it will save your life … it saved mine.

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