A thread on #WorldCancerDay2023

On 3rd May 2010, I woke up with cancer.

I'd climbed Helvellyn on the 28th. I played rugby on the 1st. I went to bed on the 2nd feeling fine, and woke on the 3rd with cancer. Not that I knew it was cancer immediately, but I knew SOMETHING.
I'd been working from home that day, and when I went for a wee in the morning, a surprising amount of blood poured out of me. Any amount is surprising, I guess, but this was... yeah. Startling.

I called NHS Direct, they got me a GP appointment less than an hour later.
So off I went to the GP, still feeling fine and not especially anxious. If I was sick, I'd FEEL sick, right?

She asked for a urine sample, and when I showed her the small phial of pure blood, she jumped up and walked in small circles, like a dog confronted by a spider.
I remember she grabbed her hair in both fists and said "IS THAT YOURS?", and my main response was to giggle slightly at how much she needed to work on her bedside manner.

My giggles were also a reaction to my rising panic. Her reaction didn't exactly help with that, to be fair.
The GP referred me to the local hospital and said I'd get a call in the next couple of days. I drove home, with slight discomfort in my lower parts.

By the time I reached my house, 5 minutes later, I was in agony. I collapsed at my doorway, and my (then) GF dragged me inside.
I barely made it into the hallway. I was sweating enough to make a tattoo slide off, and saw my trousers were soaked in blood.

999. Blue lights. I was offered morphine in the back of the ambulance, but idiotically said no.

Never say no to drugs, kids! Grown-ups know NOTHING.
At hospital I was rushed past triage and into a room, where I was given morphine regardless of my idiocy.

A doctor came in and shoved a catheter into me. A catheter is far from pleasant but it was not, by some way, the most unpleasant thing to happen that day, and I was grateful
Peeing up a tube into a bag meant the excruciating pressure that had built up inside me was relieved. I was admitted, sent to a general ward, and told tests would begin next day.

I spent the night on a small amount of morphine, but unable to sleep a wink.
The staff reassured me. Don't worry! It was probably just a kidney stone, which had nicked a blood vessel. Painful, but quite minor.

I was a fit, health, non-smoking 40 year old with absolutely no previous symptoms, so there was no reason to suspect anything more.
The next morning they started the tests.

The first test was a scan to locate the kidney stone. It spotted something unexpected, so I was sent for a bigger, better scan to be sure.

I remember being in bed that afternoon, and being called to an office to speak to a doctor.
Between getting out of bed and reaching the office I'd worked out it was cancer. I felt oddly calm. My dad had died a year before, after a decade of strokes, heart attacks etc. Now I knew what would kill me, and it made me feel strangely reassured.

I know. Weird.
The doctor confirmed it. Right kidney: a frankly huge tumour. 17cm across, 5kg (they later weighed it).

I asked to see the scan, but the doctor's laptop wouldn't work, so I ended up forgetting about cancer and attempting to do a quick IT fix for her.
I see now this was partly denial.

It was also because I knew I couldn't control the outcome. So why worry?

I didn't "battle cancer". That's a shit, lazy phrase, and I hate it. I wasn't a combatant, I was the battleground on which doctors fought. I did nothing.
The tumour was still bleeding internally. That's what caused the pain: blood clotting in my bladder. The cancer had grown so big it had torn open, either naturally or due to a clash playing rugby. Not much could be done until the bleeding stopped. I just had to wait.
The catheter was still in. A tube fed saline up my willy and into my bladder, to prevent clotting. And another tube led the blood away into a bag.

I complained how uncomfortable the catheter was. Nurses said "they just are, get used to it" (or words to that effect).
So I sucked it up, and watched as day by day the bag next to me turned from thick blood to the kind of rosé you'd be offered at restaurant in hell.

Six week.

I did a LOT of reading, and had mad, vivid dreams about sherbet bon-bons every night. I'm telling you: morphine.👍🏽
After 6 weeks, my wee was clear enough to risk "Trial Without Catheter".

You drink 2 litres of water, they remove the catheter, and you pee out 2 litres of water to check everything works OK.

So I drank the water, and they pulled out the tube.

And I couldn't wee. Whoops!
And now I had 2 litres of water filling up my 700ml bladder, and the agonising pressure was building up again, just like the first day.

Turns out, catheters aren't meant to feel as uncomfortable as mine felt. I was allergic to the latex, and nobody had any idea.
During 6 weeks of direct contact with latex, my urethra had swollen and blistered. When the tube was removed, the swelling clamped me so tightly shut that not a drop could escape.

And slightly awkwardly, a new catheter couldn't be pushed back in either. The pain was unbearable
Staff raced to help. There were multiple attempts to re-insert a catheter (non-latex this time). Each attempt failed, and scraped and tore my poor, crushed member even more.

What felt like pints of morphine were squirted into my mouth, but I couldn't stop screeching in pain
Eventually, an unfeasibly handsome Polish doctor in surgical scrubs raced in, with a tray of knives. I'm lay there, naked, bloody, sweaty.

He said "he needs to go to theatre".

I said, "I can't go to the theatre dressed like this!"

Still proud of that one.
But first, he wanted one more go at the catheter. So four staff held me down, and after a monstrous few minutes, he managed to force the catheter back in.

I was covered in blood, and probably wee too. It looked like an abattoir down there. It's never nice, but honestly. Eugh.
All of this took place on a general ward, with curtains around my bed. When the curtains were opened, I saw my brother and mum. Visiting time. They'd heard the whole thing.

It's traditional to say it's worse for the family. Hard nope! It was worse for me, I promise you.
My poor penis was grazed and bruised, but the internal bleeding had stopped, and it was surgery time.

They removed my kidney and tumour, plus my adrenal gland on the basis that it looked a bit wonky. Turns out it was fine, but I don't blame them. Better safe than sorry.
However, with reduced adrenaline, I am now *spectacularly* relaxed. I've been in one mood for a decade. If I ever had a temper, I lost it in 2010, and it hasn't come back. No matter how cross you think I sound in #TheWeekInTory, I am constitutionally incapable of rage.
I woke up over the course of a couple of days. In and out of consciousness, off my forking tits on lovely, lovely morphine.

The next tweet will include a photo. I'm just warning you, cos you might find it gory - some people don't mind that. But, yknow: trigger warning, etc.
When I was finally cognisant, I tried to see the wound, but couldn't lift my head. I asked a nurse to photograph it and show me.

I was horrified: am I THAT fat?

No, it was just swelling, it went down. I'm only half that fat. OK, 3/4.

36cm incision. Pipe to siphon off blood
(Side note: having the pipe removed a couple of days later was an indescribable experience. No pain at all, just "deep breath, then exhale and we'll pull". If you're one of those people who finds popping zits satisfying, this was that times ONE MILLION. Worth the cancer).
All my stomach muscles had been cut in two. I couldn't lift my head. I couldn't lift my legs. I still can't do a sit-up (my excuse).

It took me 4 days to be able to walk 10 paces, and 3 months before I could manage stairs.

Major warning about a photo in the next tweet. Really.
The tumour was whisked off to be assessed. A rare Chromophobe Renal Cell Carcinoma, and not too malignant. A bit. Not much.

Here it is on a slab, 17cm across. I drew on the shape of a kidney, so you can see the bit that was "original me"

Anyone else feeling peckish?
So, to summarise:

7 hours in surgery
9 weeks in hospital
3 months learning to walk again
9 months off work
4 years of experimental chemo and drug trials

And I never saw a bill. I never worried about money. The NHS is miracle. Save it.
It's getting close to 13 years since this happened. I still have a whopping scar and a good war story, and I still miss morphine. Got any?

But I'm otherwise completely cured.

I laugh, but cancer is terrible.
But research is making it less so.
So help if you can.

The end.
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