I have Cancer

Posted on December 29, 2017

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On November 15th 2017 at the age of 41 I was officially diagnosed with Myeloma – cancer of the bone marrow.

I reluctantly came back to the UK in October kicking and screaming for an urgent biopsy. It confirmed my family’s worst fears – Asymptomatic Myeloma.

It’s taken a while to get my head around what is now a ticking clock. And I have taken the decision to go public with it because every decision I make is influenced by what’s happening to my health. There are many close people I have not shared this with face-to-face and I know this will come as a nasty shock. I am sorry! But I have been exhausted talking about it individually to a handful of people and I just don’t want to any more. Being reminded you are sick everyday is not how I want to live my life.

It was September when i landed in The Philippines and opened an email from a clinician in London telling me I had to get to a hospital asap for urgent blood tests. A mistake their end meant they forgot to inform me of results of routine bloods taken in Dec 2016 before I left for my world trip. Fast forward nine months on, it was an email that brought panic, tears and a bag of worry. I had high levels of an unknown protein in my blood that needed to be identified.

I was only meant to stay a week in The Philippines. I stayed five. Needless to say, it was the most surreal time of my life. I flew in and out of Manila multiple times and visited a brilliant first rate private hospital – St Luke’s. While I waited for test results I island hopped and saw incredible beauty, dived with Thresher Sharks, trekked through 2000 year old rice fields, got a personal best free diving and popped over to Taiwan to dive Green island. Water therapy was my Godsend. I have no idea how I would have coped otherwise. My diagnosis was 90 per cent accurate out there but I needed a bone marrow biopsy for definite confirmation. So I flew home.

Myeloma usually affects African Caribbean men in their 70s. I am the 4 per cent of patients who are under 45 and female. It’s a wretched disease and an uncommon cancer. It basically eats you from the inside out. The cancer crowds out your white cells (those needed to fight infection) and your red blood cells (those which help to keep cells oxygenated). Then it attacks the bones. Large ones first like the spine. When holes start to appear the body then tries to compensate by over producing calcium. This leads to dehydration, fatigue and in some cases blindness, if severe. Your kidneys then over work to flush out the calcium and then it’s renal failure.

There is no cure for Myeloma. I am currently asymptomatic and I will go on to become symptomatic (stages I-3). When? Each patient is different. I quit drinking. My first dry Christmas. I have had the most active year of my existence and I have continued. I am exercising daily – 2 hours of yoga, walking 10km ie: two marathons a week. My attitude is to give myself the best possible chance of dealing with chemo as and when I have to start it. Stem cell therapy is possible afterwards but not from a donor. The risks are too high. They reprogramme your own stem cells and give them back to you in the hope your body stops making cancerous proteins but patients inevitably relapse. It cannot be cut out or treated like a tumour. It is in my blood, so it’s basically everywhere.

Although I have high doses of the cancer protein in my blood, my other vitals are stable for now, thankfully. Silver lining. But for the rest of my life I have to be monitored with blood tests checking those levels haven’t increased and my bones have not started to deteriorate. If that happens chemo starts. Doctors reckon i have anything up to four years before I need it. The side effects are horrific and the disadvantages outweigh the benefits, so it’s never given to a patient until the cancer starts to move.

The realisation that my TV career is effectively over was pretty hard to swallow. My window of having kids that’s gone and so too adoption. The most frustrating thing about this disease is that it takes away some of your life choices and control. I have cried, screamed and contemplated what happens now?

I am living quarter to quarter. This quarter I have been given the thumbs up to still be able to dive. So I have decided to finish my damn world trip.

Early this morning I touched down in Guatemala. I am here for ten days exploring. Then I cross the border into Belize to get on a boat where I’ll be diving five times a day for six days. I will finally tick off The Blue Hole, weather permitting. A site that has been on my list for decades. Then I fly to Costa Rica and in early Feb I begin my scuba instructor certification.

My adventures over the last four years have somewhat ironically been a real life bucket list. I have no plans to slow down, in fact I am going up a gear. I intend to make the most of everyday that I don’t need to have treatment.

Tomorrow I hike Acatenango Volcano at 4000m.

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