Paul Rogers, My Cancer Story
Working in the healthcare industry, Ocura Sales Director, Paul Rogers is frequently reminded of his own cancer experience, leaving him with a different perspective on both sides of the healthcare sector.
After a great summer in 2018, I was looking forward to December and my forthcoming wedding. Helen, my wife to be, had just been bridesmaid dress shopping with my daughter Poppy, mum, and various friends. Everything was good, my career was going well, home life was excellent.
While shaving one day, I noticed a lump on my neck. I thought nothing of it but Helen, being the cautious type, pushed me to see a doctor; something I had not done for many years. I was quickly referred for scans and tests. A further 2 weeks of tests, scans and trips to various locations followed until I eventually had a call to discuss the results.
Sitting in a small, slightly yellow room with two medical professionals at 15:15, while Helen was on the school run, I was told I had cancer.
A form of throat cancer had spread around my body. I was questioned as to my smoking habits. I had never smoked. My family had never smoked. ‘Strange,’ said the consultant, ‘you are in a very small percentage then’. I was not sure this was the best time to be unique.
Telling family and friends was quite hard. Despite being told not to Google the type of cancer I had, both Helen and I did. The percentage chance of cure and recovery was, at best, pretty low. We did not share this with others. I started to put my affairs in order and made sure Poppy and Helen would be secure for the future, checking that Helen still wanted to go ahead with the wedding plans. She did.
Following an operation to remove various parts of my tongue and throat before the wedding, I attended the first visit with the consultant and we discussed a treatment plan. ‘No promises’ she said, ‘but I think if we go for a very aggressive treatment plan, I am sure we can increase your chances’.
She explained it would be long and painful at times but by over-treating she had more confidence she could get the cells that had spread into my body. So, it was agreed that a treatment plan would commence following the wedding.
Day One of treatment: I met with many people and was given rafts of information and paperwork on the forthcoming chemotherapy and daily radiotherapy sessions. Naturally, I turned to the last page …the last session is in March next year.
I attended my visits to the hospital, praying at times to be left to the normality of work and family life. Chris, a colleague at work had been through a very different experience of cancer but kept saying one thing: ‘Stay positive Paul, stay positive’. However, towards the end of January, the pain, tiredness and intensity of the treatment made work too much of a struggle.
A work appointment in London and travel on the tube demonstrated how low my immune system had become. I ended up in A&E, reality check.
Working normally was now not possible. My first time off sick from work, would I keep my job? Thankfully my employers were incredible. The support was more than I could have ever expected.
I reached the point where I needed a feeding tube inserted as I was told eating would become painful. I hate this tube. The operation, the daily cleaning of the tube, the sheer fact that it is just uncomfortable all the time. I ask to have it removed, but I am told it will become my friend. This is the first time I disagree with the professionals.
Then a head mask, made so the radiotherapy team can clamp me to the table so I don’t move in treatment. It makes me laugh being screwed down daily to a table. On the odd day that the machine in LA2 is broken, I must go to a different treatment room.
This is the point I realise how important the furniture that I sell to patients and their families. Being comfortable, being somewhere that looks clean, modern and not too much like a hospital is important. I hate the room changes that are called out over a loudspeaker. I want the familiarity of LA2.
During one 12-hour chemotherapy sessions it becomes apparent how weak I have become as I can no longer push the recliner chair back myself. I can’t help but think, you should have electric recliners in oncology.
My last day of treatment: my mouth and throat are so sore; I have no taste; I can’t even tell if things are hot or cold. Swallowing even the softest, blandest of foods results in tears so I eat away from Poppy and Helen so that they don’t see me crying.
I refuse to use the feeding tube. I am on enough pain killers and, anyway, I am convinced in my mind that this last day of treatment will see me cured. I remember Chris’ advice, ‘stay positive, I’ve beaten this’. Deep inside, I am not so sure.
Weeks passed, I return to work, and eventually, my tests are finished. I go for the results. Have they cured me? I am asked to take a seat. Helen is holding my hand tighter than ever. We are handed tissues …this does not seem positive.
The results are positive. The cancer cells have gone. They cannot say I am clear for at least 5 years but all we hear that it has gone. The tissues were to examine my throat one last time, which normally results in your eyes watering.
When people ask me about cancer, the treatment, the hospitals and the overall experience I have to say, strange as it seems it has been a positive experience. Yes, of course, painful but I value the world around me more, my relationship is stronger than ever, work is excellent and life somehow now seems to have more value.
I don’t waste a second, and best of all, it stops you putting things off to another day.