Nearly all clear
Following on from my last blog on the treatment of my oropharyngeal cancer, this update comes from the barn at Cwmbach Farm in the Brecon Beacons National Park. It is a wonderful place. We have been many times, on our own staying in the barn or with the family in the farm house. As it happens I was due to see my oncologist to discuss the results of the three-month follow-up PET scan the day before my birthday. Tercia decided that whatever the result, it would be therapeutic to get away to digest and plan what needed to be done. What better place to plan the future than in a venue filled with happy memories. What is more, my birthday present was to be a fly fishing lesson (with Tercia as well) on the River Usk near Crickhowell. So the day came and I saw my oncologist. The PET scan report started with ‘the tumour has responded well to treatment’ good news indeed. There was some residual activity in the primary site and some changes in the lungs. However, the former is most likely due to local necrosis and the latter due to infection and inflammation (I did have a chest infection in December). The metastatic node is completely clear. I saw the PET scans and there was a huge difference in the intensity of uptake before and after treatment. Anyway, they do not want to do anything except a routine repeat scan in due course. Apparently in the past they used to do biopsies, but they usually came back normal so they have stopped doing them now. I also had my nasogastric tube removed, so all in all a great birthday as had on the following day. We were joined by my daughter Anna and my son Sam (recently post-op after another shoulder dislocation) to make it a double celebration.
The day after my birthday, Tercia and I travelled to Wales and were sitting by a log fire preparing for the fishing lesson, watching a programme on the Brecon Beacons covering the four seasons. It emphasised the splendour of the region and all the local activities. On comes a local Gillie to describe the fishing and Tercia says ‘that is our man’. Sure enough next morning at 9am outside the ‘Bell Inn’ we meet Justin of TV fame. We were extra lucky as he had been up all the previous night as his Springer spaniel had had her first litter – eight puppies and he had thought of cancelling. But mum and puppies were all doing fine so he decided to come. Interestingly enough the scan the previous week had suggested four. Obviously dog scans are not perfect. I reassured myself that they are only as good as the assessor and I am sure that my radiologist would not have made such a mistake. Anyway the fishing was splendid, no actual fish but I now feel confident to cast where ever I wish.
A trip to Hay on Wye to see the second-hand book stores and walks along the base of the Sugar Loaf and along the Brecon Monmouth canal filled our three days. The last day was sunny and we were off to see the waterfalls near Penderyn (home of Welsh whisky). A winter of rain and a sunny morning meant we saw them at their best.
Now back to England and back to work. I have five years of follow-up, alternating between the surgeon and oncologist and the next scan in June. I feel weak but enthusiastic. I feel grateful for my continuing support mechanisms that are as important in this phase as the earlier more physical one. My closing comment is that I have been ‘recruited’ as a patient representative in the local group designing the next head and neck cancer research submission – so a good result all round.
Professor of Public Health, King’s College London
This is the third and final instalment of Peter’s series of blogs. Read the earlier ones here: