Cancer Column: Loss and luck

Dean Eastmond is the co-founder of HISKIND and is currently fighting a battle with Ewing’s Sarcoma. Follow his cancer journey here.

Again has come the time when my week on my ward is complete and I’m in that post-chemo nothingness void. This week signs off my third round of chemotherapy, with eleven more to go if everything goes to plan. Far from exciting news, I know (and I’m sorry), but a lot happened on my third week on my ward that I felt needed to be conjured into some sort of blog post.

I’m getting to that level of exposure on the ward where I’m familiar with certain faces, ways of doing things (and not doing things). I’m getting used to and finally have the confidence to leave my bed space and dwell somewhere else for a couple of hours before wheeling myself back with my drip stand. I’m getting used to more names (of both drugs and doctors), more and different ways of hurting and, above most, getting used to that patients I share the ward with.

When I first started treatment, I made a silent note to myself not to make too many friends on the ward and not to get too close to anyone. It makes me sound like a grave-anti-socialite (which I’m not) but keeping myself to myself seemed to be a way of keeping everything composed and together in the best way I could. Of course, the ward can be lonely and sometimes you end up chatting with some of the most admirable and strong patients, which is really nice, but no one can really gage how much other patients want to discuss their diagnosis etc.

I didn’t keep to my word and made (what I’d be honoured to consider) friends with the guy next to me and his wife during my second cycle of chemotherapy. Admittedly, I got a lot more discussion from his partner considering he wasn’t too well for the most half of the week, but the two brightened up the ward with their kindness and compassion. They work in a similar industry to myself and hearing their career stories served as bites of inspiration to get better during the week. On departing hospital, we exchanged numbers and promised to keep in touch.

Time becomes an odd thing on the ward. Between watching the Olympic diving with my nurses and balancing meals and medication, days don’t seem to be broken down my hours and minutes, but by how long is left on the current bag of chemo/fluids/god-knows-what being pumped into your chest and when more medication is due. That doesn’t mean the nurses come round screaming how it’s “quarter past Doxorubicin” or “twenty to that gross needle you get injected into your stomach everyday” but life becomes a perpetual countdown to not only getting out of there, but knowing when you’re going to start feeling certain ways and bracing yourself for it. So seeing her face on the first night back on the ward was a moment of “thank god a familiar face” moment and we got chatting again. The previous time on the ward, I had been subject to homophobic abuse from one of the patients on the ward. It’s far from the most dramatic of happenings, but being referred to as a “little fag” and “the queer in the corner” was a little unsettling on top of dealing with cancer. I didn’t want to cause a fuss so left it unreported. On that Monday I found out that my new friend had mustered up all the energy he had to get out of bed and report it, without me realising.

On that Monday, I also found out that he was to be moved home. His treatment wasn’t working and home was the best place for him to pass comfortably. Saying goodbye wasn’t easy and ignited a new found reality of how rubbish cancer is.

But not all news is bad. My nurses are some of the most incredible people I’ve ever been surrounded with and softened the blow with news that I had been accepted onto Proton Beam Therapy in America. Even typing this now, I’m overcome with a sort of overwhelmed blur of luck, hope and appreciation for the NHS. My chemo is apparently working the way it should and I fit the criteria of what’s needed to receive the life-changing treatment (which really really really change my life), so I’ll be jetting off to Florida for a few months in October. I’ve previously written about what Proton Beam Therapy actually is here.

“Why me?” is a common phrase heard and thought in the realms of cancer. Admittedly, there have been times I’ve knocked myself into lows of questioning why what is happening is actually happening. It’s self piteous nonsense that helps nothing, but will always be there, but hearing about my luck about Proton Beam Therapy made myself ask the same question, but in a completely different sense. “Why me?” wasn’t me questioning my bad luck, but my good luck. Why do I get these opportunities when amazing people who deserve it just as much as I do (like my friend) get denied the same luck? Why am I lucky enough to have chemotherapy that works for me? Why am I lucky enough to live in a country that can financially support my treatment abroad before it comes over to the UK?

Loss and bad new is no doubt inevitable on a ward like mine, I just wasn’t expecting it to happen so soon, so fast. Comparing both happenings is in no way me gloating, but has put me in a place of appreciation of everything around me. For everything my friend did for me, for the selflessness he shared even when he was at his lowest, I’m eternally grateful and indebted.

Jacksonville bound.

Collecting small victories & counting down days until recovery.

Words // Dean Eastmond @deanvictorr