Cancer Column: Day one of Chemotherapy

DEAN EASTMOND IS THE CO-FOUNDER OF HISKIND AND IS CURRENTLY FIGHTING A BATTLE WITH EWING’S SARCOMA. FOLLOW HIS CANCER JOURNEY HERE.
As I write this, my first IV of Vincristine is being pumped into my body via a newly inserted plastic tube sticking out my arm. It’s one of God knows how many drugs I’m still learning to pronounce that will be administered via said tube for the next year and a half while I beat cancer. Yes, if it wasn’t obvious already, I have cancer.

So far, everything is ok (despite the obvious cancer). The insertion of the ominous arm tubing (officially referred to as a peripherally inserted central catheter) wasn’t too pleasant, but that’s expected when a 42cm wire is burrowed into your arm and into the veins by your heart. The fifteen minute procedure ended up taking two hours because, apparently, my veins are dicks. Between these drugs, it seems to be pain relief, anti-nausea drugs, steroids and god knows what else left right and centre. Glamorous, I know. The facts? I have a tumour the size of my heart growing from my ninth rib on the right hand side of my chest. It’s a rare adolescent bone cancer called Ewing’s sarcoma that affects 200 people in the UK every year. I am about to start six rounds of chemotherapy, before surgery and then 8 more rounds of chemotherapy. I am scared, but I am fighting with as much positivity as possible. What’s that cringe Orange is the New Black quote? “Pain is inevitable, suffering is a choice”.

My nurses and doctors are so great though. Surprisingly, most of them went to the same university that I’m currently at (well, not anymore) and know of the infamous chicken shops in the student town, where to avoid and how amazing the 25p chicken wings are at The Bristol Pear. It’s their humour and wit I’m already enjoying most. But, to be honest, what else is there to enjoy about being cooped up in hospital for a week.

How did I find out? Last month I went to A&E on my own thinking I broke a rib. Two hours later, as I sat with a plastic cup of lukewarm water trying not to make eye contact with a doctor who clearly didn’t have to break such news very often, I discovered that the pain in my side was in fact a tumour. A couple of weeks later, after scans and endless blood tests, I had a surgical biopsy (aka a fat ass needle making its way into my ribcage to take multiple samples while I was awake). Getting the news that you have cancer is exactly how you expect it to be. An uncomfortable doctor telling me that, yes, it is malignant and, yes, I have cancer. The look on my parent’s face and my boyfriend’s face was the worst part of that day. What I have, I can deal with. What I have, they cannot. Just like how you see it on TV, the news is followed by a wave of shock, discomfort and confusion.

https://twitter.com/deanvictorr/status/747450104131489792

There are a series of things I have to keep asking myself: Before clicking on that ominous link you found yourself facing after 10pm, do I really want to read what I’m about to click on? Percentages of survival and relapse rates become numbers that suddenly seem so much more bitter. 56 holds so much more significance now than a month ago. As much as that article you read about the universal cancer vaccine sounds like a dream right now, you are still in the reality of your disease. You are taking each day as it comes.

In the past month, so many have called me brave and strong. As humbling as this is, I have to disagree. Being diagnosed with cancer does not make me strong. Going through multiple rounds of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery does not make me brave. Keeping my head up, taking each day as it comes, trying to live a normal life and fighting this horrible disease is natural and given.

What is brave, however, are the oncologists, doctors, nurses, radiographers, embryologists, porters, receptionists, friends and family who have to live and breathe my disease with me. It is their hard work that makes the first clump of hair that will inevitably fall out, the cracked skin, the vomit, mouth sores, loss of memory and appetite that little less scary. It is their time, patience and daily exposure to cancer patients that is brave and worth admiring.

It’s so exhausting hearing the same rhetoric from people who don’t get what you’re going through telling you to remain positive like I’m not trying to already. It suggests I’m weak and not remaining positive when I think I am and it’s so patronising. My positivity is measured in ways you may not always see. Getting out of bed and to a coffee date required a lot of it, even if I may seem a little low. I know I need to remain positive. Let me. But none of us really know what to say, right?

There have been moments over the past couple of years where I have questioned my own life. Spells of this and that left me with a sad mind, scarred body parts and a desire to just give it up. I’ll spare you with the self-piteous Hamlet-esque moaning but cancer is already teaching me a hell of a lot. Life is precious, limited and ever so fragile. Cancer has made me appreciate everything so much more: kindness, compassion, Lush bath bombs, takeaway food, matcha green tea, decorative cushions etc. The list goes on and I only started chemotherapy today. Cancer has forced a resurged desire for life again and I am so ready to get that back.

Day one of god knows how many. I’m going to beat this, watch me.
DEAN IS CURRENTLY RAISING FUNDS FOR HIS JOURNEY FROM THE UK TO FLORIDA FOR A FEW MONTHS, WHERE HE WILL RECEIVE LIFE CHANGING TREATMENT. YOU CAN DONATE (AND MAKE A HUGE DIFFERENCE) HERE.

More on Teenage Cancer Trust
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More on CLIC Sargent
More on Ewing’s Sarcoma

Words // Dean Eastmond