'I was already geared up for bad news'
I’ve been a rock legend in my time apparently but mostly, I’m a pretty regular guy. Regular that is with lifestyle and personal habits. Yup, eat, poo, eat, poo. Good solid cables you could say. Then in spring 2012 after a London gig I noticed that things started changing; I was going more often and the cables had become more copper wire.
It seemed pretty obvious that something was wrong. With luck it’d be just IBS, after all I’ve been a vegetarian most of my life apart from the Procol Harum days when it was buckets of fried chicken in USA hotel rooms. But bowel cancer did enter my mind. Either way, I decided that after four decades of not bothering a GP, I’d better get myself to one for a check out. I didn’t even know my NI number.
After I talked her through my symptoms, we had a frank chat, and discussed the likelihood that it was colon or bowel cancer, so I was already geared up for bad news.
At the hospital referral appointment, I had what I call an arse-o-scope. The medics call it a sigmoidoscopy. Sure enough, there it all was on screen; first, past a couple of polyps and then dead stop against an ugly blob.
A biopsy and a CT scan confirmed it was cancer and the specialist told me they’d be operating to remove the offending lumps.
A week later I was admitted into my local hospital, Queen’s at Burton upon Trent, and that’s exactly what they did, official name a ‘sigmoid resection’.
No complaints as the surgeon was that skilful it meant my colon was stitched back together again and so no need for a colostomy bag … and a few days later I was discharged a little sore but no more than that.
Six weeks on, when I’d not heard anything more, I phoned them, ‘Yoohoo, remember me?’
They had me back with the oncologist and scanned again. The news was that the surgery had been successful but there were two secondary tumours, one in each lung. It was explained that these were bowel cancer cells and not lung cancer cells. That seemed like a better deal than lung cancer.
Dave visited his GP when he noticed a change in his bowel habits
Now I am not going to pretend that the next treatment they gave me - chemotherapy - is the nicest way to spend your winter. It is a pain in the rear end, sometimes literally. There are side-effects and you will experience some of them to one degree or another.
It seems like there are a few things that decide whether they are debilitating or not: your own physiology will make some difference; and luck – just what you end up with – more or less than anybody else.
It helps to have an easily heated home as cold exacerbates certain symptoms, particularly what are known as the hands and feet tingles, peripheral neuropathy. That’s right – finger tingles. Basically it feels like your nerves are exposed to the outside world. Any contact – particularly with cold can make you ‘uncomfortable’. You end up wearing gloves a lot of the time.
Not the best of side effects from my view point. I’m a guitarist by trade and as you probably know, we use our fingers to make a noise. I can usually manage to play a bit between chemo sessions – you get an ‘off’ week between sessions in order for your blood to get back into shape. I have found that my side-effects are generally gone within the week – just!
Other than that – and a brief interlude where I go from constipation for a couple of days to a day’s diarrhoea - I reckon I’ve got away pretty lightly.
What have I learnt?
So what have I learnt that I want to share with anyone else facing the unknown that is bowel cancer?
Well, the chemo nurses, are loaded with good, practical advice as they’re dealing with this every day and have heard it all before. Follow it.
In my mind, the most important thing is to keep positive. If you’ve decided to accept the chemotherapy (and let’s face it – the alternative probably does NOT have a happy ending) then take the view that it is a good thing. Accept that you will have some side-effects, and yes, they may not be that pleasant, but always view the treatment as a positive way for you to manage your cancer – or even get rid of it all together. Do NOT assume that it will fail. Assume that it will kill off the cancer cells completely and that you will have extended your time on the planet by some time. Months, years, who knows? Either way – you give yourself a fighting chance versus little chance!
Oh, and one last thing about the side-effects – they’re not all bad. A couple of fungal infections on my big toe nails (old fella’s disease) have cleared up. And a couple of warty type things have reduced right down. So there you have it – not all bad eh?
So I can now say that my secondary tumours have both ‘cavitated’ – the bad cells have been destroyed and left just sort of air sacks. I’ve got eight sessions of chemo lined up, hopefully this’ll make sure the straggler mutant cells will get mopped up.
I was let off the last session because I was gigging in Germany and I needed my fingers!
Then back for a scan, and with that luck I talked about – case closed.
To find out more about Dave's gigs and his book go to www.worldslump.com
Dave's do's and don'ts
If you experience any changes in how your body’s functioning, even if they seem trivial, go to your GP for a check.
Tell your GP everything you’re experiencing. Don’t be embarrassed about bodily functions, everyone goes to the toilet, breathes, has sex (well, almost), moves their limbs.
If you’re over 50, and definitely if over 60, then have a check up. I see our bodies like cars; things start to break down after a few years. New models might sail through the MOT with just an oil change, but older models might need a new pump, the body’s rusting, tyres are knackered, and you’re blowing out exhaust fumes at an alarming rate.
If you’ve led a blame free, healthy life, are a non smoker, non drinker, stress free and exercise, do not assume that you’re exempt from diseases like cancer.
Do go to Macmillan for information and support. I raided the Macmillan information centre at my local hospital for booklets and advice.
Give to cancer charities, money or a helping hand. Without them more people would be dying of cancer and wouldn’t be getting the help and support needed at times like this.
Browse through our bowel cancer information pages for more about symptoms, diagnosis and treatment for bowel cancer. And if you or someone you know is living with bowel cancer, we're here for you. Whether it's a listening ear, financial advice or a local support group, find out how we can help.