Jim Harwood, well-known local Fish Hoek resident and long time member of the Fish Hoek Athletics Club features under Our Achievers, having 30 Comrades Marathons under his belt. This year he was not in the field, having been diagnosed with Cancer mid 2010. Jim shares his story of the chemo part of his journey. For more about Jim see
A reality of life is that all things are relative. I received confirmation of this from a kindly nurse who assured me that, with my Colon Cancer, I had had the “best cancer one can have” – because it can be often relatively easily surgically removed!! Oookkkay, so… well, in any event the surgery was done and dusted and the nasty tumour removed but, according to the white-coated ones, the tumour had shared its little nasties with some of the lymph nodes around it and because lymph moves freely around in the body, the little nasties could have gone anywhere!! Chemo, with a sort of a shotgun/catch all approach to anything and everything, was on the cards for me.
I was in a sort of “no man’s land” during Chemo, i.e. not quite recovered from the operation, but undergoing treatment that, by all accounts should have knocked me sideways as a result of the poison I was ingesting. Anyhow it is now (hopefully!!) a thing of the past and I can share my experiences of this murky world with you.
The Oncologist having to hand down the findings and opinions of the Pathologists (the blood Vampire) and Surgeon, sits you down and indulges in the classic CYA (acronym for cover your derriere) as he tells you all the possible side effects of the Chemo. The variables are endless because “everyone is different”. Anyhow, as a gibbering idiot, you are thereafter taken to a large room, seated in a recliner chair and a heated pad is placed on your arm so as to better expose the veins. Enquiring fingers then poke and prod around until a large needle ends up in one of your veins. Thereafter approx. 8 bags of liquid of various colours and textures are fed into you. Only two of them are the actual Chemo stuff and the rest sterile water, anti nausea and glucose. No, they were not prepared to insert anything containing alcohol! Rumour has it that the Chemo bag originally, as per regulations, was required to have signage of a Skull ‘n Crossbones on it with the inviting description of “POISON”!! It would appear as though they were prepared to make an exception to this regulation when customer upon customer freaked at the signage.
The drip feeding takes most of the day and, very often, I was the first there (of about 12 to 14 slots/seats) and the last to leave. Throughout the day then various folk come and go and the atmosphere tends to be rather sombre. In between my reading and laptop operation, I kinda instinctively try and lighten the atmosphere by winding up the nurses – they aren’t used to my runner’s chirping but seemed to take it in good spirits. Some of the patients obviously didn’t appreciate it but I guess it’s their Constitutional right to feel miserable considering their circumstances. Friends and family came to visit now and again and these visits were greatly appreciated. Remember this when your other friends are undergoing Chemo: visits are the norm and are eagerly anticipated. They lift the spirits and are happy interludes in what can be a very long day. You’d even get free coffee!!
The same evening of the drip issue, I’d start taking the Chemo tablets (morning and evening after meals) and this goes on for two weeks. I’d then get a week’s break and the process starts all over again. I did six of these three-week sessions. These five odd months were interesting though as I didn’t know what was going to happen to my body next. First of all my feet started getting sore so that put paid to my running. Then I noted that everywhere that I had been seriously exposed to the sun over the years (arms, neck, face, hands etc.) started shedding skin like after a bad bout of sunburn. Then, for a few months in the middle of it all, I battled to get rid of the Diarrhea that settled in; the latter certainly got my weight down – a not to be recommended dieting procedure!! And I found too that my taste buds, especially for beer and wine were not passing on the pleasurable feelings that I am used to. People who had been there before though assured me that these would come back and, I’m happy to announce, that they have been proved correct!! A sort of last gasp attack that the Chemo subjected me to though was that it messed up the nails on my hands and feet and left a lingering Neuropathy (a sensitivity of the nerves) in said hands and feet. This though has not prevented my running again and I am back on the road and, more poignantly than ever before, really enjoying it. My health guru and other more rational souls than myself, have steered me away from Comrades for 2011.
You can imagine all the heavy medical warnings and anecdotes that have come my way of late (real scary stuff sometimes), but I’m happy to say that I have been blessed and would seem to have got off lightly in the greater scheme of things. Through a host of positives, including fantastic support from my wife Terry, the rest of my family, my health guru, my running and Para friends, my other friends and a host of new ones, I managed to restrict the Chemo to a mere inconvenience in my life. I was fortunate too that my Chemo regime was not the hair-fall-out type.
With the Chemo now finished though, I’m not quite sure of the technical jargon that defines my status, but I guess the term “in remission” or “clear” would seem to fit the bill. But now the fun and games start as the nasty reality of “predisposition” to Cancer has been placed in the forefront of my whole lifestyle, especially in what I eat and drink. Anything that throws the body out of kilter/balance can bring on a recurrence. So now I am Omega 3-ing, Probiotic-ing, Vitamin D-ing, juicing, watering, limiting sugar and milk, as far as possible avoiding foods containing preservatives (you’re not going to be charged by the way for all this earth-rending information!!), minimal red-meat consumption, steering clear of all the lekka Boerewors ‘n Biltong (sometimes), piling on the vegetables (cooked for as short a time as possible!!) etc. Fortunately alcohol “in moderation” and “not every day of the week” is allowed and I knew I had reached a major milestone in my Neuropathy recovery when I was again able to open a screw-top beer. The French seem to thrive on Red Wine (as a Cholestrol –lowering medication), so this too can be forced down my throat.
This has been, funnily enough, a very positive period of my life – not that I would wish it on anyone. I felt blessed by the care and prayers of my friends and family and now I look at each new day as a bonus that needs to be cherished and lived to the full.