• Austin Birks

Facing The Truth: Gutted Like A Fish

Catchy little title, I thought... possibly the name of my next album, assuming, of course, I had an original album in the first place, which, of course, I do not. Mostly because my singing career never got off to the start that I wanted. Mostly because my punk band Concrete Parachute failed to open on impact and imploded.


So, what has any of this nonsense got to do with living with cancer? Well, nothing other than the being gutted like a fish reference. That was what a surgeon told me was going to happen to me when I went for life-saving surgery to remove the three cancers that were rooted inside of me. Naturally, of course, I knew that it was going to be tough and a challenge. However, the fact that it slotted right into the middle of the coronavirus pandemic changed everything. Originally, I was going to be operated upon at the Good Hope hospital in Sutton Coldfield, one of only three hospitals in the UK that offered what is called the HIPEC procedure. This is a rare operation which after removing cancer growths then pumps a special hot chemo solution into the bowel area that for one hour immerses the area while being massaged to seek to kill any remaining cancer cells.


All was fine and dandy and I was ready for the operation, until 17.00 the day before, when I had a phone call telling me it was cancelled as the intensive care beds were needed for coronavirus patients. I was the last person to be cancelled. Unfortunate, but needs must and all that. My only hope now was to pay for the operation myself and have it in a private hospital, so that was my only hope, so that was what I did. So, on Saturday 28th April off to the Priory hospital I went, slap bang in the middle of lockdown. I booked into an empty hospital and was shown to my room (bit like a Premier Lodge), popped on my gown and plastic pants, got wheeled into theatre and woke up 6 hours later, still alive.

The next day, I was doing physiotherapy, enjoying the delights of an epidural and morphine, and by Tuesday I was weened off those and sent home on the Thursday - 6 days earlier than planned. The two first class doctors and the team did a superb job. The day after the operation, the main surgeon came to see me. A really inspiring guy. He shook my hand and before I knew it, I said "oops we can’t do that anymore, can we?" "Well, as I just spent 6 hours yesterday with my hands inside your stomach, like a sink, I think that we can get away with it."


Well, not much you can say after that, is there? So here we are, one week on and I am making steady progress, I have over 40 metal stiches from below my sternum to the base of my groin, which will be removed on Tuesday, 7th. Yes, I have had some challenges, but that has to be expected, but I grow stronger by the day and feel positive and motivated.


I have long since learned that you simply cannot second guess cancer. It is a random and callous disease. All you can do is keep a strong and positive mindset, physically, mentally, and in terms of well being, and never give up the fight. From my experience once you let it slip, you are in trouble. The best you can do is keep focused and follow the mantra that has kept me going:



Never Give Up, Never Give In.



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