• Austin Birks

The Finishing Line With Cancer, Or Is It The Beginning Again?

So, here I am again. It is 2AM in the early morning of Thursday, 22nd October 2020. I am just tying to decide, do I watch the MSL (American football/ soccer league live) or do I watch the news to find out what the latest pandemic casualty rates were going to reveal? Which region is about to be elevated to tier 2 or 3, subjecting millions more people to more rigid living, and if lucky, working conditions.


Lets take a collective step back. When I reflect on my journey with cancer, from an initial change in bowel movements almost directly from January 1st, 2018, to the point of emergency surgery to save my life in late September the same year. And then all that went afterwards. In truth, I believe that I am honestly fortunate to still be here, although the experience has in truth been surreal if I’m honest, and lo and behold, it got a lot more challenging as the months went on.


From enjoying doing stand up comedy at the Glee club in July 2018, and then being told two days later, that post surgery, and a course of intense chemo, and against the odds, that I was amazingly cancer free.


And then in October, just three months on, being told the cancer was back, and my prognosis was that I had a 25% chance of lasting two years. All very strange, because I just did not feel that this was my end. A sense of no, that’s not happening to me, and it so far has not.

A new course of 11 treatments, every 2 weeks, which were much more intense and frankly brutal, with 4 sets of chemo that lasted 9 hours, burned your face, made your hair fall out, gave you savage acne, and extreme fatigue, and left you sleep-deprived for day after day. As well as minor things, like ulcers in your mouth, constant tingling in your finger tips, and toes. As well as the daily grind of living with a stoma bag, which most days is great, but on occasions becomes a horror show.

All give you the chance to show your resilience and resolve to want to survive, I personally never flinched I was utterly determined to take it on my frankly very spotty chin. See what it had got, and beat it, simple as that, nothing clever or heroic, simply a pig-headed, stubborn desire to want to live and enjoy the gift of life.


Surely, the most basic of human instincts, but as I discovered until you are in that world, you just don’t know what you will do, will you succumb and just go quietly into the night? Or, say no thanks, up with this, I will not be putting and fight back.


From day one, I chose to fight back, and not let fear be the deciding emotion. Ironically, throughout all of this, even in the toughest of times, and I really don’t know why, I have never felt scared, or fearful.

In truth, I probably should, if the facts were to be believed, but I always felt internally, well that’s interesting, but that does not apply to me, it must be somebody else.


And then all change, from a diagnosis of despair came a light of hope, the chance of a relatively new life-saving procedure that might be possible.

A meeting with the Surgeon General of the Good Hope hospital in Sutton Coldfield, where this relatively new and different procedure had been used, brought me the opportunity to have this life saving surgery. All was great and I was due to be admitted on the 23rd of March this year.


I did all the prep, booked a hotel in Sutton the night before, went through the appalling process of emptying the bowels via strong laxatives and a 6-hour marathon with the stoma bag that converted into a number 2 flame thrower (truly it had a 4 foot range). And then at 17.40 the night before, getting a phone call to say that due to the Coronavirus, all the ICU beds were full, so the operation was cancelled.


That was a blow because for 2 months prior to that I had been in lockdown, I was unable to leave my flat because the cancer had spread to 3 parts of my bowel and stomach. The result was that I was going to the loo up to 50 to 60 times in a 24-hour period. Indeed, inspired by Captain James T Kirk, from Star Trek, I kept a Captains log. Quite literally, the thing was it was relentless. I was lucky if I had 20 minutes sleep, because you had to just go, simple as that. And ignore the feelings at your peril, enough said.


So, in the very heart of the worst of the pandemic, my only option to have the operation was to go private and pay for itself. The cost was more than my first house cost, the banks were shut and I had to borrow the money from my mum, so it was that I had the operation at the Priory in Edgbaston in Birmingham.


A five and a half hour operation followed, and I was, to quote one of the two surgeons who performed the operation “gutted like a fish”, which I always thought was quite funny. Also ironic was the 2 days that I spent in intensive care, I shared with an army of builders who were changing the ward to prepare for more Coronavirus patients. Forget social distancing and masks and hand washing. No one had a clue.


Released 6 days early due to the speed of my recovery, I was delighted to be home, but recovery was slow due to the extensive nature of the surgery. In fairness, they cut the cancer out, and other things as well that may have been cancerous. However, the big issue was, had the surgery worked?


My oncologist told me that post surgery, I would have a new series of chemotherapy of which I did 9 courses. It was challenging post surgery for a month. There were daily stomach injections, and a few side effects. In addition, as a vulnerable cancer patient, I could not go out, I was in real lockdown. The day after, I had my 62 stitches removed my partner Yvi got Coronavirus and had to self isolate, she was seriously ill for 7 days but then recovered.


I chose to use lockdown in a positive way and achieved a lot. However, once I finished chemo in July, I then needed to wait until it was 6 months post surgery and then it was time to have a CT scan. This will reveal if my cancer has gone or not. And that day is today. My CT scan is at 11.50 this day, and I will get the results ten days after.


There are two outcomes here: I’m cured or I’m not. I’m not fearful or apprehensive. Whatever happens I will deal with it, as I have from the outset. If I need more treatment, ok let’s do it. The ethos that has sustained me throughout is simple, Never Give Up, Never Give In. And that for me is as true today as it was from the start of this journey.

Keep you posted my dear friends NGUNGI.


Austin


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