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  • Writer's pictureAustin Birks

Why You Can Never Be Complacent With Cancer, As I Just Discovered

Well, dear chums, let me set the scene if I may. I have recently been on a hardcore fitness regime, that has seen me seriously up my game, from one hour sessions to two hour sessions, involving serious calorie burning on the Watt bike, through to light Karate training in basics and kata, and then abdominal training involving sit ups, and supplementary exercises, then followed by static weight machines to bulk up back, pecs, and shoulders. All great stuff and been doing that every day for 15 days.

On Saturday I taught kata for two hours, to be precise Gojushiho Dai, and Jiin, for those Karateka out there. On Sunday, my hips were too stiff to teach Karate, but by Sunday night I felt better, so went and did my 2 hour session. Great, all good on Monday felt good, and at 13.45 I headed off to Warwick for the obligatory blood test , before chemotherapy on Wednesday. So, as ever in I pop expecting to out of there in 20 minute at most, even though it’s a bank holiday it’s still as busy as ever.

So nice nurse Fless comes and gets me and as ever I get weighed, then the temperature, and that is when everything changed dramatically.

Your temperature is 39.8, do you feel OK, that is far too high. Did you check your temperature before you left, no I replied I never do, well I need to talk to the senior nurse right away.

Well that was it, they went into full Casualty TV show mode, within 2 minutes senior nurse Sue stepped in, who I know well, and someone I have huge respect for.

OK we are going to have to do full checks on you, are you sure that you feel ok, yes I replied although this was scary new territory, so we did lots of tests bloods, and lots of other things, after 40 minutes of tests and results, Sue told me that my white blood cells were very low, this is a concern because the combination of high temperature coupled with low white bloods, is possible perfect storm for Sepsis, a well known killer, that shuts your organs down in record time, followed by shutting you down, game over.

I know at first hand just how quick and deadly sepsis can be, as my good Karate friend Franklyn, who was a super fit guy, even though he was in his mid -sixties, not an ounce of fat on him, that made no difference, he got sepsis and was dead within three days, so unfair but sepsis, like cancer does not do fair, it does you.

So, at that point I am concerned, and oddly began to feel a bit unwell, I was almost sick at one point and began to feel cold, so Sue said we may have to admit you, but in the meantime we are going to have to start to give you antibiotics, so they stuck a canula in my arm I was shunted into side room in the treatment ward and hooked up to have two lots of treatments dripped into my arm over two hours, then it was decision time.

Nice nurse in charge comes in and says well good news bloods are much better, temp is down so Dr. Peter says you can go home, but we will get some tablet antibiotics that you must take twice a day for 5 days, and you might find there are some effects, but be warned any change in temp below 35, or above 37.5, you must call the hotline.

Oh great I thought very relieved I must admit, so off I went later five hours later than I expected.

Got home took the tablets and checked my temperature which said I was 35.1, very low but still safe, went to bed and I just could not sleep until after 3.30, very rarely for me I had a bad dream, where I was being badly bullied when I was child, it was at best nasty, at worst horrible, small aside I never was bullied in the 7 schools I went, if people started I would talk, or laugh my way out of it. If that did not work then I would fight my way out of it as soon as possible, fought 2 won two.

Next day I did feel feverish but ok no apatite at all, which is normal for me, then as instructed I was back for more tests at 1200 noon, a one hour wait then I got called in, a very nice nurse who I had not before took me into a side treatment room, so what was your temperature 34.5 I replied well that is very low she took my temp which was spot on at 36.5, so big relief, I suggest you buy a new thermometer, so I did. Good news is we have discovered that you have a fever, do you feel ill, not really very tired, a bit cold, but no pain or fever symptoms.

Well, that is good the question is do we let you have chemo tomorrow, so I will call Doctor Peter and see what he says. So off she went, when she returned she laughed and said Dr Peter said it was up to me, if I felt strong enough for chemo, then you can have it, if not its cancelled. Without hesitation I said yes please, funny that is what he said you would say.

All good so far I thought, but I had no idea at all, but I was about to have one of the worst nights that can ever recall in my 63 years. Went home felt really tired due to lack of sleep but ok, still not hungry, watched a bit of telly, where a girl I know through Karate from Tipton called Amy Lou, got through to the Britain’s Got Talent final, with a voice like an angel, so at 11.30 I go to bed.

Now, I have no idea what happened next but as soon as I tried to sleep I had an over whelming fear that if I went to sleep, I would never wake up, it was very real and very scary, my body was desperate for sleep but my brain had taken over, I did not sleep a wink, super stressed I might sleep, and then at some point after 6 30, I did.


And that was when all hell let loose, in my dream I was lying in bed when suddenly the bedroom door opened with the hall light on behind, there was no one there, but the door was opening and closing so in my fear I shouted at what -ever was doing it, well cone on then is that the best you can do, as no surprise, my fight or flight mode selected fight, well at that the door slamming got faster and louder and more aggressive. Then it stopped, and suddenly all I could see was a large demonic figure which was staring straight at me, the without waring it launched itself at me, at that point I woke up.

Next thing I knew I was covered in blood it was all over me and the bed, I was petrified, it seemed to take me an age to realise that actually it was not blood but sweat.

On the positive I was alive, on the negative this was not a nightmare it night terror, never had one before, never want one again, thank you very much.

So, after three hours more sleep I was back to Stratford for my chemo, which was fine. I felt ravenously hungry having not had a hot meal since Saturday and it was now Wednesday, that chicken mayo on brown bread, never tasted so good or quick I could have eaten ten.

The nursing staff, Noah, Pauline, Nessa, were all brilliant and by 6.15 I was out of there, where I went straight to the chippy, never felt so good, let me tell you.

So another painful night awake again till after 3.30, but a peaceful night kip, a slow day, super tired but no fever systems at all, and very hungry, which is good. One thing that I do want to say is that I posted my situation to various groups of friends and the response was amazing, people are so kind and supportive, and it does truly matter, because in that deep irrational fear, it helps keep you balanced. Special mention in despatches for my most dear friend Yvi, and Donna the dog, and my sister Cathy, thank you, you know what you did.

So, I have had lots of experiences with cancer side effects, but never once has it messed with my head, like it did, it was frankly petrifying and as some- one who has always controlled as best as I can that side of my life, actually losing that control is horrible, but the combination of bad fatigue, strong drugs, and human fear all conspired to work there magic, I never want to experience night terror ever again and I hope to God that I don’t. It is now 03.11 on the morning of Friday 2nd of June and I have been watching the NBA final between Miami and Denver, while writing this blog.

Another unique journey, a sepsis scare, and the experience of night terrors, both dreadful, but as ever, if you keep the faith, and focus on survival you can over come anything as you know, my friends I never give up, and I never give in.

Do not stop believing.

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