I thought that if cancer was going to kill me, I would at least make it take on the best physical version of myself.
Two years ago, just before Christmas, I was at my local GP surgery trying to find out why my whooping cough was still lingering after six months. My GP agreed that as an otherwise fit and healthy young man I should have recovered by now, and thankfully arranged for a blood test.
A week later I chased up my results and was told by the receptionist that there was a slight concern with para-protein levels and that they had arranged an appointment at the RUH in Bath for me. This was slightly concerning, but my strong feeling was positive as I was happy that I was hopefully going to get an answer and get better soon. As it happened, between visiting the GP and the hospital after six months my cough finally started to clear up. This relief was short lived as I soon realised that my appointment was in the Oncology department.
The specialist explained that I have something called MGUS, a precursor to Myeloma. This did not mean that I had cancer, but an elevated protein that meant I was at a higher risk of developing Myeloma cancer, so would need monitoring. The reassurance, honesty and information I received were excellent, and left me with low-level concerns, but nothing more. I have been pretty lucky in life and felt that I would continue to be.
However, after a great family Christmas I returned to the RUH to receive more results. When my amazing specialist asked if I was on my own and where my partner was, I knew it was bad news. She explained to me that I had Myeloma cancer. I listened in disbelief as she explained to me that there was no cure for Myeloma. The fact that it was unusual in anyone under 60 and only 0.3% of Myeloma patients were 30 or under like myself was no consolation. I left the hospital in a kind of daze with the words “Don't Google it” ringing in my ears. When I did inevitably Google it, I understood why: the first figure to hit me was UK life expectancy of four years for people with Myeloma.
Over the next few weeks, I learned more about my cancer, but was unfortunately given no clear indication of how quickly the cancer may progress as there was not enough data yet. This really annoyed me. All I wanted was for someone to tell me how long I had left, but that wasn’t possible. I went through the motions of talking to my partner, my family and my close friends about this. I say went through the motions because I never really opened up about how I felt about my diagnosis, and just acted the way I thought others would find it best to see me. At the time this was much easier than dealing with my diagnosis myself.
As time went on, I started to understand that turning my attention to diet and exercise might help. I thought that if cancer was going to kill me, I would at least make it take on the best physical version of myself. I became vegetarian and upped my already high level of physical exercise. This was another thing that helped distract me from any kind or internal reflection and facing the reality of a cancer diagnosis.
Unfortunately, as time went on and I still refused to open up about what was going on, I had to keep finding new distractions and changes in my life to keep myself going. This led to me breaking up with my amazing partner of eight years. I had decided she didn't understand me or want the same things out of life, although the reality is that I never gave her a chance to understand what I was going through. In retrospect, I think she understood me better than I understood myself. This was my first and to date only significant loss to my cancer diagnosis.
With an ever-increasing desire to have a positive focus in my life, I started a new business venture, a new relationship and an extreme work ethic.
As time went on and my blood tests kept coming back stable, I was starting to have faith that my cancer was just smouldering and wasn’t going to kill me in the next couple of years. A happy realisation, but still not enough for me to address the root causes of the somewhat extreme changes in my life. I only started to address those about six months later, approaching the second anniversary of my diagnosis.
I became single again and seriously started to ask myself what I wanted out of life. Already my desire for money and material things had dropped almost completely, but my ambition and drive had become stronger. I just had to work out what I was driving towards. With the help of meditation and some mindfulness exercises I realised I had a lot of unanswered questions and strong emotions that were unresolved.
I built up the courage to get in touch with Dennis at the Myeloma support group in Bath, who listened to what I was going through and pointed me in many different directions for support, including towards the wonderful We Get It organisation. This was definitely a turning point for me. I’ve since become much more open with others about my condition and emotions, and have started to confront them in a healthy way.
I’ve recently trained for and competed in a white collar boxing match, which was a hell of a challenge, and am now training for a 100k run at the end of summer 2019. I think it’s fair to say I still have an obsession with my diet and an unnaturally strong desire to challenge myself physically and mentally, but I understand why I’m doing it now, and am thankfully able to put things in perspective.
I’ve still got lots of questions I need to work out for myself, but having like-minded people to chat to in a relaxed environment through We Get It is already starting to help me work through some of them. Just as importantly, the group is helping me connect to people who do get what I’m going through, giving me more routes and options to continue my emotional journey of coming to terms with my diagnosis. If, like me, you’re struggling to deal with your cancer diagnosis, I strongly suggest you get in touch with someone and ask for help. It’s the first step, but also the hardest.
I am now in a better physical and emotional state than ever. My cancer has focused my life and helped me become a stronger person. I know there are some seriously tough times ahead, but I’m confident I’ll be able to deal with them when they come. In the meantime, I intend to truly enjoy every day to the full.