It turns out that when you’re lying back looking at the ceiling tiles in Urology, age makes no difference.
Why is it always a cold day when you have to drop your trousers to a female doctor? I was getting used to it anyway. It was the third time in as many months, and now that I’d actually seen blood in my urine, I was keen for an answer.
The young trainee doctor was insistent, and by the afternoon I was booked in to Urology at the RUH, thankfully. The first thing that struck me in the waiting room was that I had at least 20 years on everyone else, so was bound to be okay. But it turns out that when you’re lying back looking at the pretty ceiling tiles (they really are very pretty) wearing nothing much more than a soon-to-be eradicated smile, age makes no difference.
I knew I was coming for a flexible cystoscopy, so had looked it up. Bladder cancer was one of the things it was used to detect, and that’s what they found. I was 45 and didn’t know such a thing even existed. The consultant drove the camera expertly around my bladder and settled on a small mushroom type thing attached to the side, which was the tumour.
I was gobsmacked. I sat in shock for about ten minutes and was then taken into a room and told what was going to happen next. I was asked to repeat it all back to the Oncology nurse to make sure I’d understood everything. I think I did. I would be booked in for an operation as soon as possible, which would basically be a repeat of the procedure that had occurred that day, i.e. they were going in the same way, but this time I would be under general anaesthetic, so there were plus points.
I tried to stay positive. The diagnosis was hard to take initially, but the prognosis was good. Fingers crossed, all it required was a one-shot procedure with a chemo treatment at the same time. Even so, I decided not to tell my 11 year old. He knew I needed an operation, but not why. He would worry enough as it was. I told the rest of my family, making sure they were all aware of the positive prognosis, trying not to make them worry. But I was scared. I didn’t want to leave my boys without a Dad, but in the end I reached a funny place mentally. A place where I felt so proud of them, that I knew it didn’t matter about the future. They had already made me proud, and I knew they would continue to do so, no matter whether I was there to see it or not.
I wasn’t sure who else to tell, to be honest. I wasn’t searching for sympathy – which was lucky, as my band mates’ response was “stop whinging and come back when you’ve got a proper cancer”, and it just seemed like an awkward conversation to have with people. I mean, what do you say? “Oh, um…that’s a shame mate….pint?” We’re blokes for Christ’s sake. But I was being daft. I got more hugs off mates in the weeks leading up to and after the operation than I ever have (and free pints!), and everyone offered an ear if I wanted to chat. I was lucky I had mates I felt I could talk to, but I know not all men feel they can open up – that’s why it’s good to hear there’s now a local group in Bath that other men can access.
The operation was a complete success. I was first in and awake in recovery by 9.30am. I spent the next two hours winding up the brilliant nurses (but didn’t push it too far, as one of them was coming to remove my catheter at some point). I tried getting up to use the toilet, didn’t quite make it, so used the floor. This all seemed to be quite acceptable to the staff.
Only after this point did I decide to make my cancer public. The outpouring of love and support was phenomenal, and I realised I should have done this at the start.
I was back playing a gig with my band within two weeks (making sure I had a safety wee before we went on).