By Hywel Jones
Another month draws to a close and yet another cancer awareness item is in the news.
Whether breast, lymphatic, lung, or one of over 200 different types of cancer, it affects us all at some point in life, directly or indirectly.
I am one of those unfortunate people to have acquired not one, but two different kinds. Head and Neck cancer in 2007, and Lung Cancer in 2010.
A diagnosis of cancer can very quickly drag you down into a well of bitterness, anger and despair. The emotional response to having to face your own mortality is an incredibly difficult experience.
Thousands of people are affected by the illness, yet being told you’re the one who has cancer can bring a sense of loneliness and solitude which is almost too difficult to comprehend for someone who hasn’t been in your shoes. It in no ways makes you feel better to know that so many others receive a similar diagnosis.
I’ve been told I fought bravely through those first few months of treatment, I endured more in four months than some people do in a lifetime.
The words brave, fight and strength never entered my head at the time. To me cancer just ‘is’.
I went through a rigorous regime of surgery and radiotherapy not because I had to, but because without those treatments I was going to die. Given the choice, treatment or death, it really was a ‘no-brainer’.
Having been through some fairly arduous treatment with Head and Neck Cancer during which time my life was hanging by a thread (I was given eight weeks to live), it was very hard to deal with a second cancer three years later.
My Head and Neck diagnosis produced no primary tumor. Nobody knew where it had originated. It is called an occult primary. It could have been too small to detect, or possibly been eradicated by the surgery or radiotherapy later on. The fear always lay inside me that even though they managed to get rid of everything visible, the origin was somewhere unknown.
When my second cancer was diagnosed in the lung I was shocked. Was it a different cancer completely? Was it the primary that had eventually reared its ugly head? Nobody really knew. The only certainty was another round of treatment, but this time the outcome would be very different.
I always wondered how individuals cope with a diagnosis of a terminal illness. I was told in July 2010 that my cancer was in fact terminal. Did I cry?
No. I felt completely devoid of emotion. Empty. I felt absolutely nothing at all. There wasn’t even a delayed reaction. Beforehand I thought people would break down into some form of uncontrollable hysteria with the words ‘I’m going to die’ echoing through the mind. I felt devoid of anything.
The only response I had was ‘What’s the point of going through another regime of debilitating treatment when I’m going to die anyway?’ But go through it I did.
Three months of hell on earth called chemo followed by four weeks of radiotherapy, and the cancer is now stable. The tumors are still there taking a nap – no more treatment for me though. I’ve had enough. Now it’s just a pain management clinic and I’m happy. There’s a very fine line between quality of life and keeping the cancer under control. Quality of life for me is more important than prolonging treatment to give me that extra bit of time.
Is my time filled with sadness? At times of course it is, but I’ve been given a unique opportunity to view this window on life which is very different to that of other people. I have done things in the last four years which I am immensely proud of.
I have been given an opportunity to spend some quality time with my family which others don’t have. All this because I know my time on Earth is limited. I have come to accept that I’m walking on that rocky road toward the abyss. But believe me, I am walking as slowly as possible.
- Hywel Jones is 52 and was diagnosed with cancer in 2007. He lives with his wife Cathy in Llantwit Fardre and has three grown up children, he has another child still in high school. He initially began writing his blog: terminaltimes.net as a means to communicate with family and friends as many are abroad. He and his wife now contribute to the site which aims to get across the feelings of a cancer patient and their family as the disease affects everybody in different ways.