Dec 1 2016 Sometime in late September 2016, on a Sunday afternoon, my eldest son, who doesn’t live with us anymore, dropped by the house and remarked, “Dad, your voice has changed!”. Now, ordinarily I wouldn’t have heard the comment, but I had thought I’d noticed it too, and by the way, had I not started to have difficulty swallowing? I decided I had, and made a mental note to go to the doctors in the morning.
Tat previous week, I’d been working on a new song called “Follow My Star”, which I loved, and was totally involved in recording all the parts in my usual fluent manner, until I got to the vocals. I thought i had written a really difficult melody line, and that that was the reason for my struggle, but it turned out to be something a lot more sinister.
The following Friday I found myself on my back in the Day Surgery Unit at Dumfries & Galloway Royal Infirmary waiting for a general anaesthetic, preparing for the surgeon to take a biopsy from my throat. I had gone to the doctors at the beginning of the week, who in turn sent me to an Ear Nose and Throat specialist at DGRI , and who diagnosed, after sticking the “thing” up my nose to look at my throat, that I had a growth in my voice box! She immediately arranged to have a biopsy done the next day! So here I was in Day Surgery.
Now, the initial consult with Ms Botsma at the DGRI had gone from bad to worse, but not really from the shock of it all, but from the “thing”. The “thing”, which does not even deserve a capitol letter, was in fact an endoscope, which Ms Botsma put up my nose in order to see my throat. She didn’t give me the old “now this won’t hurt at all” routine, but told me in no uncertain terms that she was an expert in being gentle with the “thing”, and that I could trust her completely.
I immediately considered the damage to my nasal passages all that cocaine would have caused in a previous stage of adulthood, and braced myself for immense pain. However, she was good to her word, and my fears abated, as she carefully and smoothly placed the scope up my nose. I was, however, glad when it was over, and hoped I would never see the “thing” again.
Having had my dismissal from Ms Botsma, I was then sent to have a CT scan. This was a horrible experience as well, as during the scan they inject iodine into the bloodstream to be able to view blood flow clearly. There is a horrible warming sensation when the scan is taken, as the iodine is propelled through your veins, and a feeling not unlike claustrophobia overtakes your mind. I was glad when that was over, I can tell you.
Back to the Friday, I suddenly I woke up in a recovery ward, drowsy and confused, and I slowly came back to full consciousness, realising that it was all over. I had a bit of a sore throat, and was offered water at regular intervals. Evidently, on coming out of theatre, Ms Botsma had been to see me, and given me a full rundown of what she had done. I couldn’t remember even seeing her. One of the very kind nurses was good enough to repeat Ms Botsma’s message and so I knew that I would have to wait a couple of weeks for the test results of my biopsy.
The appointment on the Thursday two weeks later, was attended with the knowledge that I had cancer of the throat. I knew it in my inner self and I didn’t need anyone to tell me, but, the Consultant from Greece insisted in going into more detail about the area of the cancer cells, how they may have spread if I hadn’t come when I did, and what the plan was to be. To my horror, his immediate plan was to stick the “thing” up my nose again, it seemed everyone was going to want a look at my growth! He was nowhere near as gentle as Ms Botsma, and I immediately resented her being on holidays, which I’m sure she surely deserved, but, hey! this guy was not as delicate as her by any stretch of the imagination!
Having wiped the water from my eyes and regained a certain amount of dignity and composure, I was ushered into a room with the Head & Neck nurse, and with another doctor, a younger man, who assure me it was okay to have a drink, in moderation, for which I was really grateful! as I was beginning to think I needed one really badly! it was at this point they told me I would be sent up to Edinburgh, to the Western General Hospital, to see a cancer specialist, who would discuss my treatment and the side affects, and go over the preparation. They also prepared me with books, leaflets and information about what to expect, and how the preparation of a patient prior to treatment was important.
Upon arrival in Edinburgh, even the carpark attendant was pleasant to me! I was offered a parking space only meters from where I need to be for my appointment, for which I had driven two and a half hours for. I was kept waiting for another two and a half hours until I would get my appointment.
This appointment with my Doctor at the Cancer Unit in Edinburgh went well up until he wanted to put the “thing” in my head again. This time I was introduced to a new meaning of the word “pain” , which the surgeon benevolently handed out with his heavy handed manner, from a standing position directly in front of me. I couldn’t help wondering if it was something to do with the fact that I’d got his nationality wrong, calling him Pakistani instead of Indian. God knows I was grateful the cricket hadn’t started yet, as India were due to host England in November, in the near future, and any mention of it may possibly have prompted even more discomfort. I say this lightheartedly, as he was a fine gentleman, and he discussed the pro’s and con’s of surgery and radiology with me. to allow Chemo and Radiology as opposed to Surgery, due to my occupation as a producer and singer, was important to me, and fortunately he agreed this would be the best course for me to take. He knew I would need my voice to continue working, and so suggested we try to limit damage by going down that particular route. The surgical removal of my voice box would have done me in.
Furthermore, I was then briefed on two more medical procedures I would have to go through before my treatment would start. This would be the removal of all my teeth, and the insertion of a PEG, a feeding device inserted into the stomach. The first of these procedures happened on Friday the 4th November 2016. I went in to DGRI Day Surgery unit at 8am with a head full of teeth, and came out at 3pm with an empty mouth, and a very rubbery sensation, as the flesh of my lower face flopped about, searching for something to grip to. As the numbness of the General anaesthetic wore off, the aching and pain of the extraction and the subsequent stitching, began, and the nurses were quick to give some full strength Paracetamol on a drip, which kicked in almost instantly.
Over the weekend I started to get used to eating without teeth. Discovering soups and softer foods I had never really thought about before was now the order of the day. I was determined to enjoy eating, so I was at the beginning of a learning curve on that front. It was also a challenge trying to speak clearly too.
On Monday 7th November I went in for the PEG insertion, for which I would be sedated, as opposed to having a General Anaesthetic. This went fairly smoothly, but there‘s a lot to learn about the management of the device, to clean it, and keep it clear of blockages etc. It was fairly sore for about a week, but it has now began to settle down, and I’ve become use to it. I am to use the PEG for putting food in my stomach when my throat becomes too sore to swallow after three or four weeks of Radiology.
The final part of my preparation was the making of my mask, which would hold my head still whilst the radiography was being administered. This was done in Edinburgh. After the mask had been moulded to the shape and contours of my face and head, I was enticed into the CT scan room so they could line up the positions the waves would be aimed at on the mask, and into my throat. Again, I felt trapped and panicky as the iodine rushed through my veins, but it wasn’t as bad as the first time back at DGRI.
I am now waiting for the treatment to start on the 21st of November 2016. The way things have progressed has been fast and with professionalism and although to some it may seem I’ve made light of it all, I cannot express my gratitude and my admiration enough to all the fine people involved so far, some of whom I’ve mentioned, and some of whom I have not, as apart from mentioning them publicly, they are also too numerous to mention. These include the back up staff who have helped with physiotherapeutic exercises for the mouth and tongue, and the Dietetics team. So, thank you to all of you.
I may post again later once treatment starts, but if i lose my mental strength, I may not. So hopefully……………….to be continued………