Nigel's Top Ten Tips to coping with cancer

My story begins in April when I first visited my doctor due to heavy bleeding in my stools. I was told I had piles and not to worry. My doctor didn't do a physical examination and the first tip is always to insist on a proper examination.

The summer passed with the pain slowly increasing when in October I visited my doctor again and said my 'piles' were unbearable.

I was whisked into hospital for an examination and was told the news that I had bowel cancer. My second tip is to be enquiring and don't be afraid of asking questions about the disease and treatment. Some cancer sufferers like to keep it secret and don't talk about it. I found it much easier to explain my illness and to talk openly as I wanted to learn. This helped me become very positive to beat the illness.

The wait for treatment, although only a few weeks, seemed forever but once it started I knew a new phase of my life was beginning.

I was given a Hickman Line, which was a tube fitted to a vein in my chest. This tube then went to a bag of chemotherapy which was pumped into my system every 30 seconds. It was not painful and after a while I was relatively unaware of it. The bag was carried in a pouch on my waist — sleeping with it was possible and not a problem although I had to be careful about pulling the tube where it was inserted into my chest. Bathing was possible by placing the bag on a stool beside the bath and not letting the bath water go over my chest!

I had chemo for 3 months and had to visit the hospital each week to change the bag. This again was a painless operation as the nursing staff were so experienced and kind.

During this time I also had 28 sessions (days) of radiotherapy. This started with a couple of long visits to the radiotherapy ward to align the machine to ensure the treatment hit the exact spot. Once aligned I was given 2 'dot tattoos', like moles, to speed up the alignment for each days treatment.

By this stage the tumour had become quite painful. My third tip, albeit a simple one, was to go to a medical supplies centre and buy a special cushion for those who are confined to a wheelchair. My cushion went everywhere with me!

My oncologist was now in complete charge of this phase of my treatment and I was seen regularly by her. She decided the scope and amount of treatment I was to be given. My tumour had to be reduced to enable the surgeon to remove it, which was now planned for the following March.

My fourth tip and one of the major ones concerns diet. Chemotherapy is very toxic and the liver has to work hard to rid the body of these toxins. I therefore avoided all foods which are toxic such as coffee, tea or alcohol. I had also read the story of Prof. Jane Plant and immediately decided to avoid dairy completely. The importance of doing something for oneself and not solely relying upon the medical profession cannot be underestimated. I treated this like planning a military exercise and soon became used to drinking green tea, soft drinks and eating all healthy foods.

My wife and I very much followed The Plant Programme and during chemotherapy did not eat meat, fish or chicken as primary protein sits in the gut longer than other foods and therefore makes more toxins.  The body works hard to rid itself of the toxins in the chemotherapy treatment so we tried to not give it more work to do than necessary. At that time my wife would, however, buy organic chicken and make soup/broth but not eat the meat. For protein I ate eggs (which are very healing), pulses, ground almonds, lentils to thicken the soup, silken tofu and soya milk.  I had three meals a day and a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack. We began each day with porridge made with soya milk and a heaped dessert spoon of ground almonds either stirred in or sprinkled on.

The afternoon snack was always The Penny Brohn Cancer Care Centre's 'power drink'. This is a smoothie made of silken tofu, slippery elm powder, a banana, maple syrup and soya milk (and ground almonds).

I ate lots of foods which have cancer fighting properties (there is a very helpful list in the front of the book, The Food Doctor) such as foods with high colouring like berries, broccoli, etc. The Plant Programme provided 'gems' of information such as "turmeric causes cancer cells to commit suicide" - we therefore ate a lot of turmeric!

With the help of a bread machine my wife baked her own bread using mainly wholemeal flour. [most shop bought bread contains milk]  I also ate lots of foods like banana and avocado to keep my weight up and avoided sugar as sugar is known to feed cancer. We substituted this with honey and maple syrup.

Due to the pain of passing stools we even removed the seeds in bananas.

My wife's role throughout the treatment and especially at this stage cannot be underestimated. My fifth tip is to remember to think about your partner and to make sure others do likewise. He/she carries a huge emotional strain as well as looking after the patient and running the home.

I quickly realised that I probably only had 'one go' at beating cancer so I was prepared to try most ideas and one such idea was to visit a Chinese herbalist. Mine wasn't actually Chinese, although he had studied over there after becoming interested in the subject. He was and still is our family's hero. His friendship, advice and most of all herbal remedies were undoubtedly one of the reasons I am here and able to write this piece. I cannot over-estimate what he did for me in helping both reduce the size of the tumour, keeping me fit and most of all getting me prepared for the major operation I was to have. You will recall that I was having both chemo and radiotherapy at this time which is tough on the body. Due to the herbs Isuffered few side effects to the medical treatment and arrived in good health for the op with the tumour reduced enough to be removed. My sixth tip is definitely to seek herbal medicine/help alongside the medical treatment. This should be complimentary to the mainstream medical treatment received.

My 28 sessions of radiotherapy fell into a pretty structured daily routine which was as follows:-

10.00 am — 12.30pm         Go to the office

1.00 pm                             Lunch at home 2.00 pm — 3.30 pm            Afternoon sleep

4.00 pm — 6.00 pm            Radiotherapy

9.00 pm                             Bed

Obviously everyone's routine is different but the 2 key features I would highlight about mine is the need to carry on working to give my mind something else to think about and a sleep every afternoon — I actually got into bed rather than just a nap in an armchair!

A very good piece of advice I was given by another cancer sufferer, which is my seventh tip, is not to fight tiredness. A number of patients push themselves, making it more difficult for the body to mend. My advice is go to bed when you feel tired. Whilst on the subject of tiredness my surgeon informed me that it would continue for several years after having chemo so don't be surprised if you do not have the same energy levels as you did prior to being ill.

Radiotherapy can be painful especially when the skin around the treatment area becomes sore. The hospital gave me a bucketful of various creams, lotions and pills but I took my herbalists advice and put Aloe Vera gel on each day which not only eased the pain but to my astonishment very quickly healed the 'burns'. Tip number eight has to be to use Aloe Vera gel. To remind you my cushion was invaluable now as the radiotherapy treatment was on my backside!

I finally arrived at the hospital in February for my operation. I was visited by my surgeon who was delighted by how healthy I looked! My ninth tip is to choose, where possible, a surgeon whom one likes and trusts. I did not like the first surgeon my GP had sent me to the previous October and sought names of those in our area who specialised in my type of cancer and found another life-long friend, Bill, to whom my family and I will be forever grateful.

My operation had been successful but I was very weak and had to have several weeks convalescing. We arranged a short break away in France in May which gave me a target date to work towards.

I now have a colostomy bag and find it very easy to use. At first it was quite a daunting prospect but my Stoma Nurse was excellent and helped me from an early stage. It is however something one has to work at and try not to be embarrassed by the occasional noises it makes. Another useful document which I still read is the newsletter of The Colostomy Association which publishes stories of other patients with a colostomy.

My final and tenth tip is try to live as normal a life as possible and try everything once.

Be positive, look forward and I hope this brief story helps you get through.

Good luck

Nigel aged 54