As I write, it’s exactly four months since I was discharged after four weeks at Jimmy’s and three major operations against bladder cancer and a life-threatening poisoned lung. I’m wearing two bags – an ‘ileostomy pouch’(poo) and a ‘urostomy pouch (pee)’. In November I’ll have the former reversed to restore normal bowel function: the latter stays.
In the weeks following my return home my weakened immune system left me prey to two debilitating bouts of fever but the main symptom was exhaustion that relented to tiredness, but now I’ve returned to the gym, the yoga class, and the allotment, albeit with the need of a sit-down afterwards.
One issue is how to conceal the bags. As I wove my way through a crowded restaurant, I didn’t want to put people off their dinner. Normal wear is trackie bottoms and a long, loose shirt but for more formal wear I got two pairs of trousers from a Keighley tailor who specialises in clothing the disabled. (The disabled? Moi?) Anthea had the excellent idea of braces and they do indeed disguise the bags by allowing the trousers to hang loose. The tailor’s also adding half an elasticated waistband to old shorts and trousers that are too precious to give to charity shops.
I change the bags every three or four days – easy enough when you get used to it – but a constant dread is a leak in public. It has happened at home. The other day, as I was leaving Waitrose, a woman supervisor came up to me and asked ‘Have you changed your bag?’ I stared at her in horror. How did she know? What could she see? I daren’t look. She indicated my khaki shoulder-bag: ‘You used to have a red one.’ ‘Oh yes … I see what you mean. This one holds more’. Phew!
Although I’ll have six monthly scans, my consultant, Mr Jain, has assured me that despite the removal of the bladder and the prostate I’m no more at risk of further cancer than the next man. It’s a level playing-field. I hope these cancer diaries have reassured you that it’s not always the death sentence that it used to be. Just make sure that, if you develop symptoms that might indicate cancer – in my case blood in the urine, in my father’s back ache that turned out to be cancer on the spine – do something about it. Fast.