Huddersfield-born Nadio Granata is a chef turned marketing, PR and publishing guru who now lives on a house boat on the Thames. Earlier this year he was diagnosed with throat cancer. He’s charting his cancer journey to help others with a warts and all blog which is not for the faint-hearted.
“But it’s not ALL about you!”
How many times have we thought this whilst listening to someone rattling on about themselves? And the greatest apology to my dear friends who have had to put up with my monologues over the years. Note to self: two ears, one mouth!
Back in early June, right at the start of my treatment plan, I blogged about how I was resigned to the fact that I had cancer and how I was going to treat it as ‘my mountain to climb.’ And it was/still is.
There’s some comfort in knowing that each metaphoric foothold or rope that is used to haul yourself up, can just fall away after you have used it.
There’s no-one following in your footsteps, no need to worry about anyone else. It’s not necessary to leave the rope as you found it. Just get the f*** up there one way or another.
Even though you are on your own climbing this mountain, you are NOT ALONE and that’s what this blog is all about.
People make a massive difference to how you make the climb. And I’m going to borrow my friend and cancer patient Mandy Taylor’s analogy of ‘Sherpas’ to explain further.
I’m guessing my particular journey from early symptoms to diagnosis to treatment (and ultimately ‘all clear’ in three months, I hope!) … will be similar to most other people’s.
It starts with a symptom (PLEASE CHECK YOURSELF), a visit to the GP and then, if you are lucky, an immediate referral to be tested for cancer. It’s an absolute whirlwind and all the time you are mentally preparing for the worst.
Here’s where I must plug the NHS and MacMillan for their immediate response. They are brilliant!!
So what is a ‘Sherpa’ and how do they help?
The purpose of this blog is twofold. Firstly and extremely selfishly, it’s my way of releasing some of my own angst. I find it cathartic to write and important to offload in this way.
Secondly, and more importantly, it’s hopefully helping to dispel any myths and fears about the whole cancer treatment experience. Brochures only go so far. My story is real, it’s now and, I think, it’s typical. And it is a good news story, so far anyway!!
And so, to that point, here’s my rather awkward attempt at describing Sherpas and trying to highlight how best they can support you, the mountaineer.
Warning: not all qualities are positive, though they are most certainly well intended. *other qualities exist.
⁃ The PA
I don’t think it is fair to say that any one Sherpa is more important than another. It’s a little like judging your children or perhaps a football team and saying the centre forward is more important than the goalkeeper.
However, in my particular case, a person who can manage a diary and sort out travel plans is worth their weight in gold!
Let me explain… the diagnostic period is a whirlwind of blood tests, biopsies, scans, dental checks and a whole host of appointments as well as the personal stuff. Meeting with loved ones to put their minds at rest face-to-face before they hear it on the grapevine as the treatment kicks off and Covid restrictions add to the already growing feelings of isolation.
A PA who can keep track of everything whilst your head is spinning needs to be not just pragmatic but efficient, authoritative and reliable.
⁃ The Diverter
Being diagnosed with cancer is most certainly a life changing moment. Your world comes to an abrupt halt whilst you suddenly realise that everything (and everyone) you took for granted … or, took YOU for granted … is about to change. Clearly this depends on the type of cancer you have been diagnosed with, the stage it is at and where you are on your personal and career paths.
The Diverter is someone who is not all consumed with your cancer. Of course they care, but they maintain a more holistic view on life and give you something else to think about… especially when under that mask!!
In my case, I spent many a time thinking about a certain person whose support was never witnessed or understood by others, but me. For that, I will be forever grateful.
⁃ The Emergency Responder
There are three distinct stages to cancer treatment, in my experience.
1. The preliminary stuff. Biopsies, blood tests, Covid tests, getting the peg fitted etc etc
2. The treatment itself
3. The recovery
Stage 2 is very routine. It requires you to be in clinic at a set time (daily, in my case) and is therefore relatively easy to manage. It’s the stage that most people relate to the most and is obviously the most demanding. But it’s not necessarily the worse stage.
The Recovery, on the other hand, is entirely down to the individual. All 31 symptoms or more can render you utterly useless. More often than not, this is in the morning as you shake off the effects of the night’s build up of toxins in the body.
The Emergency Responder is someone who you can rely on to fix your immediate problems. These could be as simple as a quick trip to the shop to, in my case, pumping out the boat! It even included a friend gifting me his belt as my trousers fell down in front of us as we walked out of the hospital!
⁃ The Carer
We all need to feel loved, right? There’s probably no more intensely emotional time in your life other than giving birth. According to national statistics, more people are divorced than are married and that figure gets higher as you get older.
The love of a carer is, arguably, not essential, but it helps! My youngest son, Nick, and I have been somewhat distant since I split from his mum. Cancer brought us together. It’s healed so much.
⁃ The Fusser
People are well meaning. Hardly a person in the world (odd exceptions) would not wish you well when they are aware of your cancer. It elicits an immediate and heartfelt response.
However, The Fusser is someone who makes it their business to fuss about your business. They are desperate to get involved. But they are not listening. You’ll ask them if you need anything, in the meantime, they just need to back off. Send flowers, treats, a special card … but allow the mountaineer the space they need.
⁃ The Mañana
The Mañana is very much like The Fusser but actually much worse. They do all the fussing but none of the delivery. They offer the support but fail to deliver it. They can be exhausting. And exhausting the mountaineer is a very dangerous mistake.
⁃ The Virtual Sherpa
There is no doubt that your cancer journey requires you to have someone or more, with you, to physically help when needed.
However, in my case, I had an army of Virtual Sherpas. These range from my amazing daughter who, though she lives 200 miles away, was absolutely by my side EVERY STEP OF THE WAY.
From googling the symptoms and filtering only what I needed to know to sending beautiful baby videos of my new-born granddaughter as I waited to go under the mask.
Zoom is the best ever invention when needing to bring people together without the strain of the journey. It’s not as good as the real thing, but you know what … it can actually be better because you are so drained that to turn off Zoom and rest is so easy and inoffensive.
Virtual Sherpas are there for you 24/7. They live online and shower you with loving care. You are my Virtual Sherpas and I owe you a huge THANK YOU. This journey has been so much easier with you there to catch me when I fall.
It’s been really tough to write this blog because I feel it is important to try to help people to understand better what a cancer patient needs, but I do not want to be too critical and ungrateful.
My Sherpas have been immense. To KNOW you are there, if needed, makes even the darkest days easier to deal with. And who knows, maybe there’s more to come.
Thanks for listening. Nadio