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. Please look away now if easily offended.
I am often asked: “What’s it been like, being diagnosed with cancer?”
Well, here’s my answer. Pour yourself a strong one and strap yourself down, this will be a long read!
I have already written about the diagnosis phase and then heading into treatment. Thirty sessions of radiotherapy and two sessions of chemo.
The ‘highlights’, if that’s the right word, include the extraction of a wisdom tooth; making and fitting the mask and the insertion of the feeding peg in my stomach.
Then there is the tiredness, sickness, burning of the neck and the seeping, blistered wound plus the loss of voice, hair and taste. 31 symptoms in all, fortunately not all at the same time.
So, 100 days since diagnosis in April, I am reflecting on the impact it has had on my life.
Am I being a Drama Queen? Does it matter? Will it make any difference?
It’s a big deal, getting cancer. It hurts. It threatens your ambitions and removes you from the rest of society. It takes up lots of your time, your attention and your money. It makes you query your mortality, your friendships, your values and your very purpose.
It makes you feel vulnerable. Lonely and alone. A nuisance. Dirty. Broken. A human reject. A leper existing on the outside of society’s metaphoric walls. A waste.
But …. it also makes you feel alive. You smell the roses, the damp pavements and the dew on the morning lawn. You hear the birdsong louder, clearer than ever before. The songs you’d forgotten about and the photos you’d hidden from view.
The sun, when it hits your face, is dangerous and the strangers in the street are all risk hazards in these crazy, Covid times … risks to you and your very existence because to get Covid would almost certainly kill you when you are at your weakest.
And so you dig deep. You find your inner resolve and you baton down the hatches. You remove yourself from all negativity, anything that might harm your chances of survival, mentally as well as physically. You only deal with what ‘matters.’
In my case, I found walking to and/or from appointments gave me a routine. A purpose. Self-medicating required time, effort and knowledge. Getting it right, well, it’s hard to know what is ‘right.’
Getting it wrong, on the other hand, risks leaving you with an even bigger mountain as you combat mouth ulcers; sickness; constipation; infection; extreme weight loss; claustrophobia; depression and possibly starvation.
But … you somehow feel in control. You take back your body from this bastard disease and you show it who is in charge. You prioritise EVERYTHING. When you can only speak one hundred words a day, you do not waste them. When even those words no longer can be spoken, well, that’s a memory I’d really rather not revisit.
When the morphine kicks in and you cannot stay awake for more than an hour at a time, you make that time matter.
And when you come through to ‘the other side’, you reboot your life. You take stock of what you value, who you value and why. You count the days until you can eat, drink and sleep normally again. No more sleeping whilst sitting up. No more forcing that sickly sweet supplement into your stomach and no more morphine making you drowsy, slurring your words and making you short tempered.
Being diagnosed with cancer does not have to be a death sentence. I have yet to find out what my chances of survival are. That will be revealed by the MRI scan 16 weeks after treatment finished, sometime around Bonfire Night.
Good news or bad, my first 100 days of living with cancer have been the most fulfilling of my entire life. The luckiest days of my life. The most beautiful. Long may that luck continue. Thanks for listening.