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 charted his cancer journey to help others with a warts and all blog. Nadio is now well on the way to recovery and his blog is reaching its conclusion.
Keeping to the purpose of this blog ie to raise awareness that a cancer diagnosis does not have to be a death sentence, and having recently attended my daughter’s wedding, I thought it would be timely to reflect on some of the highs and lows of my particular journey.
Since starting to write this, several weeks ago, the clock has inevitably been ticking and my day of reckoning is quickly approaching.
Does that sound a little dramatic, well it wouldn’t be worth blogging about if it wasn’t!
Apologies if I have omitted to mention certain occasions that are special to you individually, such as my visitors, those who have shared poems, songs, drinks, dinners, gigs and stories with me and the Sherpas who have walked my miles. The list is already long and varied so please forgive me.
Strange as it may seem, when the oncologist announced it was the ‘c’ word, I was mightily relieved. Having had some very important and beautiful people who are close to me, pass away with MND, Parkinsons and MS, throat cancer was the least daunting of all the above. A slight tear followed by a high five and “let’s crack on” set the scene for what was to follow back in April 2021.
I could write a book on this! I have 17,000 connections on LinkedIn and almost 3,000 ‘friends’ on Facebook. Is everyone a true friend? Do they matter? I guess my response to that is yes. Everyone matters in some way or another.
But it’s the broken friendships that tend to be the ones which keep you awake at night more than the cherished ones. Immortality brings a certain temporariness which elicits a desire to fix things. To mend broken ties and fix broken hearts. Inevitably, sadly, not are all fixable no matter how hard you’ve tried.
Nothing prepared me for the blisters. What started out as a slight rash on the left-hand side of the neck, by week five had turned into an itchy, gooey, green, sticky mess. Stretching almost from ear to ear, the pain was tough and the sight was gruesome (my humble apologies to anyone who witnessed it).
Morning times were spent trying to disgorge the chin from the neck whilst not feinting with the pain. Big glugs of morphine helped, as did yelling loudly (in my head) and blowing hard as if cycling up Pole Moor in top gear.
But you know what … it went almost as soon as it came and some three weeks later I was scab free and on the road to recovery.
Learning to live with hunger is tough. It’s an insatiable, if such a thing can be a noun. It’s not going to kill me and it’s probably better for me than my old habit of eating until I am beyond full. But it’s a small, constant reminder that even the simplest of things are not worth eating if they result in painful consequences.
Spare a thought for those who are genuinely hungry. It’s not classed as an illness, but it’s debilitating, demoralising and needs eradicating.
Being bolted down is not my idea of fun. Seven bolts and not enough space to so much as lick my lips, this mask was scary. I dreaded it. Hated it. Then … I had a word with myself. This mask was helping to save my life. It was helping to pinpoint the radiation to the core of the cancer without causing further damage to my voice box and other glands. And so, over time, I learnt to respect the mask. To embrace it. I even lied to it once and said I liked it!
The Drink of Water
It brings tears to my eyes even now when I think of the challenges I had to simply drink a sip of water. One of life’s most basic functions became impossible without choking and the water going down ‘the wrong hole’ and causing potentially disastrous pneumonia.
When the nurse provided me with some thickening agent, my low point turned to a new level of determination. No way was I drinking thickened water. It was like glue. So I drank through the peg in my stomach or not at all.
The walks were many and varied. At times, a 100m walk to the end of my pontoon and back was too much. On other occasions I’d plod on for up to an hour or so. Some of my highest points were when walking, often silently, with my Sherpas. One step at a time. Sweet Jesus. And we got there.
Being treated for cancer is a lonely experience. Having to be subjected to long stints of isolation only adds to that loneliness. Constant visits to hospital to get tested seemed to only add to my risk of infection and certainly contributed to the feelings of loneliness.
Spare a thought for those who were denied access to their loved ones when they needed them most including the three guys I met on the ward who went months and months without visitors.
The list of symptoms (32) is long and far reaching. Not only physical but mental challenges lay ahead as anxiety and depression can loom just around the next corner. For me, the morning when I joined a zoom call and nothing came out of my mouth, that was tough. Scary. Painful and isolating. It’s not easy being a marketing consultant during lockdown when you cannot even talk!
Fortunately, it has not lasted forever though it will be some time before it’s strong enough to shout from the terraces: Come on you Terriers!!
The Journey Back
So far, I’d say I’ve been on two distinct journeys. One that took me down into the mineshaft of darkness and despair. A slow descent into an unknown chasm of increasing pain, loneliness and foreboding where all seemed lost and then the return journey punctuated with joyous family occasions, sporting achievements including the most minor of victories and, of course, the deeper, most beautiful of friendships.
Smelling the roses and counting the night stars is not romantic hype reserved for the movies, it’s actually a dream come true for some of us and long may it last.
I write this at 2:30am on Tuesday 26th October. In another week I will have a CAT scan which will show if all is clear. It’s a four hour process that involves die put into my veins then I guess it gets tracked around the body and if it turns a funny colour, then it’s bad news. I’m sure there will be a more technical explanation.
I do not find out the results until 10th or 17th November.
I must admit. This waiting is starting to get to me. Life is what happens to you when you are busy making plans (John Lennon) … and death can be a terrible interruption (me). One I can do without.
If it’s good news (estimated 75% chance), then phew! It’s not spectacular, but it’s extra special, a future life of counting every star, smelling every rose and thanking every day that comes my way.
If it’s bad news (yep, 25% chance), then I guess it’s time to write the bucket list. It will not be a long one, I’ve made sure to tick lots of things off along the way already.
But it will be a good one, with one or two parties thrown in. I hope NOT to see you there but if you are, well, it was meant to be.
Response from Dr Sarah Partridge, Oncologist …
Excellent….well done. Particularly liked your own self-hypnosis reframing of your mask…a physical manifestation of tough love! Also your dogged determination to see the cup half full and keep walking, metaphorically and literally did get you through this quicker than most do.
Do keep doing your positive affirmations, exercise, and smelling the roses…..I am convinced that with acceptance, and the goal of treasuring our loved ones, life, and the good things, that this embodies a special self-made immunotherapy that is also key to maintaining your well-being.
Even though we all have patches in the ‘valley of doom’, we just need to stay connected, ask for help, and the ropes, pulleys and help will pull you through. I do love a metaphor!
Keep going with your self-hypnosis! You may be surprised at how much you can do with it beyond the cancer treatment…..keeping your mouth moist, boosting your taste etc.
All the best, Sarah