Day 1: I'm told I have cancer

22 Apr 2011

My wife, Chrissy, and I sat down with the doctor in the chest clinic. After initial enquiries about how I was feeling ('pretty good, cough a bit better, energy levels still down, but managing to cycle and take long walks'), she hit me with it. 

'It's bad news, I'm afraid'. It seemed an eternity before she elaborated.  'You have cancer'.

It was like two physical blows, one after the other. I slumped to my right in the chair, as if recoiling from the doctor. Chrissy put out an arm as if to hold me from toppling right over. 

I just felt shock. No anger. No fear. Just surprise. How could I who had never smoked in my life have lung cancer? How could I who have always played sport, run and cycled have cancer? How could I who always expected to live to a good old age have cancer?  

And had this very doctor not told me, just two weeks earlier that I did not have cancer? Had I not been told by my GP back before Christmas that it was not cancer?

I was gobsmacked. The news I had been expecting today was that I had a chest infection of some sort, serious enough but certainly curable.

I was feeling quite well. I was still working normally. Yes, I had been troubled with this cough for almost a year now. It had grown worse during the autumn and I had finally gone to the GP in November.

 X-rays showed slight shadowing on the left lung and I embarked on a series of tests and treatments for asthma and TB. They proved negative After further X-rays and a CT scan at the end of January, a new theory emerged: Sarcoidosis. The test for that was a rather uncomfortable  bronchoscopy operation (a mini-camera put in through your nose and down into your lungs) and a small sample of tissue taken for a biopsy. That took place on 24th March. It was the results of this that I had come in for today (Thursday April 7th, 2011) and which had produced the cancer verdict.

While I remained in shock, Chrissy was angry. 'Why had it taken so long? Why was I not getting this news from the consultant?' I was grateful that she was feeling angry on my behalf. I did not have the energy for it.

I was instead very calm. I wanted to know more. But the doctor could not tell me much. She was not a cancer specialist and could not yet say what type of cancer it was. Further results were awaited. There was 'a glimmer' of hope (how critical is the choice of words at this moment) that it might be a certain type of cancer which had a better prognosis and treatment. But I would have to wait until Monday when I had an appointment with cancer consultant to find out more.

She admitted that they had been 'amazed' that it had turned out to be cancer as I had seemed so fit and well.

I walked out of the clinic in a daze.That evening the questions crowded in: how long did I have? what should I do about my work commitments? what to tell family and friends? how would Chrissy and my daughters, Louise (24)  and Rachel (21) manage financially? what state was my will in? how do I tell my parents who are in the middle of coping with my dad's chemotherapy treatment for bowel cancer?

It felt so unfair? I had always kept fit through playing sport and not only had I never smoked I had always been strongly anti-smoking. My parents had never smoked nor had anyone in my immediate family.  

Telling my daughters was the first difficult step. Louise was at home and I could tell her in person. It did not feel right to delay telling Rachel so I told her by phone, even though I had misgivings as she was still recovering from being knocked off her bicycle and had a lot of university project work to get through.

Finally one more immediate dilemma: I am due to be on a panel of speakers at a fund-raising event this evening for former Guardian education journalist, Donald MacLeod, who was very seriously ill after being knocked off his bicycle many months earlier. I did not want to pull out but would I cope on a platform just hours after receiving this news?

I decided it was best to try to carry on as normal. I would go but not tell anyone my news. I travelled in to central London in an almost disembodied mode. I was seeing myself at a distance. Surely, this person with cancer was not me?

I got through the evening but had blurted it all out to one old friend and colleague and almost given it away to a couple of others. On the whole the distraction had been good.

But my life has changed suddenly and irrevocably this afternoon. What now lies ahead? 

Author's note:

It was a difficult decision whether or not to write this cancer blog. I am not used to writing publicly about anything so intensely personal. But, as a journalist, it seems the best way to deal with it. While I see it as a coping mechanism to help me channel my fight to defeat the cancer it is also a way of keeping family, friends and colleagues up to date. I also hope it may help others in a similar position

Finally, as I also intend to follow an integrated path of combining complementary and conventional medicine, I hope this might prove a worthwhile record of what is effective and helpful in treating both cancer and the effects of chemotherapy.  I welcome your comments.

 

 

User Comments

Neville Coles - 29 Apr 2011

Cancer

Mike

I am a Headteacher / Principal (45) who has followed your work with much respect over many years. I am saddened by the news / blog.

I am also the son of a very heavy smoking mother who died of lung cancer when I was 29 and she 69 (1995) - she never saw her two granddaughters, who are now 10 and 14.

Your blog resonates re lack of early diagnosis and doctors saying 'asthma' for a long time. We also went down the alternative medicine route - fruitless.

This is merely to say I wish you the very best - and how trite is it to say, I am thinking of you tonight amid this Wedding thing - nothing more to add apart from come and visit our school.

www.priory.n-somerset.sch.uk

Neville

mary - 30 Apr 2011

Ive just read your blog and Im impressed with the gutsy response that you have taken with the news. As someone who has been on the receiving end of parents and friends with cancer, its hard to comprehend. Remember that there are five stages with news like this: denial, anger , bargaining , depression and acceptance. Whatever you think or feel is right. Nothing is wrong. Just accept each stage and get on with it. Cancer isn't the killer it was. There's always hope and I truly believe that with positive thought and loving family you will get through this. Each stage can take minutes to get through or years. Anger is the worst. its all normal.Let your rage unfold and not feel guilty about it.
My best wishes to you and your family and much love.
mary F

Fiona - 04 May 2011

Mike Baker's blog on cancer

Reading your blog has been very helpful. My husband is in a situation very similar to yours, and currently waiting for his EGFR status. We have been through the roller-coaster that you describe. All the best - keep writing,
Fiona

Laurie Margolis - 04 May 2011

You

Mike -- I only became aware of this today, May 4th. Absolutely extraordinary -- I think of you as a paragon of good health, running, cycling, playing hockey. And I know you never went near a cigarette. Just would like to wish you all best wishes for your treatment and, of course, for a halting of the disease and hopefully for recovery. We're all thinking of you -- best -- Laurie

Byron - 16 May 2011

rachat de credit meilleur taux

You seems to be an expert in this field, excellent articles and keep up the good work, my buddy recommended me your blog.

helen packman - 22 May 2011

Dear Mike
I've been reading your blog with such varying feelings but I thought you might like to know that one of my colleagues is going through chemo almost in tandem with you in terms of timing of cycles. She has found it helpful reading your blog - partly due to the hints and references you've included. The doctor doctor jokes went down particularly well. Barely a day goes by without us thinking about you, Chrissy and the girls.
With much love
Helen x

Bonnie Duncan - 24 Jun 2011

Dear Mike,
Thank you so much for sharing your personal thoughts and feelings -- giving us new insights into human resilience and a chance to cheer you on. I am incredibly heartened to know that the difficult treatment is having positive results AND that you get reprieves from the fatigue and nausea. Hooray for getting back on your bike! Also, I'm very interested to learn more about the benefit of homeopathic remedies to offset the negative effects of chemotherapy. I am thinking of you always, albeit from far away, and look forward to your posts.
Lots of love,
Bonnie

Ron Pearce - 27 Jun 2011

Cancer

Dear Mike,

Like you,I keep fit and young by cycling and hanging round old people as advised by Ronnie Scott. I was very sad to hear of your illness,
which makes my high blood pressure problem small beer indeed. I had a phone call from your Dad yesterday,who seemed quite positive about coping with his cancer and we have arranged to have one of our regular meetings to play jazz records and put the world to rights.
He is looking forward to presenting a jazz programme at our Southwold Jazz Appreciation Society in October and attending my presentation in September.( My Desert Island mp3's).
I have pleasant memories of taking a photo of you and Chrissy jiving like
teenagers on your 50th and recording the music.
Perhaps we could all meet sometime. My wife Janet was a teacher and head of year,so,has strong opinions about parents taking over the classes on the 30th.
Keep jiving.
Our very best wishes
Ron and Janet.

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