Week 23: It's working! Great CT scan result
19 Sep 2011
Picture: not one I made! Boardroom table from www.tomkealy.com/ See 'woodworking' below.
I've just got back from seeing my oncologist where I received the latest CT scan result. I'm feeling very relieved and very positive as he was very pleased and upbeat about what he called 'a very good result'.
The scan showed the tumours are 'all stable' and there has been no further growth. As it had been two months since my previous CT scan this was very firm evidence that the tumour's growth has been stopped in its tracks. Indeed, there has now been no growth since mid-April and the shrinkage achieved after the first two chemotherapy cycles has not been reversed.
It has also been 6 weeks since my last chemotherapy treatment so most of the side-effects have worn off. The only one that remains is the numbness in my fingers and feet, which should wear off eventually.
No more chemo
I do not have to go back to see the oncologist for another 6-8 weeks. There will only be further treatment - which could potentially involve going on a clinical trial for a new drug - if the tumours start to grow again. In the meantime, they will keep a watching brief on me, with a CT scan about every 12-14 weeks.
I think this shows that my 'month in the country' - and the combined effects of both conventional and complementary treatments - have worked. The challenge now is to make sure I don't slip back. I will continue with my herbal and homoeopathic treatments and try to maintain the new, more relaxed approach to life. I continue to be very influenced by Gill Edwards' book - Conscious Medicine - with its emphasis on positive thinking. I know it sounds very hippy and alternative, but it feels like it's working for me.
A lot has happened since my last blog post. Last week I spoke at a Mesothelioma and Lung Cancer conference organised by Papworth Hospital. There were some very distinguished speakers, including national leaders in the field. Of course, I was there not as any sort of expert but to give a patient's perspective. I found it very encouraging that this conference for medical professionals wanted to hear from patients.
I will probably post separately on some of the fascinating findings from the conference but I do want, briefly, to pick out one vital theme: the reasons why the UK has far worse cancer mortality rates than many other countries.
Dr Mick Peake, who is the National Clinical Lead for Lung Cancer at NHS Improvement, produced data showing that the mortality rates for lung, breast, colon and ovarian cancers continue to lag behind other western countries. If we matched the European average we would save 5,000 lives a year in England by 2014/15. If we could match the best rates in Europe, we would save 10,000 lives a year.
One of the biggest problems in the UK is late diagnosis: we don't go to the doctor soon enough when symptoms start to show and - in many cases - patients are not referred quickly enough to specialists.
Dr Peake spoke about the National Awareness and Early Diagnosis Initiative (NAEDI), which is designed to overcome this problem. The simple fact is that too many cancer patients are not identified until they arrive at A&E, by which time - for many - it is really too late.
NAEDI aims at getting to public to overcome the cultural barriers to going to the doctor when the first symptoms begin to show. It also aims to get GPs to lower their threshold for sending patients for an X-ray.
The conference heard that in some countries patients can self-refer for X-rays and can go directly to cancer specialists without having to be referred by a GP.
My own message to the conference focused on: the importance of medical practitioners being careful with their choice of words when delivering cancer diagnoses, the value of an integrated approach and complementary therapies, and the need to treat the person not just the disease. That's why I chose 'The Human Factor' for the title for my session.
Back to work
Meanwhile, this past week has a return to work after my extended summer break. It's been good to get back into the flow (although I really hadn't missed travelling on the London Underground) and I seemed to have got through the week without any major dips in energy.
It was particularly good to return to writing my Education Guardian column and I had a very enjoyable day judging the O2 Learn teachers' video competition. More on this in my education blog: www.mikebakereducation.co.uk/blog/408/vote-now-for-best-teachers-videos There were some great entries and, if you have a moment, do view them and cast your own vote at: www.o2learn.co.uk/index.php
Finally, as so many people have been asking me about it, I can't end without mentioning my first woodworking class. It did not disappoint. It was a full-day in Tom Kealey's lovely furniture-making workshop deep in the Blackdown Hills. We spent the first few hours learning how to set up our jack planes, with particular emphasis on sharpening the blade. If that sounds like slow progress, it really wasn't. As I learned, getting your plane to shave cleanly and accurately is about as fundamental as it gets in woodworking. Attention to detail is everything.
Soon I was able to produce shavings as thin and soft as silk! Then we were ready to start on our first project: a side-table that incorporated many of the basic furniture-making joints. Much time was spent examining the grain of the wood and deciding where to place the pieces of timber in the final piece to get the best effect from the natural texture. All in all, a thoroughly absorbing day.
I'll not be taking commissions any day soon, but I have already booked up for several more sessions right through to Christmas.
Sorry for the length of this post, I'll keep them shorter in future...but there was a lot to tell.