Jim Dornan was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia in March 2005.
The words Cancer & Leukaemia weren't new to me when I heard them directed to me personally for the first time some nine years ago, but I do admit that when they come right to your front door you soon realise you can't run out the back one.
In March 2005 I was a 57 years old pretty successful consultant in the Royal Maternity. My day to day work as an Obstetrician brought me daily highs and lows associated with the total pleasure and joy associated with a successful outcome, and the often total sense of loss associated with a tragic outcome to birth. But rarely did I have to actually deal with cancer professionally. When I was 34 my wonderful Dad died of cancer at the age of 62. And when I was 50, my similarly aged fantastic wife died the same way.
Just before my own diagnosis was made I was simply completely exhausted. Using the good ol', never failing, retro spectroscope, I had taken on a lot while giving up nothing. Pressure and stress. How often do you hear those words? I made the diagnosis of anaemia myself and immediately knew I had one of the Leukaemias (actually Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia CLL). After all I ate well, and was not losing red cells...Simple as that.
After a few early hiccups the diagnosis was confirmed. And again, to cut a longish story short, I got very appropriate treatment and formed a "Bromance" with my oncologist!....As you do!!
Now nine years on I am still in "remission". I prefer to think of it as "cured". If it returns, we will deal with that when it comes, as a second issue. Wish the oncologists would realise that we often think like that.
And so here are a few of my distilled thoughts.
1...Cancer is just another disease...half of us are going to get it and live with it as a chronic disorder, rather than die with it.
2... Those caring for you are doing their best....But as in all of medicine, they are humans caring for humans, so mistakes occur. Get your head round that.
3... Take as much responsibility for your own, or your family member's, life and treatment as you can. Try and take as much control as possible of your treatment regime being offered. Ask questions. Society too often nowadays seems to expect itself to be nannied from cradle to grave, rather than observed and advised.
4... We live in exciting times when publicly and privately sponsored research is really, really addressing very exciting treatments for so many cancers. Keep looking for the best regime for yourself. And never again ever walk past a collecting box with change still in your pocket!!
5... I remember reading that 50% of the NHS cancer budget is spent in the final three months of an affected life. Personally, and I stress that, if there is to be a fixed budget, I would prefer to see most of it spent to maximise the precious good days for the living, rather than over prolonging the eventual inevitable end. Hope does spring eternal, but there must come a time for us all to be allowed to let go, with dignity.
I would appeal to those who are privileged to care for us who are challenged with cancer to chose their words with particular care. I'll finish with an anecdote.
During one of my early treatment cycles I asked one of the young buck oncologists "Do you think I'll see 80?". In truth I expected him to say "Oh now, none of us know how long we have, and there are new developments every day. Why, I remember a man..........". Instead of which he just looked at me, and then looked at the floor and said nought. As his head went down, my heart went down. And, quite honestly stayed there until I was in Oman examining post graduates doctors some months later.
I met a fantastic Iraqui haematological oncologist who had been driven out of Birmingham by racist neighbours. He was, and is, a gentleman. I was sitting having a coffee with him and the subject of my CLL came up....I was hugely buoyed by his positivity. So much so that I felt strong enough to ask him the same question. His answer? "I don't know whether you'll make eighty or not, but I doubt if it'll be CLL that'll kill you". What a great answer.
Of course I had, and indeed have, no right to live to eighty, but I do have the right to HOPE to live to eighty.