Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Rumble in the concrete jungle

Dr Wong has commended my resilience, and many people have applauded my positive attitude. I appreciate the compliments, but it doesn't tell the whole story. Yes, overall and on balance I have been very optimistic, and I'm doing extraordinarily well. However, there have been real lows and I want them on the record too. I've been so down for the last couple of weeks that I couldn't muster the strength to get out of bed, call my family, or even listen to music.

"Is that all you got, George ... is that all you got?"
Ali taunts Foreman, 'rumble in the jungle' 1974
Back to my earlier boxing metaphor. It feels like cancer has to be beaten out of me by chemotherapy. It's nothing like a fight. I just have to stand up and take a brutal pounding from PEB. I get knocked down, groggily get back on my feet and ask for more, in the hope that - eventually - cancer will be beaten from my blood. The number of rounds is planned, but not fixed. My original plan of 15 got extended to 21. Who knows? Maybe the plan will extend again. Anyway, I've survived 13 rounds so far.

After each round I get a short time to rest in my corner and regain my strength. I replace lost fluids and nutrients. I nod sweatily at the instructions of coach Mo, and get re-motivated by the cheers of my fans. And I get patched up by my wonderful medics. Razor-slitting a boxer's purple puffed eye fixes one problem but creates another - making him vulnerable to a match-finishing cut. Chemo patch-ups have serious side-effects too.

Some days I'm up ...
There are no guarantees of success with chemo. With all the amazing advances in oncology, I'm gobsmacked by the extent to which luck influences a patient's chances of survival. Moniek bought me Lance Armstrong's book; he also wrote "I can't help feeling that my survival was more a matter of blind luck". The fact that all the pain and suffering is merely a gamble that might not pay off can be very depressing.

In some rounds I've been too weak to raise my gloves to defend myself. I've been battered senseless, and my legs have buckled. I've hit the canvas, gum shield out, blinking slowly, honestly hoping that someone would throw in the towel. I've daydreamed about giving up, and just biding my time with a cold beer and mountain views until the grim reaper arrives. A natural fade-out has often seemed a nobler alternative to this relentless pharmaceutical pummelling. If I'm resilient and having such thoughts, my heart goes out to patients who are less fortunate.

... and some days I'm really down
When I snap out of it and revive my powerful will to live, I hardly recognise myself in the mirror. It's not just physical; I've become a dependent, retarded, anxious, introverted insomniac. I convince myself that it's all chemically induced and temporary. But I've taken such a hiding that I wonder how much of the real me I'll be able to salvage, and what sort of life is achievable if I survive. Apparently many patients ask themselves similar questions.

Sometimes the treatment between rounds is harder - especially on the mind - than the actual chemotherapy. Last night I had a splitting headache, an agonising right ear drum, pain down the right side of my neck and across my swollen shoulder, and a worrying shortness of breath. Dr Wong's on a well-earned holiday, so I met her stand-in Dr Hsieh. He suspected thrombosis in a vein near my catheter.

Ghandi: "the man with 4 aces doesn't ask for
another hand" ... my hand was so bad, I wanted
to throw it down and head off to the bar.
Ultrasound scans showed a massive 11cm long blood clot in my jugular, extending from my jaw to my collar bone. Oh shit.

My O Level in Biology led me to predict imminent brain damage and/or a heart attack. I went quiet and Moniek shed a few tears. The doctor assured us it's treatable and not life-threatening. I was given a clot-dissolving injection, and prescribed 2 additional jabs per day for the next 6 weeks. Oh joy.

Don't despair. My gumshield is back in, water has been poured on my bald head, and I'm determined to go the distance whatever it takes. The Magill shuffle is a little slower than the Ali shuffle, but at least I'm mobile. The plan is to treat the clot again tomorrow, and go ahead with Round 14 (B-chemo) on Thursday. Let's hope there are no more nasty surprises before then.

We're long overdue for a great song. Here's a classic about not giving up (from an equally bald guy): ... the lyrics are just below the video.


  1. I think Muhammed Ali says it perfectly - "Don't quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion."

  2. "there are no pleasures in any fight but some of my fights have been a pleasure to win" - another Ali quote. Best wishes Rick.

  3. After the recent sad demise of a heavyweight great, Smokin' Joe, a point well made by Frazier was that great fighters are defined by those they beat. Ali knew this & it made him the legend he still is. You have the beating of Chorio, thus propelling you into the category of a champion.

    If you don't like what you see in the mirror, don't look for a while, take a break & come back when the strength returns and your fighting spirit is back up to 11 on the dial. Knowing you, this will only take a wee while.

    PS I'm highly impressed that you can remember anything from O Level Biology. I can still vividly remember the 'smiling face' peering up at me from the page showing the full twig & berries set! ...& those maggots never stood a chance.

  4. So glad you labelled the picture showing Ghandi, for a moment I thought "flipping eck this chemo lark is ageing him rapidly!"

    You have to pick your fights in life, and this one is worth fighting. Why? Well firstly because Rick, you CAN win it.
    Secondly because you have an angel who lives on earth as your girlfriend
    Thirdly because you have support, healing wishes and prayers coming at you from all round the globe
    And fourthly because Elaine is offering you free Guinness at her wedding

  5. You might be a physical wreck but from reading your blog it is obvious that you haven't lost your mental faculties.This chemo seems to be a delicate balance between killing chorio and killing Rick.So far the specialists have kept on the right side of that fuzzy line.For sure Dr Wong and Dr Jimmy won't throw in the towel from your corner!
    Seconds out....ding ding.

  6. Maybe it's me but I am convinced that you have done an edit since I posted a comment. Gum shield back in, that's my boy!

    While you are relaxing with the chemo plan another bike ride up to Mustang.

  7. "The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It is a very mean and nasty place It will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me or nobody is going to hit as hard as life. But it ain't about how hard you hit, it is about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much can you take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done! "
    Rocky Balboa
    Who'd have thought Sylvester could come up with that one....

  8. Hugh, I too noted the re-edit, inc. the photos. Pleased to hear that Rick is up at at it again.

    Rick, I've still got a couple of gum shields from my rugby days if you need to borrow one (recommend putting them through a rinse cycle first though to get the claret off).

    Hope round 14 is fast & furious with Chorio on the ropes & a unanimous points score for the 'Rickmansworth Rumbler'. There for the taking in the next round.

  9. Can't think of any appropriate quotes (only inappropriate ones as usual), but glad to hear you're handling it so well. After all, it's not the first time you've been beaten around the ring (snigger).
    Anyway, I reckon we should plan another adventure for when you feel better. After all, this is the man who told my mother, on the eve of our 3 week adventure to America, that our entire plan consisted of 'Getting off the plane, we go for a beer, and then take it from there.' The ideal travelling companion (my mother didn't sleep for 3 weeks).

  10. Hey Rick

    boxing is the best metaphor for life, we all take a beating (physically and mentally)in our lives, what matters most is how we deal with it. It appears to me that you are facing it head on and dealing with it the best way you can. No one can ask or expect more from you. Like Ali you have a fighters chance, no one gave him a chance against Foreman but he took the punches and came back strongest at the end. He beat Foreman and you can beat this, you have a fighter's heart and that's what counts. Good luck and best wishes.

  11. Hey you! Give yourself a break of course you will have good days and bad days...everyone does! But what really matters is that you do keep picking yourself up and dusting yourself down!
    "Attitude is a little something that makes a BIG difference" Winston Churchill
    Keep at it, you will be King of the Mountain again just like Lance xxxx

  12. Rick,
    Nice to know you are handling it well-TRUE GRIT!!

    We are all here praying for your speedy recovery!!Let me know if I can be of any help??