In my work I get to meet some wonderful people and Jeremy Marshall is one of those. A man who’s life was also brought crashing down with a cancer diagnosis. I was delighted that Jeremy accepted my invitation to share his experiences on the site. His career is one that most of us can only dream about, but of course when it comes to cancer there is no discrimination.
“I have had a very happy and blessed life. I was never in hospital for a day, married for nearly 30 years and have three wonderful children plus a really interesting career. Then about 4 years ago I found a small lump on my ribs. At my wife’s urging I went to the GP who said “it’s probably just a fatty lump but we will check it out.” For the next few months I went from specialist to specialist, each one of whom was puzzled. Finally, the last specialist told me “we have referred you to the Royal Marsden.” Well, the Marsden only does one thing so it was obvious it was cancer.
Even then though the prognosis was not too bad. It was stage 1 and very easy to access for surgery. It was a type of lipo sarcoma, very rare but should be treatable.Good probability of complete remission. So I had two operations and a course of radiotherapy, everything seemed fine and I got an all clear after about 6 months. Then, in May 2015, I was at a friends house, having dinner and I went to adjust the collar on my shirt and felt a really large lump on my collarbone. I immediately knew what it was and had to leave the dinner straightaway, I was so devastated and shocked. The next week the Marsden confirmed the worse possible prognosis. In 2 minutes my life was changed for ever, irretrievably. “You have many tumours, they are incurable, you have 18 months”. I could have chemotherapy to try and slow it down but it was not possible to cure me.
That was the low point. I have had two rounds of chemotherapy which while unpleasant have not been as bad as I feared. After the second round I was in hospital for a while as my immune system was completely disabled. I had blood transfusions and was kept in isolation but fairly quickly began to recover strength. Just to add to the fun, my wife and I decided after the first bout of chemo to have “the holiday of a lifetime”. Which would have been great except I suffered a detached retina on the flight out. But the time we got back to the UK the sight was virtually irrecoverable. Never mind I thought lots of people have only one eye. Then a few months later the other retina detached. For a while I was virtually blind. After numerous ops on both eyes I now have ok sight in the right eye. Both the eye specialist and the oncologist agree that this is completely unconnected to the cancer: it’s along the lines of “it never rains but it pours.” So if you read about hospitals being overwhelmed, I am personally responsible! From never being in hospital it seems like I am never out!
Add now.. also, the Marsden have now changed the diagnosis as it was not, what they assumed, a metastatic growth from the original but a completely unrelated type of cancer, small cell lung cancer (though thank God it’s in most places but not the lungs). I await the result of the latest scan next week
What lessons would I draw from the last nearly 5 years?
Get the best expert you can find for your type of cancer. Cancer is a catch all label for a huge variety of different disease types, each of which has its own characteristics. It’s vital especially if like me you have had (two) rare types that you try and locate an expert in the field. I am fortunate to live near London and of course it’s more difficult if you live far away but specialist teaching hospitals have a level of care and expertise that is second to none. I totally trust my oncologist who is an expert in the field and this is vital.
Get fit. I am 53 and was not unfit before so this is relatively easy for me but my oncologist said this was the only thing that I should do.The reason that this is important is that the treatment especially chemo is brutal. The hospital can give you endless rounds, the question is can you tolerate it? So to my children’s amusement I go every week to the gym and work out. I don’t go crazy, just a few km of running and some gentle aerobics but I feel great and you can really heal quicker between chemo rounds
Eat healthily. I have been in touch with a friendly nutritionist who espouses but in a sensible way the alkaline diet. I know some extreme proponents of this have been discredited recently but in moderation it’s similar to the get fit advice – it can’t do any harm and it might help. So I take liquid alkali minerals (with my oncologists approval), lots of vitamins and try and avoid gluten, dairy and especially sugar. I am not obsessive about this but I feel healthy. I don’t think this can cure you but it might slow down the growth of the cancer and it certainly can’t do any harm
Be sensitive to the impact of cancer on your loved ones. As I learned from my own children, everybody reacts in a different way and has their own as they say in the trade “coping strategies.” Communication is a big challenge. There is no right answer. Some people blog about it others are very private. It’s up to you and your most loved ones to figure out what’s best for you. Things like FB closed groups can be really useful.
Finally, the single most important thing for me which has helped me more than anything is my Christian faith. I appreciate some of you reading this will have no faith, or other faiths. What I can say is this: knowing that I have a loving Heavenly Father who cares for me and promises “I will never leave you or forsake you” makes all the difference in the world. I also discovered that God has a sense of humour. Doing radiotherapy is boring – you have to go every day and lie still while the machine does its thing. If you move or twitch you get ticked off. So I decided to memorise Psalm 34 to give me something to do. As I was running through it in my mind I started laughing ( and duly got ticked off by the radiotherapist!) for verse 5 is “Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame”
I caught up with Jeremy again this week. Despite ongoing treatment he has written a book and is continuing to help people through his incredible expertise.