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I’m more than my Cancer!

The title of this series captures my attitude towards my cancer. It’s only in the forefront of my mind when I’m having treatment for it. The rest of the time I’m making the most of whatever’s left of my life – cancer having made me aware that it might be limited.

By Peter Heywood.

I was born in December 1945, went to school in the East End of London, did a degree in civil engineering at Nottingham University and worked as a civil engineer in the UK, Zambia and Algeria for 10 years. Then I quit and became a journalist, working in London and Paris, eventually covering the Internet technology that went on to revolutionise every aspect of modern-day life. Along the way I got married, twice, and my wife and I now have 6 children, 13 grandchildren and 9 great grandchildren (so far).

I now believe that I had prostate cancer as long ago as the year 2000, the same year that I and a colleague set up an Internet publishing company in New York. Blood was found in my urine when I had a medical in 2001. It was put down to a restriction in my urethra and I was advised against having a PSA (prostate specific antigen) test on the basis of it being unreliable. Eleven years passed before I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2012 after blood appeared in my semen and I had a PSA test. By then, a lot had happened in my life. Our Internet publishing company in the U.S. had been a huge success. We’d sold it in 2005 and I’d retired in 2007, moving to a house with a large garden overlooking the sea in Looe, Cornwall. I’d joined scuba diving, running and orienteering clubs and started going to art evening classes. I was also mentoring troubled teenagers as a volunteer with Cornwall Council and helping a local charity, Ellie’s Haven, aiming to offer holidays to families with disabled children.

 

I’d also been diagnosed with bowel cancer and had had an operation to remove part of my colon/rectum in 2011. Luckily it was caught early – I’d rang alarm bells after experiencing sloppy poo for several weeks – so the cancer hadn’t penetrated the wall of my intestines and hadn’t spread.  My diagnosis of prostate cancer, a few months after this, coincided with other milestones in 2012. I was picked to run in the Olympic Torch Relay – a fantastic experience – in recognition of the work I’d done at Ellie’s Haven and Cornwall Council’s mentoring scheme. I’d also enrolled at Plymouth College of Art (as it was called then), to do a part time BA (Hons) in Contemporary Craft.

Dealing with my prostate cancer proved tricky because the gland was surrounded by scar tissue from my bowel cancer operation and was close to the so-called anastomosis, where the chopped off ends of my gut had been sewn back together. As a result surgery was ruled out, as was external beam radiotherapy. I ended up having high-dose-rate brachytherapy at Mount Vernon hospital in 2013.I think my fitness helped me recover fairly quickly from my bowel cancer operation and the above procedure. I was doing a lot of sport in my 60s and 70s – scuba diving, orienteering and lots of road running. In 2016, when I was 70, I ran the London Marathon in 3 hours 52 minutes and was ranked 18th fastest marathon runner in my age group in the whole of the UK.

 

I was also doing a lot of art. I won a couple of competitions, one to design the gates of the Devonport Column, a Grade 1 monument in Plymouth, and another to decorate one of several giant sunfish in a tourist trail, also in Plymouth. Please check out my website, http://www.peter-heywood.com, to see my creations, much of it done on my degree course.

My oncology consultant once said that my prostate cancer was “fairly indolent”. My PSA started creeping up after my high-dose-rate brachytherapy and eventually hit 5 seven years later, in 2020, triggering bone, MRI and PET scans. I waited ages for the result of the scans assuming no news was good news. When I eventually talked to my consultant he apologised profusely and said this wasn’t the case – the PET scan indicated cancer in a bone, my sacrum. Worrying because cancer-in-bones used to signal a life expectancy of only 12-18 months. A further MRI scan was arranged in double quick time that concluded the PET scan result was “spurious”. Phew!

In fact the cancer was in two lymph nodes near my prostate and these were treated with external beam radiation, conducted throughout the month of November 2021. Every day I sat in the oncology waiting room recording my experiences in a sketchbook which I also published on Facebook and my website – see https://www.peter-heywood.co.uk/work_details.php?id=123&s=0

I’d been put on hormone therapy prior to radiotherapy. Unfortunately my cancer became resistant to it and started growing again, this time back in my prostate gland. I ended up electing to pay for this to be treated privately with cryotherapy in Southampton’s Spire Hospital last September. My PSA is currently 0.02 but I won’t know for sure whether the cryotherapy has worked until I have an MRI scan later this year.

Meanwhile I’m still gardening, scuba diving, running, swimming and making art. I’ve also joined the management team of Looe Shedders, part of the “Men’s Shed” global movement aimed at creating a space where people can “connect, converse and create”. The goal is to help retired people (men and women) find new friends and a new purpose in life in an effort to address loneliness and isolation.

As you can probably tell, I’ve found plenty of purposes in my retirement and maybe that’s helped me keep my cancer (or worrying about it) at bay?

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