Search

Seeing the World

Life has served up a fantastic opportunity to travel

It’s Time To Travel

Hi there.  I’m Dave.

I hit 50 years old in January 2018 and intend to travel while I’m able to do so.  This blog documents some of the thinking, planning and doing that goes into things, as well as sharing other events that may happen in my life.  At present, my treatment restricts me to the uk.

In November 2016, despite never having smoked, I was diagnosed with incurable lung cancer – stage four, it’s spread to the bone.  The initial treatment was a pill a day and gives a prognosis that would get me through to the middle of 2019, but it became resistant well before the end of 2017.  My chances of being among the 14% of us get to five years are probably well below that 14%.

So far I’ve visited Malta, Slovakia, Iceland, Slovenia, Montenegro and Northern Ireland.  Then New England, Chile and the USA South West.  Currently on a medical flight ban!

THE LATEST CHARITY BIT:

Roy Castle Lung Foundation in Liverpool.  People who go the extra mile to answer the questions the oncologist doesn’t know.  Well worth a donation.

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/david-stringer2

2016 – An Extraordinary Year

It all happened.

I became the healthiest I’ve been as an adult. A health kick I’d started a year before saw my weight loss total 100lbs. I was walking ten miles a day in the spring months. I felt really good.

My divorce came through. While there’s a sadness about that, I felt happy within myself.

My employer of thirty years put me at risk of redundancy. I managed to cling onto a role by dropping a level to cover a maternity leave. But I knew I’d have a battle to remain employed after May 2017.

I travelled solo to Madrid which became my favourite city. I’m not really a fan of metropolis, natural wonders is more my thing, but the transport, the historic buildings and the two football stadia made me a fan. It was also where I learned the benefit of starting a city break with a free walking tour. That €10 tip was well worth it and helped me fill the time for the following days.

My son Chris joined me on a trip to Yellowstone. What a wonderful place that is. We took a loop route out of Denver through Colorado Springs, the wonderful Pagosa Springs (a place to enjoy natural hot springs), Chris slept through the magnificent Ouray and Silverton but we both got a kick out of white water rafting the Colorado River at Glenwood Springs before heading to Grand Teton, Yellowstone in all its splendour and a drive over the extraordinary Beartooth Pass.

My good health at the start of the year did take a couple of knock backs. I injured my shoulder in January after playing badminton rather enthusiastically after a thirty year break. The middle of my back suffered excruciating pain in April (the doctor prescribed Cocodamol) and my lower back gave me real grief, including sciatic leg pain, which nearly cut the Yellowstone drive short.

i utilised my employer’s BUPA and was referred for physio. While I enjoyed the Lycra clad ladies giving me some attention it didn’t work and three months later I was referred to a neurosurgeon.  It was now September.

This guy looked at my scan and said he thought I had myeloma – a form of blood cancer. This was a shock, more so the bit when I checked online and saw an average five year life expectancy. Whatever it was had eaten away at three of my verterbra, T7, L4 and L5. He recommended verterbroplasty on the L4. Basically pumping in cement to stabilise my back and hopefully reduce pain.

It did reduce pain, although I found walking over the next six weeks uncomfortable and slow. A half hour walk was now taking forty minutes. My multiple pains had, however, reduced to a single trapped nerve in my buttock. Painful, but so much better than things had been. At the same time I developed Bell’s palsy, one side of my face dropped and my eye refused to shut, even at night.  That’s a curse that has been with me over a year.

The day after my operation came another shock. A CT scan had shown up something small in my lungs. Google told me that if I had lung cancer and it had spread to the bone I had six months to live. The private oncologist I saw a week later didn’t put a time on it, but he confirmed the myeloma thought was wrong. I did have lung cancer and he referred me back to the NHS. My employer’s BUPA doesn’t cover secondary cancer. He didn’t tell me that as well as my spine my pelvis, ribs, sternum and lymph nodes were under attack too.

While the NHS might not have wifi on the wards like the private hospital did, they do seem to have a relatively efficient cancer programme. A biopsy of my lymph node revealed a genetic mutation in my cancer and my new oncologist prescribed afatinib. The joyous side effects of diarrhoea, rash and acne remained a few weeks later, albeit less severe, seemed a small price to pay for an extra couple of years life.

Indeed, six days into this treatment, I became pain free. That last pinched nerve had been driving me mad but it just disappeared. I’d been taking a mix of four pain relief drugs which were suddenly not needed. My forty minute walk became half an hour again. I was still less stable than I had been, but felt quite excited. Maybe coincidence, maybe the afatinib had zapped something unpleasant. Sooner or later the drug will stop working but, at that point in time, I like it.

With a sick note issued to the end of January I saw the likelihood of finding a new role with my employer before redundancy kicked in at the end of May diminish. The desire to put myself through the interview process wasn’t there. And then it struck me. I could travel once I’m not working. Indeed, I should start the travel pretty soon because if I’ve only got a couple of years and some of that time will see me deteriorate then the sooner the better.

I decided to embrace the idea of redundancy, which would include a substantial pay-off. The idea of travelling on a sick note didn’t sit comfortably with me. So I emailed my union leader to enquire about the likelihood of garden leave for my three month notice period March to May. He made enquiries and said I’d hear from my line manager after Christmas.

Suddenly I’ve gone from wanting to get back to work to wanting to get on a plane to wherever. 2017 is now a year of opportunity. Perhaps my only opportunity to see more of the planet.

 

Featured post

My Other Curse

Around the same time as my lung cancer diagnosis came another medical condition. Bell’s palsy.  It’s meant to go away on its own, but well over a year later it hasn’t.

Half my face is expressionless, frozen.  My right eye doesn’t close and keeping liquids from slipping out of my mouth is an art I’ve developed to avoid looking like a dribbling fool.

The condition has bothered me less in the last few months.  It’s still there, in all its distorted glory, but I’ve been able to ignore it except when I tape my right eye up at night.  It needs covering to reduce the risk of becoming ulcerated.

That said, in the last two weeks it’s started to hurt again.  There’s no obvious explanation for this, but it’s needed more lacrilube ointment, sunglasses when driving in daylight and an increase in the amount of daylight time I spend with curtains closed and lights off.

Yesterday’s drive along the North Wales coast had the sun to the south, hitting my eye through the passenger window.  While tolerable for a bit I eventually succumbed to the need to stop and rest it.  And in doing so broke my golden rule of never buying drinks at the roadside.  £3.85 for a Starbucks hot chocolate wasn’t exactly a bargain, but in my new world of “you’re dying so treat yourself occasionally” it seemed preferable to the 16p bottle of supermarket own brand water in my car boot.

I giggled to myself at the disabled parking options.  You have to cross the road after parking up to get your drink.  While my hobble can achieve this, it struck me as rather dangerous expecting the slower members of society to park up and then dodge other moving cars before entering the building.  Doubtless regulations of disabled parking have been met, but common sense and consideration hasn’t.

Once inside I was served quickly.  I pondered the idea of doing this daily.  £80 a month.  £1,000 a year.  You could knock years off the term of your mortgage by giving up Starbucks and reducing your debt.

But I don’t have a mortgage.  The insurer paid that off when I was diagnosed.  So I deserve to treat myself.  And despite only being an hour into my journey it was a drink that went down well.  The lighting was low, my eye had time to recover a little.  And I was able to sit away from the other two customers and not scare them with my dodgy face and always open eye.

Then back to the car.  More ointment and a return to England.

Click here to donate to Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation today

I’ve Run Out of Milk. Home Time!

It was always an outline plan to stay until Thursday.  They do have supermarkets close by too.  The choice of stay or go is very much mine.

But I think I’ll have one more hot tub session and then head home.  There’s a home game on Saturday and daytime travel will probably be safer, so as lunch arrives I’ll grill the four remaining bacon rashers, enjoy a final cup of tea with the final splash of milk and then tidy up before leaving.

Ive enjoyed this being a double break.  A few days with Rachel and a few days solo.  The hot tub is always welcome by my bones.  But a return to a marginally more social home life and seeing Chris for the first time in two weeks awaits.

Please donate to Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation

Soreness Two Weeks After Radiotherapy

The area of my pelvis zapped by radiotherapy hurts.  Granted, a couple of paracetamol manages the pain fine.  But there’s something going on down there that inevitably worries me.

It doesn’t feel like the cancer did.  But the slight improvement in mobility after treatment has reversed itself and there is a soreness that I’d rather not endure.

Using the unqualified art of pure guesswork, it could just be simple bruising from the treatment.  But why has it taken two weeks to manifest itself?  It could be tumour decay.  The nasty cells rotting away inside me.  Or, potentially, it could be a new tumour growing.  It doesn’t have the same biting pain some of my previous tumours have.  But maybe that’s because it’s small and new.

The whole situation is a reminder of the inevitable outcome this disease will have.  And while I can face into that, I’d rather not have to just yet.  I really need to remember I don’t really have a clue what’s happening inside me.

Please donate with Gift Aid to ROY CANCER LUNG CANCER FOUNDATION

We’ve Raised £2,700 in a Week

110 donations.  Between £2 and £200.  Most of them with the added top up of Gift Aid from HMRC.

It’s a special effort from everybody who’s donated.  Humbling to say the least.  And I’ve checked a few things with Just Giving and will keep the collection open for as long as possible.

They should ensure Roy Castle receive the first £2,241 of contributions by the end of the week.  Further donations go every week unless the total is less than £100 – in which case it hits the recipient charity monthly.  The Gift Aid, currently over £460, will also arrive monthly.

In other words, your money will start being used by Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation very quickly.  I’m more than grateful.

If you wish to donate, or share with friends and colleagues, the link to the Roy Castle fund raising page is here.  Small or large, all amounts of £2 or more are welcome.

The Hot Tub Hobble

I have two high risk moments in life when I retreat to the solitude of Chez Sister Anglesey hideaway.

Getting in to the hot tub and out of the hot tub.

While each step down is probably only an 18 inch drop, there is a need to be careful. I seem to have found a convoluted way to lower myself in one leg at a time.  Stronger left leg down, a little life threatening hop to the left, second leg down and in.

It’s been complicated this week by a slight left elbow strain.  So leaning gently as I would normally is not currently possible.  I’ve no idea what’s caused it, but I’ve had to find another way of supporting myself as I slowly lower myself into the welcoming waters.

Exiting usually happens an hour or so later.  I’ve found a way of leaning on a nearby chair, ensuring it doesn’t move, to keep myself safe as I leave the hot tub.

Pre-illness and I’m fairly sure I’d have hopped in and out with ease, paying jo attention to aches, strains and basic safety.

Regardless, there is little better in life than the effect of the warm water and soothing jets on my body.  It might not be life extending, but it is really appreciated!

Please give generously to my ROY CASTLE LUNG CANCER FOUNDATION effort

I Made the Right Decisions

As Facebook reminds me of being in Slovakia a year ago, I lift myself cautiously out of bed.  It’s a tough manoeuvre that hurts slightly as I sit myself up, legs on the carpet.

My core body strength is limited.  Small pains shoot through my bones as I haul myself up.  Another day commences.

I wasn’t like this a year ago.  I walked effortlessly around Bratislava and Vienna.  But I’d already taken two huge decisions.  I’d given my notice at work and I’d decided to travel for as long as I could.

Those decisions were huge for me.  And my gradual decline over the year confirms I got them right.  I still have hope of getting overseas again, but that’s a slim one.  For now I can let Facebook remind me of my travels and recommend that anybody faced with a similar diagnosis should do everything they can to fulfil their dreams before the passage of time steals the idea from them.

Looking up at the night sky from the hot tub yesterday triggered more memories of my travels.  The Atacama desert in Chile’s north where I’d witnessed the planet’s clearest night sky with Chris.  A night on a ranch in Utah where I got a real kick from Rachel’s excitement at seeing the Milky Way in all its glory.

There’s no doubt in my head that doing what I’ve done, going where I’ve gone and spending the money to do it has been the right course of action.  Although I still want to get a bit more out of life I’m happy I utilised February to September 2017 as I did.

I got it right.

Please give to ROY CASTLE LUNG CANCER FOUNDATION

A Beautiful Day – Then the Hospital Called

The sun has shone brightly today.  Not quite to the point of making the dash from hot tub to front door warm.  But it’s been bright and sitting outside submerged in hot water has been great.

During my afternoon intermission the hospital called.  A cancer nurse checking how I was.  We discussed exciting things like nose bleeds, constipation and holding in a sick feeling only for bright yellow chemo drugs to exit my body via the nostrils rather than the mouth.  A good look in front of my landlord.

She said my Friday blood test has come back okay.  A slight reduction in immune system.  I looked down at my ingrowing toenail and cursed the wound that keeps bleeding.  I need something more exciting than “ingrowing toenail” as cause of death when the time comes.  A reminder to use my anti-bacterial spray.

The nurse tells me she’ll arrange for more laxido sachets to help manage the constipation.  I do have a fair few left anyway.  But it’s the second time I’ve been promised a top up and that first offer of thirteen days ago is yet to materialise.

Still, I seem to feel ok.  That seems like a good thing.

Join over 100 people who have donated to Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation after reading …

The Mystery of the Missing Swim Shorts

My sister’s Anglesey retreat remains a favourite place of mine.  It’s usually available, it’s pretty much free and there’s a hot tub.

When I was here last month I decided to leave a small supply of my own things here.  A little presumptious, but I figured out that they’d be welcome and would reduce my bag carrying requirements next time I’m here.

I left a dressing gown, some painkillers, a couple of pairs of socks and undies and some swim shorts.  The possibility of just turning up with nothing more than some food to put in the fridge opened up.  I could decide on a Saturday night after football to head straight to Anglesey, no problems.

This time I did pack a bag.  Swim shorts included.  Two pairs works well as one can dry on a radiator and I can wear the other under a dressing gown.  My lifestyle here is bed, food, hot tub, repeat.  Leaving the site means going home.

Alas, while everything else is here as I recall leaving it, tucked away in the corner of a wardrobe, the swim shorts are nowhere to be seen.  The good news is that I have brought a second pair with me.  They’ll do, even if I have to reuse them damp on subsequent hot tub trips.

But what on earth has happened to the other swim shorts?  I suppose I’ll find them at home, but I have strong memories of leaving them here.  And if I hadn’t brought a second pair with me, would I have risked naked hot tubbing?  There are no neighbours overlooking.  The farmers are rarely in the adjoining field.  The sheep aren’t close.  Outdoor nudity for medicinal hot tub use only may have become necessary.  Albeit the walk from door to hot tub is short.  I suspect there’s a decency clause in the lease though.

Fortunately it’s not a reality.  I do have some shorts with me.  But it raises the question of do I leave these behind when I head home on Thursday?  The idea of being able to spontaneously head here without packing a bag still appeals.  But shocking the neighbours with my body isn’t something I particularly want to do.

Please donate to the excellent ROY CASTLE LUNG CANCER FOUNDATION

Expecting my “Are you dead yet?” call soon … it’s due!

Over half my income comes from a permanant health insurance policy I took out when I bought my first house in 1992.  £6.93 a month to give me £550 a month to the age of 62 if I successfully claim.

Hindsight tells me it was a smart financial move.  The claim process was quick and the money started flowing every month fairly soon after my diagnosis and policy deferment period.  My mistake a quarter of a dentury ago was not to tick the box to index link premium and payout.

So far, as promised, they’ve rung me three times to check on my wellbeing.  A nice chap who’s courteous and professional.  The calls tend to last no more than two minutes.  The policy wording, printed on an early 1990s dot matrix, says there will be a two yearly review.  Three monthly doesn’t get mentioned.

My best assumption is that the operating manual for what is now Aviva says “make sure you ring the claimant regularly, because with lung cancer he’s going to be dead pretty soon and we don’t want to lose money if his estate is worthless”.  My assumption is that if I don’t take the calls they will eventually get in touch by letter saying “call us or we’ll assume you’ve croaked”.

It doesn’t particularly bother me.  I have given vague consideration to complaining.  Some might see it as harassment, especially given the policy wording.  But while it remains as it is, it’s tolerable and the money keeps flowing.  And when I do eventually kick the bucket I have supplied a phone number to stop payments of nothing this insurance and the modest Personal Independence Payments that top up my income.

If you enjoyed the read, feel free to donate big or small to ROY CASTLE LUNG CANCER FOUNDATION

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑