The answer is simple. Terminal lung cancer combined with Bell’s palsy!
At the time of writing it’s June 2017. The story starts on the 24th October 2016.
I’m sat in my private hospital room awaiting back surgery. My anaesthetist comments on my right eye not blinking. It had been a little irritated for a week or two but I’d not paid it much attention. After all, my back hurt like hell, I was being tested for myeloma (a “nicer” form of cancer than I was eventually diagnosed with) and a bit of dust in my eye didn’t seem that important.
Alas, the anaesthetist didn’t act on her observation and I thought nothing more of it. Even after the right side of my lip went wobbly as I tried to drink a cup of tea post-operation. I mentioned that to my neurosurgeon but there was no follow up.
A couple of weeks later, well into November and after my stage four terminal lung cancer had been diagnosed, I visited my step daughter and her wife Emma. Louise commented that the whole of the right side of my face seemed to have slipped. She was quite shocked. She’d first noticed it at her wedding on 8th October but didn’t think to comment. Well she was busy!
I made an appointment with my GP (an achievement in itself!) who suggested that while I probably had Bell’s palsy it could be that my lung cancer, which had already run amok through half the bones in my body, could potentially have spread to the brain. She arranged for me to have a same day scan at the local hospital. She also told me I couldn’t drive, but these words didn’t sink in. And I drove to the scan appointment.
This is perhaps the only time I can get critical of the treatment I’ve received from the NHS. I spent an afternoon sat in a ward with three desperately ill and sedated elderly people waiting for my turn to have my ears blasted by the sounds of the MRI. It didn’t happen. A doctor came along to tell me that I’d have to come back the next day (even though my GP had rung through for me to be seen the same day). His final words of “it won’t make any difference to your treatment” were probably just ill-thought but felt rather callous.
The scan did eventually take place and I got the results seconds before being sedated for my lung biopsy a few days later. Inconclusive – but here’s a prescription for some steroids in the assumption it is Bell’s palsy. Two further scans were needed before I got the all clear for brain cancer. Three weeks of being unable to drive. Three weeks of real disillusionment – but at least friends, family and even my ex-wife came through for me.
My latest condition was confirmed as Bell’s palsy. Not only am I riddled with terminal cancer I have a face that, how shall I put it, seems a tad less pleasing than it was. Seven months on I still can’t muster a smile. A diagonal line above the chin is the best I can do. My nostril has changed shape, leading to an inability to sneeze as it feels like if I did the eye would come flying out of the socket. And the eye itself remains irritated because the eyelid won’t close. Nosebleeds are common and the lining of my nostril repeatedly splits and heals.
Six weeks after diagnosis I was told I should be taping down the eyelid at night. Have you ever tried taping down an eyelid when the other eye automatically closes so you can’t tell if you’re about to tape an exposed eyeball or not? I eventually mastered the art, but it wasn’t easy.
Apprently Bell’s palsy usually goes away on its own after three to four months. I’ve doubled that. I’m above average. The internet does talk about physio to treat it but I can’t see any evidence that it accelerates correction of the condition. Worse, my right ear is now deaf, apparently an inflammation caused by the palsy that happened in April. I suspect that’s a medical guess. They can’t fix it anyway.
Basically I’m stuck with my face contorting condition until it chooses to go away on its own. In the great scheme of things you might think that my Bell’s palsy is a minor thing. After all, I’m dying and that’s more important, right?
But it isn’t quite that simple. I’ve dedicated the rest of my life to travelling. I’ve already visited seven new countries this year and I’ve cashed in the air miles to pay for bucket list first class flights to New England this month. Chile next month. The Ashes down under in November.
The cancer damage hasn’t been as much of a travelling impediment as the Bell’s palsy. I have to hold my lips up on the right hand side to talk without a lisp. Not a good look. Not good for confidence. Not good for talking to foreigners when I don’t speak many foreign words! Not good for them understanding me at all! Not good for ordering food and drink!
My cancer has given me the opportunity to travel. An excuse to blog. Bell’s palsy has been far more difficult to accept.