October
25
Author
Dave Luft
Discovery to Recovery - Part 1

 

As I looked down at the toilet panic entered my heart. I started to cry. I knew enough that dark blood was bad. I’d been having ‘bowel issues’ for a while. Over the years I’d seen fresh blood which would normally clear up on its own, but this was different.

It was Friday 3rd August 2018. We had just moved in to our lovely new home two days before. Hev was unpacking boxes. ‘I’d phone the doctor now’ she said. ‘Okay, it’s about time I found out what this is’, I said giving in reluctantly. The doctor wanted to see me in 30 minutes, that was also worrying. ‘Doctors, never want to see me straight away’ I thought to myself. After the examination the doctor booked me a colonoscopy for two weeks’ time.

Two days later, Sunday morning, I was due to lead worship at church. The toilet episode happened again just as bad if not worse this time. I left the house in tears. ‘How am I going to do this?’ I thought. I cried out to God in the car, literally. I felt directed to go to a friend’s house. I’m not sure what I wanted him to do, but being a good friend and knowledgeable about this stuff, I figured he was the best person to turn to. Once again, I broke down as I stood on his door step. He listened and hugged me. He did what I needed him to do. By God’s grace I made it through church.

Miraculously, my colonoscopy was brought forward to the following day (Monday), this was a real sign that God was comforting me and had things under control. I met my consultant, who carried out my unpleasant camera experience. Hev and I had to wait for some time in a small room. There was a knock at the door. She didn’t draw it out but did sit down ‘I’m going to get straight to it’, there was a slight pause, ‘you’ve got rectal cancer’ she said with authoritative regret. Those four words reverberated around my head. I looked at Hev. With tears in her eyes she looked back at me, she looked as stunned as I felt. The consultant spoke again, ‘we need to do a CT scan to see if it has spread’, she said. Normally this would have been another two weeks but again miraculously, they were able to fit me in and afterwards told us to wait for about an hour. This hour was probably the worst hour of my life. I felt as though the barrel of a gun was pressing against my head with someone about to pull the trigger. Never before had my life been so threatened, so on the verge of death, and I had no control whatsoever over the outcome. I couldn’t help but think of my three kids, ‘I won’t see them grow up or get married’, I thought. As I look back now, what’s interesting at this point is that I wasn’t thinking about work, church or hobbies. What consumed me was leaving Hev and the kids. My first real experience with cancer was losing my Dad to testicular cancer when he was age 55. I was 23 and a few months off marrying Hev in the year 2000. Earlier this year my Uncle Paul (Dad’s brother) lost his life to a brain tumour. Therefore, sadly, my experiences told me that cancer normally equalled death. After the scan the wait seemed less, my consultant was at the door again. This time not sitting, ‘It hasn’t spread’ she said quickly. That was all I remembered from the conversation, all I needed to hear. Suddenly a glimmer of hope flooded back into my heart as she explained that the next step would be an MRI scan in two weeks’ time, helping them to map out what to do next. I felt as though I at least had a fighting chance.

Up until this point I was fretful, worried and in fear. Later at home I was in the bathroom asking God how I was ever going to cope with this. I felt him say another four words. My consultant’s four words impacted me hugely, but God’s four words were bigger and from that moment on, gave me the peace I needed to cope...

‘Dave, cancer obeys me’.

The reason I found those four words so helpful was twofold. On one hand, if the cancer does grow and spread, eventually taking my life, then God in his wisdom and purposes (which I don’t necessarily understand) is allowing it to happen. I believe that God doesn’t call us to always understand what he’s doing, but rather to trust in Him whatever he’s doing. On the other hand, it means that God is also able to say to this cancer ‘this far and no further’ which is very reassuring.

A couple of days later, encouraged by my consultant, we went to Tunisia for our two-week Holiday. This was exactly what we all needed, such a helpful distraction. I had time to process my diagnoses and family moments to forget I was even ill. I took the opportunity to listen to preaches on the subject of suffering by PJ Smyth and Francis Chan and read a pamphlet by John Piper called ’Don’t waste your cancer’. All three were incredibly helpful and built on the four words that I felt God give me.

In keeping with the fast-moving service that I had experienced from the NHS, we came back from Tunisia to a letter which stated that my MRI was in a couple of days. The results from this would identify whether I needed chemo or radiotherapy or both, before the operation to remove the section of my bowel containing the cancer.

The following Tuesday Hev and I met with my consultant. I’m not sure what I was expecting but what she said next left me in a state of shock until well after we got home. She continued in her usual way of getting straight to the point. ‘We’ve decided that you don’t need any chemo or radiotherapy before your operation’, she explained. ‘Great’, I thought rather naively. She went on, ‘so how would you feel about coming in on Monday for your operation?’. She continued to say that a complete section of my bowel would need cutting out, resulting in the two ends needing a ‘re-join’. In addition, I would have to get used to having a temporary ‘stoma’ to allow the join to heal. I remember looking at Hev for clues as to what on earth a ‘stoma’ was. Lastly, she explained I would probably need a three-month course of chemotherapy.

The thought of something bad happening is often worse than the reality. The days leading up to the operation were hard. All I could think of was what might go wrong. Then it came, exactly a month after my initial discovery. It was Monday 3rd September. The day when most people were going back to work including me, had I been well. The last thing I remember as I laid on the operating table was the anaesthetist injecting me and saying with a comforting smile on his face ‘here’s a bit of gin and tonic for you!’. The next thing I remember, around 6 or 7 hours later, was waking drowsily whilst saying loudly ‘sick, pain, sick, pain’. That evening due to losing a lot of blood in the operation, I ended up in Intensive care. My whole time there was a complete blur, mainly due to the concoction of Morphine, Oxynorm, Tramadol and Fentanyl drugs I was given for pain relief. Eventually I left ICU to go to Britford ward. As I started to come around I remembered that I just had major surgery. I wanted to look and see what they had done to me. Never before had I stayed in hospital for anything, so seeing my tummy was a bit of a shock to say the least. I had been nicely sown up, but I counted five different places where I was cut open, as well as my stoma which had a clear bag over it. I also found eight different cannula insertion points on my arms where they had needed a clear line into my veins. In fact, most parts of me seemed to be attached to something. I could barely move. Coughing or even worse, sneezing, was agony. With the concoction of drugs slowly wearing off, I started to realise (and wished it was sooner) that the drugs weren’t helping my state of mind. One night as I shut my eyes, it felt like my bed was rotating backwards as though it was in a huge hamster wheel. After this, I remember refusing Tramadol and opting for Paracetamol for pain relief because I needed my ‘right mind’ back. This was a huge step forward for my recovery in hospital.

I developed more pain due to a complication with my bowels. This was caused by a kink which was making everything back up, also causing a lot of trapped wind. Unfortunately, this meant going for further X-rays and CT scans. I say ‘unfortunately’ because this involved several bed transfers, which were incredibly painful. Nothing would’ve prepared me for my consultant’s answer to my bowel kink problem. She entered my cubicle looking very pleased with herself and all wide eyed. She was holding something that, at first glance, looked like a really long peperami. ‘And what exactly are you going to do with that?’ I said hesitantly. Her answer was to carefully push the plastic ‘peperami’ in through my stoma and all the

way into my bowel. As she finished I wondered why she wasn’t taking it out. ‘oh, that stays in all night’ she said quickly as she made her exit. To be fair, when she came back the following morning to take it away, it had sorted the kink out and the bloated pain was gone.

As the days went on I found it harder and harder to stay in hospital. I dreaded the nights and after the first three days I’d had about two hours sleep and nothing to eat. I couldn’t quite believe the noise, not just from the nurses and other patients inside, but also the lorries and other vehicles outside which at times felt like they were inside. What was actually a six day stay, felt like an eternity. I began to realise in those moments how important my family and friends were to me. I missed Hev and the kids terribly. All I wanted, was to get out and go home. Thankfully, people close to me came and visited. I underestimated how much this helped me, but it really did and kept me going. The short visits from my consultant was also a real highlight and would set the course of my day. I remember the Friday morning, she came in on the first day of her holiday just to see me. ‘I think you’re going to have a good day today’ she said, ‘you’re on the home straight now’. Her words gave me such a drive that day. With that encouragement I made my mind up that I was going to get up and walk. First, I went to the end of the beds on my ward, then to the end of Britford ward. I had a shower, then later ventured outside of Britford ward and down he corridors. I felt like a free man! It’s amazing how quickly you can be institutionalised. I had begun to believe that my situation was never going to change and I’d be there forever. Again, a mindset I’m sure the drugs brought on. Amazingly in the corridor I bumped into my oldest brother Andy. We chatted in a place I’d found which had a door to the outside. Literally a breath of fresh air that I needed so much. This did me a lot of good. He came to visit but was there outside of visiting hours. It’s times like this that prove to me that someone was directing things from above. The simple fact is that had Andy tried to come in to the ward, they would’ve turned him away as it was over a ‘protected meal time’. This is what the nurse called it as she denied him entry as we came back to the ward.

The following day was a huge encouragement also. I was initially told that I may have to stay longer until Monday. My heart sank, but as it was the weekend there was a new consultant, somebody that I’d met before. Ironically, he was the one person with the authority to send me home or keep me in. We made an agreement of 5pm that day (Saturday) but only if I was well enough. At lunch time my nurse came and announced ‘I’ve heard you’re going today?’, ‘Yes!’ I answered vehemently. She told me that the only things for me that needed doing was to change a dressing, sort my paperwork, and collect my drugs for me to take home. She said I could go at 3pm. I was so excited as I knew Hev and the kids were picking me up whenever I gave the nod. At this stage I’ve got to say that the care I received from the nurses and the doctors was absolutely outstanding. I am so grateful for the NHS, a fantastic service.

Getting home felt like I’d been released from a ten-year jail sentence. I was so overwhelmed with emotion I couldn’t contain it. There were posters up to welcome me and Hev has been so loving and patient. Every day since has been spent at home and my recovery has improved dramatically. Going for a walk once a day has meant that I’m getting stronger all the time. I was told to get my strength up as I would need it to get through the chemotherapy. At a recent visit back to the hospital I was told that my treatment would be for six months not three. It was a blow, but as the doctor said, it is better to make sure. I feel that I have now come to the end of my first stage.

My second stage starts today on my birthday as I am due to have a ‘picc line’ put in which goes in through my arm and into my chest. It will stay there for the entire six months, with chemo starting tomorrow.