Practice what you preach (sub-title: I’ve got Cancer)

For more than 10 years now I have been advocating and practising the use of Digital Storytelling for social good. I have worked with professionals in the public and voluntary sectors and businesses to help them tell the stories of the differences they make to individuals and communities, and I have worked with people who have turned their lives around and changed track. I passionately believe that these approaches can be effective in making the world a better place, gaining support for effective approaches, and helping people find solidarity from others in similar situations. I have been a particular champion of people telling the stories of how they deal with certain health conditions so others can learn the lessons they have.

So, it would be hypocritical of me not to practice what I preach wouldn’t it? Well I think it would, and that’s why I am here telling you that last Friday (February 28th 2020) I was told that I have cancer. I was told in a very reassuring manner, and I was immediately told that the doctors think that it is extremely likely that I will fully recover from it, but, nevertheless, I was told something that nobody wants to hear. I have a cancerous tumour in my left armpit. A small lump that I noticed some time ago recently started growing rapidly, and then it started causing me pain, which has got more acute by the week. So, last Friday, I found myself sat in front of a cancer specialist at St. James’s Hospital in Leeds as he told me something that I had been expecting to hear after a series of tests of differing natures. I was expecting it by then because I don’t think you get to meet cancer specialists face-to-face if you are going to be told that you don’t have cancer and have never had it.

The doctor set out the treatment options, which were basically a choice between an operation to remove the tumour followed by a course of radiotherapy; or a course of radiotherapy followed by the operation. I asked what the difference would be, and was told that the former would be the option that got rid of the pain I am experiencing the quickest, but the latter offers the best likelihood of retaining as much of the function of my arm as possible. I chose the latter because my left arm is important to me, especially as I am left-handed.

So, on the 19th March I start a course of radiotherapy. This will involve me attending St. James’s Hospital for an hour-or-so every week day for 5 and a half weeks. Following that, there needs to be a four weeks’ resting period before I can have the operation. After that, the doctor has every confidence that I will be free of cancer.

So, it’s as simple as that really. Of course, nothing is ever certain, but I have faith in the NHS, and I really have no choice to be optimistic about the future. I have some short term pain and inconvenience to endure, and then it will all be back to normal. That’s how I am viewing it, any way.

The biggest immediate issues, are 1) the pain, which can be pretty intense at times, but the doctors have been prescribing increasingly powerful painkillers, which are more or less managing it now; and 2) the inconvenience and disruption of having to spend part of every week day for 5½ weeks in a hospital more than 20 miles away from where I live.

I’ll take those inconveniences, however, if it means that the cancer is dealt with. I’d like to mention that my family, particularly my wife, Portia, have been immensely supportive, and that all this is much easier to deal with knowing that I have their support.

Work-wise, I am going to carry on working through this, so if you, or anyone you know, has a need for digital storytelling, video, live-streaming, or social media support services, please get in touch. It is ironic that I was in too much pain a few days ago to attend a meeting about setting up a support mechanism for self-employed people unable to work (this was before my pain meds were increased). I have no choice but to carry on working, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Since my diagnosis I have live-streamed a two-day conference, as well as live-streaming an evening event in London, jumping on the sleeper train to Glasgow, and delivering a digital inclusion workshop in that Scottish city the next day. I am still capable of working to full capacity and will continue to do so.

And, I will be digital storytelling my way through the process of dealing with my cancer. I hope that, by doing so, I will be able to be of some help to those going through similar challenges.


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