My wife Tish and I became involved with the urological support group in mid-2009 after I had been diagnosed with advanced bladder cancer. This makes us sound like founder members although the “MUSAC” group as it was known then had been formed some months earlier.
The Urology Clinical Nurse Specialist at the time was Irina Vieira and she was a driving force behind the support group. After having my tumour removed by the TURBT procedure followed by a course of chemotherapy, the ‘gold standard’ medical advice was to remove the bladder. Two surgical options were offered – neo bladder or urostomy bag. Irina spent time with us after our meetings with the surgical team and she encouraged us to attend the support group where she introduced us to other bladder cancer patients who were happy to talk about their respective experiences. We cannot thank Irina enough for the direct support she gave. She also recognised that I was not comfortable with the surgical options and she set up a meeting with Dr Henry Taylor, the radiotherapy consultant at Maidstone Hospital. Henry agreed to take me on subject to the check cystoscopy that was carried out in January 2010 – under general anaesthetic in case immediate surgery was required (the first thing I did on waking up was to look under the bed sheet!) – which showed there to be no viable tumour. I then commenced a course of radical radiotherapy in March 2010 which I am very happy to say was successful. I still have an annual cystoscopy which, although a trifle uncomfortable, is a massive reassurance that everything continues to be okay. I consider myself to be enormously fortunate and I attribute much of the success to the skill of the surgeon who conducted the initial TURBT procedure, Mr Masood.
Mr Mufti is personally responsible for me giving up smoking after some 45 years. On the morning of my surgery he visited me shortly before the operation, loomed over me in my emotionally fragile state and said, “Let your last cigarette be your last ever.” After being declared ‘all clear’ at the end of 2010, I bought a hybrid bike – my first since childhood – and embarked on a programme of improving my physical fitness. Cycling became a keen interest and a year later I progressed to a road bike on which to emulate the success of Team GB who were doing rather well on the international cycling scene. I also secured a place on the first “Ride London 100” event in 2012 and I am pleased that a corner of our lounge is adorned with cycling competition medals. Alas, my career as the next Bradley Wiggins stalled after I suffered heart arrhythmia in 2015. At least the heart consultant cheered me by saying it was “a condition common among elite athletes”
Just three years before my cancer diagnosis and treatment I had taken early retirement from a lifetime in air traffic control and embarked on a new career as a volunteer group leader with Kent Wildlife Trust (KWT). I cannot over-emphasise the importance of the support given by KWT and my colleagues. I was in a state of some emotional anxiety and they looked out for me throughout and encouraged me to do as much or as little as I felt able. Once or twice following chemo I was knackered and had to find a quiet corner of a wood to throw up in before having a lie down. On another occasion I parked a muddy KWT Land Rover full of volunteers right outside Maidstone Hospital while I popped in for my weekly pre-chemo blood test! I am happy to talk at any time about the physical and mental health benefits of volunteering, whether it be in wildlife or another environment.
Lastly I have to thank Tish. We ‘come as a pair’ and she has been by my side throughout and I wouldn’t be here today without her.