cancer blog photography cheltenham gloucestershire testicular cancer story

Photography Fighting Cancer – Part 2

Firstly, thank you for the amazing feedback on part 1 of this series of blogs (Part 1 here if you missed it It has had a huge amount of views and I have been contacted by a real cross section of people to wish me well or share their experiences past and present. It can be a real boost and I urge anyone in a similar boat to give writing a blog a go. It may be the extra bit of support you need.

The clocks changing brings glorious autumn colours and shorter days. There is no denying the excessive darkness isn’t ideal, but getting to experience sunrise and sunset most days goes someway to making up for it. I adore the coming and the going of the sun and the 30 mins before sunset and after sunrise is something that only a photographer will obsess over to quite this level. It’s like a magic wand turning everything it touches a glorious warm colour and really tests your ability to manage settings on your camera to capture something beautiful and very fleeting.

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November brought the much anticipated meeting with the Oncologist. After the seemingly now ubiquitous fondling of my nether regions, he mapped out the plan from here. The following week I would have 3 sperm deposits, which wasn’t even posed as an option and was just the done thing, a good job really as I didn’t fancy making family planning decisions right at this point! The following week would then be the start of 1 cycle of BEP chemo treatment which involved 3 days and nights in hospital while I am hooked up to a drip 24/7 for the drugs to be administered. I should say at this point that if you are after technical ins and outs of chemo or any part of this cancer experience then you are out of luck. My approach from day one has been google nothing, ignorance is your friend, you can’t worry about details you don’t know. It works for me, it might not work for you.

My first thoughts when told of three days in Hospital was to try and get some DVD box sets and check what the hospital Wi-Fi was like! But the following day things started to hit home. Surgery is one thing, I’d had loads before so that wasn’t anything new, but the realisation I was to undergo chemotherapy felt very different. When I would hear of people having chemo id feel that horrible sympathy and fear for their survival. They’d be subconsciously put in a category in my mind that’s hard to explain, but certainly one I’d never expect to find myself in. This was the first time after I initially found the lump that I was scared. No fear for the treatment itself, if anything I welcome some physical connection to what I am suffering mentally, but fear and doubt for my future. It is then you remind yourself of the statistics, and push the doubt to the back of your mind and put on a brave face. This is what men typically do, we don’t ask for help, even when we want it.

It was around this time I was physically up to taking the dogs for a good walk again. I love walking at this time of year, and with my huge telephoto lens there is always a chance of snapping some wildlife along with my gorgeous dogs. Again it helps getting lost away from reality, and goes some way to kerbing a fragile mental state.

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A few days later we had another significant curve ball. The specialist rang me up to say that in their team meeting they had discussed my case, and a more senior specialist had reviewed things and concluded that I may not need Chemotherapy at all. Initially my chances of remittance were put at 30%, and after Chemo that would drop to around 5%, however he now believed my chance of remittance was just 10%, with Chemo taking it down to 5%. So I had a choice to make. Do I take the unpleasantness of chemo on the chin and accept the 1% chance of some form of complication (hearing issues, hair loss, infertility to complications due to low immune system), or adopt the “watch and wait” approach of annual checks for 5 years and get on with life. What would you do? I would genuinely be interested in what your decision would be.

I immediately put this quandary out to my close friends and family. The response was overwhelmingly honest and much more conclusive than the vote to whether we should leave the EU (I’ll avoid that can of worms), but the one opinion that really mattered was my wife’s. She was with me when I took the call, and saw me breakdown upon hanging up. I don’t really know why I did. I hadn’t cried through the whole process to date, but with that moment there was some sort of release. A rare bit of good news, but a bitter sweet one as I now had a very difficult decision to make. Kim’s first thought was to not go ahead with chemo. The stats on initial review seemed like a huge step from 30% down to 10%, so that extra 5% was surely not that significant in context? My initial gut was to carry on with chemo as planned despite the specialist seemingly steering me the other way. Kim’s doubt however really made me challenge that gut feeling. Why wasn’t I euphoric at this good news? Ultimately the answer to that is I knew deep down I still needed to go through with it. An hour later Kim messaged me saying that now she’s had time, she actually thinks I should go through with it. 10% down to 5% is halving the chances, and when you look at it like that, buying 5% and peace of mind for a few weeks of pain, is a small price to pay. That was it then, carry on as planned.

As for the response from friends and family? Well apart from those sitting on the fence, one friend strongly felt I should watch and wait and gave a very(!) detailed and logically stat based argument to back that up, which was great as any decision you make should hold up against strong challenge. But the vast majority went for what I ultimately decided. I later met a chemo expert and asked him what he would do given those choices. He said quite simply the “watch and wait” approach is a life sentence. Never truly being able to move on, waiting for it to come back. He also said that it’s all well and good an expert in an office looking at stats saying “oh yeah he will probably be fine”, but it isn’t them that have to live with it. It was great to hear this. I would take any amount of pain to secure a stronger future even if it is just 5%, and one look at my family confirms that belief.

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My mum always says I am a glass half full kind of person, and I guess she has a point. Although unpleasant, these last few months have been a life experience, and once it’s all over I will be a stronger and mentally richer person. Us humans tend to break things down into years, and often subconsciously or consciously review each year at its conclusion. Now in November it would be easy to write 2016 off and move on, but it’s actually been a fantastic year, my wife and I have seen our son grow from a tiny baby to a little monster, I mean little boy. This is the single proudest & rewarding experience of my life.

I have also had the privilege to capture images at some gorgeous weddings for some very special couples. A genuine thrill and one reason why I cannot wait for a busy 2017 capturing some more perfect days.

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Sorry guys, we are about to lower to tone a bit now I’m afraid. The week before chemo I had to make 3 sperm deposits in case I suffered a reduced sperm count or even infertility as a result of the treatment. Fortunately, these 3 deposits are not all on the same day, probably not a challenge for a 16yr old me, but one I’d rather not tackle right now!

Now, anything I write from here on is an innuendo minefield, which is very difficult to avoid so bear with me! I arrived at the Pathology building to find no reception or obvious place to announce my arrival apart from a small hatch receiving deliveries. I stood by the hatch and a very attractive blonde woman in her 20’s asked if she could help (see what I mean!). What followed was a very clumsy conversation of tip toeing around the obvious, until she eventually understood why I was there and called for a colleague to sort me out. Thankfully she stopped short of “Steve! Iv got Lee Hawley here who needs to give a sperm sample!” The nice man got me to sign some more forms and told me where to put my sample once finished, and gave me a very(!) small cup. Now I’m not bragging, but I seriously questioned my ability to get anything in that cup. Or perhaps there are multiple sized cups and he just made a judgment on me? Who knows! But the embarrassment of going to the little hatch and saying “um, sorry, I missed the cup” was probably too much for my relatively high embarrassment threshold to bear! Anyway, we are bordering on an overshare here now, so we won’t go into any further details and leave it at everything went fine from that point on!

With another extended time laid up looming, I was busier than ever trying to get on top of things whilst attending a significant amount of hospital appointments, as i finish writting this i have been into hospiatl every week day for the last 7 days! With hopefully the final stage nearly here, would it be all downhill? or my biggest challenge yet?

Posted by Lee Hawley


Hello Lee,
I think it’s great that you’re able to write a blog, put things down on paper (?) as they are happening because I too have felt this to be a cathartic experience.
I had 6 months of arduous chemotherapy in 2005. I’d with the majority and say that if I were in your position then I would go ahead, too. I wish you lots of strength and I am on hand for pre chemo/post chemo chats if you’d like.
Keep taking those incredible photos! You’re my favourite photographer 🙂

Thanks Rhi, I really appreciate it and glad to see how well you are having been through such a horrible time.
It certainly helps writing things down. Like you say, quite therapeutic, and somehow helps when in difficult situations as you know you can vent it in the blog!
Of for start of chemo tomorrow provided they have a bed. Got my camera packed so will try and get some shots for posterity!