cancer blog photography cheltenham gloucestershire testicular cancer story

Photography Fighting Cancer – Part 3

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So the day hopefully arrives for chemotherapy to start. The plan was a load of tests, checks and a briefing of what to expect, then onto the ward provided there is a bed. I consciously tried to prepare myself for there not being a bed ready, but hope got the better of me meaning I was really disappointed to be told there was no room at the in. The sooner I start the sooner I’m home, but ultimately, it’s just a small delay.

I rang back first thing the following morning and joy of joys I will start chemo today! As I mentioned before I’m doing my best to be ignorant to as much as possible to reduce the worry, so as a father to a 1yr old I’m treating 3 days in hospital as a holiday!

My bed wasn’t ready when I arrived at 10am and didn’t become available until about 5pm, so I had my first full days treatment in a small waiting/treatment room. Which was actually fine as it was private and the chair was comfy. Early on my appointed nurse started to get a sense she wasn’t dealing with a completely regular inpatient when she moved my night bag to the other side of the room, nearly putting her back out saying “bloody hell what you got in here?!”, “ah yes that’ll be the 200kgs of camera kit Iv brought with me. Which reminds me Iv forgotten to bring a towel, shower gel and toothpaste, can you help? I do have a tripod if that’s any consolation”.

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Throughout the day I felt pretty much fine. Maybe a bit light headed, but if that was the extent of it I’d be over the moon. Today I’d received two bags of chemo, with three planned for day two and one for day three. Early evening I started to feel a bit sick, had some more drugs which helped, but a couple of hours later I felt truly horrific. I don’t recall ever feeling so ill. Terrible sickness and hot sweats for about half an hour progressively getting worse. Eventually a new load of drugs started to kick in and it eased. Very unpleasant and did make me slightly fearful of what’s to come.

First night I had got a couple of hrs sleep until I was awoken by the big fat man with cancer (obvs) next to me falling out of bed. It took three nurses, a hoist and about 4000 decibels to get him back to bed.

After that, sleep was sporadic at best. From my sample survey on my ward I can conclude 100% of men snore. Including me as I woke myself up twice!

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Everything you have just read was written on the day it happened, but at the start of day two it was clear anything as strenuous as typing was now beyond me physically and mentally, as was taking photographs sadly. The feeling is hard to describe – not unlike proper flu, but certainly not the same. Achey, weak, shaky, difficult to concentrate, very very tired and worst of all sick. After my horrible first night experience I was paranoid about keeping on top of the sickness with as many drugs as they’d give me, but despite three aural pills and an injection I still felt quite sick during day two’s punishing 3 bags of chemo. My sister had a stab at describing chemo as lots of little Jack Bauer’s whizzing around your bloodstream attacking cancer. Well the analogy kind of works except they aren’t Jack Bauer, but ISIS instead! They don’t care for collateral damage so take down everything in sight, some cancer, some normal stuff that’s not causing any harm, which is why it makes you feel so bad.

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The staff on Cheltenham’s Lilleybrook Ward were amazing. Their caring & helpful attitude is something you rarely see in the real world anymore, and when you are in a strange environment feeling rather fragile it makes the world of difference.

Things picked up a bit for my final day as an inpatient but the next 4 days or so were worse than the lows I’d experienced earlier. I won’t dwell on them as they won’t make nice reading but ultimately they resulted in me being readmitted to hospital for a day and enduring what felt like an eternity of relentless illness. Very challenging times that I can only thank my wife & family for getting me through, and apologise for dragging them through it with me! I want to take this chance to emphasis how experiences like this have far wider impact than those who have the illness. Kim and me both have full time lives outside of work, so for Kim to keep on top of our dogs, ponies and 1yr old whilst working as a vet nurse and dog trainer without me pulling my weight AND looking after me is nothing short of a miracle. I couldn’t continue battling through this without her.

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Day 10 since starting chemo and went back in for my second to last treatment, which made me feel worse again for a day or two, but I’m now feeling the best I have since this process started. Which is to say like I have a horrendous hang over, but that’s much better than things have been!

I went into this knowingly ignorant, and I’d do the same again, but it has been harder than I could have imagined. I have read a fair bit since and it does seem some have it worse than others, so I’ll chalk it up to bad luck! I understand my type of chemo is fairly short and sharp, and affects everyone differently, but the admiration and sympathy I have for those who undergo months of any form of chemo is through the roof. True silent heroes that only those who experience it can be able to understand what they go through.

I am very aware my experience is tip of an iceberg compared to many, and as a result feel a bit of a fraud once this is over and a distant memory. I am however perversely grateful for having this experience. Yes I’d never have chosen to have cancer, but now that I am going through one of life’s more extreme challenges, I feel I have been given an even better context of the world. Perhaps also less tolerance for bullshit (although I expect that’s more temporary) but ultimately a clearer view of what’s important in life and makes me even more dedicated to photograph it.

I sign off this entry at the end of Day 12, and (relatively speaking) I all of a sudden feel amazing. I have spent all but a couple of hours out of bed, been out the house for a few hours and even went for a short walk with the dogs and went photo crazy, with the sun and moon playing ball particularly well. A huge boost, and all of a sudden a massive beam of light at the end of the tunnel has appeared.

I have one more session of chemo to go next week. I will post again after that and hope to bring news of a more steady recovery, but already I am starting to look forward to 2017.

Thanks for reading. Please like and share if you feel inclined.

Posted by Lee Hawley


So pleased you are, it seems, on the right side of the treatment that will, ultimately, allow you to be stronger and more resilient to the bloody hatred that is cancer! I do truly believe that what does not kill you makes you stronger – go Lee xx

Thanks Tina. Nice to hear and I totally agree.

Hi Lee, Well it sounds like that was a hell of an experience and I’m glad you are almost at the end of your treatment.
You have an amazing positive outlook which is such a great asset at times such as these.
I hope the final chemo will be easier and that you will be blogging again very soon.
My best wishes to you,Kim and Milo xxx

Thanks Sue 🙂

John Jackson

Pleased to see you nearing the end of your treatment and you will soon be looking forward to a much brighter future. Great attitude and mental strength. See you again very soon!

Thanks John, been a bunker ride but can see light at the end of the tunnel now.
I’m clearly not missing much at Whadden rd at the moment!

More than half way now…..your blogs are so inspiring…x

Thanks Kim