1. I learned that not being in great pain or feeling very ill is no guide to the seriousness of your cancer.
So, if you are ‘under the weather’ with an indefinable malaise over an extended period and your GP says he can find nothing wrong with you, keep asking for tests which will reveal what lies beneath an otherwise asymptomatic illness. In my case, an early PSA test would have avoided a couple of months of delay in treatment.
2. When doctors and nurses talk to you about the side- effects of chemotherapy, I learned they can focus on the wrong things. I would, for example, have appreciated a clearer warning about the pain and unpleasantness of constipation and diarrhoea. I was not adequately prepared for spending hours in discomfort on the toilet or for dealing with incontinence.
3. When relatives and friends offer to help, take them up on it. The natural reaction is to retreat into yourself or to put the whole burden on your partner. But I learned that other people are perfectly able to drive you to hospital, pick up prescriptions etc and not only do they like to be helpful but it relieves your partner of just a little bit of the load.
4. When you see your oncologist, always take somebody with you. Normally, you only get a short time and it is vital that you maximise the value of the consultation. When you are receiving technical information, it is easy to forget exactly what was said so a second pair of ears is invaluable. And, on the same point. I learned how important it is to write down any questions you may have and to keep the piece of paper in front of you when you are with the oncologist. Otherwise, it is easy to get side-tracked or simply forget in the pressure of the moment.
5. Most of us don’t know any oncologists and have no idea how good the ones assigned to our case are. So I learned to do my homework and research their backgrounds, specialisations and involvement in clinical trials. I was lucky to be treated in regional centre of excellence by top people but if you are not convinced by their credentials, ask for a second opinion. You have lost nothing by having a diagnosis or treatment regime confirmed by another expert and you may even get some peace of mind from it. It may also be that a second opinion saves your life.
Robert Williams taught Politics with Corruption at both York and Durham University and excelled in his field, travelling as far as Australia, China, Canada and the States to deliver his informative lectures. He has worked with several governments, organisations and international agencies operating as an anti-corruption consultant, as well as undertaking research in Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East. In 2012, he was diagnosed with prostate and bone cancer.