The Good News and The Bad News

So, taking a quick break from historical oddities and such, I have, as the title suggest have some good news and bad news sort of situations to report. The good news is that my first book has now been published by the lovely people at McFarland and is available from all good retailers. If you want to buy from Amazon could be a bit of a problem as they seem to have understocked, which is sort of hilarious really…

Buy my book… go on, you know you want to...

The bad news that I have to disclose is sadly very bad. In July this year after getting mired in my second tome and the day job (hence the staggering lack of updates on this site) I went to the hospital emergency department with what I thought was a bad case of IBS which required medicinal strength flushing. Sadly, my initial self-diagnosis was, to put it mildly, slightly off. Within three days I was vomiting faecal matter (I really don’t recommend that by the way) and being ushered at speed into emergency surgery to remove about three foot of blocked bowel. This left me with a fetching scar, and also a new ileostomy. And thus began the great adventure of shitting in a bag at 42, the only upside of which is that I don’t actually have to move anywhere if I get diarrhoea.

Now you would have thought that for most people, this would have been enough. I am however, nothing if not special. Following the operation and my introduction to crapping from the front and not from the back, I was bought in for another appointment, where it was revealed none too gently that I have Stage 4 metastatic bowel cancer. Now this is something that is meant usually to happen to out of shape, eighty-year olds that eat too much red meat, no people half their age, who are reasonably healthy and have been lifelong vegetarians. Like I say, I get all the luck. Anyone who reads my twitter will now how well my treatment has been going and why I don’t like my oncologist very much, but let’s say it has not been a particularly fun experience and leave it at that for now.

As part of treating bowel cancer they have to administer chemotherapy. One of the interesting things about the chemo that they use is that the patent extends all the way back to the nineteen fifties, which just shows how much effort has gone into researching bowel cancer lately. Rock and roll era chemicals aside, what happens with normal people who are in the same position I am in is that a device called a central catheter is inserted. In most cases they use something called a PICC line (peripherally inserted central catheter) which is a tiny wire that runs the length of the upper arm, coils around and ends about 1.5 cm from the heart. It’s one of the few surgical procedures that can be performed as an outpatient by a nurse and typically takes two hours. Once it is in they send you home with a pump and the several bags of chemo drugs that take about fifty hours to go through the body.

Now this is where me being a bit special comes in. When I went to get my PICC line. I bled. Copiously. For ten hours. Eventually I got bored of bleeding so much and after much debate made them take the PICC line out and went home, feeling a bit wobbly but a far less bloody. After a weekend of wandering what was up with me, I got an emergency call from the hospital telling me check into a ward. Now for being of my age and demographics to get bowel cancer is weird but I am very weird, so I decided to get a side effect called DIC (disseminated intravascular coagulation). As well as being a hilarious acronym that allows me to mention all the trouble my DIC causes, its common during pregnancy, when people have sepsis, and sometimes happens as a side effect of breast cancers. When it comes to bowel cancer though, literally 0.1% of 0.1% of people get it. DIC effectively means that my blood clots internally, but if I bleed externally, I effectively can bleed indefinitely. The way to address it is blood transfusions, and the way to treat it is to nuke the cancer that causes it. What is useful is that depending what the bloods are doing, I can see how the underlying cancer is doing. It’s like a massively useful metric of infection. Which if it goes awry can cause my liver to explode or similar. See; special. As a result of that wonderful state of affairs, I now have to have chemotherapy as an inpatient, which is a bit of pain, but considerably less painful than a blood clot ending up in my brain, or aforementioned organ explosions.

Anyway I started this personal post (which I am not a massive fan of) by saying this was good news, bad news kind of thing. The bad news is I that I have cancer, with fun and surprisingly useful side effects, but there is an upside to that too weirdly enough. I am having to close the company I have been building tooth and nail after six years. That’s left a number of people without jobs, but I can’t feel too shitty about that, as they were not jobless for long, and the one person who still is, will be getting sorted imminently. Everyone who I have worked with over the years, remains a friend, and a brother and sister with whom we shared an amazingly fun journey. I know I helped a few people, and even if the business failed to achieve anything of financial benefit for me, it did for others and for that I am perpetually glad, as my evil plan to build something ethical in an unethical industry for the most part worked. It’s also left a number of business debts unpaid, but most of those are to the government, so I’m have a really hard time feeling much in the way of sympathy. As a result of this (and not constantly having to deal with a clamouring HMRC which act and react like back street Glaswegian debt collectors) my stress levels will be reduced once I put the insolvency nail in the coffin of the company, and I will be in a much happier place when it comes to dealing with my idiot body.

Talking of which I am halfway through my first cancer cycle (which consists of six fifty-hour transfusions of toxic chemicals that are so toxic you can’t leave the environs of the ward) and thus far all the anticipated side effects have been surprisingly mild. The one thing I’m not really enjoying is chemo fog. It’s a weird sensation, but post chemo your brain ends up feeling less able to focus, and you suddenly develop a very reduced attention span. For a supposed writer and obsessive reader, this is not good, but I’m trying to train my brain past it, which appears to be reaping some small dividends. One of the ways I am doing that is by writing my second book which is under contract to Vernon Press in the US and concerns a history of the Makhnovshchyna and civil war in Ukraine during the 1920s. Said book was due for delivery in November, but given the circumstances it’s been delayed just a tad.

Thus far, I am coping surprisingly well with the diagnosis I received. Lots of people break with news like this, I however remain the pragmatic, stubborn individual I always have been. A number of complications have already occurred that should technically have killed me and probably got a lot closer than I really want to think about in too much detail. They have not. This is due in no small part to the skill and expertise of clinicians, but also I’m robust and really not prepared to let me body to attempt to dictate things. As a result, I am fairly resolute and confident that a supposed killer cancer will actually be killed, and I can continue to produce books that may or may not get read for the foreseeable future.

PS: For anyone worrying, this blog is not suddenly going to turn into a “my struggle with cancer” sort of reading experience. There are already too many self-referential resources of that ilk and I have no desire to add to that particular clamour. I’ll carry on writing about obscure bits of history and things here, and save my thoughts about this shitty medical nonsense, for ranting on twitter, and private consideration in a journal, which may see the light of day at some juncture when I edit out all of the quite frankly impressive and consistent swearing.

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