Category Archives: Health

Health update for Movember 2016

Movember day 19
Movember day 19

I had a check-up earlier this month post my encounter with prostate cancer three-and-a-half years ago. I am doing well, and my PSA is 0.026, so hardly there at all. So, I will be reviewed again in a year’s time.

I count myself lucky with the early diagnosis and prompt treatment following a referral by my diligent GP.

This year I am once again growing a moustache for Movember and of course hope for some sponsorship to help raise awareness about neglected areas of men’s health. Take care out there, guys.

Living with my ghosts

Jersey10I might have written this piece a long time ago but there is a kind of shame in this sort of history even though everyone will say there is nothing about which to be ashamed.

So here we go. I was bullied as a child and it has affected my whole life. It left an indelible stain of memories which affects me even today, and which has haunted me throughout my adult life and, of course, my career.

The bullying started when I was about six. Two girls who were a year or so older used to pick on me in the school cloakroom. Their names were Amanda (Mandy) and Lesley. They were both bigger than me. I remember their banging my head against the wall. I was terrified.

Later, when I was about nine, a boy named David used to pick on me. He was about my age but much bigger. I remember he smelled of stale urine. I do not know why I was singled out. Maybe my earlier experience had resulted in my wearing a “victim” sign around my neck. Perhaps it was because I was a clever child, mostly coming at or near the top of the class depending on my performance relative to my arch-rival, Catherine. She was a bright girl.

When I was eleven, in the last year of my primary education, I had won a free place in a very popular independent school for boys with a very good academic record. My teacher told me that going there would be like being “thrown to the wolves”. She should have told my parents. Maybe she did, but I don’t suppose they would remember.

When I went to the big school, just coming up to twelve, I was put in what amounted to a reception class for the incomers, as the school already knew about the intake from its own preparatory school. I quite enjoyed the first few weeks there. It was all new, and the school work was stimulating. We started to learn Latin.

Then one day at the end of the lunch hour, we had just been allowed back in the classroom when a fight broke out. Someone threw a chair, not intended for me, but it hit me full in the face. I was collateral damage. My eyes watered. I was really hurt. I was perceived as being a “cry baby” and from that time I was picked on.

I was never accosted on a one-to-one basis. There was one particular instigator who stands out, but he always had his cronies to deal with me if I put up too much of a fight. I was verbally abused and physically attacked in classrooms, corridors, and in the toilets. In the toilets it was pretty certain no teacher would be there to break up a beating.

After the first term I was promoted to the top stream for incomers. However, I was still haunted by my main persecutor. One day a mate of his hit me in the face with a plank of wood outside one of the school buildings. It broke my nose and I had two “shiners”.

Throughout my school career the beatings went on. I was even attacked on a coach when we were on an outing somewhere, and that with a teacher on board. I remember going home humiliated with my head and hair plastered in chewing gum which had been spat all over me. My Mum helped me wash it out. She never asked me how it happened and did not remember the incident years later. I guess I was fourteen or fifteen at the time. The memory of the shame I felt then makes me shiver even now.

As I got older, the physical abuse slackened off, and there was much more psychological abuse. When I was fifteen, sixteen and seventeen, my school books got stolen frequently as my locker was so often broken into. I had to ask the teachers for new books, and they blamed me for losing the old ones. School then was different from school now. Someone might ask questions now, but back then you were locked into school mode until you were eighteen-ish in the environment I was in.

Of course I was still a bright lad, but my marks and grades suffered, partly of course because I was often missing vital books, but also because I had lived my whole life from the age of twelve in constant fear.

My parents knew I did not like school. That would have been the only explanation for my frequently bringing up my breakfast before going. However, they did not ask me, and of course I did not tell them what happened to me at school, about the constant bullying and my continual terror. I was ashamed of being a victim, of being seen as weak, of being a failure.

Ultimately in academic terms I was a relative failure at school. When I left at seventeen I was so relieved to be away from full-time education that I declined to re-sit my exams at a local college because naively I thought the bullying would all start over again. So I got a job and went out to work, and missed the higher education I should have had.

I did enjoy the first few years working in the City. I was not bullied, but at the same time I just kept my head down. I thought a low profile would keep me safe. In the end it did not. After about ten years I had an alcoholic boss who was Senior Partner at a firm of accountants I worked for. I was not the only target of his abuse, but metaphorically I rolled up in a ball like a hedgehog to try to pretend it was not happening.

A couple of years on, realising that he had drunk himself almost to death, this man became much more benign, even nice, but he died of his habit. I felt sorry for him, but he had re-imposed the terror in me.

At the same firm a few years later another partner persistently picked on me for no obvious reason, accusing me of mistakes I had not made (because he had made them), and bawling me out in front of the whole office.

Why did I endure this? Because I got into a way of believing that I must be inferior to others, not quite good enough. I thought I could not be as able as my colleagues. I had accepted that my role was to get by, not to lead, but to do as I was told because that was all I was good enough for.

Still, maybe everyone, even someone bullied as I was, has a point where it is time to fight back. One day after I had been bawled out again I came home very angry, and that anger manifested itself in a positive way. Why it had taken so long I do not know. I resolved not to put up with this treatment anymore.

I had by this time become a junior manager or supervisor simply because of my experience. I looked for a proper manager’s job which I got with a small firm also in the City. I loved it, and though I say it myself, I was a good manager. Even so it took more years and a move to another very challenging job for me to realise that actually I was really rather good at a technical level too.

You will have gathered that I still bear the scars. Has this bullying affected my life in other ways? Well, of course. Being convinced for so many years of my inferiority, this affected my ability to begin relationships with the opposite sex. “Who would want me?”, I thought. I suppose my shyness might have attracted the bullies from the age of six onwards, but it was I am sure made much worse by the reign of terror I experienced. An eating disorder did not help in my early twenties. Later I had treatment for depression.

I am happy now, and although it took me thirty years after leaving school to find my lovely wife, I should not wish to be able to change my past. Yet throughout my education, my work and my love life there have been so many opportunities wasted.

I know I am not alone in these sorts of experiences. I know that there are those who have had far, far worse. There are policies in schools against bullying, and there are anti-bullying charities, but it worries me that many people still do not realise the damage that bullying causes, and the way that lives can be ruined.

I have climbed back to a space where I have at least perspective on all that has happened to me. Maybe that is the best I can hope for anyone who has been bullied for a long time.

Alternative medicine and the vulnerable

In the age of the internet there are so many “treatments” available under the headings of alternative and complementary medicine. Many of these seem very attractive, but often their advocates suggest that people should choose their treatment over conventional medicine.

This is worrying on two fronts. The first is that anxious people will go for unproven treatments which will not work, and in the process waste their money. The second is that those same people will have put off seeing their doctor and shunned proper medical treatment until it is too late to cure them properly. Lives are at risk.

Twenty or twenty-five years ago I was very depressed. That is no secret – well it certainly isn’t now. I was lonely, out of a relationship, working too hard to forget, and generally vulnerable. I was recommended by a well-meaning friend to see a homeopathic “doctor”.

At the time I did not know much about homeopathy. It was pre-internet on any scale then and I had not done the research I might have by going to the library, which is what we used to do. Anyway, I went along to see this guy and paid him a large amount of money for a consultation and some pills. I was told that there was a list of things I should not eat as they would make the pills ineffective. I remember they included peppermint, so that ruled out my toothpaste, not that I actually ate toothpaste.

Looking back, I realise that these were all “get-out” conditions, so that when the “treatment” did not work, the “doctor” could point me to something as the reason. Had I known then what I know now, that homeopathy could not possible work, I would have saved my money.

The basis of homeopathy is apparently that one takes a substance that causes the symptoms one wants to cure, dilutes it so many times that there is none of it left in the solution, and then soaks a sugar pill in the water (which is all that is left). The water is supposed to have a memory of the substance and that is what cures the symptom in the patient.

How a molecule of water, or of any element or compound, is supposed to have a memory of a possible complex other compound which is no longer there cannot be explained by any scientific means. Of course science has nothing to do with it. As with many complementary treatments it is about “belief”. Belief is at the core of so many problems in the world.

I should also like an explanation of how the sugar pill soaked in the magic water affects the supposed properties of the medicine, or why it does not. I will not get one.

I am not saying that all complementary therapies are without benefit. There are often placebo effects and people benefit from comfort and relaxation. What worries me that desperate people will waste their money while at the same time losing valuable time before getting proper science-based medical treatment.

Watch Science Babe take fifty homeopathic sleeping pills with no effect whatever. That is hardly surprising, but do not try this at home because in an unregulated sector you never know exactly what is in these sugar pills, apart from sugar of course.

 

 

 

Health check

The problem with having several blog websites is spreading oneself too thin. I guess I am guilty of that as I do seem to have neglected this place. I am sorry. 🙁

I have been writing about prostate cancer because, having had that diagnosis myself, I have become aware that far to many guys do not get themselves checked often enough and do not get checked until treatment has become more difficult. May I just emphasise that anyone who takes a long time in the bathroom having a pee, and really any male over fifty needs to keep an eye on his prostate health? Not everyone who occupies the smallest room for longer has prostate cancer. Most will not, but all should get thmselves checked out.

My most recent PSA reading was 0.1, which is very low. I am thankful that I am well and appear generally to have responded well to my brachytherapy a couple of years back now.

I will write more here soon.

Moustaches and good progress on the health front

More hairy than I expected
More hairy than I expected

I grew my facial adornment quite successfully in Movember, but I was very pleased to shave it off on 1st December. It just seemed in the way when I was eating and I was worried about getting food stuck in it, though perhaps I was just a bit paranoid about that.

A lot of guys are very experienced in the cultivation of facial hair, and in some ways I admire them. It all seems too much like hard work to me, and I would rather my hard work were more productive and in other directions.

This week I saw my consultant following my blood test last week. Apparently my PSA is down to 0.4 which is apparently very good. I am assured the odds of getting rid of the cancer altogether are very good; better than 92% chance, which most of us would take. I need to keep having the regular blood tests because if I did relapse, my PSA would be going up, and is a better post-operative indicator than for initial diagnosis. Still, the PSA test did help get me a diagnosis in the first place.

I will see the consultant again in four months, and will be returning to see him regularly for several years.

I am grateful for the support I have had, and Movember has raised over £200 even though much of this sum is not shown on my Movember page.

I realise that there are a lot of demands on people’s pockets, and in the charity area we have had the Philippines emergency appeal and there is the ongoing Syrian Civil War appeal too.  However if anyone can manage a few bob more for Movember it would be much appreciated. 🙂

I am (touch wood) quite well currently and hope to continue that way thanks to modern medicine.

Into Movember

On 31st October without 'tache, taken in St. Helier round the corner from where Gloria and I got married.
On 31st October without ‘tache, taken in St. Helier round the corner from where Gloria and I got married.

As many of you know, I am growing a moustache in November, sponsored for charity, after my brush with prostate cancer this year. I meant to do it last year before I even knew I had the disease, but other difficult family events got in the way.

As you can read here, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men and is the second largest cause of male cancer deaths in UK. Every hour one man dies from prostate cancer and over 40,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year.

 

 

  • One in eight men in the UK will develop prostate cancer in their lifetime
  • The average age for men to be diagnosed with prostate cancer is between 70 and 74 years
  • More than 100 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every day

As for the moustache, after three days there is not much to show. There is some very light coloured stubble. I hope it is a return to my blond phase as i had very fair hair as a young chap. However it is more likely going to be grey interspersed with darker colours or ginger.

On 3rd November with hardly any visible moustache, but it is there.
On 3rd November with hardly any visible moustache, but it is there.

It is a slow process. Maybe I should massage Growmore into my top lip.

We will see. Oh, the excitement!

I would very much appreciate your support in raising some money to increase awareness of prostate cancer and help improve men’s health. My Movember page is here : mobro.co/jonstow

Thank you very much.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Movember the First

Me in 1973 with the hair
Me in 1973 with the hair

So many of us are reluctant to trouble the doctor with what we may think of as minor ailments which we think we are bound to get as we get older.

I am pleased to say that I am fairly well after treatment for prostate cancer and (touch wood) that should be the end of it. However the fact that I had cancer in the early stages would not have been picked up if I had avoided going to the doctor. I had thought of several excuses not to go before I finally came down on the side of thinking there would be no harm in seeing my general practitioner.

If you are interested, I am joining the Movember campaign to improve men’s health worldwide by getting them to take notice. I am committed to growing a moustache for the thirty days of November. It will my first ever moustache and I did not even have one when I had the bushy curly almost Art Garfunkel hair in the Seventies. Oh that I had some of that hair now!

Here is my Movember page.  Please forgive the all upper-case motivation section. That is the website format, and I did not mean to shout. If you feel able to help I will be grateful, but if not (because there are so many “good causes”), then that is OK too.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Prostate surgery – the aftermath

Southend University Hospital
Southend University Hospital

So, how have I been after my brachytherapy? Overall I am relatively well six months on, and definitely making good progress.

When I left hospital, I felt very bruised and swollen. My waterworks required my spending a long time in the smallest room and I felt very uncomfortable in that area most of the time; not just when paying a visit. I did have a reasonable amount of energy, and managed to get back to work (from home) in a few days. I also managed reasonably well at my Mother-in-Law’s funeral, at least physically anyway.

After about six weeks I visited the hospital for a scan which was apparently for the nuclear physicist’s audit purposes only, to see that all the radioactive iodine pellets were in the right place. I saw my consultant shortly after that and, having had a blood test, was told that my PSA had fallen to 4.1, which was good. I was feeling a lot better, though the waterworks were not great.

Another week after that and I suddenly felt terribly tired all the time, and did find it very difficult to work for more than a couple of hours in the morning. I now understand that was because the radiation had really kicked in. During that time at the beginning of June I went to an exhibition at the Excel Centre in London, but had to come away after a couple of hours as I felt very tired and faint. I confined myself to barracks for a few weeks after that. I understand that not every patient has these symptoms of fatigue, but it is very common with any sort of radiotherapy.

In mid-July my energy started to return, and at the beginning of August, virtually overnight, my waterworks came back to virtually normal, though I still have a few side-effects of the treatment. I have to say I am feeling much better.

I saw my consultant again. My PSA was only 0.6 which sounds great, and apparently is on course for a cure. However, I might expect a PSA “bounce” after one or two years which is normal and not generally anything to worry about.

At the end of August I went to an afternoon presentation run by the hospital for prostate cancer patients, which was very useful. I learned a great deal about what to expect for myself, and the difficulties that others have whose cancer was more advanced than mine, and might have spread into the bone or lymph nodes. It reinforced my feeling that I have been fortunate, and when one of the nurses spoke about “curative” patients present, I knew that included me.

I am a satisfied customer, but not complacent. I have been lucky and will make sure I attend all my check-ups. Not every chap is as fortunate to be picked up before he has a serious problem from cancer. Any guy over fifty needs to see the doctor if he has any symptoms at all in the downstairs department, and also all of us should see our doctors regularly as we get older so that we can have any tests needed and make informed decisions about our health.

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

The hospital stays Part 2

Jetty remains S Fambridge 021
(Photo credit: Jon Stow)

The gap between my hospital stays was not the best of times. On the day after I came out from my first admission Gloria and I had to register her Mum’s death and make the funeral arrangements. It was a very sad time. There were other unpleasant incidents in that intervening period over Easter.

My second admission to hospital was two weeks after the first, and before the funeral. This was for the actual brachtherapy procedure / operation. This time I had a private room in the hospital as with the seed implants I was going to be somewhat radioactive.

Again I went in in the early evening and this time was fed. I had a reasonable night’s sleep despite knowing I was facing another enema, but at least had a private loo.

In the morning I was visited by the anaesthetist and the surgeon and a nurse told me i was second on the list. I was taken down at about nine-thirty. Again I woke up well in the recovery room, was taken back to the ward and fed. I have to say that the hospital food was generally good except that I would not recommend their fish and chips – very soggy.

I had no pain, but of course the waterworks were not working very well, and what I did produce had to be checked in case any stray radioactive seeds had leaked out. I also had to demonstrate that I could at least pee a certain amount, which the staff monitored. I must have passed this test because I was told I could go home that evening if I wanted to. I was not all that confident and felt woozy, so I went for a walk up and down the ward without feeling too faint. Having awarded myself a pass on that test, I said i would go home, and called Gloria to collect me. I think we are all happier in our own beds and we needed each other’s company.

Just before I went, I had a word with a fellow patient, Ian, who had been with me having the same thing done on both stays. He had decided not to go home, but then he had been much further down the list, was back from theatre rather later and had less recovery time.

I had not very much pain from having all those needles stuck in my underneath, but I was very swollen so left with a large supply of anti-inflammatories to reduce the swelling. I also had proton-pump inhibitor tablets to counter the adverse effect anti-inflammatories have on one’s stomach.

Throughout both my admissions the nursing staff were very courteous, attentive and caring. I cannot say I enjoyed myself but everyone made sure I was as happy as I could be.

Enhanced by Zemanta

The hospital stays Part 1

Two weeks after I made my decision to have my treatment for prostate cancer by way of brachytherapy I went into hospital for my first stay. It was a cold damp day which I had been looking forward to with trepidation. During those two weeks my Mother-in-Law had been in declining health, and on the afternoon of my admission, she died. I felt dreadful for my wife Gloria and terribly sad for her Mum. I wanted to be with Gloria, but was “locked in” to go into the hospital, with my second session already booked for two weeks later. The hospital stays straddled Easter.

When I got to the hospital in the late afternoon having made my own way by taxi, I was very emotional. I was also frightened about the treatment, worried about the early morning enema I knew was in store, and wanting a bed close to the toilet. It sounds ridiculous now, but at the time there was too much going on. I am afraid to say I threw a tantrum with the nursing staff. Later I was quite rightly embarrassed and apologised. Oh, and I had plenty of time to get to the bathroom in the morning as it turned out.

I was allocated a bed, and the procedure (volume study) was the following morning. The one complaint I had that evening was that they did not feed me. They forgot, and I did not realise, I could have had at least a sandwich.  I ended up feeling starving hungry.

Nevertheless, despite my earlier temper, the nursing staff did make me feel reasonably comfortable.

Just after five the following morning I had my enema and then was visited by my consultant and the anaesthetist. I had to hang about until mid-morning before i was taken down to theatre. The anaesthetic seemed all OK, I woke up in the recovery room and was wheeled back to the ward. I polished off a pile of sandwiches. still being very hungry.

During the afternoon i felt much better. I had an early evening meal of a quite passable curry and it was decided that I could actually go home. No, that bit wasn’t as hard as I expected.

Of course poor Gloria collected me. In the circumstances we were happy to cling to one another, and I wish I could have been there to give her a big hug the previous evening.

 

 

Enhanced by Zemanta