World Cancer Day: Keith Daniel’s Story

World Cancer Day: Keith Daniel’s Story

World Cancer Day is held every year on the 4th February, aimed at raising worldwide awareness, improving education and catalysing personal, collective and government action.

This is a cause very close to our hearts at calfordseaden as it has affected, and continues to affect, a number of our colleagues.

This year for World Cancer Day, we are sharing the personal story of previous calfordseaden colleague Keith Daniels

Please note, the following text contains information that may be triggering to some.

Hi, my name is Keith Daniels. I was a Building Surveyor at calfordseaden from May 1996 to July 2021. In November 2020 I was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.  This is my journey.

My diagnosis

Around early October 2020, I came home from work with a headache. Over the weekend and following weeks this developed into a migraine with nausea.

I stopped eating, going to work, and spent most of my time in bed. At first, my doctors went down the routine of painkillers, but nothing would help. Looking back, one doctor thought something was amiss and said I needed an MRI (head scan) and x-ray. She later changed this to a CT (body scan.)

It had been 3/4 weeks since the headache and nausea had begun when I received the call. It was a lovely bright sunny day in late October. My doctor asked me to visit the surgery to discuss the results of the scans. I asked “do you have the results? If so, tell me now.” The next sentence from my doctor was shattering “you have a tumour on your lung which has spread to your brain and your bones.”

In an instant my life changed. Cancer. Me?!

It was like a bomb exploding, the shock wave first hitting my wife and her family, my two daughters, granddaughter, mother, brother, sister, friends, neighbours, work colleagues and business colleagues

I called my wife immediately who left work and we both returned home. We just sat on the sofa in disbelief, trying to comprehend the diagnosis. How can a headache turn into cancer?

Looking back the only symptom was an occasional loss of breath during conversation and over the last few months maybe tiredness. I was to find out later that there are no nerves in the lung and therefore you could not immediately feel a tumour. Furthermore, currently, lung cancer will not show in a blood test.

The treatment

I was immediately referred to the cancer unit at the local hospital. My first appointment was with a doctor who pulled up the scans and showed me the cancer. A small tumour in the lung and some fluffy white clouds in the brain, cancer lesions – lesions, me? It was very overwhelming. Obviously, we enquired what could be done. It was all rather vague he then referred me to an Oncologist

In Layman’s terms, Oncologists work out how much toxic drug they can inject into your body. The balance, enough to kill the cancer but to limit the harm to you. They also must give you an explanation of the state of health and advise the consequences.

By this time, I was weakening and needed some support from my wife as I walked into the surgery. We met with the doctor and two Macmillan nurses (later I realised nurses were not a good sign)

Quietly she explained what stage 4 cancer meant. They would not remove the tumour there was no point. She did give a glimmer of hope. As I had not smoked the tumour could be non-small cell which can be treated with a drug called Osimertinib.

But I would need a biopsy to confirm and then the kicker it’s only found in 15% of lung cancer. We discussed the other option which was targeted radiotherapy to the brain. Not a good option. And the $64 million dollar question was asked how long I do have left.

The answer? “Without treatment, weeks rather than months. I suggest you go home and put your affairs in order.” Not a sentence you ever want to hear.

The biopsy quickly followed. And then the wait for the results. I was growing weaker, I became morose, dejected, and turned grey.

After a couple of weeks, the phone rang and my wife answered, it was the Macmillan nurse on the line she was happy and excited it was non-small cell cancer, incredible news. I jumped off the sofa and hugged my wife. The call had given us hope.

At my next hospital appointment in late December I was given Osimertinib It is an 80 mg tablet which I take once a day. As we left the appointment my oncologist told me it is not a cure and eventually the cancer will find its way around. Cold hard facts delivered with understanding and a soft voice.

Christmas for me was terrible. I was unable to participate. When was I going to wear that designer shirt? Read that book? Wear that winter hat?

Having absolutely no knowledge of how the tablet would work or how long it would take I fell into a depression which lasted until early March. For me and my family this was the hardest period of my illness. I literally tore myself apart with worry and self-doubt. I developed insomnia and anxiety. My days and nights were endless. Steroids, sleeping tablets depression and anxiety tablets were all prescribed to ease the pain.

As this difficult period drew to a close, my family started to notice the small changes. Sleep is slightly easier, you can walk a little further, I can do a few odd jobs. Looking back now I didn’t know if I was going to live or die for many of those weeks, but I did live, and I slowly crawled back to life. I remember one moment so clearly, maybe not an original thought, it was this statement -I am living with cancer not dying of cancer.

I have an MRI and CT scan approximately every 12 weeks. These take place 2 to 3 weeks before the next appointment with the Oncologist. Another new experience ‘scanxiety’ – waiting for scan results.

In recovery

My first scan after commencing treatment was in late February with the results being discussed in early March. The results were promising. The tumour had reduced in size the brain lesions have not developed further. This improvement continued until my latest scan in December 2021. It showed my brain was free of cancer, and there have been no change in the cancer in in my bones or the tumour in my lung.

Amazing. One tablet, the power of modern medicine!

It is not all plain sailing. There are side effects with medication, I also have another health issue which is being sorted. But hey, it’s all better than the alternative!

There are over 200 cancers. Cancer can occur anywhere in the body. But my cancer is exactly that, mine. It is unique to me, and I have been fortunate that I can have it treated. However, that is only one side of the coin the other is the emotion and the mind living with a serious illness. It has taken me about a year to come terms with my changed life.

Its world cancer day and their motto for this year is “I am, And I will. “I urge you to visit the website. Maybe just check out the symptoms, prompt diagnosis has a major impact on cancer outcomes.

There is so much out there on the internet. Where do you look? Who do you believe? My advice is stick to the recognised authorities Cancer UK or Macmillan. That being said, there is a brilliant podcast called You, Me, and the big C. The first two episodes described exactly how I felt when I was first diagnosed.

To the majority of people, the word cancer has the one meaning, imminent death. But today that is not always the case. There are advances in treatments every day, my tablet was only released in 2016. and I have met several people all living with various cancers.

I received wonderful support when I was first diagnosed. Cards, presents, phone call, texts. At times it was overwhelming. Those early days were difficult. Regrets, anxiety and perhaps the most difficult, discussion with closest family regarding the impact on my life. I was so fortunate to have the support of my colleague Debbie Little in those very early days.

And finally most of the time I do not visit ‘Doctor google ‘On one of the occasions that I did, I looked at a graph which showed people per 100 000 on one axis and 5 years on the bottom axis. The graph hit close to the bottom very quickly, but I thought why I can’t be one of those that reach 5 years plus.?

My journey continues – 1 year 4 months ?

Thank you for reading.

If you would like to know more about the signs and symptoms of cancer then be sure to check out the Cancer Research UK website page here.