Of Summer

Georgie and I had been waiting a long time for this. Her holiday. Four weeks away from Leicester Medical School for her and hopefully a bit of time away from the Marsden for me. It seemed to be set up for us. My ALT (liver enzyme) was finally falling again. The bloods were repeated on Thursday 28th July and the trend continued. From the Marsden, Mum and I went for lunch and I went on to meet Georgie for a day out in Oxford. We started with some Chinese food and then a punt. We were punted (is that even a verb?) by a sixth form student. Later Georgie had her nails done; a big deal because she’s not allowed during placement. This was the perfect chance to do it.

 

From there our road trip continued to Marsh Baldon, to see Matt (my brother) and his girlfriend Alexia in their new house, for the first time, along with their cat Tom. I’d pre warned Georgie that he might be out and about, (she’s obsessed with cats), but fortunately he made some time for us during his busy schedule scaring birds and chasing rodents. Marsh Baldon is very English. The local pub where we went for a drink even had Morris Dancers and the village itself has the largest village green in Europe. It is verging on too big to the point where it almost looks like a field. Alexia cooked us all a great vegetarian lasagne and we finished the night playing bananagrams, a board game I describe as “Scrabble on acid”.

 

The next day we headed to Donnington Valley Spa Hotel, a very splendid place indeed and we got their Friday night deal. The leisure facilities were modern and the massage was good. The food was excellent and our stay ended with a pretty decent breakfast. After that we headed to Bristol to celebrate my mum’s 57th birthday at the Harvester. During the meal I was surprised to see Dave, Paul and Dad sweating around the table. They had all made the same mistake with the salad bar and put the extra hot sauce on their salad (which was meant for the chicken). Being male they insisted on carrying on despite their obvious discomfort.

 

In the evening we had an engagement party to attend for my old friend Olly who is marrying Kirsty. It was a brilliant evening, again a chance to see and catch up with old friends, reinforcing for me how glad I feel to have lived until wedding season. On the Sunday we headed down to Devon to see Tim and Roisin (my friends from medical school). Tim’s parents have a very amazing converted old farm and barn on the edge of Dartmoor. So old in fact it’s listed in the Domesday Book (1086). They literally reap what they sow and grow a lot of plants and look after animals including a large number of chickens living in Fort Chicken. When we arrived we walked around the grounds, petted the pigs Mabel and Brenda and spent the rest of the early evening in the fire heated hot tub and ended with a lovely meal. The next day the weather had changed and it was raining a lot, (a firm reminder of trudging through the rain on one of the many hikes I have done across Dartmoor, either for training or for the ‘Ten Tors Challenge’), so we all went to the Princetown Prison Museum. It’s a bleak place. The 200 year old Prison is right in the middle of the moor with it’s unpredictable rain and relentless fog. There was a very old video (90’s) of former prisoners. Having been on TV quite a bit now, I’ve started to get more into analysing video footage particularly documentaries, because Georgie and I watch loads of them. Apart from the footage looking obviously dated, it weirdly zoomed in on various body parts to hide the identity of the prisoners, however it chose things like hands on crotch and their left shoulders. Afterwards I filmed Georgie’s impression of this. After that we went to Tavistock to see the market and later on for a pub quiz. We came overwhelmingly last, as it was intended for an older age group, and all of us being medics means our knowledge is quite focused and we only excelled in the Science and Nature round.

 

Tuesday was our last day in Devon and I needed to have some blood tests to keep up the monitoring of my liver. This I felt would be a difficult task. However thankfully, Roisin had worked in Derriford A&E over the last year, and knew the people to talk to. She found someone willing to check the test, whisked me into the department and actually took my blood herself. I am very grateful to her and Tim who, after this detour, headed to North Wales to start their new jobs. Wednesday 3rd August, was the big doctor change over day. Georgie and I headed along the south coast stopping in Bournemouth, where we did the zip wire down from the pier to the sea. Then in the afternoon we cycled ten miles along the coast. The first five miles were very pleasant, and it felt like a very romantic date with the prevailing wind pushing us comfortably along. The second 5 miles i.e, the way back, was quite an endurance event and was the complete opposite. Overnight, we stayed in the Wessex Hotel which was rather tired and in need of refurbishment. On Thursday Georgie drove us back to London, stopping in the New Forest and Winchester on the way. The first stop was at Furzey Gardens “A haven of peace and tranquility in the heart of the New Forest”. It lived up to its name and we had to avoid the kids looking around for fairies. Georgie tried to make friends with the resident feline, it seemed to be enjoying it at first but quickly it became unrequited love. I’d heard good things about Winchester and I was suitably impressed. It’s lovely, full of medieval style architecture and decent cafes. We went to a very trendy vegetarian only cafe and had a stroll around.

 

Friday was a particularly great day. I had scans to go to. I met up with Dave prior to meeting up with Georgie (she’d gone to see her Dad who was recovering from a spinal operation). We met up afterwards, (having been told by email provisionally that the scans showed stable disease), I was ecstatic. Due to an ongoing cold, with each cough my scanxiety had built and therefore I was very pleased and relieved by this news. We went to eat at a Thai place, Rosa’s in Victoria which I’d highly recommend then cycled along the river. The next day we visited Kevin (Georgie’s Dad) again along with her Mum, Gillian. We arrived at 2pm to find he hadn’t been out of bed yet. After sorting him out a bit and helping him get up Georgie and I went to meet Vikki and Craig for a day out. We tried to go to a mini golf place called Swingers but it was full. Instead we cycled with our favourite former mayor nicknamed bikes to Shoreditch for food and to play table tennis at Bounce, a ping pong bar chain. It was girls vs boys and the competition was high. We ended at a diplomatic 2-2 on games then headed to free comedy in the Camden Head by Angel. It’s a good cheap night out and one I’d highly recommend. The comedy is usually very good, with the occasional act being a bit ropey especially if they’re a comedian just starting out. It started a few years ago just on a Thursday night, now it runs every night of the week. Also they have now bought a pub down the road from their normal home of the Camden Head, and just by chance they were using it on that Saturday to test it out before it formally opens in October. Fortunate, as we were too late to get a seat in its traditional venue round the corner.

 

The next day we arranged to meet Dave and Alice in the Four Thieves Pub in Clapham Junction. We had booked an Escape Room experience called Lady Chastity Reserve, this being my second and Georgie’s first. They are good fun and it’s an hour to get really engrossed in something as a team. You get locked in a room and you have to follow clues to get out in one hour. The storyline was intriguing and suitably difficult, albeit more clues would have been helpful as we were very close to completing it when the hour was up. The event was also mostly in the dark which got frustrating and having to find clues by torchlight added (I thought) an unnecessary layer of difficulty. The pub itself was a playground complete with a small mini golf course, table tennis tables, a remote controlled car race track etc. After getting a roast, (well it was Sunday), we headed to the race track, and by then Dave and Alice’s friends had arrived. Georgie guaranteed starting first by an exceptional bit of stupidity. She told the lady that she couldn’t do it because there were lamps in the way of the screen (just a scoreboard) . She responded “but you don’t really need that” followed by Georgie saying “I can’t see the track”. She actually said “that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard” then pointed to the big track and Georgie’s remote control car below and in front which she hadn’t even noticed. This conversation bore fruit though, because she was insistent that Georgie needed a helping hand and put her first. Overall she finished third and I a woeful seventh.

 

The next day we went to the Churchill War Rooms. It’s next to Downing Street and Georgie and I cycled there. It was good, although it had far too much information, requiring at least two visits to get it all in. However you quickly get a good feel of what Churchill was all about. We then went to a pub quiz in Leytonstone with Matt, Rachel, and Siobhan. Georgie and Matt collectively came up with a great Olympic themed drinking game which was thoroughly judged and gave us nine bonus points.

 

The following day we had clinic to attend to. Georgie, Dave, Mum and Dad came along with me. Prof. Gore and my Clinical Nurse Specialist Nikki were in good spirits. He started by asking me if I knew the results of the scans. Fortunately I did, otherwise his presence would have frightened me. In medicine you quickly realise that you mostly only see the boss when things are going wrong. This time it was good news (things were stable) and we discussed the plan for the next few weeks. A decision was made to reduce the steroids, to only monitor the liver enzymes and hopefully at some point to restart some combination therapy. An appointment was made to see them again a week later. We all celebrated with a meal at ASK restaurant. Alice joined us for this. The next day Olly and Kirsty came to see us in London, I met them at Victoria Station as I finished breakfast with my parents there only half an hour earlier. We spontaneously decided on a musical called Exposure. Georgie caught us up and the four of us watched it. All of us agreed that it wasn’t great; the plot was confused particularly in the second half, but it was entertaining and good value for money. From there we went to mini golf in Putney, conveniently located near the pub quiz we were going to later. Olly won and was particularly good, Georgie came second as I was expecting, she has a natural flare for sport and always beats me at mini golf, and Kirsty came last. The quiz was at the Queen Adelaide pub. It was the first time Georgie and I had been since her bout of sepsis (the day after her last visit). We came fifth and Dave and Alice turned up halfway through. I quickly caught up with the quiz master Tom who I’ve got to know a bit over the years, if their was a competition for the best pub quiz host, Tom would be hard to beat.

 

The morning after we headed down to the South Coast, stopping at Petersfield for a Thai meal and then on to Chichester, which is a truly fantastic place. It’s kind of got it all, an attractive section of canal, a city wall to walk around, a couple of museums, a bit of tourism and a university to keep it trendy. As well as this, it has a fancy high street, it’s near the sea and the South Downs. We had a walk around the walls, and stayed in the Premier Inn near the cathedral. The next day we visited Chichester Harbour which was a struggle to find, due to a lot of expensive properties blocking access to the sea. However the part we did see, was probably one of the most beautiful places I’ve been to. Georgie’s flip flop broke, it was going to be hard for her to walk back, until I suggested tying my sock around it, with that she had the epiphany of putting the sock over the top. With sandal secure we walked back to the car. We then stopped at the Crown and Anchor pub for a late lunch, before meeting up with everyone else at the house in West Wittering. Abby and Tom were there when we arrived along with their baby Florence who was just about eleven months old. I would like to have a kid at some point but I know it’s completely impractical at the moment. It doesn’t help that Florence is a lovely little girl. We cooked fajitas and played Mafia. A lovely time at the beach and a round of crazy golf the next day was followed by a very competitive game of flip cup. Later on that evening we went to the beach and stared up into the night sky watching shooting stars. As the meteorites broke up in the upper atmosphere the whole night felt particularly magical. The weekend was finished off with another pub meal at the Crown and Anchor which overlooks Chichester harbour, so is justifiably expensive. After West Wittering we headed to Kent, to stay with Georgie’s parents. I’m pleased to say that Kevin was significantly better than a week before when I saw him post his spinal operation. A day later I headed to London for Pentamidine (the drug that if you remember went all over me the first time I had it), and a clinic appointment on Tuesday. Between these I played four matches of Squash against Dave and two of his friends. I beat Dave and Diaga.

 

Appointments over, I returned to Kent to celebrate, mostly Gillian’s (Georgie’s mum) birthday though we also noted my eighteen months of survival from diagnosis of stage 4 cancer. We went to an excellent restaurant in Royal Tunbridge Wells for a three course meal and a walk along the Pantiles, a great high street which has live Jazz every Thursday evening throughout the summer. I headed to Bristol the next day for the funeral of Andrew Manning, my friend James’ Dad. He made James’ wedding which was great but lung cancer took his life only a few weeks later. It was very poignant for me going to this. I could not help thinking ‘the next time I’m here in Westerleigh Crematorium better not be in a box’. The ceremony was moving, more religious than I expected, James did a very good speech and somehow kept it together.

 

On the way from Kent to London we stopped at Vikki and Craig’s flat, we got a takeaway and played “The Humming Game”, where you had to hum various famous songs. Having the musical talent similar to the the most delusional X Factor competitor you can think of, I was suitably bad. My mixture of humming and seal laughing left me woefully last but nonetheless very entertaining.

 

The following days found us back at the same pub quiz with Matt (Snowshill) and Layla, and also included a trip to Fulham Palace. At Fulham Palace, it was my turn to be the stupid one, whilst in the building, specifically the Fulham Palace museum, I asked Georgie where the palace was… not aware that I was in fact, inside it. Fulham Palace has very attractive grounds, it was an ideal place to hang out and it was a good cycle along the river for us, however the palace itself, as even the museum video points out, is not particularly impressive or grandiose. Hence why I didn’t realise I had walked into it.

 

We finished Georgie’s summer in style, with a trip to Center Parcs in Woburn Forest which is near Milton Keynes. It is very new, only two years old. This has the benefit of it being smaller, everything looking clean and new, and everything working. We had a room in the hotel with a kitchenette and self-catered all weekend. Along with having a lot of fun, I wanted to maintain the diet and exercise. The water slides there are the best I’ve been to in this country. The Twister literally did just that and had me turning on my face a couple of times, much to Georgie’s amusement when I got out at the bottom. The Tornado has a very large drop and the experience was made complete with Georgie doing a good impression of the shocked emoticon on the other side of the rubber raft to me.

 

We also started watching Grey’s Anatomy from where Georgie had left it years ago. This was at the end of series 5 and the episodes were from 2009. I wouldn’t usually tell you the precise year of a TV series, but in this case it’s important. Bizarrely, in the episode we began with, one of the main characters (Izzy) had just been diagnosed with stage four metastatic melanoma with tumours in the brain. Her brain tumour was symptomatic and giving her hallucinations. As Izzy is a young doctor with my diagnosis obviously it hit home. The difference however is that she was in America, where cancer treatment is notoriously aggressive (for dubious gain) and it was 2009. 2009 doesn’t seem that long ago, but shows the progress that has been made. Hopefully I can say this without seeming callous but part of me wanted her to die. I’ll explain. Early in the story arc she was told there was a five percent chance of survival, which was probably inaccurately high. She received extensive surgery, traditional chemotherapy (Dacarbazine) and interleukin-2. I was anticipating that she would survive, because it was for TV and if you judge the medical authenticity of Grey’s Anatomy’s by the quality of the actors’ chest compressions then it would be woefully inaccurate. The chest compressions really are terrible. However she did die after having a lot of unnecessary surgery, including taking out her hippocampus, the area of brain responsible for memory. So she had a few days longer alive but some of those days she had awful short term memory loss to the point where she kept repeating conversations. What is life if you cannot remember it? As the whole series is about surgeons Izzy elected to have the surgery after some debate with most of the characters, and her oncologist who didn’t want her to have the surgery but wanted her to wait for the IL-2 to work, like one of her ‘miracle patients’ that Izzy had got to know. The miracle patient actually died, as did Izzy. As sad as it was I wanted Izzy to die as that was a very much more likely outcome. Prior to Ipilimumab, IL-2 was used to manipulate the immune system to attack the cancer again. It worked well in a very small number of patients, and gave many patients a lot of side effects. I didn’t want the story to give patients false hope. It does however show how far cancer treatment has come in such a short space of time. It is also a reminder how futile persistent surgery is, fraught with potential side effects. Primarily it’s a waste of time, therefore I would recommend that most patients only go down this route after a very thorough discussion with their oncologists. We packed up the room at Center Parcs on bank holiday Monday, and headed to Leicester. I got the train to London in the evening. Neither of us were wanting the summer to end. But I had a 9am blood test to attend to the next day at the Marsden and Georgie was starting term . As I was walking from St. Pancras station to Dave and Alice’s flat, I thought to myself after months and months and a very difficult 2016, here I am very happy, and I feel 95 percent. Not bad considering I was at 1 percent at the end of 2015. Not bad at all.

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4 thoughts on “Of Summer

  1. Just amazing energy, I enjoy your posts and as I sit here in a rainy Scotland doing my accounts I read your words and think I really should get out more. Take care Tanya

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  2. Sitting here in Spain on my holiday this post has made me tearful and happy too. For someone with your condition you certainly live life to the full ! The line where your happy to be here for the wedding season and the funeral , better not be in a box ! You could certainly sell holidays in England with all the great places you visit. I’m returning to Leicester in four days, even though you’ve made me cry I’m extremely happy to see a post. Take care Dr Mark and family xx Sue xx

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  3. Really enjoyed this blog Mark!

    For some reason the reference to St Pancras station resonated with me. It has an atmospheric appeal to it where I feel like I’m in a film going down the escalator towards the tube- or maybe that’s just me…

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