It is stating the obvious to say that cancer blights our lives in so many different ways, types and parts of our bodies. Each and every cancer fighter has her/ his own human story to tell.  The fight with cancer does not come with pre-packaged diagnosis, prescription, application, then if lucky, recovery.  If only it were that simple!  It comes in more complex forms and it reveals itself in unexpected manifestations.

In my own personal case of ‘Cholangiocarcinoma’, I was informed by experts from the outset that the only treatment for this type of cancer is the removal of the tumourous part of the liver (hepatectomy), then leave it to the unique property of this particular human organ to regrow, over time, to its near original size.  So, with naivety / ignorance, I assumed the attitude that I only needed to survive the actual operation, recuperate and convalesce, then I can assume a normal life again.

I am not completely stupid, I did have a nagging doubt that the cancer might have spread or the original tumour was not removed completely.  However, that thought was set aside, until I got to recover from the main operation. I don’t know about the rest of my family but, I guess they were hoping my case would be as simple as I envisaged it.

Back to reality.  The ‘hepatectomy’ that removed 65% of my original liver was performed by Dr. Petrou and two assistant surgeon, plus the anesthetist, and half a dozen nurses. It took over 5 hours and many units of blood to complete and I had over 90 stiches to bind a spectacular scar in a reverse L- shape to show in the future as an after dinner entertainment.

I spent 12 days in the ICU (way too long) and 23 further days in the general ward. During that time there were small and large ‘ups and downs’; including near-death experience, but on the whole, the overall trajectory of my state of health was a positive one: I gradually regained my appetite for food, slowly reduced my reliance on medication, gained a little weight, and my strength began to build up from almost zero-base to maybe 15% of my original state.  After 7 weeks, Dr. Petrou, the leading surgeon released me, to go home and start a slow return to normality, warning me to take it easy and asking to see me twice a week for a while to make sure I was continuing to improve.

Everyone was delighted and dared to think the whole experience was receding into the distance.  This delight was widely shared and I sent out an announcement to many friends and colleagues declaring that I was back and inviting everyone who wished to visit to do so at their convenience.  Many did and Claire and I enjoyed a week full of activities including food shopping and cooking.  In other words, we thought we won the war and began to plan forward for life after cancer.

Ha! That thought lasted for just about one week.

On October 11 and as previously arranged, Claire and I returned to Nicosia to see Dr. Petrou for what we believed to be a routine review, blood tests, check-ups, and a CT scan.

Within a couple of hours of arriving, I was readmitted because all the tests indicated a potentially serious setback.  In short, around the liver area, there was a leakage of bile into the cavity of the body that was causing serious potential damage to other vital organs such as the pancreas, gallbladder, and kidneys.  In my earlier blogs, I discussed a specific indicator called bilirubin that is supposed to be within a tiny range as it indicates the effectiveness of the body to cleanse itself of damaged or dead hemoglobin.  If, for whatever reason, the bilirubin count climbs up a little it has to be managed clinically.  On a daily basis, my bilirubin count was going on an almost vertical climb, without any signs of stopping.  This deterioration was thought to be connected to the bile leakage.  At one point, my bilirubin count was 100 times the upper limit of the safety range!

We now recognised that the first 7 weeks only represented the ‘First Battle’ of the war and we were about to engage in the ‘Second Battle’.  In my mind, a very small and extremely destructive thought suddenly crept in with this question: How many more battles are there going to be?  If anyone knew the answer, experts or family, they didn’t share it with me.  In preparation for the Second Battle, the medical team subjected me to more scans, inserted further drainage holes in me, inserted a ‘central line’ in my neck, and wired me up to all kinds of instruments as though I was back in ICU.

In the next blog, I will explain how the Second Battle unfolded and the eventual outcome.  I warn you though, the Second Battle proved to be longer more brutal, complex and painful than the First Battle.

Thank you for Reading and I welcome your thoughts, questions and comments.