Sunday, 16 March 2014
The skin I live in: a 7 year journey
As my latest round of cancer treatment is coming to an end, it has prompted me to reflect upon the mind-body journey I’ve been on.
I’d had rashes all over my body for many years, without realising I had cancer. But in 2007, I found a big lump in my groin, went to the doctors and was diagnosed with cutaneous t-cell lymphoma with mycosis fungoides - a kind of skin cancer.
At that time, I was overweight, unhealthy, stressed and depressed. Cancer seemed like the last straw.
The doctors wanted photos of my rashes, so I was taken to the medical photographer. Standing half naked, with my arms out stretched, my gut hanging over my boxer shorts and my skin covered in lesions, flaking away onto the floor as he took pictures, I felt ashamed.
Four cycles of chemo later, the tumours in my lymph nodes were gone, but the rashes remained and continued to deteriorate over subsequent years.
While my skin was getting worse, my health was otherwise improving. I’d never done any exercise in my life before. But the experience of going through cancer treatment had inspired me to get fit, so I started running and weight lifting. I became very interested in fitness and I even became qualified as a personal trainer.
But by 2013, my skin had worsened so much that I was starting to look like the Singing Detective. I was shedding the top layer of my skin like a snake and I had to stop running because it was just too painful to move. For the second time in my life, it seemed like things were coming to a gloomy end.
Fortunately, however, I was referred to a new consultant who prescribed photo-chemotherapy: a combination of drugs and ultraviolet light treatment. (Essentially high-tech sun beds). Treatment has given me a deep, even, all over tan. It’s the first time I’ve ever enjoyed a side effect of cancer treatment. And more importantly, it has worked. My skin is looking better than it has done in over 15 years.
I’ve now got just one more week of treatment to go. My cancer in remission, my skin has cleared up, and my hard work at the gym is finally starting to pay off. Who knows what the future has in store, but right now, this is a pretty special moment for me.
I'm now looking forward to going on holiday to Greece in May with my partner, Martin. It will be nice, for a change, not to feel ashamed of my skin on the beach, and it will give me chance to top up that tan.