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Back in 2007 when I was 51, I was thinking about retiring early. Life had been kind to me and I was enjoying a successful career as a self-employed Business Consultant, travelling the world and meeting lots of exciting people. My wife had retired and my boys had finished their education. But I still wanted to achieve more, and we agreed that I would work for another five years, then call it a day.
It was an extremely demanding life both physically and mentally, but I didn’t feel ready to retire just yet. However, my choices were removed when I was diagnosed with Stage 4 mantle cell lymphoma, a few months later.
We were absolutely stunned, as up to that point I had never even been an inpatient in hospital, so to be diagnosed with incurable cancer was a real-life nightmare.
On diagnosis, things moved quickly. Initial scans then six courses of R-CHOP chemotherapy. I was told that to give me a chance of extending my life, I would need a stem cell transplant from an unrelated donor. I had no sibling match so the search was on and after several anxious months I was in remission and a donor was found. A young man aged 22 from London, via Anthony Nolan.
We had to move fast and I was admitted to hospital just before Christmas to start my transplant procedure. I found this a very tough process not just physically, but mentally too. Spending six weeks in an isolation unit can be a sobering time. There was no WiFi in those days either! The aggressive chemotherapy was tough, but so was thinking what the future may have in store. Would I survive the treatment, or be able to return to work? How would we pay the bills if the worst happened?
The transplant was successful and I was able to return home. So frail that I could barely climb the stairs or shower on my own but over time things improved, and despite numerous infections and trips to hospital, things settled down.
However, my health had become unreliable and I was unable to continue my career, which was a massive blow, both financially and economically. It felt like my independence had been taken away and I was relying on my family and friends for help, taking me for treatment and helping me with jobs at home.
My doctors were happy they had kept me in remission but my new enemy was graft versus host disease (GvHD) - my body rejecting my transplant. Which to this day continues to be very troublesome, having had serious issues with my skin, tendons, lungs and liver.
Generally these issues can be controlled with anti-rejection drugs, but the consequences of that is my immune system is compromised leaving me open to minor infections and viruses giving me big problems.
Unfortunately all these complications mean that I will never be far away from my next blood test, and my medical team and I have become close friends after eight years of regular treatment. But incredibly I am still alive despite all the predictions and statistics from back in 2007.
My life has changed tremendously. I now have very different values. My boys have forged their careers, and I have two beautiful grandchildren and time to spend with them. I am grateful that the treatment I have received has allowed me to see these things.
This experience filled me with a desire to give something back to the incredible people that have supported me over the years, so now I do public presentations about my experiences and run my own website, to allow both professionals and patients to share their views and experiences. It is now read in every country in the world.
Recently I have started my own charity with the aid of a unique partnership from the mobile phone industry, allowing us to help people affected by cancer with the cost of mobile phone bills.
My determination to use my experiences positively for others has had a real impact on my own life, and although cancer has taken a lot from me, it has given me some incredible moments of my own.
Life is exciting again, for the right reasons, and it is now difficult to remember my life before cancer.
I would like to finish this piece with one very valuable tip; learn to be patient as everything in healthcare takes time.
If you would like to see more of my work you will find my site at www.chris-cancercommunity.com