A good friend of mine has recently been diagnosed with colon cancer in January this year.
Jean-Louis Bravard is partly retired now, but works with Boris Johnson promoting London, still runs his own consulting company, and at one time he was the MD of J P Morgan bank.
Jean-Louis has written a short story called “Where is my tattoo?”. This is an account of his diagnosis, treatment, prognosis and hoped-for all clear in the near future. It’s a very positive account and he has given me permission to publish his story on Chandler’s Ford Today.
Where is my tattoo? a short story by Jean-Louis Bravard
At no time would I even begin to consider having a tattoo. I must say that I have a lot of tolerance, even attraction, for discreet, elegant tattoos, but, I am rather repulsed by those large tattoos worn by footballers and some pop artists. When asked I always said I would never have a tattoo.
Well, I got one against my will. I think it participated in saving my life but right now I do not know where it is. I will probably also never know what it looks like although I would have liked to influence its shape. Here is the story.
Allow me to explain briefly. In mid 2011 I was asked to go through a routine test by the NHS. The first test came back inconclusive. I had a second test. Same result but no worry and I was told that the test would be conducted again later.
Summer 2015, same story just before Christmas but then Dawn from the med team at Charing Cross hospital suggests I go through a colonoscopy. Easy decision as I was going to go through that procedure anyway “just in case” at age 65.
January 5th 9am, the first available day when back from skiing I report to the Hospital. Amy, Dawn’s partner, admits me and after much administration, education and consents I walk into the theatre where the procedure is completed without full anaesthesia.
In the recovery room I wait patiently but around 10:30am I noticed that my neighbour who underwent the same procedure after me is about to be released. At that point and without any other hint “I got it”: the colonoscopy team had noticed something at least suspicious and most likely bad. Bad means CANCER. I Whattsapped Eibhlin that something was amiss.
I was still with IV etc… When a member of the team brought me to another room and now with Eibhlin at my side Amy confirmed my guess. An innocuous polyp had been removed but next to it a 3cm cancerous tumour was discovered. The next immediate step was to go through a CT scan to determine if there were any growth of the cancer beyond its location, through the intestinal wall, the stomach, liver or other organs. I was not really asked for my opinion but I had no hesitation and agreed to go through the scan.
Just before the procedure we were joined by LLLL who told us of a new research for people in my circumstances. A multi-year program starting with a full body MRI. I confirm I am not claustrophobic after being told I will be placed in a big tube for about one hour. No hesitation but even positive excitement when I am told that the MRI may be scheduled for the next day and contribute to the overall assessment on the following Thursday.
What is the full body MRI like?
Boy, the full body MRI was a much bigger event than expected. I felt like a cosmonaut with a big mask, full body armour and complete stillness for one hour and a half.
The loud noises were as expected and actually almost musical, my friend FIX (he knows who he is!) would have loved this, very Berg, contemporary classical like music. Well, I did not listen to the whole show as I fell asleep! Worse, I woke up hearing a NASA voice speaking with metallic tones and stating “now breathe out and hold your breath”. Now that was a bit of a surprise! I must have been dark red when I was allowed to breathe the lunar air again.
Then home and facing reality. My world was about to change but for some strange reason my focus was very short: Thursday. Until then “stay calm and carry on”. Very British!
The first streak of luck came on Wednesday morning as I was leaving the L&P office. Amy called me on the mobile phone and said that the CT scan results were in and that without waiting for the Thursday meeting she wanted me to know that there was nothing bad to be seen and that it would appear my tumour was just local. She sounded like she was almost happier than me. Strangely I was unemotional.
Appointment was made for the 15th with Mr Rees at St Mary’s hospital in Paddington. I stayed calm and carried on while Eibhlin, Marjory and Rachel showed tremendous moral strength and support. We jointly decide to keep the whole situation from friends until we have the meeting on the 15th only direct family and partners told of the cancer. Big party on the Saturday. We try and show nothing and I think we did a very good job.
The meeting with the surgeon (Mr Rees) and the nurse (Anne) was unemotional. Surgery on the 23rd. Then recovery in hospital for 4 to 6 days then six weeks off work. Two weeks after surgery all tests results will be back and we’ll decide how much chemo or radiotherapy I will be given. Please report at 07:30 on the 23rd with empty bowels. I am given a list of all the risks and I sign a consent form. Still few emotions.
The following Sunday, the 18th, I bring close friends (the Ramblers) up to speed along a 15km walk and all show a lot of support but with much tact and care. Back home I prepare and send a short note to friends to tell them what is happening – I wrote the note in English and French to make sure I communicate both the challenge and the optimism. I see cancer as a “normal” disease, I will get over it. I will let you know when I have more news. Please support my family and send positive thoughts my way on the 23rd.
I was overwhelmed by the response. I was not walking alone but now I am walking with an army!
I say that but there is still little emotion inside me but I observe that my family is under massive stress. But they keep it in check, including Rachel and her own physical challenge. Marjory very supportive and coming over for one week. Very posh… Personal doctor to join the legal team (Rachel and Ronan – you never know) than, icing on the cake Elliot joins Marjory and brings in Pharma.
I’ve got a tattoo inside my bowel
I will skip pre-op activities but along the way I am told that a tattoo was made inside my bowel.
Apparently the surgeon would not know where the tumour was and the tattoo is bit like the helicopter landing pad red circles. I am also told that the surgeon will try and use a key hole technology to remove the tumour. Then all the additional information: peridural, many intravenous (IV) and one Intra-arterial inputs. Potential one IV in the neck. OK on all fronts. I am not worried.
I feel like I am with professionals and like me they would do what they have to do. Oysters and fabulous cod for lunch but I am not very hungry for my last lunch. The two girls and E have dinner home on the 23rd. We have a 6AM start and I cannot eat dinner.
Eibhlin comes to hospital with me on the 23rd and is joined by Rachel and Marjory. Thank you Uber for the service! Things move quickly, I undress, wear a sexy gown and meet the anaesthesia team. Carlos from Jamaica wears a funky football cap, he adds a heating blanket as I lie down and then one nurse puts a needle in my left arm. Eibhlin is at my side. I will be Ok – bye!
I wake up about 3pm. Light room. Four beds. Rapid inventory. Three tubes from my right arm, one on the left, one from my groin but no pain in the back and nothing from my neck. Beer belly bumpier than usual. No I am not pregnant! No pain. I am told to press a morphine button regularly and when in pain. I think I am rather parsimonious with the drug button but in any case I never had any pain.
When Eibhlin is over and later joined by the two girls I seem to hear that all went well, that the whole surgery was by keyhole and that all is as well as can be.
I seem to have two belly buttons
Saturday starts with many tests from about 6am. I sleep in between blood tests, the regular blood pressure measurements and the many activities around me. Besides an old lady who seems to have had a very bad fall I am clearly the worst case in that recovery room. But I do not mind the attention as by mid day I feel that most my senses are back. Long road ahead but I am positive.
A very short spin (I drank too much last night) and later a short walk. No pain but super clumsy and bending over due to the 4 holes in my belly. Interestingly I seem to have two belly buttons (I was later told that the middle belly hole was used to expel the 30cm or so of bowel taken out).
Very pleasant visit by Eibhlin and the girls. I tire quickly though.
Bad night. My bowel starts functioning again, passing wind is no fun and things get slightly worse but after discovering that “commode” is a faux ami I am happy to see that all around me are absolutely thrilled!
The family visit is much better than the previous day. I feel stronger. The visits by the full extended family this time is great. They seem relieved. We go through my experience.
I feel stronger on Sunday after a good night. Some of my apparatus is taken off. Really nice to feel surrounded by my extended family for the first time ever. All very caring.
What happens to my tattoo?
Discussion starts on the procedure, the care and what is next and my tattoo. The tattoo is in good hands in a lab but a young researcher stops by to ask for my approval to have a slice (of the bowel) donated to Imperial College. I am honoured and sign the consent form.
All family leaves the hospital on Sunday late afternoon to have a feast of crab, great wine and MY WHISKY. All for a good cause. I fall asleep late, tired but positive about leaving the following Wednesday or Thursday.
Overflow with emotion
Sunday night was not great but better than the previous one. I feel much better on Monday morning and things further improve when a nurse takes out the catheter and the remaining IVs. At that point my emotional bag overflows and I start crying non stop.
The nurse pretends she does not see anything but off and on I cry most of the morning. My sisters share in the tears (thank you Skype) but I can now roam freely and go regularly to the toilet as the system comes progressively back to normal. Normal in that case is really good you know!
Walking off a car wreck without being wounded
The best way I can describe my feelings is that I felt I was walking off a car wreck without being wounded. I can say “what was that?”. I feel so lucky and privileged when many years ago the cancer would not have been detected early and taken out in time. I would most likely have died within a few years. On top of that I got the most amazing check-up just before my 65th birthday. All is well.
From good to better, more family visits, better food and late on Monday the news that assuming all is well on Tuesday morning I will be released later that day and will go home. Something Elliot cannot say as a terrible blizzard is blocking flights into New York and most of New England.
Late Monday was a bit frustrating as it took many hours for a bed in a lesser care area was freed, but in the end I was given a single room with a huge window and I wrote this in the winter sun.
Mr Rees paid me a visit to confirm I will be released today and even gave me the good news that the clips will self dissolve so no need for a visit to my GP. All clear on all fronts.
I am writing this predominantly for my own mental sake, but also in the hope that it will give others the courage to face cancer.
Personally, I could have been more focused on the tests in previous years but I was not bad and took the issues head on. I trusted the Medical team and did not try to shop around away from the NHS. My private care provider is even sending me money back as I am not using them! It is a bit like your car insurance sending you a 30% bonus for not having an accident this year. Funny world.
But… I still do not know the whereabouts of my tattoo!
Jean-Louis Bravard: The Washing Machine
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