In 2013 I was diagnosed with stage four cancer in my tonsils, throat and tongue. It is called oropharyngeal cancer. This diagnosis was a complete shock. I hadn’t smoked or drunk alcohol for over thirty-five years. I never imagined my sore throat, ear ache and two small lumps on my lower neck could be cancer. My cancer was caused by the Human Papillomavirus, or HPV, which is sexually transmitted. I knew HPV could cause cervical cancer, but I didn’t know it is also a growing cause of cancers in the mouth, head and neck, as well as in the anus and penis.
From the moment of my diagnosis, the shock I was feeling had a big effect on my capacity to understand and remember what my doctors were telling me. I was lucky to have a multi-disciplinary team to explain things to me and look after me. I had radiotherapy every day for a month and chemotherapy once a week. The side effects were tough. I lost a lot of weight. For six weeks, I could not speak and I was only able to swallow liquid food. My pain, discomfort and nausea were well managed. I only had to let them know that something was worrying me and action was taken to help me. My partner, Melissa took time off work and cared for me. Our two adult children in their early 20s, Amelia and Luke stepped up and became loving, practical supporters. Close friends brought us food and helped to take me to treatment and clinical appointments. After treatment and the immediate acute impact of the radiation, I recovered well and was back to normal work within twelve months.
Podcasts about cancer
When I was asked by Cancer Council NSW to interview ten experts for this new podcast series, “The Thing About Cancer” I was honoured and grateful. When I got my diagnosis, my family and I relied on booklets from Cancer Council because we knew it was a trusted source of evidence-based information. I was thrilled to be helping to create a new set of audio podcasts to complement the existing information produced by Cancer Council NSW.
The podcasts include the voices of cancer patients, as well clinicians who have years of practical experience in care, support and research. We cover a wide range of topics, from the first experience of getting a diagnosis, through the process of weighing up the treatment options and managing the side effects, to dealing with some of the longer term issues of recovery.
We have asked a diverse group of cancer experts the questions that a cancer patient would want to ask. We’ve also asked questions with the needs of family and friends in mind. I know from personal experience what it is like to be flooded with information at a time in your life when it is natural to be anxious and overwhelmed. This emotional pressure, and the treatment itself, can affect memory, concentration and comprehension. At such a time, we need written materials and diagrams. And now, with “The Thing About Cancer” series, we can complement these materials with audio podcasts on vital topics.
The great advantage of podcasts is that you can listen to these interviews as many times as you like. It is also reassuring to hear the tone and warmth of the human voice, especially from patients, carers and clinicians who really understand and have helpful suggestions based on direct experience. If you have any questions, you can discuss them with your clinical team or ring Cancer Council 13 11 20 Information and Support.
Two podcasts in this series especially interest me. These are “Explaining cancer to kids” and “Sex and cancer”.
Explaining cancer to kids
Even though our own children were young adults at the time of my diagnosis, talking to them about an illness that inevitably makes people worry about the possibility of death is one of the hardest things I have ever done. It is marvellous to listen to frank advice about how to manage this difficult and emotional challenge with children of all ages.
Sex and cancer
Similarly, sexuality and intimacy is a topic that is hard to raise with your doctor and yet it is a vital part of a marriage or partnership. The podcast on emotional and physical recovery, and finding a new way to be intimate after the challenges of cancer treatment, is refreshing, frank and full of reassurance.
As a cancer survivor, who still sees my cancer doctors regularly for checks and on-going care, this series of conversations provides vital, evidence-based information that will help nurture my on-going recovery. If I experience a recurrence in the future, I will feel much more prepared to manage the experience and ask good quality questions to help me recover again.
I really hope you find these podcasts valuable. We would love your feedback about how they can be improved in the future. Whether you are a patient, a family member or a friend, I send you warm wishes for your future and may we all live our lives to the full.