Chapter 51: Wilbert, Cara, Jasper and Stanley.

The beadier eyed amongst you will have no-doubt noticed a distinct change in the frequency of these cancer blog posts. This noticeable decrease in verbiage is of course a very good thing. There are only so many times that I can write about going for another CT scan and having yet another clinic with Dr. Wheater who keeps confirming that there have been no discernable changes in my malicious metastasis. I’m sure too that it would be even more tedious to keep reading about my Groundhog Day Cancer. Of course there are a lot of more nuanced tweaks going on in the background with my various steroids, pain killers and hormone replacement drugs, alas though I fear the Man Booker prize will never be won by some cancerous old fart banging on about his perpetual probing for the optimum dosages of levothyroxine and hydrocortisone.

Hence, I’ve just been quietly getting on with my charmed life, going to the gym, getting increasingly irate about the stupidity of Brexit and Trump and walking the dog. Or at least I was walking the dog up until October when the inconsiderate bastard decided to keel over and die in the middle of the night, a week before his 15thbirthday. I’m told that a week shy of 15 is an admirable innings for a big yellow Labrador, indeed in “dog years” that would make him almost, err, 15. Alas I’m finding his departure, however expected, considerably less than ideal. He’d been ill for the last year and was on various medications for his heart, indeed a year ago I was encouraging sweep stakes between my friends about who would go first, me, or Wilbert. But as my regular CT scans reported encouragingly good results, it became increasingly likely that my faithful hound would depart first. It was therefore no great surprise that on the morning of 24thOctober 2018, Tori and I found ourselves in the back garden digging a rather large Wilbert shaped hole in my lawn.

Wilbert Jago (7th November 2003 - 23rd October 2018)
A few months after Wilbert died I got a phone call from my friend Colin. He was at the vets with his chocolate Labrador, Cara. Cara too had been in ill-health, and it turned out that this particular trip to the vets would be her last. As Colin had nowhere to bury her, he bought her over to my house and we planted her next to her old friend Wilbert. As I type, looking out of my study window across the garden my eyes are drawn to two neat patches of fresh turf marking the final resting places of both Wilbert and Cara.

Wilbert and Cara

My unrealistic post-Wilbert intentions were of course to continue with my morning walk around the woods, and indeed my afternoon stroll along Salisbury plain, even if I did feel a bit of a prat now bereft of a slowly plodding yellow dog bringing up the rear. As however is frequently the nature with such good intentions, they have not been fulfilled and the activity rings on my phone are reporting considerably less activity since I have become unintentionally dogless. I have been opining endlessly on Facebook regarding my unwelcomed deficiency in the canine department, and I do believe it is garnering me some much appreciated sympathy. Bob, my old University chum and his lovely wife Kim must have noticed the harrowing hound hole in my life and has been kindly stuffing it with a loveable little Jack Russell called Jasper. I’m not sure if Bob and Kim have just had a lot of business trips lately or whether they just feel sorry for me and keep asking me to look after Jasper for the weekend. Either way his visits are most welcomed.

Jasper

 I’ve never been a great fan of small dogs, but Jasper has forced me to reconsider my previous position regarding bijou beasts and I am now prepared to make an exception in the case of a cheeky Jack Russell. With Jasper’s eager assistance I have reinstated my morning tramp around the woods when he comes to stay and my afternoon amble across the plain. Furthermore, when my carefully considered balance of steroids, painkillers and hormone replacements don’t seem to be quite achieving the level of comfort that I would like, Jasper lies quietly on the sofa with me while I loudly educate him in the joys of my new Greta Van Fleet album. Jasper has even endeared himself to Tori too, who bizarrely favours cats to dogs. So much so in fact, that with Jasper’s help, and some considerable nagging on my part, she has finally agreed that if my next CT scan results are favourable, then we can have a puppy.

We thought about getting a Jack Russell puppy as Jasper is such a good boy, but he doesn’t get on well with Huxley, our ginger tom cat, and Jack Russell’s are prone to chasing cats. I’ve therefore invested a considerable effort of late in selecting a breed that meets all of our doggo desires and is also likely to get on well with the cat. Tori quickly ruled out Basset and Blood Hounds because she doesn’t like their droopy loveable eyes, she’s also discounted Great Danes and any other large dog liable to drool excessively. Despite me putting forward what I thought were convincing cases for Dalmatians, German Shepherds, Weimaraners and Gordon Setters, my pitches for bitches were entirely unsuccessful. I came quite close with Cocker and Springer Spaniels, but she doesn’t like the idea of their ears dangling in their dinner. The only thing we could eventually agree on was a Beagle. There’s nothing cuter than a baby Beagle, but I was however slightly concerned with their rotten recall reputation and their vocal tendencies, but at least we’d finally agreed on a suitable breed. Obviously we’d discounted another Labrador early on because Wilbert is, of course, utterly irreplaceable. However, whilst searching for a suitable Beagle pup I stumbled upon a black and chocolate Labrador litter. Perhaps If we got a black Labrador, he wouldn’t feel like a Wilbert replacement, so despite not actually having had my CT scan results yet, we rang up and arranged a viewing of the puppies and their parents. After all, my last 4 CT scans have been fine so why wait?

Of course the puppies were adorable. We reserved a black male puppy. He will be named Stanley Jago after my grandfather’s younger brother who died in a submarine during the second world war. He’ll be weaned and ready to come home with us in about 4 weeks.

Me and Stanley

 All that remains then is to get the results of my latest CT scan to ensure that the chemotherapy is still continuing to keep my cancer in check. My last scan was a little different to the 15 or so previous scans I’ve had because this time it also included a head scan, just to ensure that everything is tip top in the brain department. 

When I saw Dr. Wheater again last week he was once again happy to tell me that below my neck, the chemotherapy is still effectively going about it’s daily business of keeping my cancer at bay. The head scan however showed a fairly large grey area at the front of my brain which he believes to be a metastasis spread from my otherwise fairly dormant cancer. I’m afraid however that they’re just going to have to bloody well sort it out. It’s taken me ages to convince Tori to get a puppy and I’m buggered if I’m changing that now. As this is the first head scan I’ve have had, it’s unclear if the tumour has grown recently or if it has been slowly growing for a while. Dr. Wheater explained that the blood/brain barrier that protects the brain from harmful substances means that my chemotherapy is less effective in my brain as it is elsewhere. I’d like to think that the tumour has been there a while, perhaps as a result of the rapid cancer growth I had prior to starting on the cabozantinib treatment, but any thoughts on how long the lump has been lurking there are mere speculation until I’ve had a few more head scans. As luck would have it though, an effective treatment is now available for tumours such as mine. Indeed, Southampton hospital have very recently installed new specialist equipment specifically for stereotactic radiotherapy. This is a precisely targeted radiotherapy that will require a specially tailored mask to keep my head perfectly still while they fry a very distinct part of my brain. Piece of cake.

I shall have an MRI scan in the next few weeks to more accurately access and pinpoint the tumour and then hopefully the treatment will be quite soon afterwards, but I’ll save that for the next post, along with a new picture of Stanley to see how he’s getting on too.