Living with Cancer
I have come home from the tour this morning to find a letter waiting for me confirming my next hospital appointment with Dr. David Edwards the cancer specialist I credit with keeping me alive and allowing me the opportunity to pursue my life as a husband, father and rock and roll singer.
Most people who see me singing for Big Country on this tour will not know that on February 28th I will go to the Alaw Unit in Bangor Hospital to go through the dreaded testing process that will determine if I am still the person you see on stage.
Every two months, I have to have my blood sampled and then sit through a nervous 1 to 2 hour wait for the results to be analysed and sent through to Dr. Edwards. I always go through this process with my wife Jules.
When Dr. Edwards eventually comes through to the waiting area and calls my name, I feel a pull in the pit of my stomach and steel myself for whatever is to come. As ever, Jules and I walk into Dr. Edwards office and exchange pleasantries, but deep down inside we are both wanting to scream ‘ARE THE BLOODS OK?’.
Sometimes, while Dr Edwards is engaging in conversation about his new guitar or the blues scales he has been getting into, I have had to fight back the urge to jump over the desk and take a look at the papers that I know dictate the terms by which I am allowed to live. Inevitably, I know I will have to wait, and in these seconds that last forever, I am comforted by the sight of my wife, life partner and soul mate Jules, who I know is holding back the same urge to make a dash for the results. We both wait patiently instead.
Dr Edwards always delivers the news nonchalantly just like the time he gave me the news of my first remission when he said “Well Mike, I was hoping for good news but…………………………………. I’ve got ‘great’ news you are now in remission!!!! The absolute and sheer relief at hearing those words cannot be measured in descriptive terms, but between a man and a woman who have children, it is immense.
At the moment, I am stable, or at least I was at the last review. I have Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia (CLL), chronic means incurable. It is something I have had to come to terms with, something my family have had to deal with and something my musician friends and The Alarm Community have had to deal with too. Some people who have been diagnosed with the same as me have not been as lucky as I have.
Since 2005, when I was first diagnosed and my condition was at it’s worst, I had major chemotherapy for six months and continued to play gigs on a once a month basis in between. This was incredibly tough for my mates in The Alarm who wanted to tour a lot more but they stood by me and understood. In 2006, I was declared to be in remission and have been ever since, although to maintain the equilibrium, my ‘remission’ is maintained by bi-monthly treatment sessions that involve a day in hospital receiving the drug ‘Rituximab’. This smart bomb of a medicine is administered by a drip over a 5 hour period and seeks out the rogue white blood cells that threaten my existence. I am alive today because of this wonder drug. Some unlucky people develop a resistance to the drug and then have to consider other options such as heavier chemotherapies or the ultimate step of a stem cell transplant.
When I went to London for a second opinion on my situation in 2005, I was told that if I wanted to ‘stay alive’ and see my kids in two years time, I should move south and have a transplant in London, immediately. I talked this through with my very own Dr. Edwards and he felt that because of my life situation, my ‘youth’ and resilience as a human being, that a transplant was too drastic a step at that point. Dr. Edwards has always stuck to the view that the way forward for me is to receive controlled exposure to Rituximab and wait and see. If my situation deteriorates or I stop responding then we can consider the other options then. Dr. Edwards remains hopeful that the breakthroughs in Leukaemia research will benefit me before the need for a transplant. When treating me or planning for my future, Dr. Edwards has always been frank and honest, and openly sets out my treatment regime on the fact that I have two young boys, sing in two bands and lead a life unlike most other normal people. He has always advocated the need to think outside the box when it comes to me.
Dr. Edwards was there when I was first diagnosed with Non Hodgkins Lymphoma back in 1995 and turned down, what was then known as a Bone Marrow Transplant. Instead, I went on tour to the USA, consulted a faith healer and upon return was decreed to have gone into a spontaneous remission. Dr. Edwards witnessed this miracle turnaround first hand and when I re-entered his life 10 years later with full blown leukaemia, he told me there and then, that because of the development in new drugs he could now help me “to live with the disease and die with it rather than of it”.
Dr. Edwards often reminds me that by going on tour and following, my instinct, I had actually had a miraculous escape from a very harrowing procedure that would have totally changed the course of my life and would have meant that Jules and I, would not now be waiting for the two brightest things in our life (Dylan and Evan) to come bursting into the house after school later today.
Dr Edwards, Jules and I both know how lucky I am to be alive. We are both so grateful for the bespoke and individual treatment that Dr. Edwards prescribes for me with care and dare I say ‘love’, considering not only my well being, but the preservation of my lifestyle too. This is the reason for the Love Hope Strength Foundation and my dedication to the battle against cancer because I receive all of this treatment and care on the national health and when I sing in ‘Harvest Home’, “Where were the heroes honest”, I think of Dr. Edwards and all the people in the health care system that keep myself and others like me alive to live.
I hope this open letter will explain why I had to stand up and be counted last night. It’s not easy living with cancer sometimes. Thank you to my incredible band mates in Big Country for standing with me and for all the messages of support received. I hope we can now move on together and continue with the tour in the spirit intended.
Stay Alive with Love Hope and Strength