It’s been a queer old year…
2021 has been a year of revelations. I’ve discovered in myself that I can run far and long, reaching milestones that I could never have dreamt of this time last year. I started 2021 with a goal to run 2000 km and complete one ultra-marathon race to prove that I’d gotten over having tonsil cancer. By year end, I’ve run almost 4200 km (2600 miles) and participated in many ultra-races, to prove instead that I could challenge my new Stage 4 cancer diagnosis. Perhaps it is denial. Perhaps I would have done this anyway. Increasingly I have come to realise the central tenet is circular: running more means I refuse be defined by having cancer, but the very nature of the challenges show that having cancer has fundamentally changed who I am. And that in itself need not be a bad thing.
And it’s not just the physical challenges that have made 2021 special; it’s also been the year when I’ve realised that I’m genderqueer. That is, my innate sense of gender is more than being assigned male at birth. This revelation occurred during a particularly long meditative run in June, and the effect was immediate and euphoric, allowing me better understand who I am and how I’ve acted over practically my whole life. This is something I’m still getting to grips with, as it’s so different to realising I was gay, and even for me the labels and categories associated with gender identity are a minefield to try and navigate! But if having cancer has taught me anything, life is literally too short to worry about labels and what others may think. And no matter how old we are, we can still discover things about ourselves, which can be exciting and terrifying at the same time. And one of the positive aspects of 2021 was finding Queer Runnings, a new network of people I can positively relate to.
And so what of living with cancer these past 6 months? It’s been a mind-fuck.
The immunotherapy treatment has been part responsible - until I have a new scan we don’t know if the tumours are shrinking or growing, if they have stabilised or increased in number. It’s like I’m existing in a Schrödinger world, simultaneously occupying the spaces of getting better (I have no idea) or dying (I have no idea).
I’ve just completed cycle 2 of pembrolizumab, with the next infusion in February 2022. Thankfully, I’ve had almost no physical side effects from the treatment, although I have been warned that these usually build up over time. Even getting the treatment is minimally disruptive, entailing visits to Barts hospital only once every 6 weeks. Prior to each treatment I have my bloods assessed, as immunotherapy can lower white blood cell counts, especially neutrophils that are important for fighting-off infection.
Blood cell / substance Healthy person Units
Haemoglobin (HB) 130-180 (male)
115-165 (female) g/L
White Cell Count (WBC) 4-11 x 10^9/L
Platelet Count (PLT) 150-450 x 10^9/L
Neutrophil Count 2.0-7.5 x 10^9/L
While my neutrophil counts have declined markedly from 4.4 to 2.5 billion per litre, they are still above the levels where I would have to stop treatment, so fingers crossed the decline levels off in time for the next cycle.
So here’s looking forward to 2022. Who knows what will happen, but I suspect that more major life-changes are on their way, fuelled by goals even longer, better and more fun than 2021 could ever have dreamed off.
And I couldn't not end this post without a special "Happy Anniversary" to David, as we celebrate 35 years of being together!!