Paul Younger, 53, an NHS procurement manager and father-of-two from South-East London
Paul Younger, 53, an NHS procurement manager and father-of-two from South-East London, was diagnosed with tonsillar throat cancer caused by HPV in January.
Today The Mail on Sunday publishes the first instalment of his searing personal diary, detailing his gruelling chemo and radiotheraphy sessions – and the devastating effect they have had on his life…
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I’m on my way to Guy’s Hospital with my partner Helen before my treatment begins, feeling apprehensive. I’ve only had three intimate partners in my life and am numb from learning that this cancer is usually transmitted through sexual contact and can lie dormant for decades. I remember a quotation from Churchill: ‘When you’re going through hell, keep going.’
Nurse Laura gives me a leaflet about possible side effects of chemotherapy, especially nausea.
Later, back at home, Helen treats me to some Turkish delight. I wonder whether this sweet I adore will ever taste the same after my treatment.
On the first day of my treatment as an outpatient at Guy’s, I go up to the ‘Chemo Village’. Laura directs me to chair 28, my home for the next six hours. In the distance I can see my birthplace, near the Crystal Palace TV mast. I silently pray for a cure.
At 2pm I’m hooked up to my final bag of fluid and then set off for radiotherapy. The mask I have to wear is really tight, like a straitjacket. I feel like I’m being throttled and my pulse is bursting in my neck.
Helen comes to collect me. I just want to get back to the security of home. I ask if she has a plastic bag and silently pray: ‘Please God don’t make me sick this evening on a packed commuter train.’
At about 6.30am nausea sets in. I manage some tea and cornflakes, washing down seven types of pill as I eat. During my radiotherapy I have a minor panic attack which I manage to overcome. I try to gulp, which is impossible with the tightness of the mask. It’s impossible to open your eyes or your mouth properly.
Another sleepless night. I’m really nauseous with violent hiccups and a very dry throat.
Two days before my diagnosis six weeks ago I was in the gym. I ran two miles that morning, I rowed, cycled, lifted some weights and boxed a punch bag. My consultant told me on diagnosis that I had to stop going to the gym immediately and focus on putting weight on to combat future loss from the treatment. Now I am 21 lb heavier. Fitness: another loss.
After treatment I meet Specialist Nurse Tina. She says 80 per cent of people my age have been exposed to HPV, and no one knows what causes the cancer to grow from its dormant state. She mentions the campaign to get our boys vaccinated. This cancer can be wiped out. In the bathroom mirror I notice my neck is already reddening.
Pictured is the medication Paul has been taking during his treatment period
I got up three times in the night to gargle with bicarbonate of soda and salt – akin to having a sweaty sock rinsed out in your mouth.
The pills are making me really constipated and bloated. The train to Guy’s is packed with schoolchildren and there’s nowhere to sit. I’m hot, sweaty, and in a panic. Pride prevents me from asking someone to move. When ladies are pregnant they can now wear visible badges: perhaps cancer patients should wear something similar.
On the train home I fall asleep and nearly miss my stop. Later I go public on Facebook about my illness. I’m overwhelmed by the response – more than 150 messages from family and footballing friends, along with phone calls. It’s good to feel loved.
Today I have to start injecting myself with Filgrastim into my stomach to produce more white blood cells. I waste the first syringe on the lounge carpet. The second goes in easily. After breakfast I try a couple of minutes on the exercise bike and I’m shocked at my level of fatigue. There’s no energy in me.
After getting home I nap all afternoon. I wake at about 7pm, determined to enjoy fish and chips. By 7.30 I’m fast asleep again.
Please God, give me my life back. The physical pain is doubled by so many other losses, personal and emotional.
It’s snowing. I wish I could go for a walk, but I sleep most of the morning. The constipation is agony. I have ringing in my left ear and my throat has almost closed completely.
I’m so tired with very little appetite, extremely dry mouth and throat and I’m struggling with any type of drink. I love tea and now it tastes of nothing. I worry as I must keep up my fluids. I wrap myself in a blanket and sleep until after midday.
Up most of the night. I have no idea what to drink as everything tastes the same. Today I chat to a fellow sufferer Jenny whose mouth cancer means she has had to have grafts to make a new cheek. I’m humbled by her positive attitude.
I feel as if I've lost my life, the things I love. I feel useless...
I tell her my routine to get through radiotherapy: prayer and inner chanting. We discover we both use imagery to take us off to a distant land to escape our own reality.
I try Rice Krispies and find them indigestible. At lunchtime I make tomato soup with bread and butter and this, too, is unpalatable. Food has become intolerable. At the hospital I’m told to adopt swallowing exercises, as my throat muscles will now be used less and less. The dietician says I should try ice cream, but it tastes like cardboard, too, just cold cardboard. Perhaps the feeding tube will be needed sooner rather than later.
Ulcers are appearing in my throat and I’m prescribed liquid morphine. I really struggle with my evening meal and have to get up several times during the night due to skin peeling from the roof of my mouth.
My tongue is permanently stinging and it feels as if I have a ball of wool lodged in my throat. My psychologist says I should view food as medicine. I wish I could eat the meals Helen cooks