Des Nicholas's Story


My wife had oesophageal cancer twenty two years ago. I remember her complaining over the Christmas before her diagnosis that she was having trouble swallowing and had a bad pain in the left side of her chest. This got progressively worse and after several visits to our GP she was admitted to a clinical ward at our local hospital where she was initially treated very badly. At that time the assumption seemed to be that all women are probably neurotic and that the symptoms were imagined. I distinctly remember passing the nurses station on the ward and hearing the comment ‘where is the dying woman who carried her own case in? After two sessions with a gastroscope that revealed nothing she was finally passed over to a surgeon who immediately found the cancer. From then on everything changed, she was moved to a private room and things started to happen very quickly. Arrangements were put in place for the operation to take place as soon as possible.

Unfortunately she had developed a severe cold and we were sent home until this had cleared. This did not work out as within two days she was no longer even able to swallow her own saliva so I took her back into hospital. The operation was carried out successfully, she has a scar similar to yours but on the right side and higher up, she also has a scar from the bottom of her rib cage down to just above her navel. Both of these are now pretty much invisible. The remaining two thirds of her stomach are now in her chest cavity. I spoke to the registrar following the operation and he said that there were several suspicious areas within the abdomen that they were concerned about and these had been tagged so that they would show up on X-rays.

  Within three months my wife was again in severe pain. A scan was taken and at a consultation with the Surgeon and an Oncologist we were told that secondaries had appeared within the stomach cavity and spread to the liver. The scan showed a massive growth in the area that had been occupied by her stomach. There was little hope of survival.

  Now for the bad and the good bits.   We were told that a new type of chemotherapy had been successfully carried out on a man in America and that they were looking for someone in this country who was relatively young and fit and had a good reason for living. My wife did fit the bill, apart from the cancer she was strong and we had two very young daughters at the time, a very good reason for hanging on to life.

  The chemotherapy was horrendous. Three days at a time on drips followed by constant pain, nausea and vomiting at home. This was followed by the build up to the next session, made worse by the knowledge of what she was in for.  There were several sessions of being sent home as the blood count was too low for the treatment to be administered. Thank god for a mother in law who looked after all of us throughout this time. My wife was on large doses of morphine, I remember on one occasion calling out a doctor as she was in so much pain. A locum arrived and gave her an injection of morphine, no self administered pain control in those days. When he had finished I followed him downstairs and he said to me ‘why don’t you take the poor old thing off the treatment and let her die with a little dignity’. I kicked him out.

The ‘poor old thing’ was thirty eight at the time. My wife had nine sessions of chemotherapy in all, the hospital staff   were outstanding throughout all of this time, they had even moved her to a hospital nearer home at my request which was not a chemotherapy unit to make life easier for me. Steroids were also given to shrink the tumour. On the final chemo session it was almost as if her body was saying ‘ that’s enough, I won’t take anymore’ as the chemicals would not go in and the line dropped out.

  A while later we went for another scan. We went to see the Oncologist for the results, I was petrified with fear, I am sure I was more frightened than my wife.

  The Oncologist showed us the scan. There was no sign of a tumour, it has gone completely. He threw his arms around her with tears in his eyes. The effect on me was the opposite to what you would expect, I became irritable and bad tempered for some days, I suppose it was some sort of delayed shock. I remember throughout the time that my wife was receiving treatment people saying to me, ‘what about you, are you alright, I used to get angry and think, why are they fussing over me I’m not the one who’s ill.

  Following my wife’s recovery it took many months for the pain in her side to go. We were also told that she would never be able to eat normally again. This was not true, although she is not a great eater and will never have to worry about putting on weight she has been very fit and healthy and loves a glass of wine. The only medication needed is gaviscon at bedtime.

  Thanks to our GP at the time Doctor Peter Pearson, Surgeon Mr Amery, Oncologist Doctor Rostom and all the wonderful staff at Frimley Park Hospital my wife has been able to see our daughters grow up, marry and have four grandchildren, who could ask for more.

© Des Nicholas 2005