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Journalist’s story increases sales of charity wristbands

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SALES of wristbands to raise money for Cancer Research UK increased in Jersey last week after local journalist Gary Burgess spoke out about his own cancer treatment and urged Islanders to support the charity.

Mr Burgess opened up about his experience for World Cancer Day, which fell on Tuesday and coincided with his last day of chemotherapy.

More than 300 bands have so far been sold by the Cancer Research UK shop in Halkett Street, raising a total of £1,331.

The charity said it had noticed an increase in people buying the bands following an appeal by the ITV reporter and JEP columnist.

Carinna O’Connor, assistant manager of Jersey’s Cancer Research UK shop, said: ‘We want to thank Gary for highlighting the unity bands through talking about his own experiences.

‘We will be selling the bands until the end of February and want to thank Islanders who have bought the bands and remind people that the money donated goes towards important cancer research.’

She added: ‘And we want to wish Gary all the best now he has finished his chemotherapy treatment.’

Local journalist Gary Burgess is currently undergoing treatment for cancer. He recently opened up about his experience to promote fundraising by Cancer Research UK and is writing a blog about his journey. Here, with his permission, we share some extracts from that blog.

To read more visit garyschemodiary.wordpress.com.

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My hair fell out

Posted on 12 December 2019

‘It was 9.20am this morning. I was in the kitchen and was cooking some bacon.

‘My dad had come to visit for a few days so I thought it would be a nice surprise for him to see that I was having a good day and had enough energy to do a little bit of cooking.

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‘I scratched my head. I noticed there were hairs in my hand. I then tugged at a bit of hair on the side of my scalp and it pulled out without any effort. Today would be the day.

‘I knew it was coming. Hair loss is a common symptom for the type of chemotherapy I’m on, and my oncologist had said it would happen around two weeks after the start of my chemo. Today is exactly two weeks.

‘What I hadn’t reckoned on was how utterly heartbroken I would be.

‘I’d made a plan to message my lovely hairdresser Paul to come round ASAP and shave it all off. I figured I didn’t want the “slow death” of my hair over a few days and hair remnants everywhere to constantly remind me of what was happening. I genuinely thought I’d be very relaxed about it.

‘Instead I was curled in a ball on the kitchen floor crying and shaking like some kind of wreck. I eventually pulled it together and went to the lounge. And that crying just kept coming.

‘Anyhow, Paul arrived within the hour. He shaved it all off, which set me off again. And I went upstairs for a shower to freshen up and wash away any loose hairs.

‘By the time I got to the bathroom I forgot that my hair has gone and got the shock of my life when I looked in the mirror!

‘It’ll be a few days, no doubt, before all the hair goes. Eyebrows. Arm pits. Body hair. There’s a lot to shed but it’s likely all going to go. On the upside, I’ll be very aerodynamic.

‘What helped no end was a FaceTime call from my dear friends Sophia and Katie. I answered with the camera pointing away from me so I could “warn” them about what happened. But they didn’t bat an eyelid, said I actually looked handsome, and we got on with our usual round of gossip (oh the things I could tell you!).

‘As ever, sharing this with you helps me. And I hope it’s also useful for anybody who’s got this event coming up. For me, the shave-and-get-rid approach is the right one.

‘And, in case you were wondering, I’m going for beanie hats rather than a baseball cap. Not sure I can pull off that look at the age of 44.’

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The worst week

Posted on 25 January

‘There’s nothing like a dramatic headline to get things started but I thought it worth sharing a little bit about how cycles of chemotherapy really can be so different.

‘I’m just approaching the end of cycle three which means – *cue the party poppers* – I begin my final round next week.

‘Each cycle of chemo basically consists of one week of chemo as a hospital in-patient and then two weeks of recovery at home, to allow my blood count to return to some kind of normality, before we start over. That two weeks of recovery is basically a week of feeling awful and a week of feeling “okay”.

‘But this time was a different scale. I think it’s fair to say it’s the worst I’ve felt in my life.

‘Despite the anti-sickness medication, I was throwing up every day. My appetite had gone so I was bringing up bile and the contractions to my stomach and body while being sick were exacerbated by the fact I was physically wiped out all week. It was a different level this time around. As an example, the stagger to the toilet was followed by a long lie down as even the act of having a wee left me exhausted.

‘Throughout all this, as ever, my husband Alan was being the world’s greatest carer, tending to me morning, noon and night.

‘But then things got better. And I didn’t just improve gradually. One morning it was like a switch had been flicked and suddenly getting out of bed felt fine, rather than feeling like climbing Everest.

‘The contrast was also demonstrated by two hospital visits I made in Jersey this week. On Monday I needed to be taken to the oncology unit by wheelchair. Yesterday I strolled from the car to the unit quite ably. Isn’t the body an amazing thing?

‘As ever, I reflect on all of this by seeing these changes as evidence that the chemotherapy is doing its thing.

‘Ahead of me is one more cycle of treatment: one more week of chemotherapy, and likely one more of these “worst week” periods of recovery. Beyond that, by the end of February I’m expecting to have a scan and then learn whether or not this has all worked.

‘For now, the rest and recovery continues, buoyed on by the many lovely messages from friends and strangers. The sort of thing that, even at the worst of times, makes a world of difference.’

Last day of chemo – wiped out but pleased

Posted on 5 February

‘So, on World Cancer Day, a chance to shine a light on all the amazing medics who’ve made a difference during this process. Every single person on the wards I’ve stayed on at Southampton General, and in the Oncology Unit at Jersey General where I’ve gone for weekly appointments between in-patient stays, has been tremendous. They have a knack of making you feel you’re the only person that matters when they’re dealing with you, despite me knowing they’re mad busy at all times. That’s a real skill.

‘Then there are the consultants and house doctors who’ve looked after me so closely, giving me extra medication when needed, and always being ready to answer my questions when I had any.

‘I’m back in Southampton at the start of March for a CT scan to see if the tumours have been beaten.

‘One thing I learned only recently was that one of the magic medicines doing that fighting – cisplatin – was discovered as a result of work by Cancer Research UK. It’s why, last week, I was delighted to support them in promoting their unity bands which are on sale now. An easy way of supporting an excellent cause and I should, at this point, thank Jersey’s media for giving it such prominent coverage across newsprint, radio and online.

‘I’ve also had loads of messages from friends and strangers – lots and lots of strangers – calling me “inspiring” and “brave”. They’re odd words as I don’t feel like I’m either. I’m not sure there’s anything brave about having the medication the doctors tell you you need. And inspiring is an odd one, as I actually feel quite selfish for writing these blogs as they really help me exorcise thoughts in my mind by committing them to this electronic paper. All that said, every message I’ve received – in the hundreds at this point – means a lot. I’ve read each and every one and tried to reply to them all. Inevitably I will have missed replying to some as they’ve arrived when I’m at my weakest and most fatigued, but my gratitude is in no way diminished.

‘What next then? Well, whatever the scan results, Alan and I will be booking a holiday. He’s done more than anybody to look after me so a chance to get away and do something nice feels more than overdue.

‘For now, though, it’s time to rest. As with each cycle, I’ve been knocked sideways by the chemo and feel weak and unwell. But it will pass and – as my friend Alistair wisely observed – if it makes you feel that bad, just imagine what it’s doing to those tumours. So true!

‘If you know somebody who’s going through it, say hello to them. A call, a text, an email, a silly gif on WhatsApp. It’ll be appreciated. They may not reply, but they’ll know. And that’s what matters. You may feel like they don’t want to be disturbed but, as I’ve found on occasion, that can mean lots of good-minded people don’t make contact. Better to let them know than hesitate and leave them not knowing.

‘Also, if there’s any way you can support the many cancer charities – both national and local – do so. A coin in a collection pot by a shop till, a visit to a charity shop to buy something, or sponsorship of somebody taking on a feat for one of those causes. We all have myriad calls on our kindness, but today I’m urging you to focus on cancer. Statistically, either you or your best friend will have a brush with cancer in your lifetimes. It’s a cause that matters and affects so many of us, either directly or indirectly.

‘Finally, thanks for reading this far. It means the world to know people near and far are following my “journey”. I’m hoping the next post – most likely once I get my results – will make for happy reading.’

Krystle Higgins

By Krystle Higgins
Reporter

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