Thank you to the NHS for getting me back to work after my cancer surgery

Paul Geater back at his desk after his operation. Picture: ADAM HOWLETT

Paul Geater back at his desk after his operation. Picture: ADAM HOWLETT - Credit: Archant

Some readers may have noticed I haven’t been exactly prolific for the last few weeks. There’s a simple answer to that – for the last couple of months I’ve been recovering after a major operation.

In April I was diagnosed with bowel cancer after a routine colonoscopy at Ipswich Hospital – I have been having examinations every two years since 1997 because I was diagnosed with Lynch Syndrome, a genetic condition which makes me more susceptible to bowel cancer.

I was lucky it was picked up reasonably early, although of course unlucky to have the syndrome in the family. My father died from bowel cancer at the age of 39 in 1967 two days after my eighth birthday and his mother died from the condition when he was a child.

I’d known the chances of getting bowel cancer were very high for me – and the late 50s are an age when it often does develop for people with Lynch Syndrome. But nothing prepares you for the shock of a doctor saying, after the scan: “Mr Geater, I’m afraid you have a tumour. It’s cancer.”

The staff and the system at Ipswich Hospital are fantastic at scooping you up when you are first diagnosed – within days I was having scans and blood tests. But the first couple of weeks after diagnosis are incredibly stressful.

There is nothing anyone can do about that, the news flows round and round your head. Until you know the extent of the condition, whether it has spread, how it can be treated, it is difficult to think of anything else – however much you try to distract yourself.

After a couple of weeks my wife and I went to a meeting with a surgeon when we heard that it appeared not to have spread and that an operation gave me a good chance of a total recovery – I was booked in to have most of my bowel removed at the beginning of June.

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At this point I have to pay tribute to the brilliant surgeon and surgical team who carried out the operation and the fantastic nurses, student nurses, health care assistants, doctors, physiotherapists, phlebotomists, cleaners, and every other healthcare professionals I came across during my 13 nights on Stowupland Ward.

No one likes being in hospital, and I’m afraid I wasn’t a good patient. At times I became frustrated and miserable at my situation. I wasn’t able to eat and I was very sick. But they were always there to provide reassurance, to clear up, and sometimes to just chat about things that weren’t related to the hospital or my condition.

I’m sorry if I was a real misery, but I really appreciate what you did for me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

One thing that was clear to me was what a great team the health care professionals formed. They clearly came from different backgrounds and had been trained in many different places – Ipswich, elsewhere in the UK, in Portugal, Spain, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, the Philippines, other far eastern countries.

But they all worked superbly together. One thing that this confirmed to me is that all this talk of European immigration putting a strain on the NHS during the referendum campaign two years ago was absolute rubbish. Immigration is not the cause of the NHS’ problems – it is the solution to many of them!

As I said my operation was major, and I’ve spent the last six weeks recovering from them at home gradually building my strength.

I’ve done a few columns and written a few stories from home. I’ve been driving again for a few weeks now and exercising by going on a few walks (when it hasn’t been too hot).

But this week I’m back at my desk and delighted to be here.

I’ve been told that the oncologists are pretty confident that the operation should have completely removed the cancer – but I am taking some chemotherapy tablets as a preventative measure for the next six months or so.

Cancer is a tricky condition and it is impossible to give absolute guarantees.

The last four months have changed my perspective on life. My next birthday is my 60th and I now realise I cannot put off things I want to do for ever – now is the time to start living. There is no point in planning to do things in my 80s.

There are many steam railways I haven’t visited yet, many National Trust properties we haven’t been to, many cities a short flight away we haven’t explored.

I’ll be glad to see the end of 2018 – but this year has shown me that ultimately life is for living!