My cancer diary: ‘That was a hell of a wake – I hope I’ll remember it for years’

Tuesday 15 November

After four days of in-patient treatment – intensive rehydration, intravenous antibiotics and two units of blood, not to mention so many blood tests that “find the vein” became an almost full-time staff pastime – I’m feeling much better. So now back at the Royal Marsden [specialist cancer treatment hospital] for blood tests ahead of what I hope will be more chemotherapy treatment on Thursday.

And good news! Blood pressure’s up and stable; platelets and white blood cells all well within safe range – so all clear for treatment. This is quite a relief, and I’m sure I’m not the only cancer patient – or physician, for that matter – who feels this, but having to miss treatments is frustrating and a bit of a worry. The fear being that as treatments are skipped, the cancer and its offshoots will regain ground, thus making them harder to treat further down the line. Anyhow, none of that this week!

Thursday 17 November

Having missed a week of treatment, whereas this should’ve been a double drug week – paclitaxel on the NHS, and ramucirumab up in the private patients’ “suite” – in fact, as we’re in what is in effect now week two in the cycle, it’s NHS paclitaxel only.

Infusion goes well – once they’d found a vein for the cannula (the rather clever device through which infusions are delivered into veins). With the cold cap applied I still live in hope that I won’t lose my hair. And what a relief to have actually got another round of treatment!

Friday 18 November

In Manchester today for an appearance on BBC Breakfast’s sofa at an outside broadcast they’re doing to mark the end of a series of reports on cancer – one of which, as I think I mentioned before, featured me and a conversation with my old friend Nick Robinson about how to discuss cancer with family, friends and the world beyond. The programme came from the Maggie’s centre at the Christie hospital. Maggie’s centres are there for people with cancer – and others affected by it: carers, family, friends etc – to drop in for help, advice or just a chat.

It was heartening to meet other people living with cancer – and a great coming-together moment when the presenter tried to tell three of us we had “terminal” cancer, which was met with a good humoured but unanimous raspberry. The only certainties in life are, as they say, death and taxes, and so it is when you’ve got cancer. I might have weeks, months, years or even a full lifespan ahead of me. I know I’ve got advanced cancer and well recognise that changes the odds considerably – but I’m not out yet and neither were any of my fellow contributors.

I was asked one question, though, which really made me think. Why had I decided to be so public about my cancer? Which as I sat in the Maggie’s centre did make me think about how privileged my position is compared with so many others with cancer diagnoses.

First, I’m a journalist and so have a way of approaching my own disease which interests and engages me as a story in its own right and – as any journalist will attest – once you’ve got a story, the urge to tell it is almost irresistible. Second, I have access to ways of telling it both on the radio and in print. And third, I’m not 35 and still building a career or in the dating game or running my own business where I’m the key business winner. Who would want to tell a prospective boss or date or client about a diagnosis like mine? Nor am I facing a relationship breakdown by revealing all – you don’t exactly make yourself an investment by telling people you’ve got cancer.

For me, by contrast, there is virtually no downside. I suppose what I’ve realised is that for many people, that’s just not the case. So there is a long way to go in terms of society in general coming to terms with the realities of cancer – after all, Cancer Research statistics suggest that one in two of us will get it at some point in our lives.

Tuesday 22 November

Back to the Marsden today for blood tests ahead of treatment on Thursday – I hope! I’ve been feeling generally OK, although pesky kidney stones have been back. Unfortunately, the tests show that my platelet count has dropped again and so has the level of the white blood cells – critically important to fighting infections.

My consultant, Dr Starling, appears even more fed up and disappointed than me, especially because there are some very early signs – no symptoms from the main tumour at all, improved liver function and other markers showing positive – that might suggest the new regime is working on the cancer. Trouble is, it might also be rendering me unable to safely receive it. Consultant wondering – but really hoping not – whether I might be in the 2% of people (yes, 2%) to whom the drug paclitaxel appears to do this. Naturally I am with her on this!

So treatment on Thursday now looking unlikely. More self-injections to promote white blood cell production prescribed, and more blood tests (we really are running out of veins) booked for early Thursday morning …

Wednesday 23 November

Up at 6.15 to prepare for The Media Show. But, to be honest, the kidney stones are killing me, the medication can make one a bit dopey, and I’m feeling pretty fatigued. So 7am speak to producer, who takes the news brilliantly well and sets out to find a stand-in presenter. I always feel bad doing this but BBC Radio has been really brilliant about it, and I guess if I did present a programme and made a hash of it I’d feel quite a lot worse.

Thursday 24 November

Back at the Marsden. Blood results not great so definitely no treatment today. Another date missed and more of the frustration and underlying issues to worry about. But a platelet infusion later and it’s onwards and upwards!

Friday 25 November

Months ago I agreed to a request from the Media Society – and the London Press Club and the Royal Television Society – to consider participating in an evening looking at my career. Flattering and hard to turn down in many ways but weirdly like an invitation to my own wake. With the help of BBC Radio they managed to get the historic Radio Theatre at Broadcasting House, home to so many BBC comedies and performances. And the event is tonight!

It is framed as an interview between me and Roger Bolton, presenter of Radio 4’s Feedback but a TV executive of many, many years’ experience who once upon a time as editor of Nationwide gave me my first proper job in telly. Well, 300 guests and a packed Radio Theatre beckoned – and, I should say, with every likelihood of a £2,000-plus donation to the Marsden charity. But what had I let myself in for?

Back at the Marsden again, the platelet count had improved but there was no significant movement on the white blood cells and the amazing Dr Starling was actively worrying about whether I should even do the Radio Theatre event. Ultimately she relents, and with a very strict set of instructions – get a cab there and back, stay away from anybody with a cough or cold, and if you get a temperature or even feel just really off, call the emergency helpline immediately – gives me her blessing.

Audience reaction was truly amazing and utterly humbling. As wakes go, it’ll be one to remember – which I trust I will for many years to come!

To donate to Maggie’s centres, visit