Sadly following in a hero’s footsteps

Chapter Nine

By Charles Whebell

My childhood hero was Bobby Moore, who, in the words of Pele himself, was the world’s greatest defender. To me he had everything. He was the captain of West Ham when they won the FA Cup in 1964, the European Cup-Winners’ Cup in 1965 and when West Ham, sorry, England, won the World Cup in 1966. And as well as all that he had good looks along with a model-looking wife. I yearned to be like him. Maybe one day I could have his grace and timing as he tackled attackers.  Or his vision when making defence-splitting passes. His fame and fortune. Perhaps even a model-looking wife. Well, more than 50 years later, I finally have something Bobby Moore had – colon cancer. The disease took Moore’s life a couple of months before his 52nd birthday, but maybe he would have survived longer had treatments been as advanced in 1993 as they are now.

After my first radiotherapy session a member of my cancer team told me the news that they had now found cancer in my colon. So, that was another reason why I was in so much pain with my stomach. There was a tumour blocking the sigmoid colon – the part of the colon just before the rectum – which was preventing me passing stools.

The question now is: did the cancer actually start in my colon and spread to my lung and spine? Did it start in my lung and spine and work its way down? Or are they separate cancers? The answer will have a major bearing on what kind of treatment I will have next. The same chemotherapy in all three areas or different types of chemo. Whatever the decision, I have at least six months of hard-going coming up. I had thought it was all oh so simple. Cancer in the same area of my body to be treated at the same time. Bish, bash, bosh, zap it all at once and move on to better times. Now it’s a lot more complicated. Or, to paraphrase the BBC World Cup commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme on that famous day in 1966: I thought it was all over – but it isn’t yet.





Catch 22 but drop nothing

Chapter Eight

By Charles Whebell

The painkiller tramadol is banned in the UAE, unless prescribed strictly by a doctor. This is because the UAE government claims that its young people take tramadol to get a buzz. Evidently, it gives them a high. I’ve been prescribed tramadol to help ease the pain in my chest and spine and I can honestly say I have not experienced anything remotely resembling a high. The only thing tramadol has given me – other than relief from pain in my chest and spine – is terrible constipation. I went a week without using the little boy’s room, and, because of that, found it almost impossible to sleep. No matter how I laid, the pain was unbearable. I actually once did try to sleep standing up. Well, if horses, zebras and elephants can do it, then why can’t I? If I managed to get an hour’s total sleep I’d think myself lucky. I was in a catch 22 situation. If I stopped taking the tramadol the pain in my chest and spine increased but my constipation would ease. If I kept the pain away from my spine and chest the pain in my stomach would grow and grow. And on top of that I was called back to the hospital for yet another colonoscopy to be followed immediately by an endoscopy. Oh what joy. So I stopped taking the tramadol in a bid to empty myself. I’m not a fan of the word “literally” – more often than not completely misused; ie, I’m literally, right now, typing my fingers down to the bone – but, in this case, I was literally “full of shit”.

I started my first session of radiotherapy on the Thursday, and it is true what you hear – it does knock you out. But, in my case, not enough to help me sleep and dream of sheep – and dream that what’s happened to me over the past few months or so was, well, just a dream.




That was the week that was

 Chapter Seven


Why me? Don’t make me laugh

 Chapter Six
By Charles Whebell
You pick up a paper. You read a name.
You go out. It turns up again and again

What’s up, Doc?

Chapter Five

By Charles Whebell

I had been looking forward to meeting him ever since he was recommended to me by former Daily Telegraph sports journalist now oncologist Kaz Mochlinski (for some reason, and I really don’t know why, Kaz’s mother thought he should dedicate his life to medicine instead of journalism).

Dr Sanjay Popat is one of the world’s leading experts in the treatment of lung cancer and to my joy agreed to be my doctor – and hopefully saviour. He has lectured all over the globe and, being based at the world-renowned cancer hospital The Royal Marsden in Kensington, London, not averse to the odd trial in the treatment stakes.

I had often wondered what it must be like to be used as a human guinea pig. Actually, I wouldn’t mind being a guinea pig right now as they have a lifespan of four to eight years – that’ll do me.

“So what you got in mind for me then doc?” I asked the great man.

He smiled a reassuring smile and replied: “Well, myself and the other doctors will first have to get together to discuss the best treatment for you. Every patient is different. What’s good for one might not be good for another.”

There are more and more treatments becoming available, but many are so expensive the National Health Service will not consider them. That’s where the human guinea pig comes in. If Dr Popat can prove that a certain drug or therapy can increase life by a good few years then, it is hoped, the NHS would be forced to take it on. Just a few weeks ago the NHS made available a drug that extends the life of a breast cancer sufferer and dramatically improves quality of life. The price of using the drug, Kadcyla, is £90,000 a year per patient, but, after negotiations between the NHS and the drug company Roche a deal was reached that suited both sides, and now breast cancer sufferers can be given a new lease of life. I’m hoping that a similar thing will happen with a lung cancer drug – and that I’ll be the patient leading the way.

I left Dr Popat feeling a whole lot better with life. Let’s see what he has in mind for me in two weeks time.



With friends like this

Chapter Four

By Charles Whebell


I was looking forward to meeting up with my mates at my local pub in Shenfield, Essex. We had  been friends since we were children and knew each other well enough to not take prisoners. So I was well aware what was coming to me. I had last seen them a few months before and they had told me in their usual unsubtle way that I had put on some weight, so I really should have seen it coming. “Hey Chazza,” says Bully, “that cancer thing does have its compensations – you seem to have lost some weight already.”

Just then Grizz started to tell of his latest love quest. His women stories normally go on and on …….. and on and on. This one seemed to be going the usual way. Something had to be done before we all fell asleep. I had to intervene. “Hey Grizz, do us a favour, make it short. I’ve only got 15 months.”

Quick as flash Bazza fired back: “Chazza you were told that a couple of weeks ago, it’s only 14 and a half months now.”

Playing your cards right . . . or wrong

Chapter Three

By Charles Whebell

I had been in Abu Dhabi working for The National newspaper for nine and a half years and in all that time had only been upgraded once on a flight home. This was to be my final flight out of the UAE so what can I do to be offered a free upgrade to business class? I know, I’ll play the “I’m dying from cancer” card. The man on the check-in desk is bound to take pity on me. Maybe I’ll show him the biopsy sample I had in my carry-on bag as proof. I don’t know if check-in staff are now suspicious of everyone – maybe dozens of travellers every day use the same card – or if they are just trained to be cold-hearted, but my little plan failed to bring me business class. However, it did give me a victory of sorts – a seat in an emergency exit and extra leg room. Beggars – or even dying men – can’t be choosers I suppose.