I am very lucky to have a broad number of friends. One of these brave (and hilarious) friends is Ryan McCartney. Ryan is the vocalist and guitarist of the up and coming band These Little Kings, who are rapidly gaining popularity slinking around the buzzing Glasgow music scene. He was kind enough to tell me the story of his fiery battle with cancer in his early twenties.
Leiomyosarcoma, also known as Smooth Muscle Cancer is an aggressive soft tissue sarcoma derived from typically uterine, gastro-intestinal or soft tissue origin.
When I was around 22, 23, I began passing blood in my stool. Yep. I went for a toilet break whilst doing a day shift in my then job as a bar man. I don’t know what possessed me to look before I flushed… but there it was… A bloody poop.
Needless to say I went to my GP as then I had no idea what could possibly cause that to happen. Who gave me a swift digit to check for piles and tested my stool for blood. He assumed that, as I was a young guy that I was partying a little too hard and needed to eat a little healthier. So, he sent me on my way with a prescription for iron sulphate tablets.
Not even a hug, or a handshake goodbye.
Over the next two years, on and off, I suffered pretty badly with Anaemia which is doctor talk for Low Red Blood Cell count. I was hospitalised twice as my red blood levels got so low, that I was running on a little over a third of what my body actually required.
After the second hospitalisation, my GP took notice that this wouldn’t be down to burning the candle at both ends and over the course of the next 4 weeks, I went for a Radio-Nuclide Scan which involved a radioactive isotope dye being injected into my body, while a huge scanner squeezed my bowels in search of my body having an extra appendix… Then after this scan, I went for a CT scan of my bowels.
Having waited a few weeks on results I got a call from a female doctor asking me to come in and go over the results of both scans. In hindsight, the alarm bells should have been ringing at this point.
So, after a full day at college… I was studying music… I meet with this doctor and she is pregnant…Oh, so pregnant… The kind of pregnant you’re completely comfortable asking “So when’s the baby due?” without being belted across the chops.
So we’re walking down a hallway in this GI Clinic, and my mind wanders off, thinking of what could possibly be wrong with me, why I’m so ill and why I’m being called in, when we turn left into what seems like a recovery room.
There are a few beds, a few of those old greyish blue plastic chairs that wouldn’t be out of place in a school, and this one big comfortable looking chair. I remember it clear as day… Well cushioned, green and yellow, floral pattern monstrosities.
None the less, I figure the comfortable looking monstrosity will be for heavily pregnant doctor lady… But, here’s how I suddenly knew I was getting terrible news.
The doctor offered me the comfortable chair.
We sit down and we go over what has been causing all my symptoms.
“Your CT scan shows you have a mass, approximately the size of an orange or clenched fist pressing on your bowel. We’re unsure of what it could be, so we would like to schedule an operation to remove it”
It’s pretty amazing how you can know exactly what’s wrong with you with the doctor ever using the words “Cancer” or “Tumour”…This doctor’s last job, on her last day before going off on maternity leave, was to essentially tell me I had cancer. This was the late August 2010… Last thing I said to her as I left with the news was that Ryan is great name for either a boy or a girl.
After meeting with a consultant a week or two later, I would be on the operating table on October 29th, having around a foot of small bowel removed along with the mass which turned out to be cancerous.
I know it’s absurd to say, in that I have indeed had cancer at the age of 23, but I was extremely lucky in the type of cancer I came down with in that I didn’t need to go through the trauma of Chemo or Radiotherapy. Just the operation to remove the tumour, follow up CT scans and consultations.
I’m 5 years clear as of 29/10/2015.
I have definitely found that music allowed me an outlet to process it all, and I encourage anyone who’s going through an illness of their own to find an outlet to express their self.
Writing lyrics absolutely allowed me to process my thoughts and feelings down on paper. Even now, five years down the line, I’m still finding lyrical inspiration with my brush with mortality. Playing live really took my mind off the magnitude of just what I had gone through… I was on stage two days after being discharged from hospital, post-operation, internal stitches, wound super-glued shut.
Cancer at any age is daunting, but in your early twenties you’ve lived long enough to realise the magnitude of what it means, and feel like you’ve definitely not lived or achieved enough… especially musically.
Five years clear now and I feel I have deeper understanding of what it means to live.
Find your happiness. I urge everyone reading to find what they love doing, and get out make it their life… It could be art, music, dance, travel, sport… even simply spending time with your relatives and loved ones… We’re all alive, but not all of us really live… If it makes you happy, fill your life with it.
It’s not the dates on your tombstone that will matter.
It’s the dash in between.
To listen to These Little Kings go to https://play.spotify.com/artist/5pGlmgyJiEod2tOfn4uZWn
You can also purchase their debut album “Lost At Sea” on iTunes.
To find out more about Lisa, or the rest of the PosAbility team visit the Meet The Team section.