Wickam: Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help ,we all need support
Roger Wickam is a 50 years old musician. Although originally from the UK, his home for him is currently Madrid, Spain. He moved to Doha 5 years ago with his loving wife and two children. An artist, Roger, plays the saxophone and flute and makes records. As for his life in Doha, he describes it as “lovely!”. “As a family, we’re very happy here,” he says. “We work hard as anyone else, but we enjoy going on our holidays as well.” For most of his life, his health had been “very normal.” He would exercise by swimming or running, and he never smoked. A gradual and modest increase in weight was the only health-related concern he had previously faced.
He enthusiastically agrees when asked to share his story and message for those battling cancer. “If it is to help other patients, that’s a lovely idea; I’m all for it!”. He believes that having someone to talk to and relate to is very important. “I have shared with Qatar Cancer Society that if you ever need me for anything, such as speaking to patients with the same condition I had, I would be more than happy to do so. I think it’s really important.” When he was diagnosed, he says, he knew someone who “had the same thing.” As soon as he spoke to them, it made a huge difference in his life. “It massively made Everything better. I went in for the operation and chemotherapy knowing I may have a chance” “I’m lucky,” he says, and “I want to give something back to the system and to the people who are bravely facing their struggles at present.”
Towards 2015, he went to his GP complaining of a “regular sore throat and nothing else.” The right side of his neck was also “swollen up a little bit.” The physician prescribed him the usual antibiotics and asked him to return in a week if the swelling persisted. Fast forward to a week later, and Roger was back in the GP’s office. His sore throat resolved in no time. However, his neck remained swollen. The doctor, who Roger describes as “fantastic,” looked worried as it was “unusual for the swelling not to have gone away.” He consulted his colleagues and told Roger, “don’t be scared, but if I put you down as a suspected case of cancer, the ultrasound department will see you within 2-4 days.”
A week later, Roger was in Hamad General Hospital getting a series of medical tests. That, he says, was the “start of the proper diagnosis.” He had cells extracted with a needle from his neck swelling and underwent an ocean of body scans and blood tests. Looking back, he’s glad the first doctor he saw “flagged it up and got him into the system early.” After having been through the process of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, he recognizes how vital early detection is. He describes this process of waiting for the diagnosis as the “hardest bit” of his journey. “Not knowing was terrifying. Once I knew, I could deal with it. When you don’t know if you have a cyst, an abscess, or cancer, you’re constantly worried. Of course, the doctors can’t tell you what it is or isn’t. No one used the word cancer with me directly, yet those six weeks were horrid. It takes a long time to confirm, or at least it feels like it – with weeks spent waiting for tests, waiting for test results, and getting follow-up tests. “He had a throat biopsy of the tumor in his tonsils under general anesthesia. He had to wait for those results, after which he had PET scans. “When you haven’t had cancer, you assume the word means death. The thought of wondering whether this may or may not be cancer was terrifying.”
The day he finally received his diagnosis was inexplicably tricky. However, “but now I knew what it was,” he says. “It took me a couple of days to get my head around it. I had all the support of speaking to people who’ve had the same illness. I spoke to doctors, and they told me about other people who had survived and those who had the same operation that I was scheduled for and were now happily getting on with their lives. I was concentrating on the operation and what was going to happen next. This stopped me from worrying about it all the time. It saved me.” He describes a shift in his attitude from shock and a sickening feeling after being told he has cancer to believing that his illness was treatable. “I realized that this is survivable. This isn’t an instant death. I started to see it for what it is, rather than what I thought beforehand.”
He immediately shared the news with his wife, and together, they shared some details with their children as they were “quite grown-up.” “It’s too big of a thing not to tell them. As a parent, you need to be as honest with your kids as possible.” Over the following weeks, he shared the news with the rest of his family and the people around him. “The more I talked about it, the less frightened I became. Eventually, I began to make it a point to share my story with people as it made me feel better.” He stresses the importance of support from friends and family during challenging times. “Bottling it all up and going into a hole is a bad idea. We all need to talk.”
An optimist, Roger tried to find something positive even during difficult times. “I had wonderful conversations with friends and family that I hadn’t spoken to in a long time. Whatever I may have endured health-wise, at least I experienced something great in my relationships.” He was keen on reconnecting with people he cared about, “If something bad happened, I wanted to have told everybody that I loved them. I didn’t want to hold back. I realized that relationships are what give meaning to my life. I stopped caring about silly things in life and focused on being with my loved ones” He remarks that these conversations helped him a lot psychologically, far more than he realized at the time. He never felt angry or frustrated with his diagnosis, as he told himself that “Nobody deserves to have cancer. Life is a mixed bag that comes with many small and big problems. You can’t be angry at the problem and hope it goes away; you need to focus on how you will deal with it.”
Two months following his diagnosis, he underwent surgery in February 2016. He says that “going in lying on a trolley was frightening on the operation.” He remembers waking up in the ICU, surrounded by machines, with tubes coming out of every part of his body. “It was intimidating. But overall, it was quite quick. That’s the good thing about the Qatar system. There are loads of machines, and Everything is modern.”
In addition to surgery, Roger also received chemotherapy and radiation therapy cycles. His chemotherapy was “rough.” During this period, there were times when he was unable to eat or drink and was required to stay in the hospital for 3weeks. He describes these as some of his “lowest days.” “Every day felt like a week. My head and body hurt, and I could not sleep or enjoy music. I felt weak.” He kept himself going by thinking, “Okay. I have to deal with this. I knew it was a fight; it wouldn’t eat me up.” He says that “you learn about yourself, your personality when you think you might die throughout these vulnerable times.” Despite his positive outlook and determination, he recalls moments when “Everything disappears around you. You feel lonely as you start to think that people around you will continue to live on while your story ends.” He recounted one particular day during his hospital admission when he broke down after seeing his wife. Once again, having meaningful conversations with people helped him overcome such feelings. According to him, it was not what people told him but rather the sense of love and togetherness these conversations brought, which helped lift his spirits. Although he had several difficult moments, he was grateful that he received treatment and responded. And he was “grateful for being alive.”
He doesn’t consider himself to be braver than the next person. “People say I’m brave. But this is a kind of braveness that’s forced upon you. It’s not like I’m choosing to run into a burning building to save somebody. I’ve woken up in the burning building, and I need to get out. It’s a different kind of courage.” He describes his journey as a “team effort” “I didn’t do it on my own. I needed my wife, kids, nurses, doctors, the staff at radiotherapy, the secretaries, the clerical staff- everyone. You remember all these people. Simple gestures such as people greeting you or asking you how you are matter.” He recounts how he met other people with cancer at various sites in the waiting room for his radiotherapy sessions- the blood, bones, breast, etc. There were little kids, old ladies, and young men. Some people were in wheelchairs, while others walked in holding the hands of a loved one. “It can get anyone,” he recalls thinking at the time. He describes feeling a sense of solidarity with these people, built through frequent short yet meaningful interactions. “You start to make friends and share each other’s strengths. After all, it’s a mental game as much as it is a physical one.”
Even after he received his first “all clear of cancer,” it took him months to get the fear of recurrence out of his thoughts and allow himself to slip back into his routine.
Initially, every minor sore throat would lead to him worrying and spending hours checking his neck. He gradually overcame this instinct by reminding himself that he was alright and focusing on the present.
Today, he has completed two-and-a-half years in remission and created two musical records in this period. His goal is to complete five records in total by the time he completes “5 years of recovery”.
He wishes for these to be the best five years of his life. Roger says he is learning to relax and live again with time. With each passing day, he worries less. As his life slowly returns to the way it was before, he says, it’s easy to get obsessed with the silly day-to-day things that do not truly matter. However, he doesn’t wish to forget his experience of being close to death completely. “It reminded me of how lucky I am, and I do not want ever to forget that.” Roger’s experience has fundamentally changed a lot of things about him. “In many ways, I’m back to being me. But in several tiny ways, I’m a different person. I’m very aware of my life now- my wife, my children. I am more about the ‘now’ and living in and for the present.”
His main words of advice to someone recently diagnosed with cancer? Get all the support that you need and deserve. He urges people to utilize Qatar Cancer Society’s many resources. “Do not tell yourself that it isn’t a big deal. Don’t be embarrassed to talk to your friends and family. We all need help. We all need each other’s support. It will be hard, but you can do this. Do not panic. There are many people out there, and you’re one of them. Focus your thoughts on your treatment, and try not to worry about anything else. You will be surprised by how much you can survive. Eat well, live well.”