The Story Behind My Cancer Journey Videos
For a Video Guy Like Me, There's No Better Way to Take Your Mind Off Cancer Than Cancer Journey Videos.
The past few months, I’ve received a lot of comments and compliments about my cancer journey videos. I was posting them every couple of weeks on social media.
Some said I was being brave to be so public about my cancer journey. Others admired my positive attitude and humor. I’ve heard from hundreds of friends, clients, even people I had never met who have had cancer themselves.
But the truth is, none of that is why I created the videos.
It all started with the diagnosis. I hadn’t been experiencing any symptoms. There were no medical issues to speak of. Then out of the blue one day, I noticed something unusual (don't want to gross anyone out with the details). I made a doctor's appointment the next day, then got a CT scan, then saw a urologist.
Within days, I was in a hospital getting TURBT surgery—TURBT stands for Trans Urethral Resection of Bladder Tumor. It’s a relatively minor procedure, but required an overnight hospital stay.
They found two small tumors in my bladder wall, and didn’t think it had spread to other organs. A biopsy showed that it was definitely cancer.
Up until that point, everything had happened so fast. With the almost daily appointments, scans and follow-up calls, I hadn’t had time to think about CANCER. Or worry about it. But the following week, I was stuck at home with nothing to do except read about cancer and obsess about it.
That’s when I realized I needed something to help take my mind off things, and thought about doing a video.
Seemed like a good idea. I wanted to let my friends, family and clients know about the cancer diagnosis, and reassure everyone that I was okay.
Once I had recovered from the TURBT procedure, my oncologist explained that even though the tumors had been removed, there were probably leftover cancer cells. I needed surgery to have my bladder removed.
And even though the cancer didn’t seem to have spread, he recommended chemotherapy before the surgery.
Everything I had read and heard about chemotherapy was absolutely dreadful. The information they gave me listed all the different drugs and potential side effects.
There were literally PAGES of side effects.
So the day I started chemo, I was prepared for the worst. My expectations could not have been lower, but surprisingly, the first round wasn’t that bad. Every day that week, I woke up expecting to feel horrible, and ended up being pleasantly surprised.
That’s when I did video #2. It basically describes what getting chemo is like.
The Side Effects
After the first round of chemo, I had two weeks to recover before starting the next round.
Each treatment was spaced out over three days. Day 1 was relatively short, but day 2 was a full day. It was all very boring—basically sitting in a recliner watching IV bags drip drip drip. I watched a LOT of Netflix.
After the second round, I noticed a few side effects. I had a buzzing in my ears that lasted for days. My taste buds changed, and food had a metallic aftertaste.
That’s when my hair started falling out, just a few strands at a time. And the strange part—it was only the gray hair.
That’s when I shot video #3.
Good thing I shot that video when I did. A few days later, the rest of my hair started falling out in clumps.
So of course, that was the subject of video #4.
The End of Chemo
For the next couple of weeks, the side effects kicked in a lot harder. Mostly it was a tired feeling, barely having any energy. Walking up and down stairs got a lot harder. Also, watching Netflix became difficult—I kept falling asleep.
By this point in my treatment, I had to schedule shooting videos on days when I felt okay—usually the day before chemo started. That's when the side effects were minimal.
What little hair I had left was thin and wispy. Not a good look, so we finally cut the rest of it off.
And that was the subject of video #5.
Once I finished chemo, I gradually started getting my strength and appetite back. Food didn't taste quite as bad as before. I even did a small video project for one of my clients.
And that, of course, is when they scheduled my surgery.
There are actually three different surgical procedures for bladder cancer. My doctors explained the pros and cons of all three, and said the choice was up to me. So after lots of reading and research, I chose neobladder surgery.
The reason I chose the neobladder is simple—once you recover from the surgery, it's the closest you can get to being normal again. There are no urostomy bags or long-term use of catheters. You're able to pee pretty much just like before.
But there was a downside. It's MAJOR robotic surgery, and required a five-hour procedure and five days in the hospital.
By the time I went home, I had numerous painful incisions all around my abdomen, and multiple tubes and drainage bags sticking out of me. I couldn't drive. Couldn't wear pants even.
Also, my doctors said I couldn't lift anything heavy for a while (like camera gear) so I wasn't able to shoot any new videos.
Over the next couple of weeks, I started experiencing muscle cramps. It was not fun.
I ended up being stuck at home for the next few months, until finally—FINALLY—I got the last of the tubes and drainage bags removed. After weeks of CT scans and follow-up visits, I could drive again. Go grocery shopping. Take the dogs for a walk. It's amazing how many little things you miss when you suddenly can't do them anymore.
About that time, I started getting texts and emails from friends and family, wondering if I was okay. They had gotten used to the regular video posts, so naturally there was concern.
That's when I finally shot video #6.
I had lost about 15 lbs since the surgery, and my hair had started to grow back. In hindsight, the stark changes in my appearance ended up being an important part of the cancer journey videos.
I hope these videos will help other cancer patients get through their treatment, and maybe inspire a few of them to shoot their own cancer journey videos. If there's anything I've learned over the past six months, cancer patients have to stick together and support one another.
I'd like to thank all of the doctors, surgeons, oncologists and nurses that helped me get through this. The level of care I received was TOP NOTCH, and I highly recommend the Levine Cancer Institute in Charlotte (part of Atrium Health).
About the Author:
Harry Hayes is the owner and executive producer at Content Puppy Productions, a corporate video production agency based in Charlotte. Before starting Content Puppy, he spent 20+ years as an advertising writer and creative director.