The Four Horsemen have arrived – at last!

Finally! After five years of stop-start writing, The Wrath of the Four Horsemen is finished – the Four Horsemen have arrived. Strangely, no elation, just a sigh of relief. A weight has been lifted…

The Wrath of the Four Horsemen book cover

The Wrath of the Four Horsemen book cover

Use the links below to buy the book from Amazon in both Kindle and print formats:

I decided to use Amazon’s Kindle for the e-book and Createspace for the print version. While I’m reluctant to feed the fat belly of the Amazon* ‘Beast’, this seems to be the easiest and most cost-effective route to go down.

The final page count (print version) is 240 pages and a list of the chapter titles can be seen here. A background to the story can be read here.

*Why not try HMV, Moviemail or Waterstones for films, books or tee-shirts.

How much will the book cost?

Ideally, I would like to donate around 80% of the profit from each sale, to be split between Orchid Cancer and The Robin Cancer Trust (RCT), so the price has been provisionally set at: Print version £8.99 ($9.50 for USA); Kindle version £3.44 ($5.50 for USA).

This is obviously above the average for an equivalent book, but as the principal reason for publishing is to raise funds for cancer charities, I’m hoping this won’t discourage people from buying it.

What’s the book about?

Although the book starts off as a journal, a straightforward account of a journey through cancer, it soon morphs into a different beast entirely. Fact and fiction become stapled together, wrapped in fantasy adventure, and smothered with a big dollop of humour and satire chilli sauce.

Yes, there’s heart-wrenching emotion. You’ll read about the pain of undergoing intensive chemo – the brutal, debilitating and often degrading side effects – although this is only a small part of the story.

Instead, you’ll discover how the dinosaurs really died out; you’ll find out the shocking truth as to why the Tooth Fairies have seemingly ‘gone off the rails’; and you’ll get a taste of what life is really like in a typical English seaside town.

You’ll meet a whole host of characters along the way, including Madame Fifi-fafoo, Thor, the Chunky Bum Trolls, warrior snowmen and the iconic Plastic Santa – oh yes, there are also a few nurses and the odd doctor or two…

Imagine a convent full of nuns repeatedly prodding you in the face with tickling sticks dipped in cod liver oil, or being kicked around a mattress factory by the women from Wentworth Prison. It’s disturbing, and undoubtedly painful, yet somewhere deep inside there’s a feeling of liberation too.

Why buy the book?

To raise some funds and awareness for cancer charities! Orchid Cancer and The Robin Cancer Trust to be precise.

After going through cancer twice, it’s only natural that I should want to give something back. And as a confirmed slacker, writing a book seemed a much less strenuous task than running, climbing mountains, abseiling, trekking across deserts, or any type of physical activity. Besides, I couldn’t possibly get sweat stains, grime, dirt or dust on my treasured T-shirt collection – unless I’m going to a heavy metal gig, which is permitted, as it’s classed as an ‘exceptional circumstance’.

Why these charities?

My treatment was part of a research trial funded by Orchid Cancer, a male-specific cancer charity based at St Barts hospital in London, so they are an obvious choice.

I’m also supporting The Robin Cancer Trust, who are just down the road from me in Colchester. Set up in memory of Robin Freeman, who sadly died in 2011, they ‘aim to raise awareness of germ cell cancers, including both testicular and ovarian, in 16–35 year olds’.

Rob’s story particularly touched me as we were both under the same consultant, had the same GAMEC treatment, and were on the same ward (although a few years apart). I really admire his family’s bravery for setting up the charity after such a tragic loss.

Why?

Why? Humans have been asking this question since the dawn of mankind, yet we still don’t know the answer. I could say buy the book, and maybe it’ll help you move a step closer to enlightenment. It’s worth a try.

Testicular cancer: Unsung Heroes

Phil Morris of checkemlads

Still from After Testicular Cancer documentary, courtesy of checkemlads.com

When talking about testicular cancer charities most people will invariably think of Lance Armstrong’s LiveStrong or even Cancer Research UK. As a testicular cancer survivor myself I wanted to highlight some of the lesser-known names and charities I’ve come across in the last five years who have made a real difference to people’s lives – through awareness, research, support or raising funds – but haven’t received as much credit as they deserve.

Most of the small testicular cancer charities are run by survivors or volunteers. I’m in awe of anyone who has experienced cancer (survivor or carer) and starts a charity because they are confronting demons they’ve already battled, and that takes real guts and determination. They are also raising awareness at grassroots level, which is undoubtedly saving lives.

But first, someone who doesn’t seem to get mentioned a lot in the UK, even though he is a pioneer in testicular cancer treatment.

Dr Lawrence Einhorn, MD

Cisplatin (chemotherapy drug), has proved very effective in combating testicular cancer and has undoubtedly played a large part in the high survival rate (96%) we are seeing nowadays.

This is great news – as a recent flurry of articles highlighted – however, this doesn’t tell the whole story: one important person’s contribution was largely overlooked.

In the 1970s an American, oncologist Lawrence Einhorn, MD, revolutionised cisplatin’s use in the treatment of testicular cancer, increasing the survival rate dramatically within a short space of time. He combined cisplatin with etoposide and bleomycin to create the BEP regime, which, over 30 years later, is still the standard treatment today. That’s a lot of mens’ lives saved.

Dr Einhorn’s most famous patient has to be Lance Armstrong, Livestrong’s founder, and he prescribed a treatment that enabled Armstrong to continue his cycling career. He also pioneered secondary chemotherapy regimes (also known as salvage chemo) for relapsed patients (such as myself), treatments to lessen the side-effects – the list goes on.

If it were possible to elevate someone to God status then surely Dr Einhorn deserves that honour. Here’s an interview with the great man.

Checkemlads cancer charity

I recently discovered checkemlads, founded by testicular cancer survivor Phil Morris. They are a fantastic charity for anyone who feels confused, lonely, embarrassed, scared or needs emotional support before, during or after treatment. They’ve worked hard at raising awareness and their website contains informative videos, survivor stories and other useful advice including a discussion group on Facebook. They also meet with other survivors for a trek up Snowdon in memory of those who, sadly, didn’t make it.

They are genuinely passionate and it shows – in fact it was the photo of Phil Morris (at the top of this page) that inspired me to write this.

Website: http://www.checkemlads.com

Nick O’Hara Smith

Nick O’Hara Smith and checkemlads.com have been raising awareness about low testosterone, which can affect some survivors of testicular cancer. Symptoms can include depression, mood swings, lethargy, aggression and cause health problems in the future.

Check out the video here: http://www.checkemlads.com/v2.htm or go to Nick’s website.

Nick’s campaign also raises the issue of life after cancer in general. Obviously, surviving cancer is overwhelmingly, and rightly so, the most important goal, but it’s also clear that quality of life after treatment is important too. Going through cancer is tough; you can’t just finish your treatment, wave the cancer goodbye and walk away. There has to be payback: relationships, work, finance, confidence, well-being, health – can all be adversely affected by the whole experience. As Shine Cancer’s infographic shows, most survivors are left with physical and mental scars.

Nick, checkemlads, Shine, Orchid and a few other survivor stories highlight other problems post-treatment but that’s straying off-topic and for another post.

Shine Cancer Support

Shine Cancer isn’t a specialist testicular cancer charity, but a network for younger adults – 20s, 30s, 40s (typical, I’ve just hit 50) – affected by any cancer. I’ve included them because, like checkemlads, they’re a great charity offering support, friendship, advice and information. Founded by Emma Willis, she also runs the small c project, which as their website states: ‘…aims to identify and explore the gaps in support and information…allow us to start the search for solutions’.

Website: http://www.shinecancersupport.co.uk/

Orchid cancer charity

I have to give a special mention to Orchid Cancer, set up by testicular cancer survivor Colin Osborne, as they supplied the funding for research into my treatment and I’ll always be grateful for their support.

They specialise in male-specific cancers – prostate, testicular and penile – offering support, information and advice as well as investing in research (I was part of their research trial). They have two dedicated male cancer information nurses (Katherine was one of my liaison nurses at St Barts) who can answer questions via email.

If your testicular cancer has relapsed and you need advice, Orchid is a good start for information.

Website:  http://www.orchid-cancer.org.uk/

Dr Jonathan Shamash

Dr Shamash is a specialist consultant in relapsed testicular cancer at St Barts, London (in conjunction with Orchid) and was my consultant. What can I say? I thought I was broken beyond repair but he fixed me.

Other testicular cancer charities

I’ve listed some more testicular cancer charities below – apologies to any I’ve missed.

  • The Mark Gorry Foundation: Sadly, Mark didn’t make it but his legacy lives on with his testicular cancer foundation. Based around Cheshire.
  • Balls To Cancer: Raising funds for awareness, education and research. They also plan to open a contact point for men worried by cancer.
  • Ballboys: Founded by Keith Binley & Darren Schindler. Raising awareness of testicular cancer through sport and humour.
  • Talking Testicles: Set up by survivor Ryan Walshe. Aimed at giving 15–24 year-olds educational talks in a fun and interactive way.
  • Wendy Gough Cancer Awareness Foundation: Offers phone support and raises awareness about the early signs and symptoms of cancer.
  • The Robin Cancer Trust: Raising awareness of germ cell cancer in 16–35 year olds. Set up in memory of Robin Freeman. Based not far from me in North Essex.
  • Howay The Nads isn’t a charity but a group that raises awareness and offers support. Based around Newcastle and the North East.

Important foot notes

The rules are the same for easily curable cancers as they are for any type of cancer: The earlier you get treatment, the better your chances. Even if the cure rate reached the magic 100% it would still be absolutely essential to check yourself regularly and if anything unusual is found, see your GP.

Although testicular cancer predominantly affects younger men, it can still strike at any age. I was 44 years old when diagnosed and there was also a 54-year-old gentleman on the same ward a few months earlier.

Thanks to Phil Morris at Checkemlads.com for inspiring me to write this piece. It’s taken me five years to come out of my shell but I’m getting there.

Chapter titles for The Wrath of the Four Horsemen

As I stagger ever closer to finishing The Wrath of the Four Horsemen, the pieces are starting to fall into place. Below are the chapter titles and within the next week or so the trailer for the book should also be ready.

Hopefully, within a month I’ll be able to put up an extract of the first chapter as a PDF.

  1. The First Horseman Rides Out
  2. Back to the Beginning: Birth of a Potato
  3. A Brief Interlude
  4. The Second Horseman Rides Out
  5. The Arctic Social Club
  6. The Klem Trial Show
  7. Unleash the Caveman Within
  8. Cross My Palm With Common Sense
  9. The Tooth Fairy
  10. The Leader of the Cynical Party Pays a Visit
  11. The Third Horseman Rides Out
  12. The Last Rites
  13. My Sleazy Affair
  14. Big Pappa P’s Atomic BO
  15. Battle of the White Warriors
  16. By the Ten Beards of Odin
  17. The Fourth And Final Horseman
  18. Maybe It’s Because I’m a Londoner
  19. The Search for the Haemoglobin Fish
  20. Cult of the Big Faces
  21. Last Station by the Sea
  22. The Secret of the Volcano
  23. Jingle Ball, Jingle Ball

The story behind The Wrath of the Four Horsemen

After five years of stop-start-stop-start, my first novel The Wrath of the Four Horsemen is almost finished. I have completed all the chapters and am now plugging away at some rewrites before sending the whole lot off to be proofread.

How it began: a journal

I’d been diagnosed with testicular cancer for the second time as it had come back in the lungs. I was lounging on the bed waiting for the chemo to begin when I decided to write a journal for my young daughters to read when they were older – just in case I didn’t make it through this time.

As the treatment progressed, my body deteriorated quite quickly. I’d had chemo before and thought I’d be able to cope reasonably well, but nothing could’ve prepared me for the horrors to come. GAMEC – pure evil.

The previous chemo, BEP, wasn’t pleasant either – I lost all my hair, vomited for days on end and lost two stone in weight – however, unpleasant as it was, I could cope with it. After a week or so the sickness and side effects calmed down quite quickly and I’d resume a semblance of normality again.

GAMEC though was brutal. Not only did I lose all my hair, I lost my fingernails and toenails too. The vomiting and sickness lasted for weeks at a time and were much more violent. I had diarrhoea half the time and painful mouth ulcers the other half. I was bedbound by the end of the second cycle and lost a total of four and a half stone in weight.

I was in such a bad way, the life was literally draining from me. Maybe it was my age (mid-forties) or that I’d already endured four rounds of chemo a few months earlier – perhaps my body wasn’t naturally strong enough to cope. Whatever the reason, I was going downhill pretty quickly and instinctively knew I might not last the course.

Writing for my life

I also realised that if my body couldn’t cope, my mind would have to stay strong. Anyone who’s been incarcerated – whether its a hospital bed, prison or shut in your room for being naughty – will have probably experienced that sensation of time slowing down, especially at night when it’s just you, the bed and the darkness. Fear, anxieties, suffering and pain, they’re  all exacerbated and amplified to excruciating levels.

I retreated inside my own mind. Although I was on morphine to numb the pain from the mouth ulcers, it didn’t really open my mind up. I had hallucinations but they were always the same: paranoia and the bed tipping up.

Instead I created a world within a world, an inner sanctuary where I could think and offload my problems. Reality and fantasy were woven together in my imagination. I wrote down everything that came into my head. By combining my thoughts, memories, fears, hopes and funnelling them onto the paper I created a new story. When I became too ill to write, the story continued unabated in my head.

This helped me push my problems, my battles, my questions – low white cells, infections, questions about afterlife, religion – and basically everything that was bugging me into abstractions so that my mind became more involved with the character in the story than the real one. I was more concerned about fitting my real-life problems into my made-up story. In those long hours of inactivity, solitude and darkness I was working out story lines, plots and characters.

Monsters from the Id

Low white cells became snowmen battling ferocious monsters from deep within the Black Forest; transfusions to replenish red cells transformed into a quest for a haemoglobin goldfish, which belonged to a family of seaside gypsies.

It may seem strange – and at times somewhat surreal – but this was my way of getting through a life-threatening, horrific ordeal. Once my body had become totally exhausted and unable to fight any more, my mind continued to drag me through.

We are all unique; we have different fears, strengths, weaknesses, hopes and circumstances. Because of this, our traumas are personal and however strange or crazy, we have to cope using our particular idiosyncrasies and strengths. I’ve always been a slacker, someone who’s mind is hardwired to the easy option so I used my imagination, because that’s what I’m good at. If I’d tried gritting my teeth and toughing it out, I would’ve probably failed miserably.

I’m not advocating in any way that my train of thought helped defeat the cancer. My imagination helped me get through an incredibly brutal and harrowing experience, but without the chemo or the skill and help of all the doctors (especially The Guv’nor), nurses, support staff, and my family and friends, it would’ve all been in vain.

Post chemo

Once I’d finished my treatment and returned home I stopped writing until almost a year later when I suffered a few panic attacks and flashbacks. This propelled me to scoop up all my notes and commit them to the  laptop – I was determined to finish the story. Over the course of the next four years I sporadically pieced my notes together (in between starting my own business), adding bits along the way to create the whole story.

I’m still here. I’ve almost finished writing the book. Read more about The Wrath of the Four Horsemen.