Steve James is a former HGV Class 1 Driver and lives in north Suffolk. He is 57 years old and was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer just before Christmas 2021. His cancer is inoperable, he’s had to give up a job he has been doing for 35 years and he’s had to break the news of his terminal illness to his son, who’s 13.
Despite the news, Steve has decided to grab life with both hands and enjoy the time he has by chronicling his cancer journey .. and creating a bucket list on the way.
He also wants to give some advice to others, who might be put off going to see their GP if they think something’s not quite right.
We’re grateful to Steve for sharing his story – in his words “I have decided to be open and honest about this because if it will help or encourage ONE person to go and get checked out, and hopefully stop this awful disease from taking hold, then at least I will have left some sort of a legacy”.
MY CANCER JOURNEY STARTS HERE
I found I was having difficulty swallowing food. It was painful and my throat felt like a funnel - put too much, or too big a piece in, and it would just overflow .. and lo and behold, there’s your dinner! I guess I’m a typical man – I thought “it’ll get better on its own”, and I carried on, adapting my diet to stuff that WOULD go down easily - basically soup, rice, ice cream, porridge and caffeinated drinks! I carried on like that for about three months, still working and spending four to five nights away in the truck
23rd DECEMBER 2021 – NOT THE BEST CHRISTMAS PRESENT
An initial inspection by my GP led to scans at Ipswich, Colchester and Chelmsford hospitals, and culminated in exploratory surgery and a gastrectomy at Chelmsford.
Unfortunately, the results were not good – the initial tumour in my oesophagus was malignant, and the infection had spread to my stomach wall. Due to the mass involved it was inoperable (there just wouldn’t be enough left for me to survive). Chemotherapy may help prolong the inevitable, but I’m not sure I want to go down this path to be honest.
10TH JANUARY 2022 – LET’S DO SOMETHING CRAZY WHILE I CAN!
On a lighter note, my consultant told me that, if I have a "bucket list", I should do my best to achieve some of it before it's too late (and he also told me not to bother giving up smoking if it brings me pleasure, as it won’t make any difference now, so pass the Monte Cristo cigars!)
So, being a simple soul, I harnessed the power of social media to achieve a few things – and the response has been beyond my wildest dreams. They may seem trivial, but they mean a lot to me.
The list includes spending a day on a modern farm, playing with the latest hi-tech machinery (I was a tractor driver 40-odd years ago, and marvel at the latest kit I see flying around!), having a go at operating a big excavator or similar, driving a "proper" sports car, and ride in a helicopter or a fancy yacht.
I never expected the response I got, but with the incredible generosity of so many people, my bucket list is well on the way!
TUESDAY 11TH JANUARY 2022 – SO MY CANCER IS TERMINAL AND INOPERABLE, NOW HOW THE HELL DO WE TELL OUR 13 YEAR OLD SON?
Well it seems children are more clever than we give them credit for and our son had realised that dad wasn’t well (obviously throwing up at the dinner table and spending time in hospital probably gave him a clue) so my wife Chris and I just sat down with him and broke it as gently as possible, but we didn’t hide the facts. He had a few tears, of course, but seemed to accept it. It’s hard to tell with a teenager, they're not the most communicative of animals at the best of times!
18TH JANUARY 2022 – LIFE CHANGES ARE LOOMING
So now, here I am in early January 2022, waiting to start a course of treatment that may extend my lifespan a bit. I am 57 years old, have a wife, two adult step children, a 13 year old son of our own, and three lovely (sometimes!) grandchildren. I am leaving my 35 year career as an international truck driver, and now battling the spiderweb of the benefits system.
TUESDAY 25th JANUARY 2022 – THE CAREER I LOVE HAS COME TO AN END
Well that's that then! I have updated my profile to " Former HGV Driver", and will be officially waving the transport industry farewell shortly. (This photo is me and my good friend Ben taking well earned break)
It's the end of a long career that's seen me all over the UK and Europe, a career that's made me laugh and cry (sometimes both at the same time), given me highs and lows, helped me meet some of the best (and worst) people on this planet, some of them friends for over 30 years now, and which has taken me to places that I'd probably never have seen (and some I never want to see again!).
To all my peers, former colleagues, friends and acquaintances in cafes, depots, motorway services and all over the country, thanks all, it’s been a blast! To use the language of the old CB days "This is Jesse James, down and gone, 10-4 good buddies".
TUESDAY 26TH JANUARY – TREATMENT FOR MY CANCER IS ON THE HORIZON
So .. my treatment starts with a course of chemotherapy next week. The first treatment will be intravenously, then a daily tablet medication for three weeks. After that there’ll be another intravenous treatment and this will be for an initial three months to judge the effectiveness.
The stent that was fitted during my operation appears to be working fine. I can still eat pretty much what I want to (although a steak or a pork chop are still out of the question but at least I’m not living on soup and rice) and I have regained some of my manly physique and put on a little bit of weight.
THE FALLOUT SINCE DIAGNOSIS
It’s been a month since my diagnosis, and a month since I decided to "go public" in an attempt to highlight the fact that it can happen to ANYONE, ANYTIME, and the importance to GET YOURSELVES CHECKED.
It’s been a rollercoaster of a time .. dealing with the fallout, finishing a 35 year career, telling our son the news, negotiating the benefits system and so it goes on. Apart from my family, the most wonderful and supportive thing has been the wonderful support I’ve had from people I don’t even know .. people who have given their support, sent gifts and dropped in to visit me. I’ll be out of the loop for a while to give myself time to absorb my upcoming treatment but I’ll be posting updates when time allows.
FRIDAY 4TH FEBRUARY - THE FIRST ITEM ON MY BUCKET LIST HAPPENED TODAY!
Well today was so exciting. CCiS organised for me to spend the morning at TRU7 Plant, Kesgrave playing with a 25 tonne Hitachi excavator! Jake Nicholls and the team were brilliant - it's an amazing piece of kit and you have to appreciate the skill levels of the experienced operators who make those things work - it's a combination of playing the piano, ballroom dancing and playing a video game simultaneously .. truly amazing! My attempt was far less impressive, but hey I didn't break anything! Thanks once again to Jake and Guy Nicholls and to all at CCiS for making this happen. What a lucky boy I am!
5TH FEBRUARY 2022 - UP THE TOWN!
Another one to tick off the bucket list - I had to get all dressed up in my posh clothes as I was invited to Ipswich Town Football Club for a VIP guest day. I looked the part if I don't say so myself! I had a brilliant time and was given a special gift from the Club too.
I even got to do a bit of celebrity spotting and had my photo taken with Olly Murs! Thanks for a fantastic afternoon Olly Magnus, and ITFC and what a great result too 1-0 to ITFC! COYB!!
Photo : Olly Magnus, Olly Murs and me
9TH FEBRUARY - TREATMENT STARTS AND REALITY KICKS IN
Today I had my first dose of chemotherapy at Ipswich Hospital and I must admit this is where it started to really hit home that I am actually very poorly indeed.
Up until today I had been treating my condition a bit light-heartedly and I was looking at it as more of an "inconvenience" rather than something that will take me earlier in life than expected, but I will admit to a bit of a "dark night of the soul" over the last 24 hours.
Still, worrying won't change anything - it is what it is. All I can do is obey the regime imposed on me by the medical experts and take each day as it comes, safe in the knowledge that my wonderful family and fantastic group of friends will help me through whatever the future brings. Hopefully I'll be around for a bit yet!
Photo : Still smiling, despite having my first chemo session
11TH FEBRUARY - MORE TREATMENT
That's my second chemo session done. I had very few side effects last time so I'm hoping for more of the same again!
14TH FEBRUARY - TAKE MORE WATER WITH IT!
I haven't felt much like talking or doing much recently as I haven't been feeling very well. I had to make a quick trip to A&E at the hospital as my throat stent got blocked and I was choking on my food. Fortunately I'm OK now - probably just need to take more water with it! And don't forget - get yourselves checked if you're worried about anything that doesn't get better after three weeks of you noticing something is wrong.
MONDAY 28TH MARCH - THREE MONTHS SINCE DIAGNOSIS
Well it's been three months today since my diagnosis of an oesophageal tumour .. and it's been quite a rollercoaster! First of all I must thank our WONDERFUL NHS .. the care, treatment and support has been absolutely superb. Thank you so much to everyone involved in my care. My heartfelt thanks also have to go to my wonderful wife and family - I have no words for you all that would be sufficient to tell you how I feel. My social media "family" have also been fantastic - what can I say? Gifts, support, visits, calls .. its what's kept me going to be honest. I love you all.
As for me, the stent seems to be doing its job properly. I am eating almost normally now and the chemotherapy is not causing any side effects (so far, so good - it's early days!) I realise there are a lot of people in a far more serious state than I am, and I'm sending them all my love and support at this difficult time for everyone.
Keep going everyone, we're all in this together. And remember, if you're worried about any thing at all, GET YOURSELF CHECKED!!!
TUESDAY 29TH MARCH - LEARNING A NEW SKILL
Well I must say, I'm feeling quite pleased with myself tonight. For the first time in my life I bought ingredients, and prepared and cooked a meal for my family! It was nothing too adventurous - mushroom stroganoff with rice - but I looked up the recipe, went to shops, got the bits and pieces and prepared and cooked it all myself and I must admit it wasn't too bad at all. They're small steps but as my wife is busy looking after our son I thought I'd have a go. I'm still not ready for the vacuum cleaner though!
WEDNESDAY 6TH APRIL - DIAGNOSIS IS CONFIRMED
Today it was officially confirmed that I have Stage 3 oesophageal cancer. Now the fun begins to find out what my treatment is going to be from now on.
FRIDAY 22ND APRIL - I HAVE A JOB (OF SORTS!)
It's no secret that I've been really bored and struggling to get through the days without working. So I'm delighted to say that I have been offered a two to three month position with a local farming company starting in July. It will only be light work and I will not be drawing a wage but I'll be getting tractor therapy and it will be escape from the confines of home which is reward enough for me. I can't wait to get started - my deep gratitude to J. Mark Whyman for all his help and contacts that led to me getting this opportunity.
TUESDAY 17TH MAY - COMING DOWN WITH A BANG
Having a bad time at the moment. I don't know what's going on .. I'm thinking of coming off the treatment regime. I'm constantly hiccupping and dribbling like a baby. I've got no strength, I'm not eating - nothing at all. I just sit on sofa watching television all day and I feel I have no purpose to my life any more. I know I'm not going to recover, I feel I'm fading away. Feeling sorry myself but grateful to everyone's support.
FRIDAY 27TH MAY - THINGS ARE LOOKING UP!
So after having a bit of "down in the dumps" time, I am delighted to announce that, as a result of sterling work by J. Mark Whyman, I have been offered - and I've accepted - a harvest job with a local farmer, starting early July through until October ish. So I'll be back on a tractor after 40 years and a reason to get up in the mornings. Any earnings other than expenses will be going to cancer charities as a way of saying thanks for your support. Roll on the summer!
TUESDAY 19TH JULY - SO MUCH HAS BEEN HAPPENING BEHIND THE SCENES
Well wow - so much has been going on over the last couple of months! I am continuing my course of chemotherapy .. my sixth session is coming up in the next seven days and then I'll get a review of how things are going but an interim report from my consultant tells me that my condition has stabilised (in as much as it hasn't got any worse!) and the early signs are promising. As they say, keep taking the tablets!
Photo : The harvest team! Boss man Mike Clarke and Head tractor driver Nathan Johnson
I celebrated my 58th birthday on 1st July and the highlight was a 45 minute helicopter flight over our part of Suffolk. This one of the things on my bucket list from earlier this year and was a gift from one of my social media contacts. It was such a generous gesture and it was so appreciated by myself, my wife and son. We then went back to our house for the traditional BBQ with friends and family - a great day all round and I managed to avoid poisoning anyone so it was a win win all round!
Photo credit : Steve Wright who was the official photographer for my helicopter flight. Did someone mention Top Gun?!
I mentioned in an earlier episode of my blog that I had been offered a position with a local farming company to help out with the harvest. Well, that has begun and I am now the temporary pilot of a New Holland T6080 tractor, hauling grain from the combine to the stores. The first week was a bit hard as I haven't been active since January this year so the strength in my muscles needed building up again but a short while in I was getting back to my old self - my muscles are getting stronger and I'm have a whale of a time! I am doing this for expenses only but there will be a donation, made on my behalf, to cancer charities of my choice at the end of it all.
So all in all it's been a busy few months - behind and ahead. And just to repeat my usual mantra - GET YOURSELVES CHECKED, IT'S NEVER TOO EARLY
Photo : My new mode of transport for the next few weeks for harvest
MONDAY 15TH AUGUST - SLOWLY DOES IT
I've just finished my first lot of chemotherapy and waiting for progress results to see where we go from here. I'm feeling reasonably OK bearing in mind what my body is going through. I've had scans and blood tests and waiting for those results too but the medication has been reduced a little so here's hoping!
SUNDAY 11TH AUGUST - I'M BACK IN THE DRIVING SEAT!
I'm delighted to say I'm back in the driving seat with a local farmer and helping out with the busy season post-harvest. It's really important for me to keep myself busy and to feel motivated and useful so I'm very grateful and happy as I'm able to do more fundraising work too.
This time I've learnt how to plough a field and there's more to it than meets the eye, I can tell you! Next week I'll be let loose with a crawler (a tracked vehicle a bit like a Caterpillar) Look out Suffolk!
MONDAY 14TH NOVEMBER - NOT THE BEST NEWS
My doctor has put me on low-grade morphine for pain relief. It’s been issued as relief to be taken "in extremis", a bit like the "break glass in case of emergency" fire alarm things, but it’s another unwelcome step nearer the inevitable I suppose. Merry Christmas all.
MONDAY 21ST NOVEMBER - IN EXTREMIS
I finally had to cross the line today. I’ve just taken my first dose of my prescribed liquid morphine – the pain has just got too much to deal with. The rocky slope starts here.
FRIDAY 2ND DECEMBER - THINGS HAVE GOT SERIOUS NOW
A serious post for once. Firstly, this is NOT a sympathy- seeking post, but I must admit it's not one I've been looking forward to writing.
I had a meeting with the senior oncologist today and sadly all he could offer me was to make whatever time I have left as comfortable as possible. There's no timescale, but I was advised to make "arrangements" as necessary. The new wasn't unexpected to be honest, but still it's not the nicest thing to be told.
I will carry on "spreading the word" about getting checked out AS SOON AS IT FEELS WRONG for as long as I can, and I thank you all for the love and support over the twelve months since my diagnosis.
JANUARY HELLO 2023
And so here we go again! As I enter my second year of living with cancer, I can't help but speculate on what it might bring - but I suppose that's only natural. The doctors haven't given me any sort of "timescale" for the future, only that it's not going to get any better.
The one thing I CAN be sure of, however, is the love and support of my family and friends who have been absolutely magnificent. I've also had some wonderful feedback from other patients with a cancer diagnosis, which has made my predicament easier to accept.
2023 currently seems a bit of an abyss looming large in front of me with very little prospects, but I am sure that with the help everyone around me, I'll will give it my best shot!
Wishing you all a happy and blessed New Year
AND GET YOURSELVES CHECKED!
THURSDAY 19TH JANUARY 2023
It is with great sadness that Cancer Campaign in Suffolk have heard, from a member of Steve’s family, that Steve James died earlier this morning. Steve fought his cancer bravely and with dignity, and inspired many people through telling his own cancer story. He was passionate about reaching as many people as he could, telling them how important it is to get help and advice if something doesn’t seem quite right. His legacy is in the words he used in every social media post and to everyone he spoke to - “get yourself checked”. We thank him for the work he did with us in spreading this message. Our love, thoughts and condolences are with Steve’s wife Christine, his son Nathan and his family and many friends.