Sunday, 29 April 2018

You Lucky Guy!

Nearly 8 years after surgery, today was the 16th time I sat nervously waiting for my PSA result, which ultimately tells if cancer has returned. It wasn't easier than any other time, it never gets easier! Then again, I'm never any less grateful than I was today when, once again, I was given the, 'all clear.' 

It's a well-trodden path and one I've begun to study, seeing the familiar patterns recurring and trying to make some sense of the emotional ride.

There are 4 stages of PSA anxiety:

1. The weeks leading up to the test...
In Bangkok I can go at any time without an appointment, I just decide to go on the day, so this minimises any anxiety. In the UK I would have to make the appointment more than a week before so always had it on my mind after that.

2. Waiting for the result once the blood has been taken...
The wait here is an hour so not a big deal, unlike the UK where the result came back 3/4 days later. That was/is not good!

3. When handed the result... 
I open the envelope and scan quickly for the magic figure (<0.003), thinking it almost unimaginable that it could be bad, but hoping I could hold it together if it was (Even <0.004 would be a disaster). Today it was again good, but 'good' is too small to cover it, so 'bloody insanely marvelous!' Joy, relief, then sorrow, sadness, then back to happy, all a bit of a mix until it quickly settles at very happy and relieved.

4. Tomorrow...
I'm ready for it! I'll have a day where I feel very down and a little depressed. No idea why, but it's become the pattern, every time the same! Can't work it out but hey, I don't care, I'll smile and I'll think to my self, "You lucky guy!"


Monday, 23 April 2018

Martin Hickmott

We have set up a private blog for those who knew Martin well.
Please request  access to this blog by contacting Daniel at


Martin Hickmott died at Eastbourne General Hospital in England at 5 pm on 16th February 2018, his partner Naty and his daughter Laura at his side.

Martin and I had often joked about death, I guess when you get to a certain age that’s all you can do. We agreed that whoever died first would wait to meet the other, wherever that was, we didn’t profess to know. We did agree that all organised religion was a crazy man-made invention, designed to control populations and that we were going to rise above that. He was a genuinely nice guy of the traditional school, loved crap jokes, loved his partner Naty, his daughter Laura, and loved life with all his heart.

He was intrigued by the idea of writing and always interested in what I was working on next, often contributing ideas when I was stuck with an imagination that knew no bounds. I often told him that if he went first, I’d write about him, he’d laugh, I can still see the smile, hear the chuckle. “What’s to write about?” he’d say, little knowing that his last 6 months would provide a story that could save the lives of others, if only I could get the message across.

So, the $10,000 question now is, if Martin had had medical insurance, would he still be with us today? Maybe, maybe not, you decide… (he’d have liked that)

Naty and Martin
Martin had been with Naty for nearly 3 years, meeting on the Internet, as my wife and I had 10 years before. She was from the Philippines, mine from Yorkshire, very similar cultures and food, so I’m told! Like any couple they went out, often with us, had fun, smiled a lot, enjoyed holidays and looked forward, as many do, to a future full of things that make life worth living. After a visit to England, Martin was delighted that his family seemed to have accepted Naty and he’d also decided that Bangkok would be his future home as he loved it here. He had dozens of friends made mainly through the Bangkok English Speakers Lunch Group, where he was an ever-popular Event Host.

Decisions we make every day can affect the rest of our lives, we all know that. Some of those decisions seem so minor at the time, not even fully thought out, even though they can go on to have long-term catastrophic consequences. So, when Martin had a bad cough, after delaying perhaps a little longer than he should have, he decided to get checked out at his nearest hospital, also knowing that it was far less expensive than many others nearby.

His cough, became a chest infection, then pneumonia and in a surprisingly short time, he was hooked up on life support, knowing he had no medical insurance, but hoping he would get better, soon. Naty and I were with him when his heart stopped, the monitor flat lined and the alarm came on. He was essentially dead for a few minutes before the doctors brought him back, we were in a state of shock, unable to take in what had just happened, I’ll never forget that! The worse part about that hospital were the accountants, the most important department in any hospital here because you have to pay if you want treatment to continue. They would come to his bed every Friday to take his credit card, like uncaring robots, maybe they were! 
Laura and Martin

Martin’s daughter Laura flew over to support Natty and began the long process of trying to get her father better while trying to fund the process; something that proved extremely arduous.

A family decision was made to move Martin to a better hospital, even though far more expensive, a place with a specialist chest unit. Nobody was aware until that point that the hospital he was in was not equipped to look after someone in his condition! It’s alright to say in hindsight that Martin should have gone to this better hospital first, but he didn’t and I would have probably done the same given the circumstances, but at least now his chances of recovery would surely improve? He did recover and was eventually discharged, though extremely weak and still looking very unwell. He wanted to be fit enough to fly back to England where he could not only have free treatment under the National Health Service but could also be closer to friends and family. This came about eventually and he and Naty flew back to a bitter winter in England but a very warm welcome from his daughter Laura, who had single-handedly refurbished his flat as a welcome home surprise. Martin was over the moon! He started the process to ensure Naty’s visa and was soon making plans for a return to Bangkok, convinced he could now get the best treatment and make a full recovery.

The cost to Martin of his experience in Bangkok was over 2 million Baht, and would later also cost him his life, because on his return to his home country he was constantly in and out of hospital, struggling to regain health, tragically, eventually losing that battle.

Naty stayed for the funeral, over a month after Martin’s death, such are the winter queues at the crematoriums. Her visa would have run out soon after so she was lucky in many ways not to have that as an added problem. However, back in the Philippines now, trying to pick up the pieces of her life, she soon discovered that she wasn’t even named in Martin’s will, his daughter Laura being named as the sole beneficiary to an estate with an estimated value around £300,000! She’s shocked, bewildered and mainly lost for words as she comes to terms with her situation, best described as dire, the past 3 years just fond memories. 

Martin often told me that if anything happened to him, Naty would be well taken care of, and I know he loved her and meant that, so what went wrong? I guess it was just one of those things that we all intend to do, but don’t ever get around to, because it never becomes top of our list, and hey, we’re never going to die, are we? Solicitors in England are now trying to sort out some support for Naty from Martin’s estate, and are hopeful of a good outcome, but until then, she has to rely on friends and relatives for essential support.

Martin's daughter Laura, now a relatively wealthy young woman, paid for Naty's flight back to the Philippines, paid to have her luggage shipped there also and gave Naty the total sum of 'nothing' from the substantial estate! Martin told me that Laura would, "always do the right thing." "Doing the right thing" was very clear in Martin's mind but he couldn't have foreseen the interpretation that his daughter Laura would put on it.   

Martin, now’s your chance, come on, what advice would you give anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation to what you’ve just experienced?

“Daniel me old mate, firstly they should at least have some basic medical cover, but if they haven’t, as many expats don’t, still avoid going for the cheapest hospital, it could work out far more expensive in the long term. Secondly, if they have a partner who they love and care about deeply, make sure they provide for them in their will; especially if they have nothing! Trust is not transferable, and just because you love someone doesn't mean they will be loved by the rest of your family when you're gone! Thirdly, thanks for the promised write-up, I’ll do the same for you one day if I ever get out of this place!”

The story did have a happy ending! In spite of extreme legal opposition from Laura, who wanted Naty to have nothing, Naty's UK solicitors settled out of court. Naty has now started her 'new life' and keeps in touch with her friends in Thailand as her business grows. She has forgiven Laura because she knew that she had to if she was to ever move on. She knows that Laura will find it difficult but hopes that in time, she can come to terms with her actions and try and forgive herself. A noble gesture from a very honorable woman.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Scottish Prostate cancer testing breakthrough...

Ultrasound technique overcomes problems with current methods to diagnose the most common cancer in men.
 Electron microscope image of prostate cancer cells. Photograph: Electron Microscopy Unit, Cancer/Getty Images/Visuals Unlimited
Scientists have announced the development of a highly accurate and reliable technique for diagnosing prostate cancer. The Dundee University-based team say they have used an ultrasound process called shear wave elastography (SWE) to detect prostate tumours. The method is non-invasive and cheaper than current detection techniques.
Prostate cancer has become the most common cancer in men in the UK. One in eight men will develop the condition at some point in their lives with more than 47,000 new cases being diagnosed every year. Men aged 50 or over, men with a family history of prostate cancer, and black men are at greatest risk of developing the condition.
“Current diagnosis of prostate cancer is extremely inefficient, leading to unnecessary treatments for many patients,” said the Dundee University team’s leader, Professor Ghulam Nabi. “Our new method is far more accurate and also allows us to identify the difference between cancerous and benign tissue in the prostate without the need for invasive surgery.”
The prostate is a small gland in the male reproductive system and is normally about the shape and size of a walnut. Current methods for determining if a prostate has become cancerous include a physical examination of the prostate (known as a digital rectal examination or DRE), MRI scans, a biopsy or tests to determine levels of the chemical prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in the blood.
Stephen Fry, who has had surgery to deal with a prostate tumour, says he is excited by the new diagnostic test.
 Stephen Fry, who has had surgery to deal with a prostate tumour, says he is excited by the new diagnostic test. Photograph: HGL/GC Images
Each carries problems. PSA results can be unreliable; a DRE is not good at identifying which cancers are benign and which need treatment; MRI scans cannot always give a definitive answer; while a biopsy carries a risk of infection and is expensive.
The new method aims to get round the problems by targeting the prostate with ultrasound. Cancerous tissue is stiffer than normal tissue so shear waves are slowed as they pass through a tumour.
“We have been able to show a stark difference in results between our technology and existing techniques such as MRI,” added Nabi. “The technique has picked up cancers which MRI did not reveal. We can now see with much greater accuracy what tissue is cancerous, where it is and what level of treatment it needs. This is a significant step forward.”
The trial tests involved around 200 patients. “Now we need to use this on a wider scale to build more data but there is clearly the potential to really change the way we manage prostate cancer,” Nabi said.
SWE technology is already used in diagnosing breast cancer and liver diseases. However, to make it applicable to prostate cancer a special probe had to be developed by the team.
“The technique now needs to be tested in a much larger number of men to confirm just how well it can detect the aggressive cancers, while also ruling out those who do not have prostate cancer,” said Simon Grieveson, head of research funding at Prostate Cancer UK, which funded the Dundee project (with support from the Movember Foundation).
“With an average of one man dying every 45 minutes from prostate cancer in the UK, the need for a more reliable test that can identify dangerous forms of the disease earlier is greater than ever.”
In the past few years, a number of celebrities have revealed that they had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and have joined campaigns to raise awareness of the disease, including Michael Parkinson, Ian McKellen and most recently Stephen Fry, the comedian and former rector of Dundee University, who this year described how he had surgery to deal with a prostate tumour.
“This breakthrough comes at a time when prostate cancer is being pushed to the forefront of our consciousness in the UK, not least because of the disturbing upward trend in its prevalence,” said Fry. “It is therefore doubly exciting to hear of the new techniques in diagnostic imaging.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Watching the NHS die will, one day, cost you your life!

The past week I've been suffering from vertigo and as it wasn't getting any better, I decided to play safe and see a specialist.
In the UK I would have made an appointment to see my doctor, maybe got to see him/her the week after if lucky, then they would have referred me; the whole process taking perhaps around 6-12 months; though if they suspected cancer it would be rushed through in 18-20 weeks; as I once was!

I went privately in Bangkok today, made the appointment at 8 am this morning, saw the specialist at 9 am and by 10.30 am was going home with the results of the tests and necessary meds. Just a build-up of calcium in the middle ear, nothing too serious, but could as easily been worse!
Total cost = £38.50
Which system would you prefer to be in? You won't have a choice soon in the UK because private medicine will be all that's left and unless you're wealthy, your life will one day end because you couldn't afford to live!