“Dealing with physical things is one thing. Dealing with the mind is another.”

Forty-two-year-old Matt Conrad, a popular Southampton businessman, was diagnosed with a brain tumour in September 2019. His story featured on the front page of the Southern Daily Echo when he told of the ‘avocado-sized’ tumour removed his brain and how he wanted to give back by raising money for Wessex Cancer Trust. So far, he has raised £8,000 at Oktoberfest Southampton, a three-day event attended by 5,000 people which he helps to organise each year.   

Matt has kindly shared some of his journey with us, to both raise awareness of brain cancer and provide an insight to the feelings and treatments he’s experiencing:      

September 2019
So, I’ve not been feeling myself for quite a while. After seeing my amazing consultant in Salisbury he arranged an immediate MRI scan. By now I was expecting to be at home eating a curry and listening to my dog, Rolo, snoring. Instead, they wouldn’t let me home and found me a bed so they could immediately work out how to solve the growth that’s appeared on my brain. I’ve been in limbo for a few months, so am feeling relieved. I’m feeling positive about making a speedy recovery and getting back to annoying everyone with my incredible wit, and spreadsheets. I hope to be back in the business world in no time. 

 

17 October 2019
I’ve been totally overwhelmed by the love that’s come across from everybody. I want to share what’s going on and be truly honest, so I can move forward in a strong, determined, focussed and positive way. 

Last Tuesday I had a couple of big meetings with my amazing consultants. The first was with my surgery consultant who said the awake, open brain surgery went really well. The staples are out and lots of healing has already happened. I’ve got a big fat head and one hell of a scar (you should see the other guy!) It’s now a physical part of my journey. 

I’m on a whole load of drugs for seizures and other things as my left arm is having issues, but that’s a side effect of surgery.   

Then I met with the oncologist consultants, and this is where it gets a little sad. I’ve got an aggressive Grade 4 Glioblastoma Multiforme (GMB). It’s brain cancer. Without 100% successful treatment, alternative therapies in the future or massive progress in cancer treatment I’m always going to have it. 

Today I go to have a head mask made and then I’ll start six weeks of intensive radiotherapy - five days a week for about an hour for six weeks. I get driven in and out would you believe!! I have scans each Friday to see the progress. They’ll also start me on chemotherapy tablets. There’ll be tiredness, sickness, good and bad days. After that I’ll have six months of intensive chemotherapy treatment. 

So, I’m slowing starting to get my brain ticking and am getting back to a bit of normality before November.  I will be doing things, getting out there, bugging everyone and doing what I truly love - working on my businesses. My family is the most important thing and I’ll be spending loads of time with them. This is my life now and will be for a long time. I’m feeling lots of emotions but no sadness because it is what it is. I’m in a good place right now and that’s how I’m going to continue. 

 

21 November 2019
Today marks two weeks since I started my daily radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatment. All has been going well. Good days and bad days as expected. Lots of different side effects, the biggest being exhaustion and a big fat sore head, and my left arm struggling. Imagine waking up with the worst hangover imaginable.

Weekly blood tests and scans keep things on track; hours spent queuing for my daily drugs. I’m averaging 15,000 steps a day as I’m determined to keep up the fitness. The technology the NHS uses is remarkable, but then the NHS is remarkable. I look into the radiotherapy machine every day whilst strapped up so tight and there are all these metal plates moving majestically to send waves to a specific point on my head to do their magic. It’s like being in a Sci-Fi movie. 

There are many days when I still can’t believe this is happening. Every emotion you can conceive has hit me at some point. Life feels very surreal, like I’m being forced to live a life with all this happening when my previous life was all ok. But now this is life, so I’d best be getting on with it. 

 

20 December 2019 
Today was a big day.

The last day of six weeks of daily radiotherapy and chemotherapy until mid-January when the hardcore chemotherapy starts. The relief is something else, and timing for Christmas absolutely perfect.  

I can only describe it as being the toughest six weeks I’ve ever had. My body is weak. There were days when my arms wouldn’t work, my legs failed, my kidneys ached, I had pain in my liver and every single bit of me hurt beyond anything I’ve ever experienced. I’ve never been so tested in my life. Tiredness and fatigue kicked in, but that meant loads of new brain cells were being made whilst the bad ones were being kicked into orbit. 

I’ve been working and keeping my brain ticking over. I know there were periods when I was a short-tempered, irritable and impatient moron! I really apologise to anyone who had to put up with me. I hated the way I was and worked hard to change it. When you know what you once were and are still capable of, but are inhibited by so much, it starts to get to you and the reaction (which I now know was the wrong one), was to offload all those irritations to those I care most about.

I’ve  had so much time to think over the past months. About life, death and everything in between. Sometimes really frightening things; things you hope you’d never have to think about. The toughest thing is how this surreal and crazy situation affects those I care so much about. It’s almost as if I’ll never forgive myself for what I’ve put them through. I’ve also been thinking about how life throws us curve balls. I’ve had mine, and it’s been tough, but they’re no bigger than those thrown to others. It’s easy to cocoon yourself in your own problems, but what matters is understanding and making time for others. So try and give as much as you can without the need for anything back. We all need each other.    

I’m often asked if I’m on the mend. It’s always a difficult question to hear because what I have won’t just go. My efforts are on life and that I’ll always believe one day I’ll be able to say yes. I’m still at the start of a long journey. I don’t yet know the destination or outcome but one thing’s for sure - I’ll continue to fight. 

 

12 February 2020
I had a fantastic week of recuperation over Christmas catching up with my friends and family. I had been building myself up for the six months of chemotherapy that was due to start mid-January.  

My body gave up on me though. 

I’m on a whole mixture of drugs, one reason being to control seizures, yet I was getting more and more in my face and left arm. There are a number of side effects to radiotherapy and chemotherapy and I put it down to that. 

Then, back in January, I had the worst seizure I’d ever experienced and my speech went. I was rushed to A&E and thankfully after about six hours the seizures stopped and I was allowed to go home. 

What I’m still incredibly embarrassed and ashamed to admit is that the seizures were my fault. It came down to mistakes I made with my drug mix. I try not to make mistakes but, being human, on this occasion I did. It was frightening and reminded me of the seriousness and absolute reality of the situation. It affected my speech a lot, which now comes and goes, so I’m grateful for everyone for putting up with my slurring and excellent impression of being drunk without a sniff of alcohol! 

After that, I had various tests and scans and it took a few weeks for my body to get back to normal. Of course, the chemotherapy I was meant to start got delayed and it hasn’t started yet. This was also down to my platelet count being too low. My bone marrow now needs a break from treatment so the platelets can recover, so they’re delaying treatment probably by another two weeks. As my consultant pointed out, sometimes no treatment is the best treatment.     

I’m going to have another MRI scan soon to assess any potential growths.  

This really scares me. When they do the scan, what will they find? I’ve always been aware that tumours can grow back. I’ve also got an appointment to make sure all my drugs are correct. I discussed sleep with my consultants as I get so little and it’s ruining me, but their opinion is that the sleep is more psychological. 

This is the real message of this latest update. Dealing with physical things is one thing, dealing with the mind is another.  There’s so much to think about and so many things are real to me right now. For example, I want to go to things but know I’ll only last an hour. I want to be quiet but everyone wants to talk. Nothing tastes or smells like it once did. The world feels like it’s been turned down to 80%. How come I’m so tired but can only sleep for a few hours?  Do I still make anyone happy or bring joy to their lives? Will I ever find real happiness again?   

There are so many more.

I get asked a lot if I’m better yet. The answer is no and I won’t be for a long time, if ever. I dream of the words, ‘you’re cancer free,’ but I know the reality of the situation.  

The toughest thing remains the effect this crazy situation has on those I love so much. I wish I had the right words to express how much they mean to me.

I feel more strongly than ever that if you’re able to contribute to Wessex Cancer Trust, please do. A small amount makes a huge difference. If you run events or festivals, please consider letting these amazing people do a collection. Or get involved and organise your own event.  I know how much the services they provide are needed.

 

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