Q&A with Jakub Nowakowski, the inspiration behind our new “10% Promise” in London
As soon as a cancer diagnosis hit close to home, we at Strawberry Tours knew we had to take action.
“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.” — Jane Howard
1 in 1,140 men and 1 in 1,660 women in the UK will be diagnosed with bone sarcoma (or bone cancer) during their lifetime. Sadly, we recently found out that a member of our Strawberry Tours family (Jakub Nowakowski) is one of these people. After hearing the news that Jakub, who has been working with us for nearly three years, was diagnosed with bone cancer and will be undergoing treatment, we decided to set up a fundraiser in his name (the “Jakub Fund”) as part of our “10% Promise” initiative in London. Our goal is to raise £10,000 to help pay for Jakub’s medical and living expenses, and so far approximately £7,500 has been raised.
Read our interview with Jakub below as he discusses his cancer diagnosis, his love of backpacking, and what keeps him going during the toughest of times.
Can you tell us more about yourself and how you started working at Strawberry Tours?
I started working for Strawberry Tours in September 2015, or to be precise, with Free Tour of London as it was called then. After a few months it was re-branded to Strawberry Tours, so I've been with the company from the start.
When did you first get diagnosed with cancer, and what events led up to your diagnosis?
I was diagnosed in April 2017, so a full year ago. A few months before the diagnosis, I started having minor pains in the left femur. I was sure that this was all caused by some old injury, so before going to the doctor I stopped some of the exercises [I was doing]. And that was my mistake.
The pain was small, but it wasn't constant, so I just ignored it. What was even worse, after few weeks the pain was almost totally gone, so I was sure that it was nothing serious. I was also more tired than normal; but I assumed it was just some minor infection.
At the end of March 2017, when I was playing football with my friends, I had a small injury. When I was running for the ball, I fell...The pain was unbearable, so I went to the emergency room because I was sure that I broke [my] leg. It turned out that the leg was actually broken, but the RTG view wasn't clear, and the tests which were taken that day pointed out that I had some problems with the calcium levels in my blood, which is one of the most common symptoms of bone cancer and its metastasis. After that day, everything went very quickly: A few more blood tests and RTG scans, a biopsy, and the doctors were sure that it was bone cancer.
Where are you currently receiving treatment?
I already finished my therapy, which was at The Maria Skłodowska-Curie Institute of Oncology in Warsaw. I’m waiting for the final results of the tests, but in the previous one, there were no signs of the cancer cells. The therapy started with a few dosages of chemo. The biggest problem was that I already had two metastasis - on the lungs and in my knee. The doctors decided to start chemotherapy to make the tumour smaller and prepare me for the operation.
In the end, I had to have two operations, the first one, when part of the femur bone was removed, and [was replaced with an] endoprosthesis. Fortunately, it was a rather small part of the bone (around ten centimetres), so I don't even feel it. On the same operation, doctors also removed part of the knee-joint, which is one of the main problems for me right now. I had only part of the endoprosthesis implanted, but right now, most probably I will have to have another surgery, and the whole knee-joint will be replaced by the implant.
What are the different steps/processes of your treatment, and how will it help you beat the type of cancer you’ve been diagnosed with?
The first operation was in July 2017, and I was feeling very good. I even went on a short holiday to Portugal (for three days), which was great! After I returned, I had a second surgery and doctors removed a small tumour from my lungs. They had hoped that the chemotherapy would kill it, but in the end they decided that it would be better to remove it manually than to wait for the chemo to deal with it. After both operations, I had another few cycles of chemotherapy, and the last one was in April 2018. So, the therapy took a little longer than normal, as it should end within 48 weeks.
How long is the recovery process expected to take?
Right now, the rehabilitation is focused on the knee, and I'm hoping for a full recovery within three to four months. I hope that the cancer problems are already dealt with, so I'm putting all my effort on getting back on my feet as soon as possible.
What activity or hobby has helped keep your spirits up as you continue your treatment?
It's hard to say what kept me going. It was a combination of a few things: The support from my family and my friends; the possibility to work normally in the company, as I was always working from home, and when I had the strength to work I just turned my laptop on. The big positive kick was my short trip to Portugal. If I could point out anything that really gave me positive thoughts on this whole situation, it would be travelling. I just wasn't accepting that I wouldn’t be able to visit Asia or South America, so I decided that I have to be healthy again, and I have to visit all the places I always wanted to see.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about cancer since your diagnosis?
This [sounds] really trivial, but I think it's the most important thing: NEVER, just NEVER ignore any symptoms. If you have any pain, or if you are tired without a specific cause, just go to the doctor and do all the tests needed! The earlier you diagnose any type of sickness (it doesn't have to be cancer), the better.
How will the 10% of tips given by customers on our London walking tours help you with your medical bills?
Right now, I need extra money for the rehabilitation process. Without the working knee, I won't be able to travel anymore, at least, not in the same style I always did it - with a backpack, and without a plan. Just going to the places I see on the horizon. So that's one of the most important things for me.
For more information on the “Jakub Fund” and Strawberry Tours’ 10% Promise initiative in London click here.