Testing the Water

This was my second communication and the first substantial one. The cancer without God theme is beginning to emerge cautiously but I suppose I was testing the water. It may be a rather drug-fueled and pretentious outburst (they get worse) – but I was beginning not to care.

“I am in the mood to write about me after emerging from a predicted slight flu brought on by one particular drug. Not really that bad.

This creativity doesn’t happen every day and may never happen again but the steroids do make you feel energetic and slightly irresponsible and so here I am, very early in the morning, at my desk about to self indulge.

Be warned I am feeling feisty so the content and language will be earthy and I am bound to cause offence to those of you of delicate emotional or lavatorial dispositions. But you have to forgive me cos I am poorly.

I think I can only write like this for three reasons and in this respect I am very fortunate.

  1. M
  2. My prognosis is not too bad
  3. Any pain is very manageable

I would not expect other people in other circumstances to behave like me. On the other hand prior to the cancer I would not have expected to behave like I am and further down the line I have no idea how I will behave (brace yourselves). For those of you who, like me, are terrified of getting the disease, you may or may not find the following surprising, even reassuring or you may just think I am wrong.

So off we go:

If I was to get an e-mail about a family member or a friend who has cancer I would almost certainly ‘read that one later’. If this is your inclination I am right with you. Deleting it is probably too much for most of our moral sensibilities but ‘saving it’ is just fine with me.

Important rules of engagement in case you should give up before the end of this e-mail.

  1. I do not require, indeed want a response of any kind
  2. Under no circumstances visit me. I mean this!
  3. I hold very strong views about stuff usually for the duration of a dinner party and then change them – so don’t take offense!
  4. To all those who I have not heard from since I announced my illness. I love you all the more because you are like me – scared or could not give a damn.
  5. One day someone will dare (It won’t be me) to write to me as I would wish to write to anyone in a similar position as me: “Dear Chris, Didn’t give you a second thought for the last month, much too busy, but came across the video of the sneezing Panda and had to send it to you. Hope you live.”

Words or sentiments to avoid in any future correspondence (that should inhibit you all, tee-hee): – thoughts, prayers (off the scale that one), strong, battle, brave, hope. Any reference at all to the specifics of my condition or tales of survival. Fitness, diet, holism. Money, pensions, insurance etc…

Stuff I like to hear about (in no particular order) – Pets, family, friends, books, meals, films, adventures, absurdities, high-art and intellectual debates, culture, science, politics, religion (not church), philosophy, your feelings about you and the world, really depressing stuff one can be objective about (not possible to include children ever in this category), speech synthesis, opera, music in general, your hobbies (especially shameful nerdy things), anarchism, socialist libertarianism, Damien Hirst and conceptual Art, your work, war, law, fundamentalism, radio 4, radio drama. To be honest I have never been that interested in even my own holidays so you stay out of that one. ..and as you probably all know by now stay off birthdays (specially cards),  formal occasions probably to include weddings and christenings – Ok with funerals though. Sports is Ok but only really World Cup and Wimbledon – Children are Ok (discussions on mine and their brilliance of course are to be encouraged) but any reference to children better have a good punch line such as ‘and she came last but couldn’t give a shit.’

To sum up anything that hints that you may put any credibility in notions of authority, conformity or duty, exercises the same spirit in me as last came to the fore when I was four and half years old walked into primary school and thought – ‘well I ain’t gonna have anything to do this malarkey.’

So I ain’t gonna to do with this cancer sufferer malarkey either.

Footnote to the above (my defiance at school lasted lasted till milk break – followed by 12 years of being scared – shame I don’t have a more heroic precedent).

On to the nuts and bolts of cancer  (no discussion of other equally troubling diseases cos I don’t feel qualified to comment)

If like me you have to go through the Woody Allen experience of sitting in a room with a consultant who tells you have cancer I believe it is much better to have to some degree at least rehearsed this possibility. Out of the blue must be truly awful, it was for M – much worse than this last experience. Being essentially a person who since four and a half sees the world as a place where bad stuff does happen my only thought when this was announced was not ‘how bad’ but ‘how bad?’ Once it was made clear that it was just bad, not disastrous I was genuinely happy! Believe me! Lets not beat about the bush – disastrous, as G put it, would be ‘returning from the hospital in an urn’  or anything involving prolonged pain.

This does not mean going through life assuming every lump or tickle is cancer. In fact once you have realized that there is no reason other than probability, that it isn’t cancer, that can be quite empowering. No longer cursed by the sense of ‘no it just couldn’t be that – that’s just too bad’  better to think ‘well it might be, but it’s probably not’.

For future reference select your GP with care if you want to avoid sleeping tablets. I saw 4 different ones. Between then they

  • Looks at the results with barely concealed horror and confusion
  • Told me it might be Ok but they weren’t sure as yet (probably the best strategy)
  • Laughed cos I did at the poisonous nature of chemo therapy, told me they had lots of patients with similar types of things who did fine and that the treatment was the worst bit  -offered me loads of uppers, downers, unpluggers, builder uppers –  two carrier bags full of medication (my personal favourite)
  • Said ‘I need to Google it. It’s rare.” (made me feel special)

I am very lucky with my consultant.

  1. Exceptionally smart
  2. Not matey but caring
  3. As direct as you wish him to be –I don’t always want him to be (PERFECT!)
  4. Shares my sense of humour
  5. Can stick a bloody great needle (pipe) into your bone 3 times and it doesn’t hurt (that much)

Likewise the cancer nurses are

  1. Just as smart
  2. Matey and caring
  3. Funny and very kind
  4. Very knowledgeable and always available
  5. Incredibly patient
  6. Interested in me

The care is fantastic:

Any mention of any side effect or minor malady and they are on the phone arranging blood tests, new specialists, bath rails, counseling, massage, nutritionists, changes to the regime, new appointments. You end up being careful what you say in case your spot on the end of your toe caused by the cats flea outbreak does not result in a trip to the school of tropical diseases for a scan.

The next thing to be ready for is that most people (unless that have been through it) react as if you have just said ‘I have just been told my head is on fire.’ I love these people and their subsequent reactions (usually to try to avoid you as elegantly as possible). Their absolute abandonment of me often betrays so much more concern than the solicitous follow-up and, for me the most hated icon of conformity the CARD!!!! Gifts are completely different –keep em coming!

M and I have experienced the following classics

  1. Crossing the street to avoid you
  2. No words at all just burst into tears and run away
  3. Complete speechlessness
  4. A wonderfully inappropriate joke
  5. An anecdote of how a friend died of that exact same condition (what a coincidence)
  6. An offer of prayer  –  (childishGrrrrrrr!!!!!)

The treatment itself.

I have no great gripe. I take one medication by drip that so far has made me fluee for a couple of days the rest are fine – except one quite amusing thing.

I can only assume that most researchers into cancer drugs are either very regular or loose. It seems that every potion you take conspires to bung you up. The solution is to proscribe unbungers. This is a delicate and refined art. On my biggest day I take

  • 10 x some drug
  • 10 x some other drug
  • 8 other individual drugs some twice a day
  • 1 injection in tummy
  • 1 drip 30 mins
  • tramadol, paracetomol

Nearly every one has the effect described above so I can take up to 8 doses of a powdered laxative that tastes horrible. Judging this was a nightmare, I was particularly concerned about the 30 mins absolutely stock still in the MRI scanner. I just hope they did not pick up any internal bodily audio as my stomach sounds like a washing machine. Anyway I think I have cracked it – PORRIDGE.

I am fizzling out for now. There or may not be more to come or not, sometime. As it’s now 8:40 I want to do something else for a bit.

And I just got a stick of rock from V – now that’s what I call empathy.!!!”



Leave a Reply