I’ve been AFK, as my son would say. I’ve been away for good reasons – I was offered a treatment break back in September. It was a bit of a shock. I got a call saying that my consultant would like to see me before my next treatment. We were taking the son up to start Uni on the Saturday, and I’d deferred chemo for a week because I wanted to be well for that. We ended up having a consultant appointment on the Friday. We drove the hour and a half to the hospital feeling pretty tense. Why had we allowed this to be booked? It’s never good when you’re called in.
Turns out it was. Sort of. I’d had a lot of chemo, I was tolerating it reasonable well, and things weren’t progressing, but then again, I have such slow growing tumours that it’s hard to say the lack of progression was down to medication. It might just be me. Me and my mets. So, would I like a break, and a re-scan and a review?
It was surprisingly hard to say yes. I think I’d become psychologically dependent on the chemo, even though I felt unwell most of the time. To agree to stopping it was bizarrely difficult. But I did.
I’m so glad I did. I have been so well. My exercise tolerance has come back. We went to Italy and travelled by train from Pisa to Bergamot, stopping at Siena, Firenze, Mantova and Verona. We ate some exquisite meals and drank lots of coffee and good wine, and we walked over 10 miles a day, and it was wonderful. We had a great Christmas. We just spent three weeks in Costa Rica, and saw quetzals and monkeys and humming birds and sloths and humpback whales, and that was wonderful. I feel like I have the strength and enthusiasm to do stuff. My first poetry chapbook is being published in May! A year ago, I was just waiting to die.
I’ve just had a review, and we’ve agreed we can hold off treatment at the moment. I’m to be re-scanned. We are watching and waiting. Turns out everything – including uncertainty – is much easier to handle when you’re feeling physically well.
I thought today – if I was feeling really shit all the time and somebody offered me a treatment that made me feel well, I’d take it – even if it shortened my life a little bit. The thing that freaks people out is that I’m not actively taking something that makes me feel good, I’m just not taking something that made me feel terrible. Honestly, I’m going to enjoy this while I can.
There have been some sad times, as well. We’ve been to two funerals over the last four months, weirdly for two people who we became very good friends with during the same period of our life, when we were first living together in a small village in Yorkshire. They were very different people, who had very different funerals.
Mike was a professional caricaturist, artist, and illustrator. He was immensely talented. He was the bass guitarist in a cult band called Bogshed in his youth. That added the slightly surreal sight of tweets and articles about him from journalists and fans. He died of prostate cancer – he perhaps shouldn’t have died, but his diagnosis was made late – a year after his second wife also died of cancer. He knew he was dying, and we were lucky enough to see him a couple of times while he was in the hospice. He had time to sort out some emotional stuff with his first wife, to spend time with his sons, to catch up with old friends after the great covid chasm. He also had time to help plan his own funeral.
Ernie was our pub landlord in the village. He was rosy-cheeked and twinkly-eyed, immensely welcoming and hospitable. He knew all the gossip, he loved a chat, he kept his pipes clean. He was a pub landlord out of a fantasy novel. He died suddenly and unexpectedly. He was due to meet his daughter, didn’t turn up, didn’t answer the phone. She and her brother popped round to check on him and found that he had died sometime in the night.
Everybody says they’d like to go quickly. To go in your sleep – isn’t that everyone’s dream? I’m not so sure. The shock, the pain, for the people who love you – it’s terrible. Maybe knowing that you’ve not got long is actually a gift. You have a bit of time to make a difference, to put things right, to heal hurts. You have time to comfort your loved ones.
I’ve always said I don’t care about my funeral. I won’t be there. It’s for the people left behind. Having been to these two, very different, funerals, I’m rethinking that. Yes, it’s for the people left behind. However, I think there was a real satisfaction for Mike’s boys in being able to do something beautiful for their father, something that they knew he wanted. Maybe doing a bit of planning is a last act of love.