I don’t ‘do’ taboos; neither does my imaginary friend. Have you met my imaginary friend? She’s called ‘Contraria’; she starts every sentence with ‘On the other hand’, or ‘Looked at a different way’ – and I have lots of conversations with her.
She drives me nuts sometimes, like an old Jewess – I only have to say something innocent like ‘I should do the ironing’ and she’s in my ear…”Should, schmood, always with the ‘should’ – think of all the other things you could do with the next half hour”.
I’ll give her one thing though – she never shies away from any subject. We’ve been having a lot of chats lately. Mostly about the last spinning plate; my health or rather, lack of it. It’s refreshing to chat with Contraria; she doesn’t stick to the approved list of responses to matters of health.
Like Old Holborn; his first question on hearing I had cancer was ‘What does it feel like to know you are dying’. Whooo – Damn fine question, Sir, to which the answer was ‘Exactly the same as you, Flower’. For, of course, we all know we are dying, it’s just that once the dreaded word ‘cancer’ enters the arena, only the truly honest ever mention the subject of the self-evident outcome. Everybody else clams up with an instant ‘oooh, you mustn’t talk like that’ the instant the conversation veers in that direction. As though suddenly all bets are off, and it is possible to be immortal if you just delete half the Thesaurus.
I have lived with this cancer for as long as the Savile saga; three years now. Those two unwelcome guests in my life have alternately distracted me and demented me with their irrational twists and turns – I have never decided which one I would push overboard first if I got the chance – I was equally determined not to quit on either front; and in fairness, they have both played their part in making me so angry that I couldn’t possibly ‘give in’.
Every few months for three years, I have had a scan. On alternate Tuesdays with an ‘R’ in the month I would get a thumbs up, ‘yep, everything fine’ – but the following scan would be delivered with long faces and a ‘whoops, well that is unusual, but the last treatment hasn’t worked totally, and now you need ‘x’, ‘y’ and probably ‘z’ as well’. Apart from the constant roller-coaster of ‘plan for the future’, and ‘hey, not so fast, it’s not looking good’ that is emotionally exhausting, there is another element to it – and that is that you take all this ‘on faith’.
Apart from when I have been having treatment, I have always looked, and felt, exactly the same as I’ve always looked and felt. I’ve agreed to surgery and God knows what tipped into me purely on the basis of a man in a white coat saying ‘if you don’t, you’ll be dead in a few months’, or words to that effect. I’ve never yet had a symptom of anything beyond the result of their slicing and dicing, and pills and potions – and they have been pretty horrific at times.
The last couple of weeks, the men in white coats have been at it again; “this ‘ere cancer that you only have our word for, has now travelled to your lungs”. Actually, it was even better than that, because they allowed that ‘it might be a different cancer, we can’t be sure’ – in a tone of voice that I think meant they thought I might take this as being ‘good’ news…
They wanted me to go straight to the Royal Marsden and let them remove the offending bit of lung. Before Christmas.
Well, Contraria really let rip. ‘How about you lot just hold your horses’ she said. ‘Tell them to bug off, you’re going away for Christmas with Mr G, and anyway, what about comparing this scan with your last scan, they said you were fine, even when you said you were a bit breathless’. ‘You can’t argue with Doctors’ I said, ‘it’s not done’. ‘Why not?’ said Contraria. So I did. And they compared scans, and there it was again. Been there all the time.
I forget how they worked the conversation round to it, but the gist of it was a well rehearsed speech warning me against the dangers of going the ‘alternative health route’ of a teaspoonful of desiccated tadpole testicles dissolved in half a pint of organically raised celery, or having my tongue painted green in China, or living on powdered apricot kernels and chanting Haile Selassie whilst puffing on outsize spliffs, or any of the other 300,000 cancer cures that circulate on the Internet, most of which I have read about at some time or another – obviously the only scenario they could imagine to acquiescing to more surgery was a misguided faith in strange potions not available on the NHS – but Contraria was whispering a more quixotic solution in my ear.
“How about – you just do nothing” she said. “How about you give ‘you can have a cup of tea when Sister has finished the 6 am drugs round’ a miss – and stick with just stretching your fingers out that half inch or so to poke Mr G in the back when you wake in the morning, and knowing that a steaming hot mug of Yorkshire tea will be yours in minutes, eh? How about you give hiking down to London to be sliced and diced as a special favour before Christmas a miss, and stick to your plans – the Cooden Beach Hotel, good food, good cheer, a wonderful Jacuzzi, and Mr G to wake up to every morning instead of some sour faced Portuguese nurse eh? How about you remember that every six months they’ve reckoned that if you just donated another pound of flesh you could avoid this cancer travelling – and look where it’s got you. It’s travelled, that’s where!”
She’s pretty blunt is Contraria – but she does have a point. Everything they’ve done so far has been designed to stop this cancer doing precisely what it has done anyway. That’s not to sound ungrateful for the past three years – but who’s to say I wouldn’t have had those three years anyway, without the surgery, without the chemo, without the radiotherapy? I will never know – and so long as a ‘cure’ is being held out to you, who is ever going to risk finding out the hard way?
But this is different, it is no longer a ‘cure’ but a ‘bit more time – because you’re only 67’.
Hmmn, 67 is too young to die. 68 is better? Or 69? So long as you don’t mind half a lung, and a bit more chemo – so half a head of hair to go with it, and only half feel like Chrimbo dinner?
I’ve decided to go along with Contraria this time. Do nothing. See what happens. Whoo! I shall die! Well, I was always going to anyway – but this way I might get to enjoy the process a bit more.
I’m no different to the person I have been for the past six months – a bit more tired maybe. Can’t walk as far. But I was perfectly happy, living in pig ignorance of this lurgy now resident in my lung. Nobody would have suggested for one moment that I change any plans, why would I? Make the most of being ‘in remission’, they would have said.
So I shan’t be changing our comfortable bed with Mr G keeping me warm for a hospital bed. I shan’t be giving the Jacuzzi a miss because I’ve got a plastic drain hanging out of my back. Nor shall I be exchanging the delights of roast turkey and stuffing for a gob full of untold poisons, or even organically reared celery juice infused with desiccated tadpole testicles.
I’m going for ‘quality of life’ instead of ‘quantity’; frankly, the extra few months they had in mind for me didn’t sound like a bundle of fun, at all, at all.
Mr G is fully behind me – he’s had his fill of watching me go through the hospital mill. He’s as happy as a sandboy reconfiguring this cottage, and it’s coming on apace. We have an excellent pub next door, and a brilliant restaurant down the road – and a post office, and a village full of normal people and we are loving it. I adore the scenery round here, the wildness of it all – and the dog thinks the sewage works a bare half mile away is just the ‘dog’s something’s’ or other; infinitely superior to French ordure. We really couldn’t be happier, any of us.
The only difference you will notice is that I shall be taking a back seat on the blog. Ms Raccoon has a life, a spirit, all of her own – she isn’t ‘me’ – she’s all of you. Petunia Winegum will be operating her controls in future – Petunia has the same sense of humour (bleak!) as me, the same obsessive desire to write every day, and the same ability to take a contrarian view on just about everything. If you have something to say, could you please say it to Petunia?
I am really exhausted; mentally, physically, emotionally – I need to lie down in a darkened room for a long time, and sit and watch the sun go down, and read the Sunday Times from cover to cover, and watch the sun come up again, and tons of other things too.
One day, when my luck runs out, the blog will be Petunia’s…
I shan’t be taking it down. There has been too much good work done by too many people for that; it was a mistake to have taken it down last time. Gildas will still be around; and no doubt I will write from time to time, I doubt that Contraria will stop talking to me.
It won’t be my priority though. I have too many other things I want to do, and perhaps too short a time to do them in. We shall see.