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Sudden Cliff Collapse

I’ve been wondering how to phrase this post. In my head I have been writing it for days but have not been able to settle down to a keyboard and everything is still a bit jumbled. I should also point out that I am now having difficulty settling to anything.

Saturday 18th August we popped round to see my Dad. I hadn’t seen him for a couple of weeks thanks to a) a snotty cold and b) camping in Wales.

As he had been having chemo I had banned myself from his house as I didn’t want him to risk catching anything from me. Rather than see him I would call every day just to say ‘Hi’ and see how he was doing. That was a bit trickier in Wales as my mobile signal didn’t seem to reach the crinkly edges of the country but I found a payphone and could vaguely remember how to use it so we could still stay in touch.

Anyway 18th August and he was in good spirits and seemed relatively well (you know, considering the cancers).

19th August and he had great fun watching Man City win the first home game of the season courtesy of my brother.

28th August – dead.

Yes, dead.

What was that? About three months from diagnosis to mortuary. The chemo was doing it’s intended job of shrinking the lung tumour according to the review appointment on 22nd August. Unfortunately he had also picked up an infection and we were sent home with anti-biotics to get him on his feet again before starting another round of chemo. Three days later and he is rushed into hospital in a lot of pain. He is stabilised and we are told it was tarchycardia as a side effect of pneumonia. They will sort his heart rate, sort the pneumonia and he will be ok again.

Only, of course, he wasn’t.

The day after the fun with the ambulance, my brother got back from holiday and was able to see Dad for a short while before visiting hours finished. In the early hours of the following morning (27th, a Bank Holiday) my Mum got the call and we knew it was just a matter of time.

We sat. We waited. We took turns holding his hand. We watched his chest as he struggled for breath. Eventually my brother sent me home – he would do the night shift, I was to return in the morning so he could have a rest. There was no question of my Mum leaving.

That my phone rang before it was still fully light outside was enough to tell me what happened.

Two days later and most of everything official had been done. Under stress I can be a good organiser. I’ve been supportive for friends and family as I’ve rung round and given them the news and asked them to pass on where possible/appropriate. I’ve sat with my Mum and told her there was nothing she could have done. I’ve thanked everyone for their kind thoughts.

I have a hole in my chest where the cliff has collapsed but it could be worse. It was a shock that it was so quick. It was a relief that it was so quick.

I think he waited until he knew we were all there. He just wasn’t interested in going through the pain again and for putting us through the misery of watching him fade away to nothing. Wherever you are and however you die there is really no such thing as dying with dignity. In the end the nurses made sure he wasn’t in pain and he just stopped breathing.

I guess that was the best way to go. That is what I have to redraw my map of the world. I know I will still be sad in the future, I know that family events and anniversaries will be awful things but I have the benefit of knowing my Dad was still my Dad when his time came.

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Cartography of Cancer

It has taken a while to think about this, how to say what needs to be said.

In the manner of current NHS guidelines for clear and open communication to patients my parents have been receiving copies of all letters sent from specialists back to my Dad’s GP.

Right upper zone mass-stage T2b, N2, M0 if NSCLC
COPD

Very informative.

Scared what any of that might mean my Mum asked if I could ‘translate’ it back into something approaching English for her before she told my Dad about the letter. (I know, I know, it’s his cancer not hers but that doesn’t stop her trying to take control of everything).

I did what most people would do nowadays – I Googled it. I thought I was getting quite good at working out TNM classifications, the calm and clinical discussions of the latitude and longitude of illness. I could even show her the figures for 5 year suvival rates. They were not good but at least it gave hopes that he would be able to see another football season through.

PET scan results came through next. They showed the folly of trying to play the odds game. The lung tumour may have been stage 2 (still operable) but his spleen showed up hot. At stage 4 they have said there is no point in trying to take the lung, my Dad wouldn’t survive the operation.

Three to six months they said. Three to fekking six months for a man who, even a month ago, didn’t know – or didn’t say – he was ill.

He had his first session of chemotherapy on Monday, his second will be tomorrow.

This isn’t a cure, this is just an attempt to slow things down. I’m not certain how much can be done. Now that he is in the care of the real specialists at The Christie they are being kind to him but they are being honest. The jargon has stopped and they are speaking to him in English.

He is too weak for the more aggressive forms of chemo. He will have three sessions and on the fourth week they will take a view on whether or not there has been any response to the treatment. If there has been no benefit then they will not put him through any more medical poisoning and all that will be left will be palliative care.

If he responds to the treatment, and the side effects are bearable, then they will continue for up to eight more weeks. At best, if all goes well, they think they might be able to buy him another three to six months.

As a family we are coping in different ways, none of them seem to be particularly good but I guess that that is quite normal. My parents have been here before. Specifically they have even been at The Christie before as my sister died of cancer in the mid sixties. This time around they have been sent away with leaflets packed full of advice and phone numbers and how to get support for all aspects of the illness and the grief that is to come.

I think that first time round they got nothing and have struggled with the effects of the grief ever since. In the sixties it may have all been stiff upper lip and keep calm and carry on left over from the war. That was the environment I was born into and I’ve never really been comfortable with emotions. The stats and the charts and the TNM I can get my head around. The thought of my Dad just not being there and, more importantly, the thought that he may suffer in the process, is something that I have no answer to.

My job has always been to fix things. I can’t fix this.