For those of you who are regular readers and have read the previous posts, you can skip this first paragraph.This is the latest installment in my occasional series about how I'm adjusting to living with a big C in my life. For those of you who aren't, here's a quick summary. I'm 49 years old and I recently had a prostate biopsy following two "slightly high" PSA tests - 2.8 & 4.1. The biopsy took ten tissue samples and one of these showed a "low grade cancer" which gives me a 3+3 on the Gleason scale. I'm now on a program of active monitoring. In early February, I got the results of the latest PSA test - down to 3.5 and an MRI scan which found absolutely nothing. I've no symptoms and sadly for a few people, if I'm gonna die soon, it won't be from Prostate cancer. Got the picture?
Positive mental attitude. This week has been challenging. Very challenging. On Thursday, I went to see one of my best friends, he's 45 years old, played bass guitar in my band for 27 years and has weeks, if not days to live. Cancer is killing him. He found out just over a year ago. In truth, I never expected him to make old bones. I always thought I'd wake up to the news that he'd met a spectacularly tragic end. my money was on a bike accident. He's an adrenalin junkie, never drove any vehicle at anything less than the maximum speed he could get away with. There are other sticky ends that wouldn't have surprised me, but a slow, painful, debilitating death, eaten from the inside was one I didn't foresee. He was always one of the best looking guys you'd ever meet. He had a gentle manner, but a wicked wit. Always popular and extremely musically talented, when he joined the band (he was introduced by Hank Marvin's son Paul, who was at the time our drummer), I thought we'd found the missing piece in the success jigsaw. he really could play and was born cool. At 14 years old he walked in the door, plugged in and suddenly we sounded and looked like a proper rock and roll band.
I remember on the boat back from a tour of Sweden, a highly attractive woman of about 45 propositioned him. She said "If I was ten years younger, I'd take you back to my cabin and have my wicked way with you". He responded "If I was ten years younger, I'd be seven". Most people would have caused offence with such a put down, but he got away with it, because he was impossible to dislike. In truth the reason he didn't take the offer up was because he had a girlfriend in England and was madly in love with her.
So to sit with my friend, looking 40 years older than me, emaciated, hunched up, incoherent on whatever they give you when the morphine stops working, was almost impossible for me. I asked if there were any times when it's ok. "When I'm asleep". Somewhere in there is the spark of the guy who stood to my left playing bass for 28 years. It came out in the odd flash, as the sun breaks through on a cloudy day. The odd ray of sunshine, to remind you that it's still there.
The truth is that terminal cancer isn't funny, there is no upside. Whether it's his girlfriend, who is now his carer telling me that he's either in agony or out of it, or it's him saying "I just can't do anything, anything.....". Much as I love my dear friend, it is his girlfriend I feel truly sorry for. She's put her life on hold. She said to me "I've promised him I'll be here till the end". Before I visited I asked if there was anything I could bring? Brandy, whisky, food? Do you know her answer? "Please could you bring your dog. I'd love to take her to the park. You can have a chat whilst I'm out". So I did. After they returned, she said "that is the first time in months I've felt like a normal person for five minutes".
Dogs do that to you, if you like them.They work on a different level. As we talked, she broke down in tears. My beautiful boxer bitch, Tilly realised something was wrong and went up to her. They had a cuddle. After a few minutes she said "I'm so glad that you brought her". She fed Tilly a stream of biscuits which were happily chomped down. I think we make the mistake of ascribing too much intelligence to animals much of the time, but they clearly have empathy for our feelings. When we need love and support, they are unconditional and uncomplicated.
My friend said one thing, which made me think. He said that he'd had it with hospital. He said whatever happened, he wanted to stay at home. he's not religious, but he's coping. I for my part have prayed for him. I'd love a miracle, but failing that a quick painless end. Sadly it seems neither will be granted.
Yesterday we had the Friern Barnet Peoples Library. I'd initiated it, as response to the closure of the library last week. It was a huge success. I am immensely proud of what we all achieved, but I am in no mood for celebration. For the sake of the people who came down to support the library, I put my own feelings and mood away in a compartment in my mind and did what I had to do for the success of the library. In the face of a situation where I can do nothing, the most I can do is make sure that everything else I do, I do to the best of my ability. If I seemed in a distant or distracted mood yesterday, this is why. Friern Peoples Library was a monumental victory for the people of Barnet. It sent a message which no sensible council would or should ignore. For me the happiness that that victory should have brought is shrouded in concern for my friend.
Whilst all of my friends have rallied around our friend as best we can, we cannot cure his pain or help him with his fears, we can do everything in our power to ensure that we help those who are left to grieve and left to cope. They are the people who need our support most, don't shut the door and forget them.