Saturday, 25 August 2012

Rog T's Cancer blog - Why I'm not celebrating my birthday

For those of you who are regular readers and have read the previous posts on Cancer, 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?

On Weds I turned fifty. I usually have a big party to celebrate my birthday. It is one of the things in the year I really look forward to. This year I haven't bothered. In fact there are quite a few things I really enjoy that I can't be bothered to do at the moment. None of this is down to any physical problem. As I've come to understand, most men die with prostate cancer, not of it. In fact other than a slightly raised PSA at the moment, there are no symptoms at all. The problems are psychological. They are not even caused directly by my diagnosis. This blog is more about the guilt and sense of loss I'm feeling at the death of my friend Paul Hircombe. Paul was the bassplayer in my band, The False Dots for 27 years. He died earlier this year, from cancer of the osophagus.

In this blog, whenever a friend of mine dies, I write an obituary. At least I did until Paul Hircombe died. I have found myself unable to write an obituary for Paul. Why? Two reasons, denial and guilt. Both of these are irrational, but I cannot escape the feelings. First lets deal with the denial. Paul quit the band three times in his time. The first two times were in the 1980's when he "emigrated" twice to France, with his then beautiful french girlfriend Christine. He went to live in Chambery. Both times the emigration lasted a couple of months and then he came home. Both times, I didn't bother replacing him, just had a break from rehearsing, awaiting his return. The third time he quit the band was in 2008. He moved to Portsmouth to become a career criminal, robbing gaming machines to support his cocaine habit. Of course that wasn't what he said at the time. Up until that point, Paul had managed to hold things together, but he'd hooked up with a few guys in a gang and the lure of easy money and excitement was to alluring. Sadly, it all went wrong. The gang attracted the attentions of the Police, he went on the run, got caught, was sentenced to 2 years for conspiracy to rob. He served ten months. Prison did Paul a world of good. He got his head together and realised that he'd gone down the wrong track. He did courses in prison and got himself fit. He came completely off drugs and vowed to sort things out in his life. Whilst in Portsmouth, he'd split with Christine and met a new girl. The plan was job, marriage, children. Paul was discharged from prison on a tag in October 2010. He came off the tag in April 2011 and had secured a job with Wandsworth Council.

Sadly, he was diagnosed with cancer in April 2011. The job was never taken up. Despite chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery, he died in April 2012. As I said, the two previous times he quit the band, we just waited. In 2008, we didn't and recruited Ady Denton as his replacement. Until June last year we were fairly active. As soon as I heard Paul's diagnosis, I lost my desire to play the songs. No disrespect to Ady who is a great bassplayer. I just found the old material depressing. I am sure that soon, we will get going again. It's just there is a part of me that can't accept that Paul will never again play bass in the band, write songs with me or just be around at all. In truth I didn't even pick up a guitar until July, when I went to Lourdes with HCPT as a helper. That did me some good. I renewed my love affair with the instrument. I just have this irrational feeling that Paul is coming back. Of course he isn't.

Then there is the guilt. Why should I feel guilty that a friend died of cancer? This is the really hard bit. By the time I got my diagnosis in November, Paul had already been told his cancer was untreatable. He was on borrowed time. As soon as I was told, I started madly reading everything I could about ways to improve your chances. Paul didn't go down this route. He simply did what the doctors told him and followed the regimes and treatments they suggested. Now of course what Paul did is in many ways eminently sensible. It's just that all of the books I've read deal with ways to extend your life. The sensible "alternative" view of treatment is that you can enhance your prospects of survival by making lifestyle changes. I'm not talking about turning your back on conventional medicine, just doing everything in your power to improve your chances. This is done by diet, exercise and relaxation. There is a body of evidence that suggests you can slow down the progress of cancer by eating antoxidants and other beneficial foods and drinks. Also by cutting out other foods which promote cancer cell growth, you can slow down the tumour progress. Meditation and relaxation also stimulates the bodies own defences.

The trouble is, I didn't say to Paul, "read this, please give it a go". I don't know why I didn't. I just felt he was happy with his regime. The other thing I didn't do, and this is really irrational, but I do feel guilty about is even more bizarre to those of you who are non religious and non superstitious. For those of you not of the roman Catholic persuasion, there is a religious shrine in Lourdes, which has a spring water that is reputed to have miraculous powers. Whether or not you believe or not, there have been some incidences of miraculous cures ascribed to the waters. Like many Catholics, I have a supply of the water. I subscribe to the view that even if there is no scientific basis for something, if it's free and there is a chance it may work, there is no reason to not give it a go. The problem was that Paul was an athiest. Although I wanted to say "give this a go", I didn't. You don't have to be a Catholic or believe in God to drink a bottle of water do you? If he'd have done it to humour me, then I wouldn't feel like I do. The reason I didn't give him the bottle of Lourdes water is even more strange. I was actually scared it would work. Just suppose he was instantly and miraculously cured? What message would that send to all the parents of sick children who go to Lourdes and die? There is a part of us that wants to be selfish and see our friends get better, but it just seemed to me to be the wrong thing to do, to give him the water. Of course, if he'd asked for it, I'd have been straight around.

Now I know all of you readers are thinking "he's completely bonkers" reading the last paragraph, or perhaps "he's a religious nutcase". If I was I'd have been around saying the rosary over Paul. I wasn't. It is only after the event that all these doubts and guilt have emerged. I had hoped that medical science would work. I respected Pauls views and did say I had a few books that may be interesting. He responded that he was happy to follow what the doctors told him. They told him he may as well carry on smoking, because he was terminal. The books I read say "cut out all carcinogens". Paul made his decision. As I said, all of the feelings I have are irrational.

The thing is that I can't get away from these feelings. We can't change the past. Having had the situation with Paul, I now know that if another friend finds themselves in the same situation, I would approach the situation in a different manner. I would buy them the books, give them the Lourdes water and say "This stuff may help, it's up to you, please at least consider it and if you don't want to, then fine". How hard is that?

Which brings me to my feelings about my birthday. I am not celebrating for the simple reason that I don't really like myself very much at the moment.If I live until I'm a hundred, I'm half way through my life. I feel like I should feel happy and settled. I don't I feel angry, frustrated and restless. We live in a very imperfect world. The thing is that for reasons which I can't fathom, there seems to be a massive conspiracy being enacted to make it even worse. The NHS is under constant attack. We are denied education about healthy lifestyles and the effects of food. Food products which are scientifically proven to damage our health are sold without warnings. People are sleepwalking into cancer, heart disease and death. The environment is under constant attack by the forces of greed. In this country, there is constant pressure on the green belt. In the wider world, rainforests and coral reefs are being destroyed. I sometimes look at humanity and wonder if us, as a race are like a cancer, out of control, destroying the host planet. We could do great things, if we put our minds to it, we could solve all of the problems facing humanity. If we diverted one tenth of the money we spend on arms and one tenth of the worlds armed forces into sorting out the problems of poverty in the world, then the problems would disappear. I believe that if we eradicated injustice, organisations such as Al Quaida would simply disappear. If you look at how much money the Russians, Americans and British have spent in Afghanistan on war, arms and destruction, and say "what if we'd pulled the soldiers out, stopped supplying weapons and instead spent some of the money on developing a decent society".

It is odd, but reading about the physiology of cancer, has made me conclude that humanity could learn a lot from cancerous behaviour. The basic truth is that due to cellular mutations, cancer cells become "selfish". They gobble up the resources meant for other parts of the body. They create new blood vessels to support their selfish lifestyle, they invade other areas of the body which are living harmoniously, destroying them and laying them to waste. In the end, this selfish behaviour destroys the body. Unless humanity learns to moderate it's selfishness, that is the future for our race and our planet. That is why I don't really feel too much like celebrating right now. How can I condemn the cancer within my body, when we behave like that?

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