Having had a good relationship with so many people that I have never met – on social media and in the comment columns of some of our (better) newspapers, I feel rather guilty that for the last six months or so I have gone very quiet. So I decided to explain all in this blog.
Day one: Friday the thirteenth. The thirteenth of March 2015 to be exact. This isn’t really day one but it seems the right place to start this blog.
So day one: a room in our hospital with four people being me (obviously) my wife Marcia (who many will know as she is a very popular novelist), a consultant nurse and a surgeon. It is his unpleasant duty to tell me that a recent scan has uncovered a tumour in the oesophagus just above my stomach, that a biopsy has indicated that it is malignant and that as things are I have a life expectancy of between four and six months.
Oddly, at the time I found could take part in a reasonably intelligent and unemotional discussion as to the options open to me. It was only later that I began to suffer from shock – and I think the same thing was true for Marcia.
The first item on the agenda was to take a decision: to operate or not to operate. Such an operation would involve some pretty formidable surgery which could easily prove fatal to a seventy-six year old man with a heart condition (plus problems in other areas which are showing the signs of age), would be followed by a long period of discomfort assuming I survived it and there would be absolutely no guarantee that it would be successfull. Did I want such surgery? Did I want to go away and think about it before coming to a conclusion?
Can you imagine how horrid it is to have to give that sort of news to anyone? How often do we stop and think about the way the medics have to cope day in and day out with dealing people in my position?
A quick look at Marcia and a prayer of thanksgiving that we understand each other as well as we do and can almost read each others’ thoughts to make sure that we had come to the same conclusion and I found myself saying, quite simply: ‘Thank you but no, thank you,’ or words to that effect.
And so home with a good deal to think about and with both of us fighting to remain unemotional (and, sadly, not always succeeding).
Day sixteen: having rejected surgery, the next stage was a PET scan and today there is a meeting with an oncologist (rather than a surgeon). The PET scan confirmed the presence of that tumour and also showed I have secondaries in my liver. Now for a different decision: to see if the cancer could be controlled using chemotherapy (the medics ruled out radiation treatment as being fairly useless in my case). This one is a more difficult decision than the first so we listen very carefully to everything that the oncologist has to say and leave it at that for now. We need to give ourselves time to talk this through and so we leave for home with a good deal to think about and with both of us fighting to remain unemotional (and, sadly, not always succeeding).
The facts are simple: if no treatment is given I shall die within months (although nobody can predict how many), if treatment is given that time will be extended by a few months (but, again, nobody can predict how many) and the treatment will have unpleasant side effects (although, because we are all different, nobody can tell exactly what they would be nor how unpleasant). So does treatment offer an extension of quality life or not?
The decision is not so simple but suffice to say that we decided against treatment as we felt that the repeated trips to the hospital alone would create more stress without taking into consideration the side effects and we feel that after thirty-five years of happiness it would be dreadful if the end was one of misery. Better that it be a bit shorter but as happy as possible under the circumstances. In short, time to move on.
Now, nearly a month after Day One, I am still finding it difficult to come to terms with what I now know but now I feel more able to share it with a wider audience (I have already explained the position on my regular Friday blog).
Before I finish there is one thing I would like to add. We have the most wonderful health service and the medical staff are fantastic. Of course there will be times when we want more from it than we get but I would ask those who have to wait longer than they want to in A & E or those who suddenly find that an operation has been postponed to ponder on the fact that for the vast majority of people on this planet there is no A & E and operations are not even a faint possibility.
I welcome comments from anyone who feels that they have a worthwhile contribution to make and I will respond to any comment that requires a response – until the time comes when that is no longer possible.
Will I write any more blogs here? I honestly do not know. Certainly I have no desire to write more than I have about politics. So – on the basis that this may well be my last blog – many thanks for all the fish and farewell.