Thanks for all the fish – and farewell

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.

6 responses to “Thanks for all the fish – and farewell

  1. I am extremely sorry to read your news. Although we haven’t met I have enjoyed our social media correspondence. My wife is going through cancer treatment at the moment, a major operation preceded and followed by chemotherapy. Since she was diagnosed I have discovered so many if my friends and colleagues who have had similar experiences in their families. I am sorry to hear of your situation abd admire your bravery. I hope to be as brave and make the same decision if I am in that situation. You have clearly led a full and happy life and I hope your remaining time is peaceful. Y very best wishes and thanks for connecting with me. Mike

  2. Margie Smith

    You have brought tears to my eyes and heart. My heart goes out to.Marcia also, I lost my husband 12 has ago after a long illness (heart). I wish I were there to help and comfort her. Enjoy each and every day, do things you always wanted to do, make good memories for her. Laugh at little things, don’t fret about the big things, they have a way of working out. These disjointed words are from Margie Smith in the US.

  3. John Lockwood

    That’s a powerful and dignified piece. We haven’t agreed fully on much that we’ve discussed between us but it’s always a good exercise to try and focus on what is shared and celebrate common ground…I’ve enjoyed our exchanges and wish you strength and courage…though on reflexion that may be redundant as you are displaying that very fully.

  4. Rodney, I too admire your bravery and courage. Over a number of years, we have debated many issues. I very much admire you & wish you strength. I shall be thinking of you & Marcia.

    Take care my friend,


  5. Andrea Rouse Durston Brooks

    Rodney, for many years I have, on occasion, read your blogs, enjoyed your observations on Devon life and loved your beautiful photographs. As an exiled Devonian with strong family connections with Devon, Somerset and Cornwall – and particularly Tavistock – I have found your writings both nostalgic and interesting.

    As a teenager in Bristol I remember a friend who was an entertaining, cheerful, somewhat exuberant engineering apprentice. By the way, you were then so like the photograph you have posted of your father!

    Therefore, I was very shocked to read your health report. I admire your bravery in sharing this news with your many followers and send my best wishes to yourself and Marcia.

    I salute you and send my very kind regards.


  6. My God man what can I say…..HUG…….words fail me Rodney….they really do….Sandy told me awhile ago…I buried it in my mind…now ive come oot tae face it…….My Love tae yis both