An infinite number of years ago, I lost my best friend John to Cancer. It was the fucking worst. It was also one of my first wake-up calls to dealing with cancer. Since that time, I’ve watched too many other people die from cancer. I’ve also seen people go into remission, and I have one remarkable friend who has been cancer free for some time now (Fenngirl is nothing short of fucking amazing – her strength and beauty blows me away. Every single day). I’ve learned so much more about it, what it does, how it works, through no choice of my own.
But I’m glad I did.
Because last Friday, Friday 21st August, when I received a phone call telling me my dad had cancer, I realised that actually, I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought I did. Actually, I feel like I know fuck all.
What I do know is this.
He is probably one of the fittest and most active men I know. At 77, he would go to work at his allotment every single day, and be there from morning until night. He grows produce like I’ve never tasted from any farmers market, or super market. The onions he grows? Sweet Jesus should you ever cut into one, you’ll need to wear goggles unless you want your eyeballs to turn into liquid. His potatoes make fucking ridonkulous chips and mash. Tomatoes grow to not much smaller than Little Small’s head (and his head is bloody huge). His pumpkins right now, in the middle of August, are already bigger than those you would find in the supermarket at harvest time. In about a month, they’ll be the same size as three footballs together.
So when it turned out, an infinite number of weeks ago, that he could no longer stand up and that he was having serious back pain, I thought well fuck. He’s done his back in. It’s ok though, the physio is coming out to his first floor flat, and he’ll be fine in no time.
I don’t speak to my dad much.
He and my mom separated in the worst possible circumstances, and I’ve never had a great relationship with either of them. My childhood with both of them was pretty fucking horrendous. I have no regrets now, nor do I have any malice. But I don’t have any particular feelings, either.
It’s hard to feel the warm fuzzies, when there’s no warm fuzzies to latch on to.
I called him from time to time, mostly to see that he was ok, and to update him re. The Smalls.
My sister thinks I’m an asshole for being this way, but there’s nothing I can do until she’s willing to listen to, understand, and accept the full story of my childhood. My childhood was a stark contrast to hers; there are 6-7 years between us, and whilst I hated that as a kid, I’m thankful for it now. It meant that she didn’t have to go through what my brother and I went through.
So, there are no warm fuzzies.
But the panic that punched me in the face on Friday, well it’s only fair to say I still have a heart. I’m not an asshole. I still give a shit.
And when I visited him, and saw how much he had deteriorated in the week from when I saw him previously, I was pretty fucking nervous.
Lying in hospital was this tiny little man, who didn’t look…right. It was still ok, though, because he was in such good spirits.
“Me can fight dis, yuh know?” in his strong Jamaican accent, patois. “Me didn’t want any medication, any drugs, but me tink seh me can fight dis, you know? Me can tek de drugs an mek it easy. Me know say it serious, but dem seh dem can operate or sumting, an fix it suh. It will be alright, yuh nuh have to worry bout ME!” and then he would laugh.
Buss out a laugh.
I believed him.
He hates hospitals like I fucking hate UKIP and people who post fucking dumbass bacon product shit on my Facebook wall.
(That struggle is real, just saying. So please cut that shit right out. And I mean the bacon stuff AND the UKIP stuff, because there’s just no fucking need.)
For AGES, when he was housebound, unable to walk and in so much pain he was in tears pretty much all the time, he was ADAMANT he was not having any injections or anything.
So…to see him not only be admitted to hospital, but be ok about it, and then be ok with taking treatment was…pretty fucking eye opening. But I also knew that he knew what was up. He knew it was cancer (I think) before the rest of us did.
But last Friday, he was up for nailing cancer square in the face.
I went to see him again on Monday, hoping to get detailed results.
Cancer in his spine. Which explained the two sudden lumps on his lower back.
And here is where my technical language fails me, because I’m having a hard time retaining information right now.
Cancer almost never starts ON or IN the spine. It’s almost ALWAYS a metastasis from somewhere else in the body.
So, not only did he have cancer, but it was already serious enough to have come from somewhere else.
As if that wasn’t enough, he has a lump on the top of his head which had gotten bigger over the last few weeks.
Blood tests rules out prostate and blood cancer. But we still had lungs and bowels to check.
Not gonna lie, I decided to hope for bowel cancer, since that would mean they could just remove the bowl, operate on his back, and be done. He’d hopefully go into remission.
They sent him for his CT scan on Tuesday morning.
Have you ever had a phone call from someone, particularly a medical professional, which is so fucking calm, it’s almost too calm, thus portraying a weird sense of urgency?
“Hello…yes? This is [insert name I can’t remember] from the hospital? It’s about [insert something which is now a blur], and you need to get here before 12:00, please?”
I looked at my watch – it was 10:50, I had a consultation scheduled for 11:00, and the hospital was 40 minutes away.
“I know it’s pretty late already, but if you could come before midday, we need you here. And you should also bring any other family members who can make it also.”
I don’t remember much.
I sent a text message to all immediate family telling them the conversation I had just had. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be there on my own.
I had just bought some goat meat to make into a curry for dad, and had found some of those Fish n Chips biscuits/crisps…remember the ones from when you were a kid? Well they had pickled onion flavour. I remember feeling stoked. I also remembered dad loves the Innocent Coconut Water, and I wanted him to have some. I remember being at home and pouring some into a bottle. I remember grabbing the last of my rum flavoured coffee for him – he normally flavours his with real rum. He and Leigh, my sister’s partner, laughed because I live in an area posh enough to sell rum coffee from the local farm.
It’s an ongoing joke now.
It always makes me laugh.
They make me laugh.
I’m posh, but not that posh because I don’t have a conservatory. I joked that I might have to move out of the area because of that.
I think I ran in and out of the house several times, grabbing stuff to take. I don’t entirely remember what I grabbed.
I do remember making it to the hospital in just over 25 minutes. I listened to dubstep the whole way there.
The consultant came up to the bed, and practically begged us to go somewhere private, to a family room. I could tell that, whatever she was going to tell us, was the last thing she ever wanted to do.
She did something which terrified me; as Leigh pulled the last curtain around dad’s bed on the ward, she looked at me, and her face haunted me. She looked like a rabbit trapped in headlights. She mouthed something at me…I think, I think she said “this is bad” or “this is bad news” and she shook her head.
I just smiled back, and nodded at her to go on. I mouthed “it’s ok. It’s ok.”
I felt stupid.
Dad lay there, completely coherent, alert, bright, aware. He’s not stupid. He’s 77 and there’s not a single trace of dementia or insanity about him. He’s more fucking alert than me, sometimes.
“How are you feeling, Mr Lindsay? Are you ok for me to continue?”
“Umm hmm, of course, babs.”
Everyone is “babs”. My dad, even with his strong but understandable patois, is also integrated Brummie and Black Country. We grew up on the border of those two “counties”.
My dad has cancer in his spine. It has come from his lungs. He has cancerous tumours in his lung, which have spread to his brain, his spine, and his pelvis. It’s primary and secondary, it’s severe, and it’s spreading fast. He will be on bed rest for the foreseeable.
If he moves too much, he runs the risk of crushing and possibly snapping his spinal cord; the lesions on his lower back are crushing his spine into the spinal cord.
Specialists have been notified; oncologists, lung cancer specialists, respiratory specialists, pain management team. His notes have been transferred to the local major hospital, The Queen Elizabeth. Specialists from there will be assessing him and his notes over the next few days.
And then she said something which pretty much hit it home:
“Our primary focus right now is to just keep him comfortable.”
“There’s not much we can do because it’s so advanced. So pain management is first and foremost until we can work out what treatment may be possible.”
I went and read the “official notes” on the consultant’s computer.
5cm in right lung…2.5cm in right lung…nothing in left lung…2cm left frontal lobe…spine…pelvis…I needed to read it, and seconds after I read it, it was already a blur.
Dad gave up.
Well, he didn’t give up, but he knew it was serious enough to just enjoy and make the most of his remaining time. He understood the severity of it.
He just wanted to make the most of his family now.
And then he said he wished he could see his grandkids grow up.
And then he burst into tears.
Maybe an hour later I came home and broke the news to my parents in law, and to my brother who lives far away. That was the worst.
I’ve seen my family members cry before, but not for a long time.
I felt sick.
I still feel sick. I have a migraine right now, and I know it won’t go.
I’ve wanted to write this out, just in the hope of understanding all of the information currently whizzing through my head. I have work to do, and The Smalls to look after, and a house to tidy, food to prepare, and right now I can barely keep my eyes open.
I feel weird, and my brain and body pretty much don’t know what’s going on.
People keep telling me “If there’s anything I can do…” to which I always answer “I don’t know. But thanks.”
I don’t know anything, really. I know I’m tired, and I know dad is fighting mentally, but not physically. I fear one day soon he may stop fighting physically.
I fully understand that we all have to “go” eventually. The death of Granddad last year pretty much made everything very real and matter-of-fact for me. Am I cold to death? No. I just accept that it inevitably will happen and that there’s nothing anyone can do about it after a certain point. I just disagree with the terms and conditions of it all.
I disagree with cancer. There’s no fucking need for it.
Apart from trying to get some sleep, and not losing my marbles, I don’t really know what to do now. I feel like I have a million things to do, and instead, I’ve decided I’m going to concentrate on being as much of a human being as possible. Functioning as normally as possible.
I’m fucking tired.