Saturday, 19 May 2012

Robert Jeffcutt

The second anniversary of my brother Robert's death has just passed.

He got cancer in the soft palate at the back of his throat. The initial symptoms were toothache, but the true cause wasn't spotted by the dentist. The cancer was aggressive and by the time it was diagnosed it had grown substantially.

Rob was given a heavy programme of radiotherapy. This progressively destroyed his ability to swallow. Before long he was only able to eat and drink through a peg into his stomach. Despite this radical treatment, the tumour wasn't killed off quickly enough and the cancer spread.

Rob was a very fit and energetic man. He wasn't fazed by anything. Whatever the challenge, he was prepared to take it on - from running a marathon to rebuilding a house. The depredations and indignities of his treatment were huge, but he remained calm and cheerful with his characteristically silly sense of humour.

Rob was only 56 when he died. I miss him a lot.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012


in memory of Robert Jeffcutt (1954-2010)

A songthrush warbles,
the syringe-driver whirrs
and blossom flutters from the cherry tree
my brother pruned last year:
soughing, he doesn't notice.

I reach down, clasp his skinny arm
and haul him yelping into the hazel.
Trade winds take our sails and atop the mizzen
we voyage to the lagoons of Hispaniola,
munching nuts and squawking like parrots.

At the new house we square-up, hollering.
My fist bashes his nozzy - give in!
Defiant, he shakes side-to-side
and a bright slick trickles from one nostril,
a red question mark.

The face of my father,
the hands of my mother.
I gather the covers and stroke his hair:
hawthorn and cow-parsley bedeck the way,
you're singing with the skylark.

Paul Jeffcutt (2010)

Saturday, 12 May 2012

The Unnamable

I don't know,
I'll never know,
in the silence you don't know.

You must go on,
I can't go on,
I'll go on.

Samuel Beckett (1954)

Monday, 7 May 2012

Vulnerability and the Carapace

Cancer strips you down and makes you vulnerable.

Not only have you been exposed to the physical pain of surgery and the indignities of hospital treatment, but you also have been laid bare by intense emotions - anxiety and the fear of death. No wonder you're left feeling raw and unprotected, afraid of the next blow.

Before the 'big C', I often felt indestructible and only intermittently thought about my own mortality. Since then, I've often felt rather fragile and find myself very sensitive to stress.

In astrology cancer is a crab. And a crab has a hard shell on the outside and a soft body on the inside. For a crab to develop it has to discard its existing shell and grow a new, larger carapace.

Before the 'big C', my defensive protection was so strong that my vulnerability was kept safe from threat. But I had also reached my limits.

Last year, my old carapace was discarded. I now see that it couldn't fit me anymore.

I'm sidling forward, sensing my way through the challenges. I know that I've grown in so very many ways. I have to trust that I'm also developing a new protective shell.