Sunday, 31 January 2016

Old Pals

Phil and I became friends at school. We’ve been in close touch for over fifty years. After my first wife died in an accident I stayed with him and his wife Jean for several months until I could bear to go back to the house that we had just bought. I became the first visitor to the maternity ward after the birth of their son. And I helped Phil and son Nathan carry her coffin after Jean died of cancer almost three years ago.

Phil came over from England to stay with me this past week. He is a ranger in a National Park so we did plenty of walking and wildlife spotting. We walked around Castlewellan Lake and saw plenty of Little Grebe diving for food. At Corbet Lough we saw over forty yellow-billed Whooper Swans that had migrated here from the Arctic. Beyond the old harbour at Newcastle we saw six Black-throated Divers that had also migrated here from the frozen North. And strangely enough Phil was delighted to see plenty of our local Hooded Crows, a bird that is scarce in his part of England.

Phil is also very handy at DIY and helped me to change the dripping mixer tap in the kitchen, a job I wouldn’t have felt capable of doing on my own. He hacksawed off the old pipework, removed the old tap, attached two flexible links with compression joints to the new one and the job was done inside an hour. My role was that of the apprentice: handing him tools, shining the torch, filing the ends of the pipes and making the tea.

I also did all of the driving: picking Phil up at the City Airport, taking him around Co Down and delivering him back. It was the first time I had driven as far as Belfast. I managed it fine. Although I must admit I felt pretty tired after he had gone and slept for ten hours for several nights. Being so active every day was probably overdoing it a bit.
T has now returned from her own house, having gone back there to do some sorting out (amongst other things, the Xmas decorations were still up). We are back to our normal routines of eating, walking, worrying and sleeping. The appointment for the first of my scans, the bone scan, is coming up and my apprehension is rising.
On the positive side, I have been out of hospital for five weeks now. I’m eating regular meals and plenty of snacks too. I’ve been gaining about a kilo a week and have just returned to the weight I was before surgery. However, if I carried on at this rate of increase for a couple of months I would have a problem. I can complete an hour’s good walk without getting tired and do this most days. I continue to have pain in my belly, although this is diminishing, but I still need to take regular paracetamol. Overall, I imagine this is reasonable progress given what I have been through.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

The Oncologist

It is five weeks since my surgery and a little over three weeks that I’ve been home, under the care of T. In many ways my progress has been good. I walk every day. Ten minutes was the most I could manage three weeks ago. Now I am able to go out walking for an hour, as long as I’m wrapped up well. The disturbances in my guts have largely settled and I can now eat reasonably normally. The pain of my belly wound diminishes slowly. It does intensify over each day and I require regular doses of paracetamol.

T is looking after me very well. She makes a healthy soup for lunch-time and a nourishing meal in the evening. I’ve also been sampling plenty of Xmas goodies and have put on around six pounds of the ten I lost whilst in hospital. At first I couldn’t get through the day without a nap in the afternoon. Now I do last through, but I usually conk out by 10pm. I’m managing to sleep fairly well, with very strange dreams, although I do take a sleeping pill.

T and I have just had our first meeting with the oncologist. They are a dour lot, who don’t pull any punches. We learnt that my tumour was six centimetres in diameter and weighed ninety four grammes. We learnt that it was graded three out of four on the aggressiveness scale. We learnt that the tumour was surrounded by a thin covering of fatty tissue, apart from at the surgical line of excision where three millimetres of tumour were exposed. We learnt that I would be given a CT scan and a bone scan in four weeks time, when my system had settled down after the surgery. We learnt that the oncologist expected me to need chemotherapy, as some sort of recurrence, most likely at the line of excision, was likely.

This prognosis has been hard to bear, particularly after the long, tough journey we had already taken. Whilst some sort of recurrence is thought to be likely, it is not yet a fact.  As far as I know, I am clear apart from three millimetres of cancer cells which have become exposed to my own immune system. I believe I’m recovering well and becoming a bit better each day. However, it is difficult not to feel each twinge in the right side of my abdomen as a symptom of tumour regrowth.

T has found it particularly hard. She has been signed off work for a month due to emotional exhaustion and stays in bed longer than I do in the mornings. We have our little routines and take things one day at a time. We limp along quietly, helping each other get by. It’s not easy. We try to do our best. And keep the faith.

Monday, 4 January 2016


On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets into you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green
and azure blue,
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.

And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

John O'Donohue

Friday, 1 January 2016

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Thank you very much for all your care and concern. It's great to be back home and to read your many messages of support. Thankfully, I'm continuing to improve and feel I'm getting a bit better every day. I'm going for wee walks, eating meals and plenty of Christmas goodies but I don't seem to be putting on weight yet. I lost around ten pounds in hospital, the 'eat nothing for weeks' diet does work but is not really to be recommended.

T and I postponed our Christmas to when I felt ready to celebrate it.. Yesterday became both Christmas and New Years Eve; today is both Christmas and New Years Day. We followed the German tradition and had our Christmas dinner and opened our presents last night. We began the festivities by lighting special German Christmas candles on the tree at sunset. It's been lovely.

I fell asleep around 11pm and that was a good way to see the old year out. It would be great for me if 2016 is more uneventful. And in particular, let's hope that renal cell carcinoma won't be darkening my door again.

Wishing you and yours a very Happy New Year. 

May 2016 bring you what you are hoping for.


Paul xxx