Tag Archives: chemotherapy

My father’s cancer develops in 2001 and a new club for surrealists opens in 2014

My father in 1976 on the beach at Clacton

My father in 1976.

Sometimes, people ask me: “Is it difficult to find something to blog about every day?”

“No,” I tell them.

As I mentioned two days ago, through happenstance, I currently have an awkward blog-jam: I already have enough chats ‘in the can’ and events coming up to publish one-blog-a-day for the next 21 days. This is a problem.

In a blog on 21st April this year, I ran some extracts from my electronic diary back in April 2001, when my father was ill with cancer. I felt I should follow this entry up today. I put a note in my diary to do this.

Sophie Parkin (right) with mother Molly Parkin (left)

Sophie Parkin (right), mother Molly Parkin (left)

But, last night, I went to the launch party for Sophie Parkin’s new club Vout-O-Reenee’s, whose opening deserves a mention and at least some pictures. It is described as “a private members club for the surrealistically distinguished”.

I went with performer/artist Martin Soan, showman Adam Taffler and comedy performer Matt Roper. The ticket only gave entry to me +1. But Sophie Parkin is very generous woman.

Guests chatted at Vout-O-Rennee’s last night

Guests chatted at Vout-O-Rennee’s last night

Under a church in the City of London, Vout-O-Reenee’s certainly attracted an eclectic mix of people – everything from a former Channel 4 Head of Entertainment to a man who made his living by painting giant beetles to a prospective Liberal Parliamentary candidate to a man dressed as a monk with a painted face to a local who had managed to gatecrash the party because he had heard there was free booze for two hours.

My blog is called So It Goes because of the phrase repeatedly used in Kurt Vonnegut’s 1969 novel Slaughterhouse-Five. That book partly involves an alien race on the planet Tralfamadore.

Kurt Vonnegut’s novel

Kurt Vonnegut’s novel. He is dead now.

In Chapter 2, the hero Billy Pilgrim writes about the Tralfamadorians’ concept of time:

“All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist… They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever.”

Below is an entry from my electronic diary today in 2001. It may be slightly pretentious. I can’t help that:


WEDNESDAY 16th MAY, 2001

In his nursing home bed in Clacton this afternoon, my father’s eyes were staring blankly, focussed on nothing, like the eyes in the photos at the Tuol Sleng interrogation centre in Cambodia: the photographs of men and women before they were taken to the Killing Fields outside Phnom Penh.

As my father is in no condition to travel, my mother and I went to Colchester on his behalf tonight to have the arranged meeting with his Private Consultant (a bowel man) and, it turned out, a second chap (a cancer man).

As we already knew, when my father was opened up, the bowel tumour had been much, much bigger than expected and had grown outwards, infecting the pancreas and a small part of the liver. The bowel tumour was removed during the operation and most (but not all) of the pancreatic tumour. But none of the secondary liver cancer was removed. It was too dangerous to do this.

Currently – four weeks since the operation on 19th April – my father remains easily exhausted. The three steps he has to take from his bed to his commode exhausts him for about two hours. Eating still exhausts him. He cannot get up without the help of two nurses and cannot walk even with them. His appetite is very low, he feels very hot inside and, although OK when lying prone, he is in extreme pain if upright or seated.

His exhaustion and lack of appetite could either be because he is still recovering from the operation or it could be the symptoms of the liver cancer progressing – although the symptoms usually also include nausea, which he does not have. Apparently the heat he feels inside himself is either the wounds from his operation mending or the cancer spreading. He has a slight discomfort but no pain when lying horizontally. Neither Consultant knew why there should be any pain difference between lying and standing.

They told us the only possible treatment for his liver cancer is three months of chemotherapy which in this case, allegedly, would not be as nasty as chemotherapy usually is. The point at which this chemotherapy treatment starts is not too important – there is no vital urgency. What is more important is that he is strong enough to take the chemotherapy, which he is certainly currently not. The way the cancer man phrased it was: “The start date isn’t important; it’s how you get through it.”

With people who have this chemotherapy treatment on the liver, the effect rate is roughly:

35% get more than 50% better

50% remain steady (ie it has no effect)

15% get worse

If my father is not strong enough to have the chemotherapy treatment – or if the chemotherapy treatment is ineffective – there is no other treatment. Their opinion was that, “He is more likely to die of this liver cancer than anything else,” because, by and large, he is otherwise OK for an 82 year-old man.

A worst-case scenario (which my mother now knows) is that my father could die in “a month or so”. When I asked for a longest-term duration a couple of weeks ago, I was told around 18 months. My mother has not been told this. My father’s sister (who is an ex-hospital matron) had assumed a year.

The main Consultant (the bowel man) is writing to my father’s nursing home. They will arrange to get blood for two blood tests which will enable the Consultants to know if the liver is deteriorating quickly and if it seems likely he could take chemotherapy. Another appointment has been made for 20th June in Colchester for consultation – theoretically with my father or, if not, then again with my mother and me.

Tonight I went to tell my father what we had been told at the consultation, but he was asleep and, when awoken by me making noises, was not really together enough to have any sensible talk. He and I agreed I would talk to him tomorrow, though I guess he will forget I was there tonight. His ability to think clearly or to remember anything has been virtually non-existent the last couple of weeks and it is deteriorating, so whether much will sink in I don’t know. Anyway, I will see him tomorrow.

On the drive back from Colchester, my mother said to me: “It’s much worse than I thought it would be.”

When she got home, she phoned friends and neighbours to tell them what had happened and said: “Just don’t give me sympathy. I can cope provided I don’t have that.”

THURSDAY 17th MAY

I went to tell my father in the morning but he was being bathed before lunch, so I went back at 4.00pm – long enough for him to recover from the inevitable exhaustion.

He seemed brighter after his bath.

I told him what the Consultants had told us: that he had cancer, that the only treatment was chemotherapy, but that he could only be treated if he got stronger.  I told him the effects of liver cancer were exhaustion and lack of appetite, which he has, but also nausea which has never had. Inevitably, about four minutes later, he started feeling nauseous.


In Chapter 2 of Slaughterhouse-Five, Billy Pilgrim writes:

“When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in a bad condition in that particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments. Now, when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is ‘so it goes’.”

The stand-up urinals in the Gents toilets at Vout-O-Reenee say: ceci n’est pas une pipe

The stand-up urinals in the Gents toilets at Vout-O-Reenee’s say: ceci n’est pas une pipe

With me – with most things – I simply shrug and think: Life’s a bitch and then you die.

One source says that quote only dates from 1982, the year it appeared in the Washington Post, although the rapper Nas extended it rather well in his 1994 Life’s A Bitch song featuring AZ:

Life’s a bitch and then you die; that’s why we get high
Cause you never know when you’re gonna go

I don’t do drugs. I go to comedy shows and appreciate surrealism.

Vout-O-Reenee’s is an interesting club.

Matt Roper told me that yesterday would have been his father’s 80th birthday. His father was stand-up comic George Roper. He died of cancer in 2003.

So it goes.

Life’s a Bitch is currently on YouTube.

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Dying from cancer in the 21st century

I used to keep an electronic diary.

Thirteen years ago today – on 21st April 2001 – my father was in hospital.

Two days before, he had had a cancer operation.

To set the scene, this first extract from my diary is on…

______________________________________________________

Me (aged 1) with father near home in Campbeltown, Scotland

My father & me (aged 1) near home in Campbeltown, Scotland

Friday 20th April 2001

I stopped in at the hospital to see my father. He had colour in his cheeks, though his hands and lower arms were a bit yellow (possibly because of the tubes and injections he had had in them). He was looking much more awake and bright-eyed than I had thought he would be and his mind was OK, though he had various tubes in his arms, a see-through oxygen mask over his nose and mouth, a grey plastic bulldog clip on one finger (which I think is for blood pressure readings) and he said he felt “exhausted”.

He told me he had slept off-and-on last night. This morning, he was OK but this afternoon he was feeling (and was) sick and had pain in his lower stomach. He said it was odd because, with an oxygen mask on, he was sick along tubes. There were, he said three or four people (he seemed to say doctors) looking after him in the afternoon, giving him painkillers, anti-vomit injections and, he said, two bags of blood because he had a low blood count.

This morning, the surgeon/consultant had come to check on him. The surgeon/consultant said the tumour he removed had been much, much bigger than he had thought it was going to be and – being so big – it had affected either the liver or the kidney (my father was unsure). My father seemed to say the large tumour had rubbed against whichever internal organ it was, though I was not clear if the liver or kidney had been ‘affected’ by the rubbing or if it was a spread of the cancer itself. The surgeon asked my father to tell me he wanted to see me and my mother, if possible, at 10.00am tomorrow morning (on his normal rounds), so he could tell us what he had told my father.

“He said I would need more medical treatment,” my father told me.

“Surgery?” I asked: “He’d need to operate again?”

“No,” insisted my father. “He made sure he emphasised it was medical treatment… though I don’t know what that means.”

Just before I left, my father took his lower, then his upper teeth out and a nurse put the two sets in a glass of water. He was already without his spectacles and his hearing aid. I left him sans teeth, sans eyes, sans everything.

At my parents’ home, I asked my mother if she had slept last night. She said she kept waking up. “I’d be asleep,” she told me, “And I’d stretch my leg across the bed and it wouldn’t touch his leg because he wasn’t lying there next to me.”

My parents in their twenties in the 1940s

My parents when they were in their twenties in the 1940s

Saturday 21st April

My mother and I went in to see my father in hospital this morning and I managed by accident to bump into the consultant on the stairs, without my mother, so I had a chat with him.

The tumour was, as my father had told me, much bigger than the consultant had expected and had affected the pancreas and part of the liver. He had decided not to remove the extra bit but to leave it in because really, he said, it was safer than just chopping away at things. He told me he is not going to operate on it and says the liver is a relatively large thing and there is a small area affected at the moment.

After my father gets out, he has an appointment to see the consultant on Wednesday 16th May – that will be a good week, as my mother is seeing HER Consultant on Monday 14th. My father’s meeting is to decide what to do about what is left. Whether or not to do chemotherapy. The consultant told me he is inclined not to do chemo as, “frankly, sometimes it has an effect and sometimes it has no effect at all” and, in this case, it would probably not make any difference.

Also, I guess, doing it on any 82 year-old man is not a good idea.

So, basically, my father will not be cured of the existing problem. I asked the consultant specifically about life expectancy and he replied – commendably honestly I thought – “We really have no idea how long things like this will take”. He meant doctors are really just plucking a random figure from the sky if they do a guestimate.

His guestimate for a worse-case scenario was that – if the disease suddenly vastly accelerated which he does not think it will – death would be “in a few months”.

I asked what the longest guess might be: “Five or six years?”

He replied: “Oh, not as long as that. He’s an 82 year old man, after all. Eighteen months or so.”

But, as he says, it is really just plucking figures from the ether.

I said I was amazed that my father had never been in any pain at all with the cancer itself (he now has post-operative pain) and asked if things would deteriorate into extreme pain. The consultant’s reply was (I paraphrase):

“Again, one can’t tell. It might or might not happen but there is no particular reason why it should suddenly change its nature.”

I did not quite know what to tell my mother about this, so told her the consultant is happy with my father’s recovery, but that a part of the liver has been infected – I did not mention the pancreas – and that the meeting on 16th May is to talk about possible treatment including chemotherapy.

At 10.00am, the consultant told her the tumour was much bigger than expected and that he had found “a secondary” in the liver.

Basically, she knows what the consultant told me except for my specific question about life expectancy.

______________________________________________________

My parents in Edinburgh, perhaps in the 1970s. Who knows?

My parents in Edinburgh, perhaps in the 1970s. Sometime.

My father died of cancer on 27th June 2001.

My mother died of a heart attack on 13th January 2007.

So it goes.

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The death of an unknown man who was a “legend”

Mij Currie, died in Colchester on New Years Eve.

He was the older brother of Scots comedienne Janey Godley. He was born Jim Currie, but was always known as Mij (their father’s name Jim spelled backwards).

He was unknown except to his family and friends, but he was the person who first persuaded his friend Jerry Sadowitz to perform as a magician then as a comedian – Jerry’s first shows were at Janey’s pub in the East End of Glasgow.

According to a Tweet yesterday, Jerry’s reaction to Mij’s death was “he was a fucking legend”.

Mij had been addicted to heroin for years, then addicted to methadone… then he became HIV Positive… then he got cancer… he pretty much beat them all. When he was given chemotherapy for his cancer, they told him to expect nausea and for his hair to fall out. Neither happened. Presumably he had abused his body so much previously in his life that chemotherapy was a mere gnat’s bite.

The last time I met him, we walked along Frinton seafront, chatting. He was a nice, gentle man whenever I met him, though he had been very violent when younger (there are horrifying tales in Janey’s autobiography Handstands in the Dark).

He once believed he was the rock star Bryan Ferry.

Everyone has an effect on everyone else. The butterfly effect.

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