Thursday, 7 August 2008

7. Choir search

Does anybody know a good gospel choir? The reason I ask is that I’d really like to provide some uplifting entertainment at my funeral, and there’s nothing that raises the spirit as gloriously as a gospel choir. I’m open to suggestions about what they sing, but I was thinking maybe Otis Redding or Aretha Franklin. Or Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me” – that would be good. Of course, they could still do the “praise the Lord” stuff as well if they liked. I wouldn’t mind at all - and my extended family would expect that kind of thing from me anyway.

My eco-aware wife is thinking of something, well, more ecological. I think she wants to turn me into a tree. Which would be OK with me. I’d be happy to be an apple or magnolia or even a plain old rose bush. Actually, I’d like to be somewhere where the kids could come to talk to me. I’m sure that my words from beyond the grave will be much more pertinent than on earth.

I’ve spent this week in the Lister Hospital in Chelsea. I went to see the prof at 9.30am on Monday with a few minor bladder symptoms and ended up on the operating table at 5.

In my Top Ten hospitals in London, the Lister has got to rate as number one. The nurses were just lovely, the receptionists helpful, and my bright, clean room had a pleasing view over Chelsea Bridge. My surgeon, the aristocratic Professor Woodhouse, turned out to be a real charmer, with an admirably clear vocabulary to describe my diminishing options.

The prof explained that the pancreatic cancer had spread outwards to the top of the bladder and that he’d needed to cut out a bit of it to keep my bladder functioning. The bladder recovers quickly and he was betting that the bladder lining would heal quicker than the cancer would regrow. Good game eh?

Actually, it wasn’t as bad as it sounds. I’ve been losing bits of me on the operating table for years. and I'm quite used to it. In fact, I often imagine the confusion of pathologist called upon to do my autopsy; scratching his head; saying hang on, where's everything gone?

The operation was relatively swift, the pain control was excellent, and next morning I was sitting up in bed eating cornflakes. Once again the real burden fell on Mary and the kids, forced to drag themselves across town to see me. All I needed to do was spend the following days lolling around, reading books and watching daytime TV (which I enjoy out of all proportion to its value). Of course, it will never be the same without Carol on Countdown.

All this has again led to the postponement of any treatment and I’m now in search of a new oncologist nearer home. Not that it really matters. The cancer distributed itself through my body long before anyone was aware of it, making it far too entrenched for any targeted treatments. You can’t direct radiotherapy or take a cyberknife to miscellaneous particles scurrying around your system, most of which you can’t even see. All you can do is inject yourself with gemcitabine, a blunt instrument with this type of cancer, with a success rate of just six percent, and where success is measured in weeks rather than months. You can add other drugs to the gemcitabine, but they greatly increase the level of toxicity and don’t improve the odds much in the process.

So I’ve returned home to a rather strange To Do list. It reads: find new oncologist, arrange hospice visits, write nasty letter to Barclays, pay car tax, chase QPR tickets.

The football season starts on Saturday and a few weeks ago I honestly didn’t think I’d make it. But I did. In the needle match against cancer, I’m still ahead on goal difference.