This is a post I never wanted to face up to writing. Despite knowing the time would come, I of course hoped it wouldn’t. Naively, ignorantly, optimistically hoping something would change.
This is not an attention seeking post, or an attempt to bum anyone out. If you’re feeling emotionally fragile or only drop by for the fun stuff then I won’t be offended if you don’t read on.
2 years ago, about now, my Dad started passing blood when he went to the loo. Not being one to neglect these things, he went to his doctor, who referred him to the “2 week clinic”. A cancer doctor.
Dad researched the internet (as we all do these days) and feared it may be bladder cancer. When he went to the clinic he was told there was an issue with his prostate. Ironically the passing of blood was completely unrelated, a one off.
My only knowledge of prostate cancer up to that point was:
a) It’s very treatable
b) It’s an “old man’s” disease.
My Dad was just 57.
As for the first point, yes it is very treatable. Mortality rates from prostate cancer are difficult to measure, because many older men who are diagnosed with it will, ultimately, die from something else rather than the cancer – maybe old age, or a heart attack.
But somehow my Dad, at the age of 57 and with no previous symptoms ever, had stage 4 prostate cancer. Inoperable. Too far gone to treat, and with no possible cure. It had already spread out of his prostate and into his bones. The only options were treatments to halt the growth, the spread, the virility with which it was attacking his body.
He’s had two years of treatments; hormone therapy, injections, radiotherapy and chemo. And now there are no treatments left. Only pain management. Treatments that will ease the pain that the cancer will cause in his bones.
The head fuck of all this is that my Dad doesn’t look or seem ill. He hasn’t lost weight, stopped going out, become immobile or lost his appetite. He’s travelled to Greece, Italy, Cambodia and Vietnam since his diagnosis. He’s currently having a brand new kitchen fitted. He still tells me off for drinking too much and regales me with tales of what he’s been eating for dinner. He still sees friends and goes greyhound racing. The only problems he’s had have been as a result of the medication he’s been taking.
When he was diagnosed the realisation was almost too much to bear. The thought of finality and an end. Of knowing what’s to come. Cancer is a horrible disease, and I saw what it did to my Grandad, the physical effect it had on a once strong man. It’s a scary prospect.
But then, for a while, cancer became a word again; something that was there but we couldn’t see it. We lived from month to month with Dad going for blood tests to see how the medication was working. We breathed a sigh of relief and wept with joy when the results were good. We cried with sadness and despair when results were bad and yet another treatment option was exhausted. And now there will be no good results. There are no more potential highs to combat the crippling woes.
I’m scared. I’m so fucking scared. I’m scared for my Dad – I know he hates pain and fears what’s to come. I’m scared for his wife, who he’s only been married to for 5 years. She’s the same age as my husband, and far too young to be widowed. They were supposed to have a really nice life together, a long life, a happy retirement for my Dad filled with travel and days out and all the life affirming things they love to do together.
And I’m scared for me. I’m scared of how I’ll cope. If I’ll cope. I have no idea how to comprehend the fact that he’s not going to be here. That I can’t phone him up to talk about my holiday. To not see the animation in his face as he describes a meal he’s had at a restaurant.
My husband has told me on many occasions that at least this way I get to spend time with my Dad, not leave anything left unsaid, make memories that will carry me through the times we’re not together. And I know that’s true. But I wonder if sudden death is easier, for everyone? Because grieving for someone who is still very much alive is so difficult. And I don’t know how my Dad even gets out of bed in the morning, living with the knowledge of what’s going on. Living with dying.
In the UK tests for prostate cancer aren’t currently done on a routine basis, they have to be requested from the GP. As far as I can tell, they’re only available to men over 50, unless there is a significant indication that there may be a problem. If you know someone over 50, maybe mention this to them and suggest they think about a test.
Thanks, as always, for reading. x