Ten days ago I wrote a blog post The beginning of the end? that reflected on my Dad’s journey/fight/life with cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer) over the past four years. Well ten days on and things seem to have progressed even further. In March alone Dad has had three blood transfusions, which equates to about 8 pints of blood. I’ll not rant about it now (I’ve done so before here), but if you don’t already give blood please consider doing so, your generosity may well have saved my Dad’s life this weekend – seriously, thank you.
About a week or so ago @markofrespect posted a link to an article ‘16 Manly Last Words‘, as I sat waiting for a train I had a look and one image struck a chord with me, the one below. My Dad is a Navy man through and through, despite having left years ago before I was even born. This expression though just summed up an awful lot for me about my Dad’s phenomenal attitude to dealing with his cancer – he’s never given up the fight and so far it’s stood him in good stead. I promptly emailed the photo to the digital photo frame that my brother got my folks for Christmas that sits in their kitchen (an amazing invention – worthy of a blog post in itself another time).
At the weekend Dad was rushed into hospital, blood tests showed his haemoglobin level had dropped to 6, his lowest yet. He was in there for two days and received the most blood he’s had in a single transfusion. We were told in no uncertain terms that his situation had significantly worsened (when Dad referred to it as a minor hiccup the doctor retorted that unfortunately this was no minor hiccup, it was a substantial deterioration) and that it was touch and go (this was the first occasion when we all actually rushed to his bedside – my sister was home anyway and my brother came down once he realised how serious it was).
Reflecting on it my favourite piece of language was ‘something spontaneous could happen at any time’ – it just conjures up a brilliant mental image for me, my Dad is quite a joker and I love the idea of this actually translating as him jumping out of bed and spontaneously causing mischief. The reality was far from that, he wasn’t jumping anywhere and the truth is that he has a (still being debated whether it’s primary or secondary) tumour in his stomach that is bleeding and causing the substantial blood loss. He had an endoscopy last week in the hope that it would be a stomach ulcer that could just be zapped to stop the bleeding. Unfortunately not, it’s a dirty great big tumour and like an overflowing sponge it is oozing blood, so no amount of zapping will stop that.
Dad came home on Monday night, Tuesday his consultant and care staff had a multidisciplinary meeting, today he was due to have a contrast scan but after five attempts they gave up trying to find a vein and did the scan without contrast. Which meant it was no use anyhow. We had an appointment with Dad’s oncologist this afternoon, the waiting was awful, he was running over an hour late (why, oh why, oh why, do hospital managers/planners/whoever allocate 15min slots for patients with such serious situations – we’ve never yet seen him running on time), Mum and Dad were both anxious, as was I but luckily I had my work email to distract me! The oncologist was just able to confirm all that we didn’t want to hear (but almost certainly understood since this weekend), what really sucks is that there is no guaranteed treatment that will help (we already knew Dad wouldn’t recover but you never give up hope that something can be done), on this occasion Dad has opted for chemo. Last May I wrote a blog post To chemo or not to chemo where I described the situation when Dad was first offered chemo (this time round) – at the time he decided that he was symptom free and would not have it, preferring instead to enjoy the Summer without it. I felt 100% certain at the time that was the right call, I hadn’t really wanted him to have it, we knew it wouldn’t change the eventual outcome and it felt silly to bring that upon yourself. For me anyhow, for some reason, today it feels different; Dad is no longer symptom free, in fact he may not have many hours/days/weeks left at all, the chemo has it’s own risks and may in fact quicken his demise, that said I think it also affords him a sense of control, an action that he can take in the face of such magnitude. He is hoping to start next week.
This may have been a gratuitous use of a polar bear photo! (cc) Flickr by Gerard Van der Leun
After his appointment we went home and sat in the garden with a cuppa tea (like all good English folk would in such a terrible situation)! We were talking and Dad likened it to standing in the ocean on a block of ice. You know that the ice is going to melt anyway, so you can either wait until it eventually melts and you fall into the ocean, or you can make your choice and dive head first in. I guess whatever the outcome by choosing to dive in, Dad feels like he is fighting, he is looking this shitty situation in the eye and fighting to the end. I am humbled by my admiration for him and my Mum, they truly are inspirational in their attitude, in the face of such inevitability. I’m proud to share this experience with them and ready to do all I can to keep the ship afloat for as long as possible.