Beware The Blood Count

For better or for worse

It’s 1am, and I’ve been lying in the dark composing this in my head. I want to write it down now while it’s still fresh. It could be gone in the morning.

You are sleeping quietly beside me, and the dog is having one of those strange animated dreams at my feet. You look so beautiful, that big brands can use that peaceful face to market their Trucs de Beaute. Today was our wedding anniversary. I was determined to remember for once, but you still had to remind me this morning. Twenty seven years. Shit. Where did all that time go? When did we go and get so old?

And what is it that’s so important that it can’t wait until the morning? And why is my face wet with tears? Well, just this. Thanks for being my best friend for all those years. Thanks for loving me like you do, even when I don’t deserve it. Which is most of the time. Thanks for being the best idea I ever had, and the smartest decision I ever made.

Thanks for giving me the gift of our beautiful, clever and funny daughter. Thanks for making our little house on this little island the home I alway wanted. Thanks for enduring all the empty evenings and lonely weekends while I misguidedly went of in pursuit of things that I thought were more important, even though I now see they were not. Thanks for laughing at my stupid jokes. And not laughing at my stupid dreams.

Most of all thanks for the last three months.

You have been extraordinary. Even by your extraordinary standards. You have been my constant companion through every medical emergency, every consultation, every procedure and examination. You have become a walking almanac of schedules and appointments. An encyclopedia of oncology and hematology. You have fielded the phone calls, completed the forms, dealt with the banks and the insurance companies. You’ve administered my drugs and prepared my meals. Hugged me when I’m anxious, held me when I’m scared.

All I can say Is thank you.

And If you will allow me just one more selfish indulgence, it is this.

I’m glad it happened this way around. Even happy. If the dice had fallen differently, and you were the one who had to get cancer, Let’s face it. I’d be hopeless. Completely lost. The words shit, creek and paddle come to mind. Anyway, you’d be a terrible patient. You’d have to sit still and do as your told. Can’t really see that working.

No, it’s much better this way.

Anyway. Sorry there was no card or flowers. I would have organized something nice but, well, I’m not well you see?

Some people say, it’s the thought that counts. So here is my thought to get you a big box of chocolates, a big bunch of your favorite flowers and a beautiful glass vase to put them in and display on the front table like you love to and yes, a card. Wish I could have given all this to you and see that beautiful smile that never fails to light up my day – every single time.

I love you. Happy anniversary.

 

Testing. One-Two. One-Two.

 

I hesitate to use the term “Bucket List”, but shall we just say that on Sunday I got to tick off one of my lifelong ambitions. No not the one about losing those extra pounds with the help of Eco Slim, but something fun and exhilarating.

I got to play in a band.

I’ve talked elsewhere here about what a huge part music has always played in my life. Since the early seventies, I have bought records, later cassettes, then CD’s, and finally digital downloads (yes I know it’s unfashionable and quaintly old fashioned but I do still like to pay for my music). I got a summer job in a film processing factory when I was 15 and used the money to buy my first hi-fi. Since then I’ve owned radios, turntables, reel-to-reels, 8-tracks, tape-decks, Walkmans, Diskmans, iPods, iPads and most other music related devices devised by man. We have shelves and shelves of neatly organised CD’s, and the ones that don’t fit on the shelves are stacked in boxes in the wardrobe.

Though they may seem to be accumulating dust and adding no monetary value for now, they add immense value to my music collection. These are items I can’t part with as they are a part of me. The pride in owning each of those items, can be felt and experienced only by true music lovers like myself.

But always a consumer. A passive listener. Well OK, not so passive in the late seventies, there was a fair bit of drunken jumping up and down and indiscriminate spitting going on in those raucous days. What I mean is, I was always in the mosh-pit looking up, rather than on the stage looking down, which was where I always really wanted to be.

The urge to make music has never gone away. I’ve owned three or four guitars over the years, and devoted many hours to learning to play them, with faltering, painful progress and ultimately limited success. A couple of years ago I bought a keyboard and have had a little more success with that. The logical and predictable layout of the keys seems to make more sense to my methodical mind.

Any road up. During my last stay in hospital I got a phone call from my great island friend Al. I was to hurry up and get fit because he and a few of our drinking buddies were forming a band, and I was to play keyboards. Strictly weekend-warrior stuff. Mostly covers and spoofs, and lots of beer and laughs. No pressure. No minimum entry qualifications. I was thrilled of course, and a little scared.

So, on Sunday, the official house band of The Legless Arms held its first band practice in our friend Rob’s barn. The venue carefully selected for it’s geographical and sonic isolation, we weren’t going to disturb anybody other than ourselves and a few sheep. The great thing about bands of middle-aged men is that they always have equipment and instruments disproportionate to their talent. Between us, we were able to assemble an impressive array of loud amps, expensive guitars, keyboards, mikes and other stage paraphernalia. About the only thing missing was a laser light-show and a smoke machine.

We don’t have a name yet. This has been the subject of much beer-fueled debate. Front runner at the moment is The Surfdale Palm Court Orchestra, an obvious choice because none of us live in Surfdale, we are not an orchestra, and we don’t play palm-court music. The other contender is The Bad Livers, which I think has a certain ring,  but there is some concern that this might already be taken.

Let me introduce the band. Put your hands together please for… on vocals and rhythm guitar Big Al Knight. On lead guitar (a very nice Gibson SG), is Rob “Rob” Meriddith.  Bruce Davis-Goff on Bass (absent due to surprise mother-in-law visit). On vocals and percussion, a big Waiheke welcome for Helix Daunting (A.K.A. Alex Duncan) and the lovely Vrinda. And finally on keyboards, for the very first time anywhere in the world, please give it up for Linds “Chemo Boy” Redding. SFX:Wild applause.

Incidentally, the band has collectively decided to dispense with the services of a drummer. They tend to smell, drive expensive cars into hotel swimming-pools, and choke on their own vomit.

The plan was, we were all to turn up with one song we wanted to do. I chose “Send Lawyers, Guns & Money” by Warren Zevon. Alan came up with a demented, punk/psycho-Billy version of “Viva Las Vegas” in tribute to Legless Arms totem and role model Hunter S. Thompson, and Rob surprised us with a ska/reggae arrangement of John Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane”, which Alex quickly re-wrote on the spot as a moving lament on the perils of over imbibing during international air travel entitled “Heaving on a Jet Plane.” Finally our star vocalist Vrinda, belted out another Alex composition, a heartbreaking twelve-bar blues “Growing Old Ain’t Easy”

 Getting old ain’t easy,
though it comes with perks.
Your couch becomes your best friend,
while your kids turn into jerks.
Your friends and neighbors drift apart,
and so does your mid-section.
You search and search on-line for things
to give your life direction.
I’m getting older…

So how were we? Well absolutely bloody terrible obviously.

Unorganised, uncoordinated, unprepared, and unskilled. But also utterly unrepentant and uplifted. Most of the time we just made an unholy din, but there were a few fleeting moments where, entirely co-incidentally, we all found ourselves playing roughly the same chords and notes more or less at the same time. For just a brief few seconds, we were actually making real music. And it was totally bloody joyous and transcendent.

I can’t wait for next Sunday.

Yesterday I didn’t have cancer

 

 

Today I have cancer

II know that’s not really how it is. But that is how it seems. How long have I been walking around with it without knowing? A few weeks? a year? I have no idea. But what you don’t know can’t hurt you can it? If it wasn’t for a weird set of circumstances and accidents that I won’t go into now, I still wouldn’t know. I’d still be walking around, happy and healthy. Blissfully unaware of a dark little secret hidden deep inside of me.

So now I have cancer. And it’s not a good one. Not that any cancer is good, but frankly I’d have been happier with a melanoma – they’re very popular in New Zealand. Or even a testicle – at least with a ball there’s an element of built in redundancy.

It’s in the esophagus if you want to know. My esophagus to be specific.For those who weren’t paying attention in biology class, that’s the pipe that connects your throat to your stomach. I discovered all this yesterday, having been summoned to the hospital to see a gastroenterologist called Mark at 10am. The pa who rang me seemed very concerned that I should bring my partner with me. I knew that wasn’t good.

Like most people with a vigorous imagination, I had already played this scenario in my head many times over the years. You know. The “Give it to me straight Doc. How long have i got?” scene. Except in my mind’s eye – as in the movies – it all happens in an oak lined consulting room, with bookcases and leather and gilt framed certificates on the wall.

The reality of course was nothing like that. My personal big scene played out in a nondescript grey room off a green linoleum corridor somewhere in the bowels of the rear end Auckland Hospital – where else would you put the Gastro Unit?

Dr. Lane looked the part however. Spectacles and a reassuring grey beard, and short sleeved green surgical scrubs. All business. And he’s a professor. It said so on his card. After the brief exchange of pleasantries and introductions, Professor Lane said “You’ve got cancer of the esophagus Lindsey.” Blimey” I thought. “Don’t beat about the bush!” I didn’t even get the chance to say “Give it to me straight Doc.”

Little did I know that the scene I played out in my head will not surface and I would be stumped for words. That is how the news hit me. Straight, without mercy. In reality I felt like I was a silent bystander, watching the news being given to someone else. I was physically there but was in a whole different world, mentally.

The Proff. then went on so say that that was probably the only thing I would remember from that meeting, and he was largely right. Jo scribbles copious notes as he talked, and showed us some pictures of my cancer – which to my untrained eye just looked like any other picture of random pink insides. He then drew a crude diagram on his notepad in blue biro. a vertical tube leading down to a kidney shaped blob. “That’s your stomach” he said stabbing it with the biro. Then using the pen as a scalpel he made two expert incisions with a well practiced flick of the wrist, one at the top of the tube, the other beneath the stomach. It’s called a Barnes-Catmur operation he said knowingly over his spectacles. I eyed a wooden outline of a torso on the wall behind the Prof.attached to it was a pink and blue plastic model of the human digestive system from mouth to anus. The big pink stomach was right in the middle, nestling on top of an untidy bundle of intestines.

My biology lessons all came flooding back. I think I might have said “Fuck me.”

Gone is my dilemma about using Eco Slim and other such innovations to lose those few extra pounds.

Today I have cancer.