Cancer 13: goodbye colon

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Cancer 13: goodbye colon

Paul Brasington 2023
Published by Paul Brasington in Good health · Tuesday 06 Jul 2021
Tags: Cancer
I'm going to take a short break, as we usually say mid-way through a gig and about to dive off to the bar. Oh happy days.
It's 4.45 on my last day before my bowel cancer operation, and I woke needing the loo, and now can't go back to sleep. It's not because I'm consumed by anxiety, but my head is certainly spinning with thoughts and ideas.

I've always been a night owl, so mornings this early are a rarity for me, often accompanied by the excitement of going on holiday. Before I went to college I worked as nursing assistant in a large psychiatric hospital just outside Maidstone, a maturing experience for a 19 year old wannabe intellectual, and every week would have a couple of shifts that started at 7am. It wasn't much fun in the dark, but as we approached the summer I came to feel there was something magical about the early morning light, walking along the lane from Barming station to the hospital, before the rest of the world was properly awake and about its business. Not that it changed my sleeping habits, which became more engrained as the years went on: I've been told since that these things are hard wired in our bodies.

Still I'm glad I'm awake now, sitting at my desk and looking out on the mostly silent, pretty streets of Rye (that's the current view from my window in the header), the early brightness giving way to clouds and the first stirrings of what promises to be a day of stormy winds. I feel glad that nature's going to have a bit of a punch to it today, conscious in saying this that nature is likely to become a much more hostile environment in the decades to come, in ways the likes of Priti Patel barely seem capable of imagining.
There you go, a bit of political anger creeps in, but I really have more urgent things to think about right now. Wild winds will be welcome as a way of feeling the world is alive, the good old pathetic fallacy (that's a thing in literature cf Wordsworth), on this day when I feel unusually conscious of the vibrancy of life. Whether I'll feel that way as the necessary laxatives kick in this afternoon is another matter but I suppose it's all part of life's rich tapestry, though this one might have been designed by a Breugel, or maybe Francis Bacon.

Ah, I said my mind was spinning.
I don't think I'm going to die, but as I said in my last entry I'm apprehensive about the coming pain. I'm also looking forward to the knowledge that the tumour will be gone, albeit with part of my sigmoid colon (perhaps Sigmoid Colon will be my future nom de plume, a way of honouring the departed). I don't imagine I'm going to feel like writing much in the coming week, though you never know. I'm hoping the time on the ward will bring some humour to things, conscious that this blog could do with a few more jokes. There's a fine tradition after all of finding bodily malfunction funny (cf the Breugels). It's a way of coping.

I'm hoping I won't need a colostomy: the surgeon told me it was unlikely, and reading through the pile of bumpf from the hospital yesterday it seems that if I do need one it will be temporary. I may or may not need chemotherapy. It's an early stage tumour but relatively large so I'm guessing that's a 50/50 chance. I can cope with the discomfort, but it would prolong my convalescence, when I just want to get back to some semblance of normal. Unfortunately I won't know about that for another three weeks or so, when the post-op pathology analysis is back from the lab.

The good life
I spent most of my time in the psychiatric hospital working in a psycho-geriatric ward. Most of the wards had this designation. Many of the residents had psychiatric problems of varying degrees. Quite a few didn't but needed full time nursing care (for instance because they were incontinent) and they had nowhere else to go. It was on the face of it a depressing place, the old boys ranged in chairs in their cast off hospital clothes around the ward, some sleeping much of the time, some chattering to themselves, never really talking to each other, waiting to die. My job was hardly glamorous, dressing, feeding, and cleaning the residents, talking to them, accompanying their bodies to the morgue when they died (okay the morgue trip only happened once). But I would come away from the end of each shift with a glow of contentment, feeling my day had at least been worthwhile, that I'd done some good.
I haven't always been able to feel that way about my life. We do what we can I suppose, and the business of earning a living, looking after your family can easily become consuming in itself.

Breaks form in our lives, shape our sense of them. For all of us I think the last eighteen months have been extraordinary. I'm a fellow of the RSA, an organisation dedicated to promoting beneficial social change, and happened to pick up one of its magazines from 2018. I was struck by how subtly and completely the pandemic has shifted our perspectives. The world before the pandemic seems somehow more innocent. Things will never be the same.

And perhaps these coming days in hospital will be a pivotal moment in my life, dividing my pre and post-cancer selves. You have to hope these experiences make us better, wiser. I'll let you know.

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