Cancer 4: not the new normal

Go to content

Cancer 4: not the new normal

Paul Brasington 2023
Published by Paul Brasington in Good health · Sunday 16 May 2021
Tags: Cancer
I went to London yesterday. My younger son John wanted to look at the maisonette he’s buying in North Peckham, so I thought I’d combine that trip with meeting my old friend Pete Stevenson, as well as taking the chance to see my older son Tom and his family. The weather was not promising, but we’d worked out various ways of seeing each other while still outdoors.
This after all is supposed to be the last weekend before the country takes its next big step back towards something like normal. From Monday people will be allowed to meet indoors, while pubs and cafés can allow customers inside. We’ll be able to hug each other. It’s also the last weekend before my CT scans, so I’m on a restricted low fibre diet, and having to imbibe an iodine marker fluid, which has a laxative effect.
Feeling well, but on edge
I took my first dose before we set off. I have continued to feel very well, while knowing I’m not, making everything seem a little surreal.
When I picked up the iodine fluid the radiographer had warned me that it tasted disgusting, and some people liked to flavour it with a cordial such as blackcurrant. Actually it tastes like neat pastis, which I've always liked (with water) so here was no hardship. My father used to dismiss pastis as a “French lorry driver’s drink”, which made me wonder whether the preparation had been created with them in mind.

The notes sheet had only suggested I would need to stay by a toilet on the day before my scans, so I was hoping the laxative effect would not kick in till then. It meant all the same there was an extra edge to the London trip, and I took a spare pair of pants and jeans just in case.

His new home suitably measured John left us to see friends, so with Mary I drove back through New Cross and Lewisham to Tom’s house in Catford. The roads were busy but not as jammed as before the pandemic. Some people on the streets were still wearing masks, most not. There’s been a clear feeling in the air for the last month or so that people had become impatient with lockdown and were stretching the rules, but not quite to the point where they joined the lunatic (or simply selfish) anti-maskers.
We sat in the garden with Tom, his wife Nicki and my grandchildren Bailey and Cora, rain still threatening, but still holding off. Bailey’s three now, a ball of energy. Thanks to lockdown I’ve not seen much of my grandchildren in the last 18 months (Cora was only born seven months ago), and it lifted my heart when Bailey saw me and his face lit up with happy recognition.
Bailey was my grandfather’s first name, (and Tom’s middle name), so there’s always been a positive sense of generational succession about him. My own father died a few years ago, aged 84 and from heart problems rather than cancer (there is no significant cancer in my direct genetic line, though there is some among my mother’s uncles and cousins). My grandfather and father were both thoughtful and sensitive men, as indeed is Tom, and by generational succession I mean a sense of things happening in their natural order. This makes it slightly easier as a grandfather at the head of the current paternal sequence of generations to accept the prospect of my own death, though I need to remind myself that statistically at least it remains likely that I’ll get through this little ordeal.

With the pandemic as an early harbinger of wider environmental catastrophe I do worry about the state of the world Bailey and Cora are going to grow up into: I know that’s a routine platitude for older people but I mean something very specific by it. You have to hope some sanity will prevail among our political leaders and protect our children from the worst effects.
Part of the delight of Bailey is watching him become more of his own person every time I see him, as he grows more articulate. Cora is still at the bonny baby stage, plump cheeked and watching the world around with wonder and occasional alarm. I have to suppose it’s a sign of the controlled anxiety in me that as I said goodbye to Cora sitting in her bouncy chair, I blurted out “I just want to see you grow up”. I immediately regretted it, not wanting to alarm her parents, not least because I don’t consciously feel that way and wouldn’t want to be so melodramatic. But then I wanted to mention it here, because it does say something about my state of mind.
Nine lives and old lives
We left the house as the rain started, walking down to the centre of Catford and the Ninth Life pub, which has a large covered courtyard and where we’d arranged to meet Pete. Pete’s an old friend from my Cambridge English group, and is creative director of a successful video production company. His personal life has been less happy in the last few years as he’s been through a divorce (I know the feelings) and with serious asthma needed to stay isolated through much of the pandemic. I haven’t seen him throughout the period, though he only lives just across a park from Tom. We've remained close. I think of him as a brother.
The Ninth Life has taken over to some extent from Catford’s much-missed Constitutional Club, an extraordinary place serving reasonably-priced food and drinks in a wonderfully dilapidated two storey building. The Ninth Life can’t quite match that, but it’s a good substantial Victorian pub with seemingly inevitable hipster overtones. We sat in the courtyard with rain dripping from the edges of the canopy, catching up on the time that’s passed, though one of the happy things about seeing close old friends is usually how little time seems to have passed. We talked of our hopes and plans for the future, once the pandemic eases back into something like normal life, though the worries over an Indian variant only underline how we will not go back to the way things were, and nor should we.
And I was thinking how I’d watched London change in my lifetime. We lived in Islington through the 1980s and early 90s. London property was far more affordable then (my son John’s ex-council maisonette is going to cost nearly three times what we got for the four bedroom Victorian semi where he spent his first year). At the time Pete was living for a peppercorn rent in a shared hard-to-let council flat just down from London Bridge. When we’re together we don’t feel a whole lot different from the hopeful undergraduates messing around in those character-shaping days by the Cam, and yet our lives have changed almost beyond recognition.

My cancer only underlines the uncertainty of the future, or the certainty that things will change again. It’s hard right now to think of the plans I had without some huge “but” intruding. As the younger people gathered around their tables in the Ninth Life it was difficult too not to sense that they were all more than ready for their next steps, having themselves been in a kind of stasis. Perhaps we’ll be able to do this as planned, or perhaps the virus will remind us that it’s here to stay. Whatever happens we’re going to have to adapt to this different normal. And I’m going to have to deal with whatever the next few months bring, after tomorrow’s scans bring the real truth of where I am to light.
For today at least, it’s about tinned custard (and ice cream).

There are no reviews yet.
Contact    +44 7798 913129
Back to content