Podcasting

I sat down with my friends at Wing Wing Shoot Bag to talk about cancer and drink beers. Enjoy, I guess.

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Part Thirteen:- Survival

She stares directly into my eyes, intense, awaiting a reaction.  There’s a sublte but definite squelchy pop noise. I let out a fearful yelp.

A small droplet of pee flies over my shoulder.

Quite why a nurse insists on making that much eye contact while yanking a catheter out really is beyond me, but here we are. I’m also certain that the first time it came out was less swift and brutal… Certainly nothing flew past my head – Liquid or otherwise.

I flop back into the bed, sweaty and once again feel like i’ve been getting beaten for 3 hours. The whole procedure takes maybe a couple of minutes, but until you’ve had one of these, you can’t really appreciate how amazingly not fun that couple of minutes is. You should treat it like that old proverb about eating the live frog – Every morning, have a catheter inserted and removed, because nothing worse can happen to you for the rest of the day.

All of my tubes have been removed over the last two weeks, mostly with an arc of fluid being flung somewhere, and i’m mostly human. My favourite day is definitely the one where they get the staples out. They use a staple remover. Like a special, painless, custom built medical staple remov- HAHAHAHA NO, THEY DON’T, IT’S FROM THE STATIONARY CUPBOARD AND HURTS LIKE FUCK.

There’s still a bit of me that didn’t get stapled properly, so it’s packed with gauze until it heals itself up. It looks and sounds nastier than it is. They tell me a district nurse will be round every day or two to change the dressing until I don’t have a gaping Death Star flaw in my belly.

When it comes time to leave, i’m not quite as strong as when I walked out of a hospital to go home, previously. I’m underweight again and very sore. The car park is installed with speed bumps that I estimate to be around 18 feet in height, just off the sheer amount of pain i’m in every time we hit one.

The next few weeks, I spend mostly in my room sleeping and playing video games. (The Getaway 2 had just come out, if you’re wondering). I also finally decide to start shaving my head. Sideshow Bob has a strong look, but I just can’t pull it off.

I’m now left with an enormous scar down my torso (looks like something between a zip and an autopsy), a little one on my groin (because of the literal ins and outs of how they remove a testicle) and a tiny one in my neck from the mad needle/spike thing they threw in during surgery (I have no idea). My energy is coming back slowly, and i’ve put weight back on through sheer inactivity and a horrible diet.

The thing the doctor previously said about my ability to father children / do the funky spider-man also turn out to be correct. I will spare you the details of me finding that out.

Here, i’m afraid, the story doesn’t quite end, but stops being interesting. I get better, I go back to work and I live for a further 12 years. I’m sure you have mixed feelings about this.

It’s 2016, i’m 11 and a half stone and I have a way nicer AFI shirt than you.

I end up having to go for additional appointments to check my blood and lungs for the next decade. First every few weeks, then gradually winding down to every 6 months, then annually, then as of 2014 – Never.

Being told 10 years later that you’re finally “All Clear” is strange. Despite not being unwell (barring a handful of scares) for an entire decade and rarely having to have check-ups, the finality and closure of a doctor finally handing you a form that discharges you as a cancer patient, which this whole time you’ve techinically been, even if you don’t feel like one, or think about it, is breathtaking.

After this appointment, I go for food and drinks with two dear friends. I expect to get more emotional there and then, but I don’t. I feel strange. Not numb – I feel literally everything.

When I get home and i’m on my own, I finally break down. I’m a 28 year old man who is in tears because he doesn’t have to go to the hospital anymore.

They don’t stress to you, and they should, what this experience does to you mentally and emotionally. It was briefly mentioned to me at the start of my adventure, that counselling is available. That was it.

The reality of what you’ve survived may not kick in for multiple years. It certainly didn’t for me. While it’s certainly affected a lot of what I do and who I am for the last 12 years, it’s since being discharged that things have really gotten interesting. I have no idea why. This is the reason i’ve invited you all into my weird public therapy sessions.

Cancer is not a fight. You’re not in a battle. There is no enemy. It is a disease.

But it will break you. It will scar you. It will colour everything you look at for a very long time and possibly for the rest of your life.It will infect your dreams and rule your nightmares.

It will follow you like a shadow and it will come close to swallowing you whole.

But it will not own you. You can get help, and you must. Get yourself checked out. Be afraid. You can be as scared as you want, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, but if something is wrong with you, get it checked out. Catch it early.

It will likely take a piece of you with it. It doesn’t need to take all of you.

Afterwards, admit that you require additional help. There is no weakness in this. This is why the portrayal of this as a “battle” or a “fight” is damaging. To lose implies you weren’t up to snuff.

You can and you will.

 

Things that have helped me and continue to do so:

http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/type/testicular-cancer/

https://www.instagram.com/theofficialsadghostclub/

http://www.cracked.com/quick-fixes/robin-williams-why-funny-people-kill-themselves/

My wonderful friends.

Shouty Hardcore.

Goofy Horror.

Tattoos.

Kirsty.

Basically, the soundtrack to various parts of this, if you’re interested, also:

 

 

Winstock 2004:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part Twelve:- Scrotal Recall

I’ve been mulling over what to include in Part 12 for over a week. Have I been too intimate with the literally thousands of strangers who’ve read this as well as friends and acquaintances who may not have known all of this. Have I been too honest? I’ve agonised over what to include and what not to at this stage as i’ve become to feel a little exposed, despite this essentially being a 2 month long therapy session. Most people keep their counselling private, i’ve chosen to talk about this with the world. I’ve decided to continue along the path of warts n’ all honesty, since i’ve done it so far. I’m not sure why I felt the need to put what amounts to the world’s weirdest disclaimer at the start, but since i’ve been soul-bearing for a little while, I figure it can’t hurt. This blog may not be available online for long. 

It’s quite surreal waking up knowing that you’re missing a body part. You want to take a look at it and regardless of how it’s done, you expect something gnarly. When they remove one of your lads, they don’t get shears and snip the bugger off, like you might assume / hope if you don’t like me very much. They make an incision in the groin and pull it out. I honestly haven’t looked up too much detail with regards to the full gory ins and outs of it because when I think about it, I almost clench my arse inside out. That happened to me, while I slept. If I pass out at your party, please just draw a veiny cock on my cheek and leave it at that, yeah?

I spend the rest of January and into February on the ward, back to square one. Possibly even square minus one. I can’t walk. I can’t eat. All of my bodily functions are controlled by tubes and i’m back on the Morphine once again. They fucked. Me. Up. As promised. The Dude comes by to check i’m not in any pain, and to be fair, the guy is a magician, despite being extra effed up and at this point, a teeny bit upset, i’m not in any pain. If any pain does arise, I have my little green button to rescue me, anyway.

I spend a surprising chunk of this period in tears. I’d worked so hard and pushed myself through hell to become a person again before, and i’d been sent right back to the start of the game I never wanted to play in the first place. I put on a brave face for the Major whenever he came round.

“How are we, young man?”

“Feelin’ good!”

“Good boy”

This usually occurs at around half past 8 in the morning, and for some reason, appearing to not be a snivelling ponce in front of this batshit crazy old man (who’s name I never learned) is very important to me. I’m not sure why, but it is. I can whinge to my family, weep at a nurse, but when that mental old bastard asks if you’re soldiering on, YOU ARE. It was somehow draining and a major boost all at once, every day.

Sleep is once again, alien to me. Not helped by the fact that i’m on a ward. They’ve wheeled a guy in next to me who’s in even worse shape. His kidneys are fucked and the bags surrounding him are red. He’s so drugged up, he has no clue where he is. He occasionally screams randomly during the night. I assume that every now and again, his body decides to let him take a glimpse at his agony, because bodies, it appears, are fucking pricks.

One night i’m woken up because he yells “STINGRAAAAAAY, STINGRAY” and I can’t stop laughing for the next three hours, which is the worst thing in the world when your guts are stapled shut.

The night after, I finally get a decent night’s sleep. He stays quiet for a nice long period of time. I have weird dreams of watching punk bands and being unable to breathe, of walking through gardens and discussing my favourite drinks with people i’ve never seen, but who claim to be saints. I dream that i’m running. I wake up, confused by all of the odd dreams that the drugs have given to me, but grateful that I got a few hours and kip, and pleased for the guy next to me as he must have gone all night without any pain.

I’m half right.

He’s dead.

I somehow slept through the commmotion of the “taggin’ n’ baggin'” or the nurses got him out of there like ninjas, but apparently he just stopped living overnight. I puke in my own lap, choking on my plastic tube, the wretching causing me agony and causing some of my staples to bleed.

For a second, i’m a little jealous of him.

This has crossed my mind multiple times during the darker moments of my little medical adventure. Can’t I just slip away quietly during the night? This barely feels worth it. Especially since there are never guarantees of a full recovery or that you might not just wake up one morning back to square one. So what’s the point? Is there an option where I can just request a massive amount of morphine, mentally go to a different planet and physically just rage-quit the whole thing?

It appeals. I can put up with a night or two of shrieking, filling bags of piss with blood and randomly screaming old TV themes at the top of my lungs at 4am if it means I don’t have to fucking do this anymore.

What a fucking lucky bastard.

“Don’t be so fucking stupid”. I pull myself together a little. Give myself a mental slap in the face. I’ve come this far. Surely I can get further? Surely I want to?

I spend the next day thinking of my friends. How I would happily trade the rest of my genitals to be sat, healthy and comfortable, drinking a cold pint, surrounded by the few people in the world I could give a remote toss about. The fact I may yet get to do that again, helps me get over myself. It always has. It always will.

After a fortnight or so, I have a little strength back, i’m healing very quickly, i’m told. I hear that a lot. I’m Wolverine basically. Only, not interesting. I can sit up properly now. Not by myself, mind you because my stomach muscles might as well be made of yoghurt and prayers. I’ve been lying flat for so long that I have to try to cough all the crap that’s collected on my lungs up several times a day. This, again, is borderline impossible when you have no abdominal muscles at all.

I once gave a friend some advice when they’d had a procedure done on their midsection and had to be stuck back together similarly:

“If you need to sneeze, kill yourself. It’s just easier.”

This, folks, is borne of experience. I have an almighty sneezing fit and am in so much pain even the expensive drugs aren’t helping. The staples are trickling blood again and I feel like i’ve been shot. The pain burns through me for more than a day after four sneezes. “Lucky boy”, indeed.

Again, nights continue to fall and I continue to not sleep. I’ve now taken to vomiting my guts up despite there still being that stupid tube in my throat. I’ve been arguing with doctors for days about getting rid of it. It keeps rubbing in my throat and making me feel like i’m choking, which is resulting in me spewing despite it. I consider taking it out myself but luckily I have learned at least one lesson during this whole debacle. It gags me again, and I throw up. Hard. As hard as I can with a wrecked stomach. I choke on it. I try to make some noise by banging my legs against the bed. A nurse comes over and gives me the “shhhh” sign. I point at my throat – I’ve not breathed now in a little while and i’m unable to push anything up. She isn’t getting it. She stands there with a sick bowl and watches. Finally, I manage to heave up one last splatter of yellow bile and it clears. I can breathe again.

I make sure to get some on the nurse’s hand because fuck her for not helping, basically.

I’m not a very nice man.

As we head into February, i’m losing one tube a day. I’m healing up at a very nice rate and my spirits are starting to improve. After one last… Shall we say… Impassioned… Conversation with a doctor, I finally get them to take my nose tube out also, and i’ve started eating and stopped vomiting. Good work, Doctor Me.

My weird ginger afro has gone unbattle for sometime and is now rather formidable. They offer to cut it for me, but I decide to leave it as it’s the least of my worries THERE IS STILL A TUBE IN MY DICK, GUYS.

On that subject. I’m again warned by my fucking android of a surgeon that this surgery likely means that I can’t have kids. But not for the reason you’d expect.

After explaining to me that our human customs are strange to him and that he may never be programmed with human emotions, he also tells me that some nerves are likely to have been damaged during surgery that control the tubes involved with ejaculation. Basically meaning that, unless his miracle firmware was updated the night before surgery, nothing’s coming out of there ever again, although it will otherwise work the same.

I’m fine with this. He almost shows a little emotion while telling me this and I can’t help feeling that not being able to father kids / do the “Spider-Man” (I’m so sorry, don’t look it up), wasn’t really a price to high to get through everything i’d been through.

“Well i’ll never find out if you keep this tube in there, will I?” I attempt a quip, already knowing that on his planet, jokes are outlawed.

“We’ll probably have that taken out in a day or two, and you can go home next weekend”. He replies, his face showing all the raw emotion of an ikea bookshelf.

I need to stop mocking this guy, because he’s a surgeon, and I guess you probably need to switch off a little part of yourself in order to do that job.

Still, gimme a fucking laugh, like. I just had cancer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part Eleven:-Woordfugizgwanon

It’s “FuckThis O’Clock” on a cold January morning, and a nurse is giving me my wake up call. I need to get in the shower and make sure i’m nice and clean to be carved up in a little while. I’m only in the shower for a few minutes, but feels like weeks. It’s a dark, grey room and feels like i’ve been put in a box. I feel like this is the last shower i’m ever going to take, and thoughts swirl around my head about this morning’s activities. My heart is pounding harder than your dad and his mate John every Saturday night (trust me, they are… Steven).

I have, by now, done away with any thoughts of not getting through the operation though. I figure that if I die on the table, that’s not actually my problem, i’ll be the innocent corpse in all this and once again, some poor underpaid NHS minion will have to scoop me into a bag and tell my parents my guts fell out or whatever. So really, that’s not too bad. What’s scaring me now is considering that I probably won’t die in theater and that the aftermath is going to SUCK. They’ve stressed how hard this sort of surgery will be on me. I’ve had discussions about taking bits of leg and putting it into necks and all sorts just to keep my internal plumbing doing its job. I’m likely to go back to square one in terms of getting my strength and normality back. This is by far the most crushing thought.

What choice do I have now? I can’t bolt… They better knock me out quick.

They come to get me and i’m put in a bed. They remind me that i’m going to wake up with all my favourite tubes in me once again. They want to do this while i’m awake but I insist that if they come near me with another plastic tube, someone will be knocked out, and it’s in their best interests for it to be me.

The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived – The Anaesthetist – Is there to help prep me (From this point on he shall be known as “The Dude”). He pops a needle in my wrist and again assures me that i’m actually going to have a pretty good day, on account of the fact that, while they all spend 8 or 9 hours sweating and working to keep me alive, I shall be out cold and likely tripping absolute, unholy balls. He tells me he’s a little jealous in a funny way. I want him to be my big brother. He tells me to count backwards from ten. The last thing I look at is the clock. It’s about 7am. I start to count.

10.

9.

I wake up staring at the ceiling… Incredibly groggy and confused, but pain free. There’s a clock just to my left. It’s 9am.

For fuck’s sake. They couldn’t do it. They warned me there’s always a chance that if there’s an emergency or something comes up they could have to cancel quickly and move on. I’m so pissed off. It took everything I had to get to here and I want this to be over with now. I lie there, dazed and seething for a few minutes. I think there’s something in my mouth… I try to pull it out.

“Woah, love, leave that there, we’ll sort that out in 5. Are you okay? Any pain” says a nurse.

For a frame of reference for what my field of vision feels like, watch that scene where they haven’t quite activated Robocop yet. “I love this guy!”

“Woordfugizgwanon” – I reply,  my wit and literal influences coming to the fore, devastating everyone in the room with how bloody eloquent I am.

“Everything went fine, if you’re in any pain let us know, we’ll get that ventilator out for you now, babe.” she says confusingly.

“Flawuzfugginquikwanit?” I once again offer up blistering wit and stun everyone with just how verbose I can be.

Luckily, she sees me looking at the clock.

“Ohhhh, I see… Yeah the op took like 8 or 9 hours and was really rough, so we kept you asleep for an extra day”

You fucking what mate? I went into theatre on Monday and it’s fucking Wednesday! Ah well, the less time awake, the better for this I guess. They test how with it I am but asking me to give them a thumbs up. It takes three attempts. The first time I give them the finger, which they think is hilarious, then I give them the devil horns, which they take as some weird act of positivity and defiance at what i’ve been through. It wasn’t. I’d just been knocked out for two days and I couldn’t work out how to operate my own fucking hand. Finally a thumbs up. They get my ventilator out and eventually get me back to the ward.

**MORPHINE KLAXON**

AWWW YEAH HOMEDOGS, I’M BACK – Me n’ mah boi Morphine be rollin’ again.

I feel fucking great. I’ve been through what might as well be a shitting autopsy and i’m pain free and feel like i’m partying because, and I know i’ve said this before, Morphine is the absolute Goddamn tits. If it was sold over the counter, i’d be dead three times over by now. I’d be eating it like sweets and smearing it all over myself, giggling like a schoolgirl at how amazing the universe is.

This positivity builds in my chest and when i’m reunited with mine and F’s families back on the ward, it spills enthusiastically out of my shrieking face hole.

“Back of the net” I feel the need to declare to cheers from everyone.

To this day, I have no idea why that was my choice of victory cry… That said, it could’ve been much worse.

After i’ve come down a smidge, assured that i’ve been talking “absolute bloody rubbish” all afternoon by F’s dad, the surgeon comes back. His face is like a grey, humourless death mask – Like Lurch just received some bad news having already dropped his ice cream. I assume he’s about to burst my bubble and deliver some bad news, but it turns out that’s just his fucking face and he’s the most miserable man on the planet. He also saved my life, I suppose. He could act like that was a positive thing.

“How are you feeling?” He asks.

“Like some madman ripped one of my balls off in my sleep” I reply, thinking i’m brilliant whilst also maintaining total accuracy.

“…”

“…”

He gives me a run through the butchery he spent his day doing while I was asleep. I have 30 or so staples in my stomach to stick that back together and a scar running from my chest to my groin. I have a huge wound next to it that will be packed with gauze for weeks and we just have to wait to heal. I have a spike in my neck, the purpose of which I can’t remember. My old homeboys the Dicktube and NoseBastard have made a comeback too. As well as both my arms being absolutely full of lines sending unidentified liquids everywhere.

Oh yeah, and my right bollock is gone.

 

Part Ten:- A Nanosecond Of Courage.

I have agreed to go back to work part-time. I’m fine with this as i’m an 18 year old training scheme kid, so they only pay me part-time wages anyway.

Before going back, my chemo is declared to be over and done with and I can now have the PICC line removed from my arm. I head on down to the hospital to have this seen to. I’m nervous and sweaty as… y’know… it’s a goddamn tube going through my arm and up into my heart, so i’m extremely curious about how this works. After a long wait, because doctors are the undisputed masters of suspense, I’m called into a room.

“So what happens with this then?” I ask the doctor, partly unnerved, partly comforted by the lack of terrifying medical instruments in the room.

“Well, I put my foot on your chest and pull” the doctor smiles, ushering me to lie on the paper covered bed.

Finally, I’ve met a doctor with a proper sense of humour. This offers me great comfort and stops my nerves completely until he DOES WHAT HE JUST FUCKING SAID HE WAS GOING TO DO WHAT THE HELL IS THIS.

It turns out that removing these things is a lot less sophisticated than putting them in. They literally just pull it out while you breathe, close your eyes, forget you’re an atheist for a few minutes and tell them if you feel any discomfort. Other than the obvious.

After a couple of minutes, the tube is out. I barely feel anything to be fair, and I had my eyes closed, so this is a great mercy. I open my eyes just in time to see the hole in my arm squirt a long, majestic arc of claret up the wall next to the doctor. My hear is pumping so this happens another twice before he can get it under control and get the miraculous invention that is cotton wool on there. I quickly bleed through this. Then I bleed through the next lot. Finally, we plug the hole and i’m happy I don’t have to clean up that room but sad I don’t get to tell anyone that someone was murdered in there.

“Hold that there for…ages.” he says, then a few minutes later straps me up so I can go home.

I still have a little hole there to this day, a little circular dip type thing. It’s lost a little bit within my tattoo as a lovely artist turned it purple, but you can still see it.

This is one of many lines that will be drawn as this goes and it feels very liberating to be able to have a bath without wearing a modified rubber glove to avoid getting my right arm wet, to be able to full straighten by elbow and to not have a BLOODY TUBE IN MY ARM.

I return to work. They decide to partner me up on the desk with my replacement. Luckily, she isn’t just very pretty but really nice, so the microcosm of bitterness I may have felt at them replacing me and paying someone almost three times as much is quickly washed away and we become friends.

I’m still bald. Though I almost have eyebrows again, and while i’m still very skinny i’ve put on enough weight to not look entirely alien. The little hair I do have coming through is now somehow ginger (previously very dark brown) very thin (previously very thick) and extremely curly (previously straight as an arrow). Apparently another thing they don’t tell you is that post-chemo you WILL grow a strange, ginger afro comprised of baby hair, candy floss and PTSD. Naturally, I rock the shaved head look for a little while as my patchy auberne ‘fro is not that strong a look, and noone wants Careers advice from Disco Stu.

I’m back at work part-time for between two and three months. While i’ve been away, there’s been a reshuffle and several new faces have appeared. For the most part, they’re wonderful people who I bond with quickly and are very supportive and aware that even though I work 4-5 hours a day, there are still days where i’ll need re-animating after about 90 minutes. Luckily, I never leave home without my magic amulet. Us revenants never do. I’ve said too much…

I make it through Christmas, now starting to get back on my feet for real, happy in the knowledge that normality will return for a while. It’s been bigged up quite a bit that i’ll be waiting a very long time for my operation. I foolishly believed this. One January morning, I rise from my coffin and send one of my minions to collect my post. (I’ll drop this schtick now).

I have a letter from the hospital. They want me to come in next weekend for my op. This hits me quite hard as I was just beginning to enjoy relative normality again and was quite happy to put “Removing one of your balls and a piece of your stomach) on the to-do list for sometime next year. My mouth is dry. My eyes are moist. My face is dashing.

I tell my dad and we decide we’ll nip down to the office and sort everything out with work again as i’ll need quite a bit of time off to recover from this one too. Probably the same amount. This is fine. Then the phone rings.

“Hi, we can bring your op up to this Friday if you’d like?” the chirpy voice on the other end says.

“Uh… It’s Thursday now…”

“Yup!”

Fuck it.

“Yeah, go on then, let’s get it over with” I say having the only brief nanosecond of courage I’ve mustered since this whole debacle started.

I tell my dad who is shocked as me. We make a B-Line for the office and square everything off. I say my goodbyes. I say literal goodbyes. I don’t know what will happen and every medical professional i’ve spoken to has stressed to me that this operation is a major deal and they can’t guarantee anything. They are towering pillars of confidence, like me.

The following day, we pack a bag and head to the hospital. They check me in and set me up on the ward. I’m told the actual op will be on Monday, but they need me nil by mouth and monitored until then, so i’ll have to be in for the weekend. They’re taking a big risk starving a man who currently eats 4 – 5 meals a day and is wearing a jumper woven entirely of Cathedral Cheddar. I wonder if i’ll go full Jack Nicholson by Saturday night and start hacking doors down with a fire axe just to sniff a Peperami. They warn me of the risks. I warn them right back. We agree a treaty. I won’t devour any passing porters and they’ll make sure I don’t die. A fair trade.

The surgeon comes round, and he’s a humourless robotic fuck. He shows me the mechanics of everything that will happen to me and Jesus H Nard Cancer, I wish he hadn’t. A little traumatised, a nurse spots that i’m not 100% peachy about what has just been shown to me, in diagram form. It looks like an autopsy. She offers to see if the Anaesthetist will come and see me, to reassure me about going under and pain relief.

Sounds good. She brings him up. He is wearing sandles. He calls me “Man”. I’m 80% certain he’s dabbling in his own supply cabinet. Naturally, he actually makes me much calmer about the whole situation.

“Don’t worry man, i’ve got all the really expensive stuff in for you. You’re gonna be out of it. And afterward, you’ll be back on the morphine. You won’t have a clue what’s going on”.

This overachieving stoner is my actual bloody hero.

The weekend passes fairly uneventfully, the ward is once again full of crazy old dying men. Except one. A huge old guy that clearly has an ex military background. I can tell just by the way he walks. I call him The Major. I never find out his real name. He paces up and down the ward several times a day in his dressing gown and slippers and checks if you’re holding up okay. If you tell him you’re doing good you hear “good lad” and feel weirdly proud of yourself, even though all you’ve done is watched Trisha and fantasised about taking a packet of Ham on a romantic holiday.

The night before my op, I have a total meltdown. I call F (the beds have those little TV phone things. Quite nifty, I think) and I tell her i’m scared and I can’t do this. I’ve got through so much but I don’t think i’ve got anything left in the tank. I’m not scared i’ll die, i’m terrified of surviving. The recovery is going to be a living hell, possibly worse than i’ve already put up with and I feel cheated. The tubes are going back in. They’re back, and this time in greater numbers. Only this time i’ll have a serious of bits missing in and while i’m asleep some bloody lunatic is going to carve me up like a rotisserie chicken. I cry like a panicking baby and need her to calm me down massively. Eventually I chill myself out. I have to be up at half 5 in the morning to shower and be prepped for the living nightmare of the following day. I sip some water, get into the foetal position and hug a pillow.

It’s like waiting for Christmas morning, only Santa is going to come down the chimney and literally cut your bollocks off.

Tomorrow morning, I vow to be hard. I won’t meltdown when they get me into prep, I will crack a joke, I will be defiant and I will demand they knock me the fuck out before I have a chance to run away.

Eventually I fall into a strange tearful sleep. I have one last thought as I try to steel myself a little and remember why i’m here.

“See you in the morning, you malignant bastard.”

 

 

 

Part Nine:-Dribbling Nose Of Doom

HAPPY HAPPY JOY JOY I am back in the pissing hospital. Overwhelmed with glee, I simply cannot speak to anyone for I may BURST WITH FUCKING HAPPINESS.

After Chris’s visit, I hear he’s had a minor panic as he had some slight sniffles when he came round and was concerned that he’d just done my in with his dribbling NOSE OF DOOM. Luckily for him, it was an unproperly cleaned PICC (the line still installed in my arm) from my last chemo visit which is the cause of my infection and the reason i’m back in. They hook me up to an antibiotics drip and say I can’t go home until they’re satisfied that i’ve completely kicked it. This will take one to two weeks. In just over a week, i’m due to check in here for five days for another hardcore chemo session. So it’s just decided that i’m back in hospital and will be sticking around for two , OH HOO-BLOODY-RAY or three weeks.

This stint is rougher on me than the previous one even. Not because i’m especially sick this time around, but rather because i’m not. I’m bored. Running a clock out in a hospital when you don’t have “Oh fuck me, i’m dying” on the brain is really tedious. This sounds ungrateful but when you’re involuntarily pissing blood into a plastic bag and wondering when your legs might work again, you’ve got plenty to think about other than time.

For the first few days, i’m back in a little room of my own. Once the infection calms down, they move me onto a shared ward, because those rooms are basically for properly sick people and I don’t have quite enough cancer to qualify anymore. I’m fine with this.

It’s a four man ward. I am one man. The other three are as follows:

The guy next to me, who is in all sorts of pain and only stops screaming to vomit.

The guy opposite him who is around 7000 years old, has no idea where he is and keeps swapping between wandering off and exposing himself to anyone with working eyes

The guy opposite me, who is deep into treatment for the 3rd or 4th time and occasionally has to blow out his FUCKING THROAT HOLE into the sink next me.

These are the not very sick people apparently. Jesus. I don’t want to court controversy but cancer is fucking shite, isn’t it.

Due to us being terrified, deranged, agonised or lacking in vocal chords, we don’t speak to each other at any point. The occasional thumbs up to each other is the best we do. None of us are interested in making friends. We’ve got other things on our mind. Or learned that this is not a place to get attached to people.

During this stint however, Shawn has to re-attend for one of his check-ups / chemo sessions (I honestly can’t remember which now, so apologies if he sees this somehow and finds it inaccurate), he’s looking much better now, as  am I. Both of us have put on weight and while we still look like shiny grey aliens, we could pass for people with a wooly hat and some extra padding. We catch up on things and he’s in good spirits. He can see i’m having a run of bad luck (because noone else here is TOTES) and tells me to hang in there. I will.

I spend the rest of this stay doing anything wind the hours down. I read issues of Fangoria cover to cover, three Anne Rice novels, Mick Foley’s autobiography and listen to Machine Head, 36 Crazyfists and AFI’s entire discographies several times over before my stay is done.

Art saves. These writers and bands are a big chunk of what got me through it. AFI are still my favourite band to this day and i’ll always have a connection to each and every album. Never dismiss someone’s music or a band as unimportant. If someone seems that attached to something, there’s a chance something has happened that’s left this artist’s work imprinted on their soul. A tattoo on the heart to compliment the scar in the brain. There’s little more vital to the survival of body and spirit than this. Even the silliest thing can mean the absolute world to someone for reasons most people will never be able to comprehend and it’s a shame they can’t. If you love something, fall into it fully and bathe in it for life. You never grow out of something that keeps you alive.

One day towards the end of my stint in the hospital, F appears with a gift. During my “almost dying” first act, she tried to work out how to cheer me up. Knowing that i’m an Evil Dead fanboy and that the lead, Bruce Campbell, has a reputation to this day of being an entirely top bloke that loves and understands his fanbase, she has managed to Email him. It turns out that he reads and manages his website personally.

She told him my story of what was going on. He responded to her and sent her an autographed photo from Evil Dead 2, made out to Dazz (the extra Z I pretentiously added has come in very handy for autograph purposes). A class act. Bruce Campbell is my homeboy.

Eventually it’s time to go home again. I’ve lost weight since i’ve been in, because considering what they’re trying to achieve, you wouldn’t think it’s more nutritious to eat the fucking plate than the food on it, but there we are. I can’t wait to get home and resume eating cheese covered Ford Fiestas or whatever.

Chemo takes it out of you, so i mostly lounge around eating. Ferg and Gus come round to visit, and reliably, bring DVDS for me. The Father Ted boxset is included. They explain to me that I can borrow this for as long as I want because their Dad laughs too hard at it and they’re afraid he might literally die watching it. This tickles me more than it should.

Every few days, the district nurse has to come round, check the line in my arm is clean and inject me with white cells. Aparrently this was meant to happen in the first place and may explain how I ended up with a temperature that may as well say “chip pan fire” on the electronic thermometer.

As time passes and I regain my strength, my chemo comes to an end. I start making plans to go back to work as i’m bored and skint. They tell me I could be potentially waiting months for the operation I need to get dead tumours out of my stomach and remove my right testicle. I’m fine with this, as i’ve been through quite enough for now, and everything has shrunk so that i’m not dragging the elephant man around in my pants.

I go in for a meeting to discuss returning to work part time. When I turn up, they’ve fucking replaced me! With someone that they’re paying more money too! At first i’m quietly furious, then it turns out that I do still have a job and my “replacement” is a very attractive girl, so i’m weirdly okay with it.

Tube still in arm, terms are agreed and i’m going back to work part time! After all it’s going to be fucking ages before they get me in for my op, Right?

…Right?

Oh.

Part Eight:- The Urge To Kiss A Roundabout

I’ve managed to make some fairly huge leaps over the last week or so, since missing the gig, out of sheer pig-headedness. I’m finally getting to home on the weekend. I can walk around, although I still get very tired very quickly and I have my meeting with a dietitian (Not a nutrionist. Give me a break, it was 12 years ago!) to discuss what to do going forward about my stomach and that whole “not dying” thing everyone is so fond of.

Obviously, I fear the worst. At this point in my life, i’m a fairly fussy eater. My diet isn’t horrendous by any means, but I know that i’m about to be put on the Rabbit Diet for the rest of my life and every meal will be misery forever.

She arrives and sits down with her files and weird flash cards with pictures of food on them.. I assume she thinks I won’t know what a pineapple is? Luckily, she doesn’t ask me. My secret is safe. For now.

“What’s you favourite junk food? You know, the stuff that they say is REALLY bad for you, but you just wish you could eat it loads?” she asks, I assume sadistically.

“Pizza, hands down” I reply, staring at the floor like a naughty schoolboy.

“Yeah, that’s definitely one of the biggest fatty ones. Good. Eat loads of that from now on. Eat pizza as often as you can manage”. She says. This passes me by for a moment.

“Yeah, I know, I just WHAT THE FUCK?”

I have to put on a lot of weight very quickly. When that’s required in a patient, apparently all common sense goes out the window.

“Put on as much weight as you can now, worry about getting fit and healthy later, you’re dangerously underweight still. You need to put on like 4 stone at least”.

This is literally the best thing anyone has said to me since I first set foot in a hospital. We discuss a plan for how i’m going to eat for the next few months:

Cheese. With everything.

Takeaways? You bet your sweet ass.

That stuff you usually grill because frying it is bad? WRONG, FRY THAT BIIIIIIAAATCH

This lady might as well have walked in and gone down on me. I am in actual heaven with this news. My dad goes to stock up on stuff that will KILL NORMAL PEOPLE TO EAT. I have to eat stonkingly unhealthy meals 3 times a day (more if  I can manage it) and snack like an idiot in between. Crisps, chocolate, anything. As long as it puts weight on me. I’m being closely monitored so they’ll know if I need to stop for some reason. I thought lettuce was going to be my only friend for the next 10 years and i’ve never been more glad to be wrong. As if going home wasn’t good enough! I’ve always had trouble putting weight on up to now, so i’m being advised to hit it as hard as possible. If i’ve failed to put on a certain amount by my next chemo appointment in 10 days, they’ll have me back in and put me on the calory shots. I begin wondering if it’s doable to literally eat a whole bus driver, just in case.

I say my goodbyes to the staff who have looked after me for what feels like years. They’re absolute heroes to me and always will be. I walk out with my tube arm (still full of tube!) bandaged up, proud that noone is having to wheel me through the doors. By the time I reach the car, I am FUCKED because it’s over 30 feet and that’s like a marathon at the moment. I fall asleep in the car on the way home and miss most of the scenery (not that Pontypridd and Merthyr are exactly the grand pissing canyon, but i’ve not been out for months) and wake up just as we enter Brynmawr. That Asda they were building is finished. Some bits and bobs have been repainted. Everything looks fresh. My shitty little valleys town has never looked better and I start to tear up a little bit that it’s all still there. Every inch of it the same dump it’s always been, but somehow brand new and beautiful. I’ve never had the urge to kiss a roundabout before, but Jesus these painkillers are strong.

We get in and my dad puts the football on and my mother orders the biggest pizza possible. A 14 inch Meat Fest from Munchies in Brynmawr, if you’re wondering. It’s perfect if you need to put on weight quickly as it weighs about 3 stone itself and is so greasy, i’m sure you could legally class it as “chunky lubricant”. I eat the whole thing and am in the most exquisite pain. I can’t stay awake any more and I to go to bed. It’s 7pm.

I spend the next few weeks continuing to enjoy a string of visitors. Paul from the Crosskeys office of my work sneaks out on his motorbike in the middle of the day and comes to hang out with me for an hour. We always got on great and I appreciate this gesture more than he knows. He’s one of the funniest men i’ve ever met and when he leaves, I feel better and more relaxed about the whole situation. I eat my 3rd cheese toastie of the day.

Cheese saves lives. I mean friends. Friends save lives. With cheese.

Ryan, who I haven’t seen in a while pops round as he’s passing. While he’s there Marc calls him and grills him about how I am and makes sure i’m being looked after. I barely know Marc at this point. He’ll later become one of my closest friends, and it’s this that is probably the catalyst. Ryan hands me a copy of the new Green Day album. It’s American Idiot.

What a cunt.

I spend the next few days eating constantly. My parents and grandparents keep finding great deals on those boxes of belgian seashells. I really like them. I have a stack of them in my room and my homework is basically to eat them all. When 2004 is over i’ll never want to see them again and in 12 years time the thought of them will make me gag. Apparently you can overdose on seashells.

The following week I return to Velindre for a chemo session. The first thing they do is weigh me. I’ve put on a good few pounds more than my target, which absolutely floors the doctor.

“What have you been eating!?” He asks, as if an answer other than “food” might come out of my mouth.

“EVERYTHING” I declare. They sit me down in an armchair in a huge white room filled with other people who are bald and skinny. They clean my arm tube and attach my chemo dose. Looking around at the gaunt faces and shiny heads, it all feels a bit X-Files. Like i’ve been abducted. Only on this ship they give you a ham sandwich and let you read a book.

After a few hours I arrive home and the chemo has knocked me right on my arse. Chris comes to visit for a little bit before leaving so that I can go to bed.

The following morning I wake up and I feel like shit.. Like how I did weeks ago. My mother takes my temperature and it’s through the roof. We call the hospital and they tell me to get down there now.

Here we go again, then.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part Seven:- Winstock 04.09.04

It’s difficult to explain to anyone how important local music is. It’s even more difficult to get across how utterly vital it is in the Welsh valleys in the early to mid 2000s. Raw, vibrant, creative and visceral. Heart and headaches. Joy and sweat. Blood and vomit. Love and community.

It is, at this moment, everything to me. And yet, I have no idea how monumental it is, or how big a part of it I apparently am.

I have been in a tiny metal band noone has heard of for about a year or two. We’ve very recently disbanded for the moment because that’s about the shelf life of an underground valleys band that noone is arsed with. However I’m still helping Gus promote and put on shows whenever I can. Often, I enjoy this more than being the frontman of any band. My nights so often consisting of taking money on the door or sorting equipment. I’ve made many friends and got to discover some incredible unheard of talent in South Wales as a result. If I could do this for the rest of my life, I absolutely would.

In a band, my contribution is fairly microscopic, but i’ve never realised the impact that FOAD Productions (It stands for Fuck Off And Die. Yeah, I know.) has had on the local scene. I have been a bigger part of all of that than I realise. But i’m about to find out and my heart will almost explode out of my face when I do.

The doctors are letting me go home next weekend. The weekend AFTER the show that my musical friends have put together for me. This is incredibly frustrating to me, and the thought even flashes through my mind that if I don’t get to attend that, what point is there to going home at all?

This is stupid of course, but i’m still utterly devastated that I can’t attend. I wait for a  couple of days for Gus et al to turn up at the hospital with the tape (TAPE!!) of the show. Unlike my doctor, all of my patience (Geddit?) vanished the week before the gig. Finally he arrives. My family and I go to the day room and the video is fired up.

I am utterly floored. The turn-out is massive for a local show. The outpouring of emotion throughout is like nothing I will ever see again in my life.

The guys have put on a raffle. Every band is covering one of my dodgy songs. They’ve made a huge banner with “Winstock 04.09.04” painted on it. I will later find out that this was taken from Chris’s parents’ bed because he is an insane genius. I don’t know anyone else who’s stolen bedding from their mother for me. Raise your game, friends.

As the tape rolls on, more and more talking heads pop up. People who I haven’t seen since school. People I won’t see ever again, as well as my nearest and dearest. All telling me they love me and they believe in me, wishing me luck.

They’ve raised hundreds for cancer research. They give me a fraction of it too, as a pick me up. There’s a shortened version of this video on Youtube somewhere.

I feel everything. I’m heartbroken that I couldn’t be there. I’m flabbergasted that it even happened. I’m overwhelmed with joy as I am hit with a tsunami of affection. I’m absolutely fucking starving.

I watch the rest of the video with a jacket potato. In case you were wondering.

Never again in my life will I feel this important and this adored. I’ve never been a huge fan of myself, but i’ve just found out that several unlikely people are. I’m determined to get my arse out of a wheelchair and back into a gig somewhere. These people have energised me. I’m inspired. Like fuck am I putting up with this shit anymore. I’m leaving this place and i’m walking out of here on my own two feet like a man. Finally everything seems worth it, everything seems doable and I feel like a person who deserves to win this one.

They give me the banner as a gift. Dozens of people who were there have signed it, left little messages and drawn little doodles. All wishing me well or continuing an in-joke.

Except Gareth’s.

I have no damn clue who Gareth is. But his message reads thus:

“This gig is a tribute to your memory – Gareth”

What the fuck? I have no idea who Gareth is, nor will I ever find out, but one thing that I do know is that this gentleman must have had the most confusing fucking night out of his life. Perhaps he’s just not brilliant at putting his point across in writing. Perhaps he wears party hats to funerals and gives people eggs for Christmas. At this moment, he is the most interesting man in the world because, holy shit, he thinks they’ve been recording video messages for a corpse. I mean, he’s nearly right, but come on. Sort it out, Gareth.

I spend the rest of my evening practicing standing up on my own, without telling anyone. It’s dangerous and stupid but i’m not fucking dying anymore. I’m sweating streams and dizzy – I feel like i’m training for a world title fight just by standing upright for 30 seconds at a time. I’ll never work out this hard again in my life. I can walk around in that I can get myself into the toilet and back and as long as someone is with me, I can make it to the day room without collapsing, but as soon as I show them I can pretty much walk like a person, I can go home. I have a meeting with a nutritionist in the morning, also. I’m assuming that they’re going to tell me to eat rabbit food for the rest of my life. If I eat a pizza i’ll vomit out my eyes and my legs will fall off. Here’s a leaflet about it. Did you know sausages cause you to melt? This is what i’m expecing. Can’t fuckin’ wait.

“We can’t really send you home until you’re properly up and walking around for yourself, obviously”. Previously, it was until I could shit. I did that. Then it was until I could piss and not retain water. I did that. Then it was until I could eat properly. I did that.

I am going. Fucking. Home.

 

 

 

Part Six:-Bald Head, Blue Lips

At this point, all I want is to be able to move around by myself, and to go home. I’m still fairly messed up and weigh nothing. They won’t allow me to go home until i’ve put on some weight and can walk. It’s teased several times that I could be allowed to, but they bottle it at the last minute.

The charity gig that Gus & Co are putting on for me is coming up in a few weeks, and I desperately want to be there. I’m doing my little physio sessions as often as my body allows to try to get walking around again and doing my best to neck those horrible calory shots. Finally though, my stomach has gone down to it’s usual level of sheer hunkiness and is functioning again, so I can eat real food. In fact i’m so hungry and determined to put weight on, i’ve started eating multiple breakfasts when they come round every morning. They don’t usually allow such gluttony, but I have so much work to do putting the weight on that they allow me to pretty much eat anyone I want.

AnyTHING. I meant anything. This is not a confession. Shhh, move along.

*Alleged* cannibalism aside, things are starting to look up. I’ve had a steady stream of visitors from work (it’s a big company and they’re all brilliant. Some are lunatics and that’s fine) as well as from friends, and i’ve replaced Batman Returns on VHS with Evil Dead 2 on DVD THANK FUCK. I am pooping normally, thank you for asking.

It’s a hot evening. I take a break from my one movie horror marathon and see what’s going on, on real TV. Robbie Williams’ new video is premiering. “This is literally the worst thing i’ve ever had to endure” I think to myself, with an internal giggle.

I’m exhausted. I’ve had to have another transfusion for reasons i’m not entirely sure of, and because of some weird chest pains I had the night before, they decided to Xray me in the early hours on the morning. Sleep is still not a thing for me. I spend a long time looking at the various pipes and bags coming off me, listening to the beeps that my drip makes when it needs attention. The catheter bag is still a little bloody. My arm is sore and bruised from needles. I realise that i’ve been here for weeks at this point, and i’m no higher up the mountain that I have to climb. I quietly sob to F that I can’t do it and it’s too much. She says I have to. She’s not wrong. Some time later, her family smuggle a bucket of KFC in. We eat it watching The League Of Gentlemen. Maybe I can do this.

My mind is a hot soup.

It’s now September. I can finally move around a little bit and i’ve had my catheter removed. If you’ve never experienced this, I really can’t help you. It’s the weirdest feeling in the world. Especially when a scary German nurse pulls it out while staring intensely into your eyes. I crossed my legs while I typed this. I also checked behind me in case she was there. Having a suprisingly long (giggity) rubber tube pulled out of your urethra is just as much of an experience as having it pushed in to begin with. I have to do some weird muscle exercises to make sure I can pee by myself. It hurts to do so at the moment because i’ve not used said muscles in a long time. But I can walk (very short distances), I can eat and i’m being slowly taken off the morphine. Slowly because I am now technically addicted and going cold turkey is another thing on the ever-growing list of things that will definitely kill me right now – Somewhere between sunshine and the common cold.

The gig is in four days. Despite the literal blood, sweat and tears i’ve put in to trying to be physically and mentally up to going, they tell me I can’t. I’m still not allowed home yet.

This devastates me as much as the diagnosis itself. I won’t talk to anyone for the next three days. I want to be among my friends, doing what we all love. When I can do that, i’ll feel like a person again. I want to be human. 04.09.04 is coming and I can’t be a part of it. Local music is, at this point, what I live for. Even my old crappy NuMetal band. I get into a brilliant row with someone on a forum who slags the gig off and says that we should’ve gotten Mortiis to play. I’m amazed my drip didn’t start to boil.

The worst part of this for me, is that, because I can now walk some little distances, they have started letting me out of the hospital. I’ve been into Cardiff with my family once or twice. I have to sit down and rest every 100 feet or so, but it’s a start. People stare at my bald head, blue lips and skeletal frame. I wear long sleeves to cover up my arm tubes that are taped to me. I’m extremely paranoid that some massive dickhead is going to bump into me and break me in half.

I beg and plead and bargain with the doctors to let me out and to go home for the night on the fourth. I know that as busy and crazy as it may be, I’ll be looked after there. They won’t have it. I continue to strop about it. I really am a prick.

In the run-up to the show, some of the guys come to cheer me up. Gus and Chris reveal that the bands playing are going to cover one of my songs each on the night and that the response has been huge so far. Chris’s band, Of Unsound Mind, are going to reform for one night only for this. They’ve kept it a secret and been using the false name “Dot Cotton” on some of the flyers.

This is quickly dropped when Dot Cotton is diagnosed with cancer on Eastenders. The boys don’t watch soaps, and neither do I usually, but there’s not much else to do in a hospital so I have been. They aren’t aware that they’ve (for lack of a better phrase) dropped a bollock. Their reactions are hilarious.

I still fucking hate Eastenders and Robbie Williams. Maybe I can sue them.

Gus promises that the whole night will be filmed and that he’ll be back to visit a couple of days afterwards so we can watch it all together. It’s not as good as being there, but it’ll do. Once again, these rock n’ roll idiots have given me the boost I need to keep my head above rancid, cancery water. I feel genuinely loved and important to this little community of musicians and drunks that we helped to build.

I am in no way prepared, however, for the sheer tidal wive of emotion that was to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part Five:- Patients Only Smoking Room

My new jelly and soup diet is going swimmingly. I have a tiny amount of strength back. Enough that it’s decided it’s time to learn to walk again. I’m introduced to the physios.

“We’re usually the ones that accidentally pull catheters out and stuff HAHAHAHAHAHA” one of them cackles, her eyes pointing in different directions, dribbling, the sun bouncing off her fucking horns.

“Please don’t do that” I ask. I think this is a reasonable request. They help me to stand up with a zimmer frame. I can get up as far as a weird crouch. Like the “special” cousin of a T-Rex. I then absorb all of the available dizziness on the planet and have to get back into bed. This will keep going for sometime. I am now able to sit up like a person and my stomach has begun to go back down to my trademark chiselled, washboard six-pack. No fact checking please.

Because of this, with some assistance and creative bag-dangling (interpret that however you like, you’re still right), i’m able to get into a wheel chair so that I can get out of my room. This enables me to finally have a bath that doesn’t involve nurse Ben and his magic sponge.

While in this bath (that looks exactly like those ones you see mental patients dunked into in those asylum-based horror flicks. Or at least to me it does…), I wash my face. As is tradition. By now I had grown an almost impressive beard. I washed it off with a flannel. And clumps of my hair float around me in the tub. “I’ll shave the bath later!” I joke as i get help from nurses and my mother to get out. It’s a brillaint joke and everyone high fives me for the next three hours and my one-man show at the Edinburgh Fringe wins all of the awards, obviously.

Back on planet earth, I reach the decision to let a nurse shave my head. Since I’ve just washed all of my other hair off in the bath, anyway and clumps of it keep foiling my attempts to eat. My visiting friends are around me when it happens. One thing they don’t warn you is that chemo makes your skin go weird. I still have scars on the back of my neck from scratching. It turns into butter. Shaving my head then is extremely uncomfortable. My good friend Phil/John/Charles/Harry/Joe (He goes by many names) thinks this is hilarious.

He’s a prick.

The day after, i’m allowed to go outside as it’s insanely sunny. So sunny in fact that I am only allowed outside for under half an hour as my tumours had caused my vampirism to flare up. I have to put a pillow case over my chemo drip so that it doesn’t heat up and cook me from the inside. I want to draw a face on it and give it a name. They won’t let me. Doctors have no sense of fun.

On my way out to the yard, we pass the “Patients Only” Smoking Room, which I still find hilarious to this day. While outside, I find something not so hilarious. The first fellow patient i’ve had the pleasure of meeting is an older guy with a hole in his throat, puffing away on a fag.

“What are you in for?” He croaks. I explain.

“That’s not good. They’ve already had one lung off me. See you later.” He tosses the end of his cigarette and goes back inside to resume treatment. Not all heroes wear capes.

That arse-headed bumble-lung aside, I met a couple of interesting people over the next week or so, and we become friends. Sean (Not his real name) and Ed (Not his real name) are both deep into their treatment. Sean is a few years older than me and has a wife and a couple of kids who are here every day and he’s close to being allowed to go home. Ed’s age is difficult to pinpoint, as is most people’s here, as we’re all bald and dragging around various-sized tombstones. Ed is in worse shape than I am. He doesn’t say much and it’s difficult to gauge how much he’s taking in with the meds he’s on, but he’s a nice guy and always smiling and giving a thumbs up.

Vistors keep coming. My two oldest friends (who I see completely as my brothers) attend. Neither can drive or don’t own a car yet so the fact that they manage to turn up is all the more impressive. Sharpey found out I was ill but working in Tesco, bumping into my grandfather and demanding to know “why the fuck he wasn’t at my engagement party”. My grandfather explains. The next day he makes a B-Line to me.

My parents have now brought my PS2 to the hospital for me to pass the time. Sharpey and I spend the afternoon playing Tekken Tag Tournament. I don’t have much energy to really play. I win once and he accuses me of cheating. I stare at him until we both burst out laughing. He might even go through with that wedding someday, yet.

Then it’s Murpy’s turn. It’s taken him what sounds like an entire week to get to Cardiff from Brynmawr, via multiple buses, a bad-tempered taxi ride and the sheer determination to get on my fucking nerves that he’s famous for. He spends the whole day with me, watches me have a blood transfusion and has a lift home from a stranger that I work with because he’s Murphy and he’s an unstoppable force of nature.

F’s dad manages to get hold of a cheeky pirated copy Spider-Man 2 (which has just come out… I’ve also been given a Spidey poster which is on the wall in my room now. The staff think i’m weird for sure) and there’s a day room where we can hang out and watch it, which we do. Sean is especially overjoyed about this as he can’t take his kids to see it and they’re visiting now. We let them keep the copy of the DVD to take home.

F’s birthday is now fast approaching. I obviously haven’t been able to do much. I get my parents to nip out and fetch something for her (I pay, obviously. I don’t have THAT much cancer). She doesn’t have a stereo, so they get her one. While talking about this with one of the nurses, they offer to get the catering guys to make her a cake. So, on her birthday, she comes to visit and we throw her the tiniest, weirdest birthday party in the day room. The catering staff have made a cake so chocolatey that I can’t even consider eating it, and i’m amazed it didn’t hospitalise more people. My little brother (Who is around 11 at the time) is wearing a sick bowl as a hat. I’ve actually been to worse parties than this recently.

Another week or two passes. Ed’s been getting a little worse and was being looked after even more closely overnight. Sean however, can finally go home. He’ll need to come back to continue his course of treatment every week or two but he’s getting out of here for now, tube-free. His family come to my room to say their goodbyes and I wish him luck. He clicks his heels on the way out. There’s no place like home. Cheered up by evidence that the light at the end of the tunnel wasn’t an oncoming train, I ask for some help getting out and about to go see Ed.

“Oh, love.” the nurse says, tilting her head.

He didn’t make it through the night.