This is a blog post that I've put off writing for a few weeks now. Primarily, I suppose, this is because I'm reluctant to manufacture a happy ending where one does not yet exist, but nonetheless I feel that it's important to let my thoughts tumble out onto the page.
My Father, after six months of harsh Chemotherapy treatment, has been given the all clear. Sort of.
The doctors at Kingston Hospital have stated that they cannot detect any leukemic cells within his blood using current medical techniques. This doesn't mean that he's completely cured, but rather that their devices are only accurate to a certain level. It's entirely possible that the leukemia is still in his body somewhere, hiding and waiting, eager to resume its battle against his immune system.
He is required to attend the hospital once a month for the next year so that tests can be performed. After this time, his visits become bi-monthly. This then continues for an additional 4 years and if, after that, no leukemic cells are detected then he will be given a clean bill of health.
I feel decidedly undecided about the whole thing. On the one hand, it would be absolutely unforgivable if I had the temerity to complain about the matter, after all it could have been a significantly different result. But I'm unable to totally relax and consider the issue resolved. Indeed, I find my heart faltering whenever my phone rings and I see 'Dad' appear on the screen. For a few seconds, I hold my breath until it becomes apparent that he's just phoned up for a chat rather than to impart some bad news.
Overall, this makes me feel like one of those insufferably precocious and spoiled teenagers on My Super Sweet Sixteen who howls like a stabbed alsatian because they've been given a $30,000 car two days before their birthday instead of on the day itself.
In my defence, I think part of the reason I'm so on edge about the whole thing is due to something my Father told me a few weeks ago. After visiting him in London, we went to his local pub for a couple of pints. On the walk back to his home, he said something that I'm having difficulty shaking from my mind. He spoke about how draining the treatment had been and how helpless it had made him feel. "I've got to tell you, Dan" he said, "if it comes back, I don't think I'm going to go through this all again."
It's entirely possible that this was merely him blowing off some steam and, if faced with a recurrence of the leukemia, he would be back in hospital like a whippet. But I fear that he was telling the truth and has no intention of receiving treatment should it reoccur. This obviously increases my fear that it will return, but I'm trying not to think about that. A phrase I like to smugly use on other people is, "Worry is like interest paid in advance on a debt that never comes due." I continue trying to live my life by that tenet, but it's harder than I'd previously imagined.
I've had some amazing support over the last few months and this whole matter has certainly helped me to recognise those people who are worth hanging on to, whether it be for their care and attention in discussing my father's health, or for simply engaging me in normal conversation without feeling they have to walk on eggshells, allowing me to carry on with life as normal. I won't name names because these people already know who they are.
My Father is now at home recuperating and is hoping to get back to work very soon. Indeed, the support he's received from his employers has been astonishing. Despite being ineligible for contractual sick pay, they put him on full wages for two months. Then, after that, his colleagues continued to give him his share of the 'tips pot' right up until the present day. This is something they didn't need to do, but it has prevented him from worrying about how the bills will be paid.
On the subject of work, there's a story that I'm compelled to relay.
My Father works in a major London casino. Sometimes, if a big player has had a particularly fruitful day on the tables, they will engage in a ritual that involves lining up all the drivers, doormen and receptionists, and walking the length of the line handing over tips, usually £50 a head. A few weeks ago, this noble tradition was taking place when, upon reaching the end of the line, the Big Player said, "Right, is that everyone?".
One of the drivers replied, "Yes. Well, everyone except Ray."
The Big Player asked where my Father was and the driver explained that he was in hospital being treated for leukemia.
Without a moment's thought, the Big Player nodded, reached into his jacket pocket and withdrew a plastic-wrapped bundle of cash. He handed it to the driver and said, "Give this to Ray with my regards."
It was a thousand pounds.
I have difficulty telling that story without crying.
It's been such a long haul, that it's easy to forget how lucky my Father has been and, by extension, how lucky I've been. A few weeks ago, for instance, it was my 38th birthday. My Father, for the first time in almost a year, was able to catch the train down to Southend.
We went to the local Wetherspoons and spent a fantastic 6-7 hours trying the guest ales, eating steak and kidney pudding, and just chilling out. Earlier that day, I'd been a little bit annoyed that I'd received no birthday cards, except from my parents, and no presents, except for some money from both of them. Indeed, a very good friend completely forgot my birthday, which I have not yet forgiven her for.
As we left the pub, my Father and I hugged and he wandered off to the train station. I watched him go, then walked in the opposite direction towards the high street.
Once there, I sat down on a bench and lit a cigarette, cogitating on the day so far and bemoaning my lack of presents. All at once, a moment of realisation came upon me and I actually laughed out loud at how stupid I was. Far from being 'the birthday where I got no presents', this was quite probably the finest birthday that I'd ever had.
The best presents are those that you never thought you'd get.