So here I am, propped up in my arm chair writing the last few pages of my memoir, if that is what it is. By the time my palliative nurse lets herself in tomorrow morning I’ll be gone. More accurately, still here but dead. Just my mortal coil. I will have shuffled off, God knows where. I’ve been preparing for this for a couple of years now. I’m fairly confident the cocktail of pills I’ve been collecting will be enough to kill an elephant and should have no trouble seeing me off and all the malignant tumours I have become unwilling host to. My little ‘tenants’ as I have come to see them have been gradually growing and multiplying for some time now and are on the point of completely overwhelming me, their reluctant host. We’ve got along quite well with increasing help on my part from happy juice. But they’ve won, albeit briefly as their own death will follow mine almost immediately, defeat plucked from the jaws of victory. They clearly hadn’t thought it through.
You will have found these words at the beginning of a manuscript I started writing two years ago when I was first told that they had done everything they could and now it was just a question of time. I had been diagnosed with prostate cancer five years ago and at the time the consultant and his team were quite confident they had caught it early. There were a few small low grade slow growing tumours and I would probably die in my old age of something else. Two years later, after more tests, scans and a biopsy, I was informed that the cancer had developed into a much more aggressive form and had spread into surrounding organs and bones. They were wrong in their initial prognosis but as it happens they will be right about me dying of something else, I’ll see to that. The new prognosis was that I could probably have another couple of years reasonably active and enjoyable life but then we would be in the end game.
After my death sentence was pronounced and we got home Morag and I had a few glasses of wine and talked it over; the usual stuff about finances, bucket lists, who to tell, how to tell them and so on. After the third glass we even began to plan a farewell party, a sort of non-funeral, for all our friends and relatives, a big bash in a hotel all expenses paid where I could join in a celebration of my life. There’s no reason to believe people would be any less dishonest on such an occasion while I was there than they would be at a proper funeral without the deceased listening in. It’s amazing what a wonderful person you turn out to be once you’re dead. The party never happened and was probably not that great an idea anyway given Morag’s likely future financial requirements.
One thing I did decide though, without telling anyone, not even Morag, was I would write a memoir. I remembered seeing on YouTube a series of videos titled ‘dance like nobody’s watching’. Let yourself go, have fun, don’t give a damn about what anybody thinks. I decided this would be the approach I would take to writing this account. I would write it as if nobody will read it. In practice I knew someone probably would but the main thing is that I wouldn’t care. In fact it is being read, by you. What follows in the manuscript will offend some people and often cast me in a bad light. So be it. Eventually no one will remember and no one will care. They say you are not really gone while you still live in the memory of those that knew you. This sounds like about 80 years maximum. The only person who I don’t think will be personally offended by this is Morag who I truly loved and have never been duplicitous with. She no doubt, if she reads this, will be offended on behalf of others but I can live, or rather die, with that.
After the bad news I was subjected to various treatments options designed to slow down the progress (a rather strange word to use for something that was gradually killing me) of the disease and try to prolong my life as comfortably and for as long as possible. After that it would be all about pain control and steady decline. Morag and I decided to be moderately optimistic and assume we still had two years of active life together and that’s pretty well how it worked out. It was then that I decided when it got to the point when I couldn’t do much else I would begin to write a story of my life; not ‘the’ story you’ll have noticed.
Essentially this is all about me. I’m not writing it for anyone else and I don’t care, after I’ve gone, who if anyone reads it. Writing as if no one would read it gave me licence to write badly, ungrammatically, indulge in cod psychological and philosophical reflections, attempt the odd bit of doggerel, plagiarise, even be offensive by telling the truth. No need to pull punches when there is no chance of getting hit back. As far as plagiarism is concerned, it will almost certainly be inadvertent. If anyone should read this and spot something they think I have stolen from them, I wouldn’t bother to waste any money on lawyers. The money will all be gone. Apart from me the story will also be about anything I decide to write about. Any profundity will probably be accidental. Any profanity will be entirely intentional (pee, po, belly, bum, drawers).
Prostate cancer is designated with a score that indicates the volume and aggressiveness or otherwise of the tumour or tumours. It is then awarded a ‘stage’ in its development on which depends the prognosis, your chances of a cure or, if not, how long you’ve got. Initially my score was quite low and I was told my cancer was at stage T1. This meant that no surgical or other sort of intervention was necessary and it was just a case of keeping an eye on me and every three months or so having a blood test and, if the test was worrying, a scan. Contrary to expert prediction, within a year my cancer had reached stage T3 and I had surgery to remove my prostate. Too late as the cancer had escaped my prostate and invaded other parts of my body. Over the next couple of years, despite various other treatments, radiation, hormones and so on, I raced through all the other stages and am now faced with oblivion, hence the rather clever title (in my opinion) I’ve given this memoir, Death by Stages.
This memoir is mostly a reflection some events in my life. Of course a reflection can only be a version of the real thing. I am a witness to my own life but even so my account may not be reliable. Many eye witness accounts of the events of the Second World War and the experience of the blitz in London are notoriously at odds with one another. For some it was a time of community, shared concern and support, all mucking in together and singing the old songs in the underground stations and cellars. For others it was a time of sexual abuse in the dark, black markets, hypocrisy and exploitation. I once went to a reunion at a children’s home with a friend who had spent a few prepubescent years there and in the main had not had a bad experience. I met some others who had been children there at the same time who had very different experiences, of fear, neglect and loneliness. One in particular, over 40 years later, seemed to be still very much affected by his years in the home and attributed much of what had gone wrong subsequently in his life to the emotional and psychological baggage he was burdened with at that time, the lack of confidence, the sense of worthlessness and betrayal, the habit of defensiveness and blaming others. Neither my friend nor this unfortunate individual were mis-remembering, let alone lying. They both told the truth as they saw it, remembered it; two different versions but also two different truths. There is no reason to believe that a person is the most reliable witness to their own lives let alone the context of that life. This document will be based on my truths as best I can tell them but certainly not ‘the truth’.
But, for what it’s worth, the following is my story.