“I’ve got prostate cancer.”
Those were the words, or at least they were along those lines, from my dad’s voice that flew through my mobile phone and hit me with the force of a heavyweight boxer.
The rest of the conversation was something of a blur.
My dad had been hinting at meeting up for a few weeks prior to that phone call, saying he had something he needed to tell me and that it would be better to do so face-to-face. One Facebook Messenger message stated, “don’t worry to death, nowt that can’t be sorted,” followed up by “nowt that will finish me off” and “not something critical.”
I was convinced it was something to do with the old man’s ticker. He’d been diagnosed with a heart rhythm problem a few years ago and was controlling it with beta blockers and the like. Maybe one of his valves was dodgy and needed replacing? Perhaps he needed a bypass?
“I’ve got prostate cancer.”
What the fuck, Dad? Nothing too critical or anything that’ll finish you off. I remember, vaguely, rattling off some shit about how it was important to remain positive in such situations before regaling a story about the Mrs’ mum who died of cancer almost four years ago, before I had the chance to meet her.
Probably not the best anecdote to share, but I was rocked and clutching at straws rather than sit there in an awkward silence.
Their Body, Their Choice
To say I was stunned by the announcement is an understatement. I told the Mrs, then didn’t have a clue what to do or say.
Google can be your worst enemy when it comes to looking at diseases, yet I still frantically searched for the survival rates of different courses of treatment. Dad had said he’d decided to undergo radiotherapy and hormone therapy instead of having the tumour removed.
Why the fuck would he be doing this? There’s something in your body that is killing you and will take you away from us all, but you’re leaving it there. As the Mrs said to me, you must respect the fact that it is the cancer sufferer’s body and therefore their choice.
That’s the first part of the guilt surrounding cancer sufferers, the guilt their family and friends feel for wanting to try and take control of their lives when they’re not the ones having to endure any treatment.
Dad’s no fool. In fact, he’s one of the most intelligent people I know, so I knew he’d done more than his fair share of research into all the possibilities and potential outcomes. His body, his choice.
What do you say?
I’ll openly admit that I’ve been wank when it has come to being the supportive son. I’m rubbish at all that shit; I never know what to say.
“Oh hi, Dad. How you feeling?”
When I know full well he feels like his insides have been set on fire due to the radiation being blasted at him from all directions.
When I know he’s had to change his hours because he can’t see properly for the first hour or so of waking, can’t control his body temperature due to his body having less testosterone in it than that cunt Louie Spence so is constantly hotter than the sun.
That’s the problem when someone you know is seriously ill, you don’t know what to say to them. You don’t want to act or treat them differently, but in the back of your mind you know they have cancer. It’s fucked up.
I’ve been dealing with it how I deal with similar things of this nature, by trying to joke my way through. OK, the jokes are shit, but by making light of the situation I could avoid the elephant in the room.
A death sentence
The only first-hand experience I had of cancer before this was from the grandparents on, ironically, my dad’s side. Granddad died after undergoing surgery for lung cancer. Grandma survived breast cancer only for another form of the horrible little bastard to take her later in life.
My Mrs told me about the suffering her mum went through in the final stages of her life as she battled with the “Big C” so everyone I knew on a personal level had died after being diagnosed with cancer.
And there lies another guilt-causing problem: you start to, or at least I was, making plans for when the battle is finally lost.
I remember welling up in the car after listening to the German entry for this year’s Eurovision Song Contest as it was a guy singing about his dad. Fighting back tears and with a lump in my throat the size of a decent King Edwards spud choking me, I recall wondering how I’d react if I got a call to say the cancer had spread and there was nothing more they could do.
There were even fleeting thoughts about what I’d say at the funeral, or if I could even manage to get any words out in that situation.
How would my mum be? What state would my sister be in? How the fuck do you tell the kids that they won’t see Granddad anymore? All this when the poor old bastard was sat boiling his tits off at home and trying to go about his business as normal as possible.
What a cunt, Matthew. Thinking like this. But I couldn’t help it, despite the guilt it made me feel. It’s not like I was wishing the old man was dead, far from it, but you kind of make mental plans in your head for when cancer claims yet another life because it is often seen as a death sentence.
A new-found respect
I’ve always had a lot of respect for my dad. Coming from humble beginnings, he strived to be the best he could be academically, earned himself a degree in Chemistry – I think he was the first person in his entire family to do so – and has always done everything to be a provider for his family, including us lot.
While I have no doubts in my mind that he’ll have had a cry to himself on the nights he was along and trying to get to grips with the fact he had cancer, he’s gone about his daily routine with a smile on his face and a positivity that has been almost unnatural; you’d never know he had cancer and was undergoing treatment unless he told you.
There’s me moaning about being tired after a crap night’s sleep, and there’s Dad walking around full of the joys of spring despite almost glowing in the dark from radiation and going to 27 pisses during the night.
They say you learn a lot about someone who is facing adversity. I’ve learned that my old man is even more awesome that I originally thought him to be.
Fuck you cancer!
So, what’s the best news ever? Well, it came last week when my dad was told the months of treatment, the hours of worrying and the burning pisses had been worth it because his cancer is in remission.
It means that he no longer needs have injections to stop his body producing testosterone, which this form of cancer feeds off. We just have to wait to see what, if anything, happens when his body begins making testosterone again, but for now we can say fuck you to cancer! Here’s to one day everyone everywhere being able to say that to their tumours.