Now you will feel no rain, for you will be shelter to each other.
Now you will feel no cold, for each of you will be warmth to the other.
Now there is no more loneliness, for each of you will be companion to the other
Now you are two bodies, but there is only one life before you.
Love is less about gazing into one another’s eyes,
Than standing shoulder to shoulder and looking in the same direction.
Soon you will go to your home to begin the days of your togetherness.
May your days be good, and carefree, and joyous upon the earth.
Is this a Christmas Missive? It’s long enough, but I don’t do Christmas Missives. A catch-up then, and a long one. It’s been a year, and I’m still around, triple-jabbed, writing, doing leather crafts, not doing enough gardening, and playing too much Warcraft.
One year on and in some ways I’m stronger and fitter than I have been for a long time. I’m running twice a week (rather gently and short distances), doing strength exercises with or without weights two or three times, mixed with aerobic exercise, stretches, and a little yoga. And I’ve lost weight, about 9-10 kilos, Peak Dave is in my past. I’m becoming the living definition of the difference between being healthy and well.
2021 has been the strangest, most terrible year, we all know that. If I am allowed to push the definition of a year back to December 2020 then I can safely say for me it has been my personal, solipsistic, best of times and worst of times. Yes, the past year has all been about me.
On Saturday, October 9th Gaie and I were married. This was something we’d planned since the summer of 2018 when, so nervous I didn’t actually ask her on the day I’d planned, I asked her and gave her a sapphire and diamond ring and she said yes. We were in Cornwall, on our favourite beach, between the cliffs and the ocean, sand under my knee, gulls wheeling above. A stranger heard us and as we walked past she grinned like mad and pretended to be reading her book. Whoever you are, middle-aged lady, bless you.
Our own natural inertia to start even the best things we want to do took over, followed by Covid-19, followed by fucking advanced fucking stage III fucking prostate cancer. One day early November 2020 I decided that the long slow decline in the strength of my stream of piss might be more than just middle age turning to old and had it checked out. I went to the GP and had the digital examination. It sounds slightly computerised, but it’s not, it’s a finger. I learned that my prostate, while enlarged, and somewhat hard, was not lumpy, and probably was not too much to worry about.
Two weeks later I was pissing blood. The day after that I was having my first scan.
I’ve learned a few things this year. One of the most important is that the NHS is beautiful, wonderful, amazing, magnificent. I knew this anyway, but to become the focus of its attention, while being emotionally and physically exhausting, and intensely distressful, was a wonder to behold.
Withing three weeks I had an MRI scan, a PET scan, an NMR scan, a thing I can’t remember the name of just now but involves a camera and your bladder – no, just remembered, it’s a cystoscopy – and a biopsy under general anaesthetic. And a diagnosis (see below).
And prognosis: Five years.
Men, get a digital examination, and get one early. If, for no other reason than to avoid having a cystoscopy. There’s only one straightforward way to look around inside your bladder and that is sliding a camera through your urethra. The NHS web site describes this as a thin camera. Maybe it is, maybe my own concept of ‘thin’ is off, but it felt like it had the girth of a telegraph pole.
Anyway, I got to see the inside of my own bladder. I don’t have bladder cancer (major, if transient win). What I do have is advanced stage III prostate cancer, otherwise known as metastasing prostate cancer, which has spread to my lymph nodes and my bones. Mean life expectancy: five years. I came home that day an, with difficulty, told Gaie. We just hugged each other and cried.
It has, I think, taken me entirely this long to process, having now passed the first anniversary of that diagnosis. I’ve always found those first anniversaries to be important. It feels like there is a calendar in my head, one that says ‘A year ago something terrible happened and you felt terrible. Feel terrible now.’ I’ve learned to hate that calendar, and also come to realise that as we go through life more and more bad memories get added to it. To hell with that calendar. Put it in the trunk labelled “Not Needed on Voyage”, then burn it and cast the ashes to the four winds.
Every morning I take my rather expensive drugs with a little ritual.
I take pill the first.
I take pill the second.
“Is not the day,”
I take pill the third.
“I shall die.”
I take pill the fourth.
On Fridays there is an extra pill, and I can’t have my morning cup of tea for thirty minutes. Oh, the Humanity.
On October 9th Gaie and I were married. A small ceremony at the local register office, with all the immediate family who could make it, likewise those of our best friends. Our wedding car was a white Ford Zodiac, owned and driven by Ed, who lives just down the road and who I have known since we were eleven. My three amazing children agreed to be part of the ritual as witness, reader of the blessing, and ring bearer. Our good friend Luke made the rings.
That day was one of the best, the happiest, most joyous days of our lives. We filled the house with flowers, with all those people we loved, with children. I bought way too much food. We drank champagne like it was going out of fashion. Tired but happy did not cover it. There are few days in a life that are just nothing but joy.
I love being married. It changes nothing, it changes everything. Gaie has been there for me for a long time, we were going through the thick and thin of it before marriage. Some days we still laugh like children, others it all becomes just too much, mostly we just get on with living. This past week, with multiple trips to the hospital was one of those stressful, horrible, weeks. It’s knocked Christmas into a cocked hat. Sorry. All is well, we carry on.
Over the year I’ve learned, or been reminded of, a few important things.
We are surrounded by love and care and affection. Friends, family, neighbours, I cannot over state just how much your words and deeds helped me through some of the darkest days of my life. Thank you.
Have a hug with the one you love every day. A long, quiet, close hug. Let the time pass until it’s gone.
Celebrate small things in a big way.
Accept the reality. Accept energy is in finite supply and you can only achieve so much in a day.
Emotions are there for a reason.
I do not want another cystoscopy, thank you very much. Not ever.
Up above the clouds the sun is always shining.
Having one more good, spectacularly happy, glorious and perfect day. That might, in the end, be enough.
There are still many things I don’t understand. One of them is why, when one in eight men in the UK will be diagnosed with prostate cancer – and one in four black men – is there still no preventative screening?
So there you have it. Like I said, pretty much all about me, (except not because everyone around us has shared the joy and agony of this year and who really knows where one person ends and another begins). I don’t really like being the center of attention because I don’t think a good life is all about you, it’s about what you do, and how you behave, and I’m no more important than anyone else. And all this, all this grand and dreadful stuff, it’s just life.
Anyway, it’s Christmas, and these missives are meant to end with Christmas messages, so here’s mine:
Men, let a doctor stick a finger up your bum. It could save your life.
Peace on earth, goodwill to all.
Take it easy.
 Friends in the USA, if you don’t understand how the British National Health Service works understand this: we pay our taxes and then our health care is free. All my treatment was, is, and will be free. From that first GP visit, to hospital referral, all of those tests and scans, and indeed my ongoing drug treatment and other care. Free.