Lou told me, a little time ago, that she was thinking of starting a ‘cancer’ diary, charting her long journey with the disease that would ultimately take her from us. I didn’t think it had ever gone beyond that initial chat. But last week I stumbled upon a couple of journals in which she had indeed started to chart that journey.
As our friend Rose said to me this morning, the reason Lou was a good writer is because she slips in these little moments of profound insight, which she puts in almost casually but you stop and have to think about them for a minute. This, the first entry in her last journal offers the very same.
On the cancer ward at Jimmy’s they used to pull the curtains round all the beds in every bay when someone died so that you couldn’t see them wheel the body past, presumably on the way to the morgue.
I was in Ward 14 on the top floor of an old Victorian building. Those of us on the ward were some of the last people to get chemo, or whatever other cancer treatment we needed, in that building. By January all the cancer wards would move to the brand new building, which we could se from our windows. So there was something final about the ward too… fitting really.
I started my chemo in April and was due to have 6 five-week cycles broken down roughly like this:
2 days of pre-tests
3 days of Cisplatin & Doxarubacin
14 days to react & recover
7-10 days of methotrexate
7 days to react & recover
In reality it didn’t work out always like this ‘cos of infections or just not being well enough to tolerate more poison. But more on that later.
But all I could think about on my first day was how my big brother Richard had died in a room just down the hall. And that the view I now had (my bed was by the window for my first cycle) was the same view I had spent so much time looking at during those awful couple of days that were Richard’s last. High rise towers and just a bleak, sad cityscape. The tower I remember was “Shakespeare” – maybe memorable ‘cos its name was so incongruous with its surroundings.
And the whole time I was on that ward all I knew was that my parents had to sit by the bed of their remaining child who now also had bone cancer, and just a few steps from where they watched their son die.
But I guess cancer doesn’t spare a thought for awful coincidences. And those drawn curtains round all the beds wouldn’t stop you knowing death lived on that ward.