Saturday, 13 April 2013

Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?

I'm keeping out of supermarkets. Two quid for a bag for life? If I'm going to spend that kind of money on a plastic carrier, I expect it to last past the autumn.

I've just been cheated enough. Of about 40 or 50 years. And I want it back.

I went to see the nice oncologists at Glasgow's Beatson cancer centre on Tuesday, hoping for my next bumper bag of harsh chemicals to keep the evil twisted part of my DNA which keeps trying to eat my brain in check. Instead I found out that the chemo hasn't been working. Despite a successful second operation in January, the poison pills have failed to stop whatever was left from growing another head and I have a recurrence roughly the size of a Brazil nut.

It seems I may only have three to four months to live.

I would turn 45 this year. Given my generation, my social background and the relative longevity of my family, I was expecting to see my 90s.

I had plans: I wanted to be a published author; I wanted to be a dad; I wanted to grow old with Clare; I wanted us both to travel more extensively than we have. I'd even have quite liked to have finished learning to play the guitar properly. Circumstance is such a swindler.

It isn't fair. But of course it's not – fairness and justice are human
constructs, they don't exist in nature. I can ask the ridiculous question "why me?", but I already know the answer is "why not?"

Not that I believe there's anything to ask the question of, other than the logic and intellect we have evolved. And my lack of faith is a comfort. I'm not afraid of death. It's merely oblivion. There was a time before I was here, and I didn't suffer then. The religious have the foolish idea of vengeful gods and devils to terrify them through such dark times. I may have to eventually succumb to this terrible disease, but I will not succumb to the virus of faith.

I have some time left, and I will make the most of it. Of course I'm afraid of dying, but of the process, not the aftermath. Cancer death can be so cruel and undignified. At least with glioblastoma it seems that there is no pain, no suffocation on pneumonia, no dwindling out of personality into dementia. Eventually the tumour fatigue takes hold and you simply sleep it away. But until then, I fully intend to enjoy myself as much as I can. I will remain me until the end, and I will not waste that time on self-pity and fear. And I will fight with every resource at my disposal. I have a strong mind, and I'm not planning on going anywhere gently.

I have one more chemo option left to me. The prognosis of 12 to 16 weeks is without treatment other than the steroids which keep the effects of swelling under control and keep me feeling relatively well, but I also have the opportunity to spend a night plugged into a drip at the Beatson every three weeks for the foreseeable. That's pretty frequent given the timescales we're talking about and will leave me a bit gubbed for a couple of days each time. But in exchange for that, I get about a 10% chance of doubling the existing estimate.

There's a quality of life judgement to be made there, balancing a little short-term time I can be making the most of against not-very-good odds of slightly longer-term time during which I might not feel exactly lovely, but of which I can also try to make the most.  But I'm a fighter.

So I'm fighting for as much good time as I can get.

As part of that, Clare and I are currently enjoying a weekend break in the Lakes, something we like to do around this time of year. It's lovely here, and they have nice food and beer.

So, making the most of it. I just wish I wasn't also carrying about this poison sac of bereavement and anger in my lower gut. It's heavy and hurts, and gets in the way of my Good Time. Still, I just need to fight that, too.

I'll work out how I do that as soon as  I can.


  1. I wish that i were half the man you are Graeme. I am proud to have you as a brother.

  2. Graeme, I don't know what to say. People too often opt to say nothing when that is the case but that's not an option. Something must be said but I thought it best to admit my inadequacy at the start.

    I didn't know you at school, nor do I now, but you seem like a warm and witty man whose honesty I admire and bravery I salute. I like you even though I don't know you. I am sure, however, that you are surrounded by people who know you very well and who love you. I hope that knowledge sustains you in your last, precious months. I wish you well but, unfortunately, I know that won't work. I'm not sure what I wish you, therefore. Like you, I am not religious so I'm trying to think what I would want. Inner peace and reconciliation, I suppose, and some crazy fun. xx

  3. Graeme,

    You probably don't really know who I am, except that I was the year below you at school and we have some friends in common. I also as it happens am also a journalist and blogger, albeit I'm fortunate to have happier subjects to write about. I know it would matter to me under these circumstances to know that the piece was well written and put the point precisely, so I'll tell you it is very well written indeed and puts your message across with feeling and a real sense of the complexity of what you're feeling.

    On the actual subject, of course, it's much harder to know what to say. I'm desperately sorry. I hope the good times you have left do something to counterbalance the other stuff.

    But cancer is a very, very cruel thing. My father died of it aged 67 and that felt far, far too early given everything he still wanted to do. I can't even begin to imagine what you're feeling.

    I nevertheless admire your wisdom in the face of what's happening and your clear attitude to it. It is ultimately, as you say, just desperately unfair. There are no easy answers.

    You'll be in my prayers. I know you don't think that makes any difference. But you will be all the same,


  4. Graeme

    We've worked only 10 feet from each other at s1 for over 8 years and although I'm sorry to say I don't know you better, your story is none the less so particularly heartbreaking. Your approach to life and what lies ahead on the other hand is truly inspirational. I lost my mum to cancer when she was just 41 and the why me? why not? approach is one that took me almost 20 years to master. Such a very difficult answer to accept. I wish you all the happiness in the world over the coming months and your perspective on life is one to be proud of. I'm sure I'm not alone in saying that everyone here at s1 will be thinking of you and Clare and I hope every day over the coming months is better than the last.

    Vic x (s1homes)

  5. Hi Graeme

    Thank you for sharing your journey so far, however difficult to read, it has been candid and inspiring.
    Wishing you and Clare happy times in the coming months.
    Lorna s1 x

  6. Graeme I have been following your blog since my dad was diagnosed with a GBM in July last year. Your humour has helped me thru' some dark times. So saddened to read that the chemo is not working. The Beatson wouldn't give my dad chemo as it wouldn't work on his tumour so he only got radiotherapy. Wishing you and Clare strength over the coming months.


  7. Hey Graeme, Alan Muir here (formerly one of 'the three fannies' at The Falkirk Herald). Just wanted to say that your blog is one of the most amazing things I've ever read. Truly astonishing.

    Keep raging against the machine and the dying of the light. Hope you prove the docs wrong.


  8. Graham, I worked with you at s1 - I was Caroline Hughes then. I didn't know you well, either, but do remember what a funny, quick witted, kind man you seemed. My husband, Colin, also remembers you with a lot of fondness as one of the people who helped him hugely when he was just starting out in journalism.

    Like others who have commented, I really don't know what to say. What's happened to you is so unfair. I wish you and Clare happiness over the next months. I hope you make some wonderful memories together in this time. Your bravery and strength are inspirational.

    Caroline x