“I get by with a little help from my friends.”
So I’m out of hospital once again. Hospital felt safe and secure when it seemed like they were actually able to do something to make me better. When you have an incurable disease, and all that can be done is try and ease your pain, hospital feels like a far less effective environment to be in. So I’m very glad to be back home again. It’s the Winchester Science Festival this weekend and I would really like to be there with all my friends, but I’m just not up to it. I decide instead to skulk around in my study instead and start to write about my experiences, so I write the foreword to this blog. My writing is however distracted by social media and I start to chat to some of my friends online. It turns out that a lot of them would like to come and visit me, if I’m up for it. I am very much up for it as it happens.
Before my friends and family come to visit however my new palliative care nurse has popped by to see how I’m doing. Her main advice seems to be the consumption of copious amounts of opiates and she appoints herself as my new dealer. As a cancer patient I also now get my drugs for free, which is nice. My palliative care nurse is not however my only medical visitor, my GP also makes an unannounced visit the next day to also see how I’m doing. Before I was diagnosed with terminal cancer it was a hell of job getting an appointment to see my GP, her appointment diary was well guarded by a suitably officious receptionist and buried in enough bureaucracy to appease the fussiest of Vogons, now my GP just rocks up at my door without an appointment just to see how I’m doing. You really do get a much better class of service when you’re actually really ill.
|Tori and Peter in the river behind my house|
After my duly attentive medical professionals, my first, and indeed most frequent and welcomed visitor is my old friend Colin. I befriended Colin shortly after moving to Durham and discovering he was a fellow Boomtown Rats fan. I may have had all of the Boomtown Rats’ albums already, but Colin had all of the seven inch singles and therefore some “B” sides that I hadn’t heard. As any Boomtown Rats fan will tell you, the singles were slightly different to the album versions. Mary of the Fourth Form for example has that superb extra drum roll in the intro that I hadn’t heard before. Over the years it turned out that Colin and I really do have a lot more in common than rowdy 1970’s pub rock from Dún Laoghaire, so we’ve remained firm friends. Colin has some plans for today’s visit, he has bought a length of old rope with him with which to concoct a make-shift swing over the river behind my house. Our sons seem up for it too so we head down to the river with a length of rope and a garden chair for the sick old man. After several attempts my son, Peter, manages to hook the rope around a suitably high branch and a foot loop is fashioned at an appropriate height. I’ve had a lot of bad days recently but sitting here in my deck chair beside the clear river on a warm sunny day watching my wife swing over the river on a piece of rope, I’m feeling much better than I have been of late. Colin makes several other visits over the coming weeks to check I’m OK, and thanks to his visits – I am.
Colin is however just the first of many visitors. John is my longest serving friend, we first met at Crowan junior school in Cornwall when my parents moved from Falmouth to Praze. Both our parents held pivotal positions in the village community. John’s dad was the village doctor and my parents owned the fish and chip shop. Until John’s dad removed a particularly painful ingrowing toenail from my big toe it would have been hard for me to say whose parents had the more crucial role. John and I may not have shared the same tastes in music, but we were always very passionate about our cars. John’s parents invariably had a much nicer car than my parents but I did argue strongly for our Series 3 Citroën DS21 with it directional headlights and rising suspension. I do recall one occasion nevertheless where I somehow helped persuade my mother to buy a Mk I Ford Capri 3000E, which even John conceded that was a very fine automobile indeed. Although not very fashionable with many more environmentally aware friends these days, I do still have a secret soft spot for a three litre V6 engine. Back in those days however John and I had to make do with our bicycles. John’s bike was equipped with a fancy speedometer so as we pedalled as fast as we could down hill John would shout out the top speeds we were achieving. We cycled everywhere. On one occasion I fondly recall us both falling of our bikes whilst cycling through the woods outside Clowance House and just lying in the undergrowth crippled with belly-aching laughter for a full thirty minutes. It’s been a while since I’ve seen John so I’m delighted he’s bought his wife and family up for the weekend. Since getting out of hospital the farthest I have manged to walk is down to the river to watch my wife on the rope swing, I think I can manage a little further today and I take John and his family on a brief walking tour around the neighbouring villages. We round our day off with a trip to my favourite Indian restaurant only to discover that the chemotherapy seems to be affecting my tolerance for hot food and I am unable to eat my delicious lamb madras. I can tolerate a bit of nausea and sickness but an inability to eat a nice curry really is a major pain in the arse. Despite my inability to fully enjoy my curry John and I are able to reminisce about our childhood and I very pleased to discover that we are both still very capable of having a bloody good laugh with one another.
Another of my welcomed visitors this month is Morgan and his family. I’ve not known Morgan for anything like as long as I’ve known Colin and John and hopefully he won’t be too embarrassed if I briefly retell the tale of how we became friends. Prior to writing this rather morose cancer diary I wrote another blog called The Reason Stick, (as you will already know having read Chapter 4 of this cancer blog). I used The Reason Stick to poke fun at nonsensical and un-evidenced beliefs. One particular un-evidenced and nonsensical belief that especially narked me was homeopathy. Prior to 2010 I had assumed homeopathy to be nothing more that a natural herbal remedy not widely accepted by wide-stream medicine. It wasn’t until I dug a little deeper that I discovered it has absolutely no reliable medical evidence whatsoever, contains not even a single molecule of active ingredient and does not even have a plausible method for how it claims to work. To this end I recorded a short YouTube video entitled “If homeopathy works… I’ll drink my own piss” In which I distilled and drank a 30C homeopathic remedy of my own urine. The video became rather popular and made its way to many eyes, including the ones attached to front of Morgan’s face. Morgan tells me that after watching the video and reading some of my other blogs that he tracked me down on twitter and discovered that I was also the co-convenor of Winchester Skeptics with my good friend Dave The Drummer. Morgan turned up to several of our talks and we hit it off, Stalkers, it seems, can sometimes become very good friends. Several years later and it seems to me as if people have a much better understanding of the ludicrousness of homeopathy, but that may be just because I live in a bubble of extremely scientifically literate friends. I was however recently rather encouraged by some mischievous wag who updated this poster advertising directions to the homeopathy healing area with a biro as this years Glastonbury Festival.
Since getting my affairs in order the other month, the other thing that has been on my mind recently is my funeral. It feels like it would be highly hypocritical of me to have a Christian funeral with all that afterlife mumbo jumbo. I’m also not particularly keen on some vicar that I don’t really know delivering a eulogy that is likely to be highly misrepresentative of my life and more reflective of their beliefs rather than mine. I would therefore like to have a Humanist funeral conducted by people who know me and understand my worldview. I am alas not quite sure where I can have such a ceremony, how it works and who can do it. Fortunately, my friend Elizabeth is a Humanist celebrant who performs Humanist weddings and funerals. I decide to ask Elizabeth for a bit of advice and send her a few questions via Facebook Messenger. Rather than getting into a lengthy exchange of messages, Elizabeth kindly offers to come out and see me to talk me through the options. I therefore have yet another visitor. Although I feel it’s a little too early to make any firm plans for my funeral I do at least now understand what is possible and how to go about it once my condition starts to decline. I may not have planned the details of my funeral but there are a couple of things I am very sure about. My funeral will most certainly include a liberal sprinkling of music from Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin (although not Stairway to Heaven) and several readings from the works of Douglas Adams, Carl Sagan and Richard Feynman. I’ve also been pondering what to have written on my gravestone. “Loving father and husband” seems a popular favourite, but surely that goes without saying. I thought I’d go for something a little different, I could perhaps just use my twitter bio: “Crispian Jago, Godless Cornish Git”, but then I had another idea. Despite living in some beautiful locations in rural Cornwall, Durham and Wiltshire, the one place where I have actually lived the longest is Basingstoke. It’s easy to poke fun at Basingstoke (and I often do), with its vast suburban sprawl, but it also provided some great facilities and amenities for us while the kids where growing up and it gave me an easy commute to London. I also had a damn fine broadband connection when I lived I Basingstoke. I always however planned to move back to the country at some point and I always had a bit of a fear that I may die in Basingstoke before achieving that aim. Since moving to Wiltshire it’s now far more likely that I will die here, so I thought that perhaps a fitting epitaph for my gravestone might now be: “Crispian Jago, At Least I Didn’t Die in Basingstoke”.
It’s not only friends that are kindly bestowing their company on me, my family are also making the trek to deepest Wiltshire to come and see me too. My mother has come over from Kent to stay with us for a few days and although I’m not quite up to taking her out to see the sights of Wiltshire (which consist primarily of chalk horses and stone circles), we are able to spend some time together at home and in my garden. My cousin Sarah and her husband Jeremy manage to pop up from Cornwall for a late lunch and another welcome visit as well. I have some second cousins too that I hadn’t seem for a very long time. Most of us Jagos never made it out of Cornwall, but my dad’s cousin Raphael Jago did, and he became the principal of the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art up in London. His daughters used to come down to Cornwall and stay with their grandmother in the summer holiday. Their grandmother also just happened to be my favourite Great Aunt. Aunt Ethel used to take me and her granddaughters to the beaches at Falmouth and then make us pasties and it always seemed rather exciting to have such sophisticated cousins from London visiting us simple Cornish folk. I hadn’t seen Alexa and Natasha since our beach trips in the early 1970’s but we met up again a couple of years ago at the sad occasion of Raphael’s funeral. Since then we’ve kept in touch and Alexa too has come down from London to see how I’m doing, and taken us out for a very nice meal.
It may be a bit of a tired old cliché, but since being diagnosed with terminal cancer I do indeed have good days and bad days. With the recent growth of my cancer and the immense discomfort from the chemotherapy I have had more than my fair share of bad days over the last month. I have however been managing with a regular supply of oral morphine and co-codomal cocktails. However, looking back over the last month, all of the days on which my friends and family have come to visit have been good days. Perhaps good friends and family are actually more efficacious than morphine, and I consider myself very lucky to have so many. I therefore look forward to seeing much more of many many friends and family over the coming months.