March, Me & My Magic Mushrooms

There’s something about March for me. It’s odd, it’s one of my favourite months because spring is on the way, the signs are everywhere. All around me life, nature, is preparing to break out from its long slumbers….For the most part, everything I see around me holds fresh promise, renewal, a celebration of this incredible world that happenstance brought to fruition.

Yet nature also exists inside of us, we are nature, though nature draws no great distinction between what we know as good and bad, it’s just nature. Earthquake, fire and flood are generally considered bad but we don’t blame nature for them. It’s the same with cancer. It’s entirely natural, that is to say, it’s of nature, it’s part of nature and it’s part of who we are.

So, in that sense, it’s hardly surprising that March seems to figure quite large in my various cancer journeys.

It was February 2012 when I finally got around to dragging my arse into a GP surgery to discuss my persistent, nocturnal cough, after 18 months of, well, forgetting mainly. It was March when I had the fatal diagnosis, the biopsies, the operation to remove the upper half of my right lung.

It was March, a year later, almost exactly, when I asked for an MRi scan of my head, fearing something but I didn’t know what. It turned out to be a lung cancer metastasis growing comfortably in the centre of my skull.

I’m now more than ten years past the first one and almost ten past the second. One of my current oncologists, I seem to have a collection, recently asked me to have another MRi of my brain. I asked why he felt that would be helpful. The truth is, he’s mainly just curious. He’s a leading Oncologist at two major London hospitals, at least, and they don’t have anyone who is ten years on from a brain metastasis.

When I was just six years on from the lung cancer, again in March, I was having a lovely meal in a restaurant in Westchester, New York with my brother-in-law, his wife, my wife and their mother who was 100 years old. As I write, she is still very much alive and still living in a care home in Westchester. My brother-in-law, Larry, is the former Medical Director of Phelps Memorial Hospital in Sleepy Hollow. He’s retired now but they asked him to stay on for a few years in a part-time capacity. He’s reputedly an excellent doctor. The restaurant was very nice, the food was good, the tables set with bright white linen cloths and napkins. So, when my nose started gushing blood, somewhat unexpectedly, the bright crimson stains were all the more shocking against the bleached white background. Shocked, I excused myself and headed to the bathroom to clean up.

When I returned, everyone had questions, unsurprisingly. Larry donned his “House” persona and began my interrogation. How long had this been going on? – Never, it’s never happened before. What other symptoms have you had? – Well, I have been getting these unexplained bruises, on various parts of my body. In fact I noticed a big one on my thigh when I stepped out of the shower, this morning.

When do you fly home? he insisted. We fly on Friday.

Well, tomorrow you’re coming to the hospital, we need to do some tests. I’ll set it up.

I spent the following day, all day, at Phelps. I had this test and that test including several blood tests. Eventually, having found nothing, except a large hole in my wallet, they let me go but made me promise I would arrange a stress-test ECG when I got home. I did exactly that, plus an angiogram of my heart, nothing. Apparently I was fit and healthy, except obviously something was wrong. Having exhausted all obvious avenues, I sort of resigned myself to it figuring that, sooner or later, some explanation would turn up. Except it didn’t.

When SARS-COV-2 arrived, IN MARCH, I spent a day in London doing a round of group meetings. Two days later I knew something was wrong and so I took myself to bed in the spare room where I stayed for nine days with a rather nasty flu, effluent emanating from every orifice; sweating, chilling, shivering, even hallucinations! I called the GP surgery on the second day, really just to speak to someone and make sure they felt I was doing all the right things: Temperature and blood oxygen monitoring, supplements (Vit-D, C, Questran, Zinc, Magnesium), lots of liquids and eating when I could (when I wasn’t throwing up).

I was ‘greeted’ by an answerphone message that said something along the lines of: “We’re closed, don’t you know there’s a ruddy pandemic on?! Where’s your social conscience?”. I’d heard that the government wanted us to phone 111 where we’d receive helpful, professional guidance. I called, about 9pm. I waited on hold for as long as my attention span allowed (about 30 minutes) with enormous effort, before collapsing exhausted. Later I thought, they might be less busy at two in the morning. I tried again. Same thing. I tried again at 3am. Same thing. I gave up. I figured, you’re on your own in this but that’s okay, you know what to do. Given my lung condition, however, had I started to get a bad cough, I’d already planned to drive myself straight to the Royal Brompton, the lung specialists, while I still could. In the end, I never got the cough, just the remaining smorgasbord of symptoms and a couple more thrown in for fun. At the end of the ninth day, I was weakened and enfeebled. I decided I needed to get gardening: fresh air, exercise and creativity. So that’s what I did and for the entire year I got more and more fit, my garden expanded by another six acres and a dozen or so maskless, unvaccinated, brave and sensible souls managed to earn a crust with me rather than sit on their arses going broke or exploiting furlough. No one got Covid.

However, my bruises hadn’t gone away and occasionally I was having nose bleeds. I decided I had to sort this out. I set a day aside and turned back to Mr. Google. I was about four hours in, all the articles concurred: a) I was senile and kept bumping my body without knowing/forgetting and b) I really shouldn’t pick my nose so aggressively.

I was just about to close one page when I spotted, in small print in the bottom left corner, the following short note:

“Of course, in some unusual cases, this could be a symptom of Lymphoma or Leukaemia.”


The NHS was essentially closed, this was in late July, during lockdown. I now knew I was looking for a Haematological Oncologist and that was all I needed. I called several specialists in London, none would give a face-to-face consultation. How, pray, is a doctor going to diagnose me if he can’t examine me, for bruises, just say? And how does he take a blood sample via Zoom? I tried a different tack and found the Local Spire Hospital (not on my list of favourites) had a couple of such specialists listed and I looked them up. I chose one who was also, apparently, the senior consultant at the local NHS Trust and booked an appointment with him. On arrival I was obliged to give a PCR test and don a mask. The only such test and the only mask I have ever acquiesced to, or ever will again. I wasn’t yet determined enough and I very much wanted this consultation.

I met Gleb, nice man, kept his mask on (rules is rules) but didn’t blink when I removed mine upon entering the room. Gleb hails originally from Eastern Europe (Half Belarusian, half Ukrainian) and we had a fun talk about the state of things in Ukraine. This was 2020, of course, 18 months before the Russian incursion but right in the midst of the Kiev bombardment of Donbas and the East. He had a very interesting perspective, which we both shared. He had the nurse take a blood sample and process it while I waited and then he gave me his initial but fairly certain diagnosis. “I suspect you have a rare form of Leukaemia, CMML or Chronic myelomonocytic leukaemia for short.

He told me that he needed to take another, “special” blood test – one that had to be in a specialist lab within two hours – and, he explained, “This hospital has been taken over by the NHS, so I’m not sure what actually works any more”. He told me to go home and someone would call me to arrange the appointment. They did exactly that and, when the results came in, I went back for another consultation. Meanwhile, I had researched everything there was to be said on the topic of CMML. Rare, incurable, terminal. Can remain Chronic for some time but always progresses to ‘Acute’ or AMML, a bit like AML which is your common or garden variety of Leukaemia but one for which there is a bit more on the treatment front. I’d read that there had been some limited success with bone marrow transplants – for those who survived the process and the very few who went on to live a few years. I immediately determined, that was not for me. After surviving two terminal cancers without the need for aggressive chemotherapy, this would require extreme obliteration of my entire immune system, with all the attendant, debilitating effects. Not for me, I’m not that desperate to survive any more, having become somewhat inured to the concept of “death by cancer”.

I now knew the specific blood markers I needed to monitor to check my progress. I wondered why or how these had not shown up in the blood tests taken at Phelps, the results of which I’d never seen? Come to that, my local GP surgery subjects me to at least one blood test a year, how did they not spot it? The GP surgery never sends out blood test results, unless you make a song and dance but I had a sudden recollection on the short drive home. Earlier in the year, I’d made an application for a life insurance policy – half jokingly, as there was very slim chance they’d accept me, given my health record but, worth a try – I’d calculated it was the best and only guaranteed investment opportunity available at that time, at least for my wife’s benefit.

As part of that process, I’d been required to release my medical records and insisted that the GP send them to me, in the first instance. I recalled sighting several pages of blood test results and so I immediately rummaged in the filing cabinet, the instant I got home. I could hardly believe what I read:

16 Nov 2017 Monocyte count – observation; Platelet count – observation; Eosinophil count – observation;

05 Dec 2017 Ditto

28 Mar 2019 Ditto

27 Jun 2019 Ditto plus Reticulocyte count – observation

04 Nov 2019 Ditto

The word, “observation” is applied automatically by the laboratory, intended to draw the clinician’s attention and to suggest to them to investigate further. No one ever hinted there was anything wrong. No one called me or asked me to come and see a doctor. When I was having my nosebleed in Westchester, spending thousands of dollars for a day of examination at Phelps, driving myself slightly potty Googling to try to find answers, these idiots (the ones who put up the shutters at the first signs of Covid) had been sitting on the very answers I was seeking, all this time.

When I then received a message, asking me to attend an annual drug review at the surgery, the very exams that had resulted in these blood test results that were kept secret from me, I was so angry, I immediately dashed off an email:

“I’ve received a text from you asking me to book a non-urgent appointment for my annual drug review.

When I’ve attended these reviews over the last three years, I have my blood taken and it’s sent to the lab for tests. I’ve never once been given a copy of those tests results and aside from being told I should lose weight, no one noticed the blood cancer symptoms highlighted by the lab. Had they shared them with me, I would have taken action three years ago. They didn’t. Nor did they relate the flags to my medical history, where they would have seen that in 2013 I was subjected (at my request) to a very large dose of radiation in order to destroy a lung cancer metastasis in my brain. Radiation is one of the three causal factors (the only one that applies to me) of CMML. Yesterday I was diagnosed, by a Consultant Haematologist, with CMML. Median life expectancy 20 months. Starting three years ago. Yeah, thanks for that.

No, I can think of no sane or rational reason why I need another incompetent drug review. Can you?

Incidentally, given my short life expectancy, I doubt even a competent drug review would consider it humane to fail to authorise my repeat prescription for Hypertension and cholesterol medication.

Indirectly, I came by the attached blood test results earlier in the year, given an insurer requested a copy of my records. I have highlighted the flags the lab put on the high indications, to make it easy for you.”

…and I attached the pages referred to.

As I said, I was very angry.

Ten days later I received a letter from my long-standing GP of record (not that I had seen her very often) full of faux platitudes and suggesting I contact the Ombudsman! <stifled scream>

I replied:

“Dear Jill,

I’ve just received your letter, thank you.  Frankly I was beginning to think my email of the 17th had fallen on deaf ears.  I appreciate what you say but I fear I didn’t make clear the basis of my complaint.  I’ll try to do better this time.

When I received my diagnosis, the previous day, I realised which were the key blood markers used to arrive at this conclusion.  Recalling having seen blood test results, in the recently received extract of my medical records, I turned to these that morning.  They date back to November 2017, four months prior to my having any symptoms, the ones that ultimately led me to seek out a haematologist/oncologist after years of being told there was nothing wrong with me.

Sure enough, there in that November blood test result, and every one of the subsequent results, my counts showed outside normal range.  Above normal range, specifically. With almost every one, they increase, test on test.  In each and every case, the lab’s software has flagged each one as above normal range and, in each case, applied the alert: “Observation”.

Jill, I’m a very busy guy but I can tell you, with absolute conviction, that I would have been onto this like a shot, had I been aware of it.  Not only did no one take the time or trouble to contact me, heaven forbid I should be sent a copy of *my results as a matter of course, but no one, clearly, bothered to read them.  I refuse to believe that a competent doctor, that is to say, a non-negligent doctor, would have read those results, seen the word “Observation”, repeated so many, many times and fail to act in any way, shape or form.

I’m aware that the standard instruction is to “call the receptionist” if you want to know the results of your blood tests.  It’s always infuriated me.  On occasion, I’ve actually done it and the response to my question has always been “All fine, if there was anything to be concerned about the doctor would have contacted you.”  Really?

I don’t pay the enormous sums I’ve paid over my life to ask a receptionist to diagnose leukaemia, that’s what we pay doctors for.  If I have the information, then at least I’m a second line of defence but keep that information from me and the entire responsibility lies with the assigned doctor, if there even is one in the case of my “annual review” blood test results.

I wouldn’t even blame the average GP for not spotting the indicators for an extremely rare blood cancer, even though they are similar to other blood cancers.  However, when the patient in question has already had two bouts of cancer, I might look a little closer, if I were him. If the lab had done the heavy lifting for me and flagged the symptoms with clear wording, over multiple test results spanning at least a three year period, it wouldn’t have bypassed me.

According to everything I read, and my specialist, the median life expectancy for CMML is 20 months.  You can understand that I’m just a little pissed off that the information confirming my condition has been sitting on my file for 36 of those 20 months unnoticed and unheeded.  Let’s hope I can continue to buck the trend for a tad longer, I’ve got rather a lot to do, in a rather truncated space of time.

I want to make myself clear. I’m not blaming anyone at the surgery for my condition,  I am, however, literally sick to death of paying people to do a job of work for which they are either patently unqualified, hopelessly inadequate or frankly incompetent to do to an acceptable standard.  I am sick of a state imposed health service that is frankly more adept at leaving people to die, than it is at making them well.  I don’t want to use the NHS, ever but it insinuates itself into my life in ways that I am hamstrung to avoid.

By way of a further example, when I was racked with fever from CV19 at the end of March, early April, I took care of myself for the nine days of my vile sickness.  I’ve got no problem with that, I just needed to be able to talk to a doctor to make sure I was doing all the right things.  I called the surgery which went straight to answerphone.  Now I accept that I’m paraphrasing here but my recollection of the message was: “Don’t you know there’s a pandemic on? Sod off!”.  Seriously.

Oh, yes, I did call 111, three times actually, on different days at different hours including 3am once.  When you’re feeling fit and well, it’s tediously frustrating to be told, every ten seconds, that “your call is important to us” but when you’re sick and exhausted, I could only take thirty minutes of it before hanging up.  On one of those occasions I actually dozed off, that was nice.

On the matter of hospital reports, my consultant Gleb Ivanov has twice written to you, cc to me, with details of my two consultations.  Yesterday I had a BMB at his hands, quite the most excruciatingly painful thing I could even imagine.  I mention this because you raised the matter but again, I emphasise, it’s not treatment, I’m lacking, it’s faith in your GP surgery, let alone the NHS.

Yes, in the vain hope that my experiences might help drive even a modest improvement in the quality of care your patients receive, do please record this as an official complaint.  Just excuse me if, after 67 amazing years on this planet, I don’t hold my breath for any outcome at all before I die, let alone a beneficial one.

You might have noticed, I’m a tad cross.  At least I will have achieved something, if that has registered.”

While this sideshow was rumbling, at the subsequent consultation Gleb had delivered the confirmation and the prognosis. Not good. He asked me if I’d agree to a bone marrow “aspiration and trephine biopsy”. Basically a core sample of bone and marrow taken from my the top of my hip bone, at the rear, with local anaesthetic…..I agreed and after it was over, determined I would never have another so long as I live. It was the most excruciatingly painful experience of my life.

Meanwhile, I had tracked down an expert in my disease, Professor John Gribben. I met with him and he reviewed all the data, concurring with Gleb on the diagnosis, along with the “watch and wait” strategy (given the absence of treatment) but differing in the prognosis. “I think you have many years.”, he declared. That was, without question, the best news I’d had in a long time. I asked him if there was anything I could do to help my body fend things off as long as possible. “Avoid stress”, he intoned. A man of few words and I really like that. Unfortunately, I’ve had no success in following his advice.

Gleb organised a “molecular screening” where my DNA was tested in order to properly model my disease stage/prognosis, according to the latest tools and to have it available in case any “targeted therapies” became available. Aside from that it was generally agreed that I have regular blood tests every three months to monitor my markers until such time as the disease progressed to AMML. And so we did exactly that.

In September, last year, 2021 someone told me that, as a gardener, I should watch a little movie documentary on Amazon Prime called Fantastic Fungi, featuring one Paul Stamets who is, to say the least, something of a mushroom guru. It’s a fabulous film and you should watch it for many reasons. I loved the entire thing, there are many facets but my attention was also caught by reference to the use of mushrooms as a treatment/supplement with benefits for cancer. This sent me on a little journey. Paul has a TED talk on YouTube where he explains the situation with his 80 y/o mother who was diagnosed with “the worst case of stage 4 breast cancer” the oncologist had ever seen and given three months to live. In combination with her chemotherapy drugs, which were not thought to be able to halt the cancer’s progression, given her age and the stage of metastasis, she took Turkey Tail mushroom extract. One year later, she was declared “cancer free”. That’s the nearest one ever gets to the word “cured” when we’re discussing cancer. Remarkable.

I read article after article, study after study. I don’t go in much for hippy-dippy cancer cures, as some of you will know but this one I couldn’t ignore completely. There were practical, chemical reasons why it just could be effective. I decided to give it a try.

I wanted to make sure that I was doing so in as controlled an environment as I possibly could. I had stopped taking Statins about the same time – for entirely different but equally well-researched reasons – and I didn’t want this to confuse what might be seen to be going on in my blood, no matter how improbable. Thus I waited until I’d had my routine blood test, the following June 2022. Now I had a baseline to measure from. No Statins for nine months, no other changes to medication or anything else of note.

In June my Monocytes were not at their highest (3.3) but near it at 2.9 – the normal range is 0.2-1.0. That evening I started to take my Turkey Tail capsules, four in the morning and four at night. I didn’t tell anyone involved in my medical care.

My September blood test was cancelled and when it was reinstated, it was for 7th November 2022. It was annoying and suspenseful but I reasoned that a five month test could only be better than my intended three month one, anyway – aside from costing me in more mushroom extract if, as I suspected, it was going to prove worthless.

Gleb and I had our usual ten minute discussion on the faults of the Ukrainian people, in Gleb’s eyes, much of which I sympathised with and then he casually murmured, “Well, let’s see, your monocytes are back within normal range, your neutrophils…..they’re within normal range…..your….. I was gobsmacked! He made no real comment other than, “So that’s good…..”

Genuinely a little stunned and, frankly, not believing what I was hearing, I asked if he could print me a copy of the results. “I would”, he said, “but this printer is broken.” I tell you what, come with me and I’ll get the secretary to print one for you.”

We walked out of his office and across the waiting room to where the admin and nursing staff in Phlebotomy hang out and, sure enough, I was given my printout. We shook hands and I parted, desperate to get back to my car so I could read the report carefully. There it was, in black and white – all my markers well within normal range. All of them! Except platelets, for some reason, I have to keep an eye on that but that’s another thing entirely.

Was the lab machine broken, like his printer?

Had they mixed my blood sample up with someone else’s? Someone who, as I was reading my good news, was being given the worst possible bad news?

I need another blood test to confirm, don’t I? This can’t be true. The results just could not be this good. It’s a ruddy mushroom, for Pete’s sake! Now this you might find a little nerdy, sad even, but I have been keeping a running spreadsheet of my blood results going back to 2016. I do this partly because no one else involved in my medical care does it. How they can do their job properly I don’t know. I also do it so I can get early warning of things that might be going awry and because of all the different result formats I get given with differing amounts of data. My spreadsheet illuminates and presents a graphical image of my descent/progress.

When I got home I plugged in the numbers. If you think keeping a spreadsheet is nerdy, then let me confess it includes the normal ranges for each marker and the number in question appears either in black type (within range) or red (outside normal range).

My haemoglobin has always bounced around the min level, all my life, so I’m unconcerned about that. Why my Platelets have fallen off a cliff is a mystery but we’ll look into that, but just look at the collapse in White Cells, Neutrophils and Monocytes! That’s incredible. I’m actually below where I was in December 2016.

I was still trying to let all this sink in when I suddenly remembered, I’d had an annual medication review in October, just three weeks previously. As usual, the surgery never gives you a copy of the report or tells you how it went BUT I do now have them uploading my results to their “system” so I can access it via an app. I grabbed for my phone and opened it up…and there was my confirmatory blood test, the one I felt I needed to rule out the possibility of a mistake:

White Cells: 7.7 Normal Range

Neutrophils: 3.9 Normal Range

Monocytes: 1.0 JUST in Normal Range!

In short, my numbers in November were even better but that was at the end of a progressive decline over the previous five months (and in another sense, over six years!).

So, do I now believe that Turkey Tail mushrooms “cure cancer”? Well, they certainly make it one heck of a lot better.

The final proof would be another Bone Marrow and Trefine aspiration but that ain’t going to happen, watch my lips. The fact is that, right now, if I went to a Consultant Haematologist and asked if I had cancer, he would say “No”. Is that a cure? Will they turn upward again? What if I stop taking my “magic” mushrooms, what then? All of those questions are currently unanswerable but am I more optimistic than before? Absolutely.

I requested a call with Professor Gribben and it was set up for a Monday late afternoon. It never came because the poor Professor was so busy he didn’t get through his other calls until 10pm so it was not to be. We rearranged for the following week, it was torture. I had burning questions I wanted to ask and I had emailed him my spreadsheet and the two most recent blood tests. So it was, Monday 21st November. Despite driving back from an engagement as fast as I could and getting home 20 minutes ahead of the call so I could be calm and prepared, I discovered the Broadband was down and my network in a mess. It was blowing a gale outside, cold and raining but it was the only place I could get a phone signal. I waited over half an hour but eventually he came on.

“So, he began, I’ve read your spreadsheet and the other reports, this is amazing! What have you been doing?!”

Not wanting to influence the conversation, I asked “Is it? Is it really amazing? I thought you were going to tell me, yeah this kind of thing goes up and down all the time, nothing to get excited about.”

“This NEVER happens, he replied, it is amazing, what have you been doing?”

“Well, I started cautiously, I didn’t want you to think I was some kind of nutter but the thing is, I’ve been taking these mushrooms…..” and I went on to describe the specifics. “This could make you and I rich!”, he exclaimed but tongue in cheek, obviously.

We chatted a bit and he promised to organise another blood test through my GP, on the premise of investigating the drop in Platelets, which would give us even more solid confirmation – or something else. He did exactly that and, at the time of writing, I’m awaiting an appointment for January. That’s the thing about cancer, you spend most of your time waiting.

Waiting and wondering and daring to hope.

Sweden Wins

FeaturedSweden Wins

Since March 2020, before I caught Covid at the end of the month, I said repeatedly to anyone that would listen:

“It’s an airborne respiratory virus, everyone gets it, everywhere.”

Professor Johan Giesecke, who first recruited the now renowned and, in my book, revered Anders Tegnell, during his own time as state epidemiologist:

“ I don’t think you can stop it. It’s spreading. It will roll over Europe no matter what you do.”

There’s nothing more to be said, barring the slogan I carry with me to the end of my days:




Ode To The Hitch

FeaturedOde To The Hitch


Friday, February 17, 2012

I started this blog at the beginning of a fairly traumatic and fatalistic journey which would explain the opening line I first wrote: “And so to journal the end, which is nigh, it seems.”

Well, whilst that statement could be construed as true in just about any circumstances, on a personal level I feel now that it gives the reader a less than perfect impression of what follows so I’m going to offer the following alternative beginning so as not to hide the good news that my friend will want to hear. Most of this was written almost live, just after it happened or even as it was happening, some was added after to fill in gaps, so on occasion the context might appear not to quite fit and the construction definitely leaves room for improvement:

And so to journal what could so very easily have been the end, which is not quite as nigh as I at first thought, it seems.

I’m not sure quite what I expected when I decided to go (finally) and ask for an investigation into what I was already sure was that dreaded beast, the cancer. Admittedly, I feared it was the same as dear Christopher’s, (Hitchens) the esophageal kind. For once the doc appears to have been correct in casting aside my self-diagnosis, proffering the much more likely (and somewhat inane) alternative of the lung kind and writing me up for the low tech scan of the x-ray kind.

It wasn’t fear that caused me to delay getting my ass to the hospital, any more than it had been the cause of the twelve month’s procrastination over getting into the doctors surgery. It was far more mundane a cause than that. In the case of the doctor it was the groan at the thought of the hurdles the surgery places in the way of dispensing it’s services – a rant for another time. That coupled with the fact that every time it occurred to me was in the middle of the night when symptoms presented and woke me up. A cough to be precise, a dry, back-of-the-throat cough, the very kind I had heard was the early symptom of Christopher’s kind, the kind that gets ignored until much worse symptoms arise- the difficulty in swallowing; change in voice; coughing up blood. Hence the poor survival rate, fourteen percent if I recall the stats correctly. No-one suspects the cough, why would they. Everyone coughs don’t they. At least every smoker coughs and smokers get more bronchial conditions and that usually presents as a cough and when the rest of the symptoms wane, the cough persists, doesn’t it? And it’s hard to judge when the cough should have stopped…but after a while you know. you just know.

So every time I tell myself, time to get your ass to the surgery, which doctor will you see? Any one, it doesn’t matter, you’re going to get “any one” anyway regardless what you plan and, “anyway” it doesn’t really matter does it, so long as they know how to refer you to a man who actually knows something – a real doctor, a “specialist”. And then you drift off to sleep and in the morning you wake and the treadmill starts over. One thing takes over, then another and so on. Occasionally I remember and write a note and then the other thing, the hurdles thing, pushes it to the bottom of the pile of “much more important” stuff and next thing you know, it’s the middle of the night, you’re awake again and you’re coughing again…

It could have been the same with the x-ray but this took me only a few days. I didn’t worry about it, didn’t fret, just figured I’d get it done in a few days, no rush, I’d taken the big step, no big hurdles with this one. And nor were there, easiest interaction I’ve ever had with the NHS. I turned up, parked (legitimately) right outside the front door, checked in at radiology reception, no queues, no hassle, no delays, ten minutes later I’m having my innermost secrets photographed in not so glorious monochrome. Including the conversation with the radiologist as to why one removes one’s shirt for a machine that can penetrate all bar lead – buttons and unusual stitching in case you are wondering – the entire process from parking to departing took twenty minutes dead, if you’ll pardon the, oh never mind. I guess all those billions have achieved something after all, to be fair, though it seems to us mere mortals that this wasn’t rocket science – we understand why rocket science costs billions.

Looking back I can see how this might seem odd but at no stage did I fret over the results. Having consciously sought out a scan and an investigation to satisfy my conviction that by now, and given my symptoms, I must actually have cancer, it never actually occurred to me that I did – does that make sense?
I’ve had my blood pressure checked, always well within range, my cholesterol: “perfect”; Liver function: “fine”; this lump just here: “fatty lump, sir, nothing to worry about”. Easy for you to say, I thought back then, but this perfect person doesn’t do “fatty lumps” that appear for no particular reason and aren’t even a symptom of a disease – but given they’ve been there a good few years now, don’t seem to be going anywhere, and generally seem to mind their own business – apparently I do do these innocuous things.

You get my point? I’ve indulged a few investigations over recent years and all my fears have always proved groundless to the point that I begin to fear a reputation as a hypochondriac, though I’m not. There was absolutely no reason to suspect that this would be any different. It was a formality I had to go through because I owed it to myself, and to others, to get it checked so I could say that I’d done all the right things, proved there was nothing to worry about and now I could put it behind me and move on. Just like all those other formalities undertaken for precisely the same reasons and in every case, the caution exercised, the investigation complete, there was absolutely nothing to report”….

So it’s Friday evening, around 5.45 and I’m chatting to Simon in the office because Simon is always the last to leave and I like to talk to Simon. I like Simon generally but he’s especially good to share things with and generally have a pleasant rant about the state of the world, the galaxy and everything.

My phone rings, I was expecting nothing and so whatever it was would have been a surprise but, on reflection, some surprises are not as nice as others. “It’s Dr Fulker”, now that I was not expecting, on so many levels. I wasn’t expecting a call from a doctor because that doesn’t happen, at least not to me, no, it just doesn’t happen. I wasn’t expecting a call from Dr Fulker who I had only met once, a week or so ago. I certainly wasn’t expecting the next part, “I have the results of your x-ray”

…what x-ray? What’s she talking about? Oh, that x-ray, no,that’s not possible, I only had it done two days ago….and all the time that these parallel, rather than sequential thoughts, were firing in my synapses her other words only registered on a semi-conscious level and, even then, it wasn’t the words that made me pause and reflect. It was the quality of her voice. Having only met her briefly I didn’t have the usual tools to draw upon, the familiarity with inflection or intonation, but it was there, unmistakably. The measured, uncertain but gentle, hesitating sound of someone delivering bad news. Someone sitting next to you on a couch, knees closed, turned toward you, a wish to reach out and touch a knee as they speak, as if to stop you taking flight, both to reassure, to express empathy but as much to tempt you to stay seated, “…now don’t take this badly, but…” but not done, the touching knee, because you just don’t know each other that well, in that way.

All of this was in the voice. Who would want this job? The woman doesn’t know me, has no reason to care about me, doesn’t care in any personal sense but she is human and she’s fallible, almost vulnerable in a situation like this. All that professional deportment, that education, that status, it doesn’t take away a person’s humanity, that innate sense of compassion for another human being, especially when she knows, better than most, the likely finality of the message she’s delivering. She didn’t make the call because she wanted to, because she cared, she called because that’s her job and she wishes it wasn’t and because she has to, the act of doing it triggers the compassion. What a shit end to her day, she must feel.

She must wonder, when she puts down the phone, how I’m feeling. Did he understand the significance of those words, she must ask herself because she knows she didn’t explain it and I didn’t ask (because I knew) and was he just taking it very well? Was that why he seemed so calm and measured, so matter of fact, so polite? “Thank you so much for calling to tell me” isn’t what you expect, now, is it? She will also have wondered about the other option, the truth. “Shock” would be far too superlative a description but did he really take in what I just told him?

And that’s the truth, I heard every word, I understood every word and the meaning contained in those words but I can’t claim that I fully “took it in” on a conscious level. My body’s visceral and emotional centre took it in ok. The hairs on the back of the neck, the shiver rising from somewhere, the tightness in the throat, the tremor in the tear ducts – the control mechanisms cutting in on auto-pilot to suppress it – because that’s what we do, it’s what we’re trained to do. It’s what we have to do.

“The x-ray shows a four centimetre lesion on your right lung”. Long pause, not waiting for a response, letting it sink in, searching for what to say next. “I’ll arrange a referral to a respiratory consultant as soon as possible. It’ll probably be seven to ten days.”

“On your flamin’ nelly will it be seven to ten days…”. Even then, with all this swirling around in my head, even then it kicks in, even before I’ve actually absorbed the enormity of this thing. Save your approach for the passive ones, they need it, I need to take this on in my own way. I can’t beat it, I know that but having done this to myself, having procrastinated all by myself, now the objective is revealed, the gears get engaged, at least now I can actually take part in this thing. The challenge, the problem to be solved, the obstacle to be overcome, the emotions subsumed, subdued, there’s a problem to deal with, an urgent problem, no time for indulgences and certainly no time to hand over the fate of the outcome to someone else, especially someone that represents the laissez-faire bureaucracy you cannot abide. You’re not one of the followers, it’s innate, you dig out the facts, you learn what you need to know and you make your own judgment, make your own arrangements – for better or worse but it’s yours, not theirs.

“Well, Simon, that wasn’t the best news I’ve ever had”. I relate the conversation, not over egging it in any way, playing it down if anything. A moment of sharing, it felt comforting to share, it was the last I was going to feel for a while. “Please keep this between us, Si”. “Of course”.

There’s a burning desire to tell everyone you know, to get on the phone and call all your friends, muster help and support, make those apologies, arrange meetings, journeys, visits, all those things you know you’ve put off – as if you can make up for all that previous indifference – but most of all just to share. And then you quickly realise all the things that are wrong with that.

What if it’s a mistake? What if it turns out to be one of the other curable things that, at the absolutely outside chance, it just could be? You put your friends through all that grief for nothing…that’s an important issue right there, you’re putting them through grief. False alarm or not, what right do you have to do that? When is it right? What about Ri, my wife. If I tell her she won’t just be worried sick, she’ll be devastated, debilitated. No, I have to handle this myself until I know more, at least that. If it can be sorted then you can tell the story in hindsight and bask in the happy ending. If it goes the other way then we can at least wait until we have all the facts so that there’s no room for supposition, hypothesis. Facts are facts, you can plan, put things in order, face up to it squarely, even learn to be accepting of it. Uncertainty is constant questioning, what if, if only, try this, perhaps that. I can’t be doing it. There’s a way to deal with this like everything else. Figure out the facts, put them in sequence, get on with them and all the while continue to function, to carry on with those things that need to be done on a daily basis, a minute by minute basis. The pets still need to be fed, the dog needs to be walked, there are people relying on you, you have staff, you have customers, you need to sleep, to wash, to get up and start your day as if there were some point to it. No, no one must know, sorry you had to, Simon.

Simon leaves, I think he’s upset (see, it proves my point). I turn to the nearest computer, nip downstairs and pull out the file on the health insurance policy I’ve paid all these years and never used. Back upstairs with it so no one can see what I’m looking at. Ok, how does this work, better call them, start a claim and figure out how it all works. “Office hours 8am to 6pm” Damn! What are they on? People only get sick 9-5? Damn that doctor, why didn’t she call earlier in the day, now I have the worst of all worlds, its Friday evening, there’s an entire weekend ahead, I’ve just been handed a potential death sentence and I can’t begin work on a potential reprieve until Monday ruddy morning! …and I can’t even share it with anyone, can’t rant, can’t dump…can’t cry, can’t scream.

Gotta be practical then, what can I do? Read the file…the hospital list, ok, how does this work? Three lists, “Countrywide”, “London extended list”, “London super duper list” and you know, don’t you, before you even check…of course you do, these were both optional extras weren’t they? How were you to know, you’ve never been seriously ill, why would you think to include all the hospitals you would actually want to use should you ever need to, The Wellington, The Royal Brompton, The Cromwell. I check their web sites, yep, they are exactly what I need. Ri has a fabulous respiratory surgeon at Royal Brompton, her insurance covers her for the Royal Brompton, it doesn’t cover her for Toby Maher, the bright young guy she really needs and got a consultation with because we paid for it directly. Hers, of course, is the only insurance company that doesn’t cover him. This is the kind of thing that gives privatisation of health a bad name, unfairly so because it doesn’t have to be this way.

So I spend an hour or two researching who I need, the best consultants, the best hospitals. Of course, they are all the ones I don’t have access to. Let’s do it the other way around, take a look at those on the London list that I am covered for. Mostly NHS hospitals that have sought private clients as a way of making additional cash, so run on NHS principals but with nice food? Nothing impressed. The only one I felt I could accept might be Royal Marsden, not because of any good news on the web site but because of it’s fame and reputation. I resolve to call them first thing Monday morning, given that’s really the only option.

Monday morning: I call the Private Patients Appointment secretary.
“I have lung cancer and I need an urgent scan and a consultation with your top specialist”.
“Have you been referred by your GP?”
“No, I have no GP and I have no idea where the one who gave me this news might have referred me. I am paying privately, I don’t need a referral.”
“I can’t do anything without a GP referral”
“You do realise you are offering private health care? I don’t have a referral, I need a specialist, privately.”
“I can’t do anything without a referral from your GP”.
OK, I could have explained to her how our surgery works, the fact that I hadn’t a hope in hell’s chance of getting a referral letter out of them in less than two to three days and that I was not planning on wasting my time trying but, I figured, let’s skip that obstacle for now and move on.
“So, suppose I can get my hands on a referral letter, and suppose I deliver it to you by hand, how soon can we arrange an appointment?”
“Well it normally takes seven to ten days….” Where have I heard that before, oh yes, from an NHS GP…
“I don’t think you quite understand the situation. The average lifespan of someone diagnosed with lung cancer is 52 weeks. I have absolutely no intention of wasting one of those fifty-two waiting for you to make me an appointment.”
“Well, it might be less than that…”
“Thanks but I think I’ve heard enough. I’ll make alternative arrangements.”

I call The Cromwell. Within two hours I have an appointment for a PET/CT scan for Weds and an appointment with one of the world’s most highly qualified pulmonary oncologists. The consultation is at 6pm on Tuesday and, the lovely Lina asks, “please let us know if you can’t make it for any reason as Dr Lewanski is coming in to see you especially”. Those words, I wanted to cry as I pondered the wonders of chalk and cheese. These were total strangers to me but Lina cared, this consultant cared, it was evident in every word, in every act, in every call and the attention to detail, ensuring that I was kept fully informed at every step. This is health care.

It’s Tuesday morning and I’m in the shower when the phone rings. It’s the appointments secretary from East Surrey Abattoir, sorry, hospital. I literally shuddered at the prospect. “Thank you but I already have an appointment.” “Oh? When?” “I have an appointment for this evening at The Cromwell”. “What, today?”. “Today, yes. Thank you for calling. Goodbye”.

I’ve been working, it seems pointless but you keep going until you can’t, that’s what I learned, I don’t know from where. I guess from my mother. I kept smiling at how important people clearly felt their inane issues were. I pandered to them. I kept up appearances. It all seemed so empty, so well, like I said, pointless.

With Lina’s words in my head and me figuring “like I would miss this appointment for anything in the world”, I decided to play completely safe and give myself oodles of time. Travelling up on the Gatwick Express I started writing this little blog. It seemed important to write it all down so that…I don’t know. It just seemed important. It also gave me something to focus on. Arriving at Victoria with more than two hours to spare, I waited till everyone else got off the train. They were all in such a rush, why? Here I was with less time than any of them and I was not in any kind of a rush. I wanted to distance myself from their rush, take my time, everything deliberate, calm, remembered. These were important days for me and I wanted to remember them. I would walk to The Cromwell, it was an unseasonally beautiful sunny February afternoon and I wanted to experience it in a very close and personal way. Crossing up to Eaton Square, eyes turned upward, as always when walking in London, to see all the things that are so overlooked as people hustle and bustle through their busy lives. I noted the prevalent use of clipped box and other topiary, even the odd Niwaki – obvious if unimaginatively used plants when all you have is a balcony to sculpt with. I was studying people too. Al kinds of people, the well heeled and the not so well, the students and the retired, the busy young things, the busy working people, the constant rush of the traffic. Through Sloane Square, up Sloane Street, down Brompton Road, past so many so familiar places, past the Vistoria and Albert, passing the Natural History Museum that cathedral to the things I love and my totally absorbing fascination, life itself.

The reception staff in the Radiotherapy department were welcoming, smiling folk who knew exactly why they were there and what their visitors were going through. “You’re very early?”, they said. I explained that Dr Lewanski was travelling in especially and they thought this was very considerate. “This is one appointment I was never going to miss” I countered to assure them that altruism is a two way street. Alina, in the way of someone showing you the ropes you were going to get very familiar with, showed me how to work the coffee machine and which was the strongest brew.

Dr Conrad Lewanski, greeted me with a warm, gentle smile and a firm handshake. We sat and he asked me all the things you would expect. He took his time, an hour of his time. He let me talk about things that were clearly not important to the reason I was there, he encouraged it and joined in. Every now and then he would steer us back to “business”. He wanted to make sure that I knew everything I needed to know, that I had asked all the questions I wanted to ask. When my eyes welled up, as they did several times, he would pause and respect my embarrasment. Most of all he wanted to tell me that there were lots of good reasons for remaining optimistic but there was no time to waste. He wanted to know what other symptoms I had and was clearly excited by the fact that I had none. I told him about my walk from Victoria, at which he happliy crossed “breathlessness” off the mental list of typical symptoms. My scan was moved to Thursday at a time when the required starvation would be less of a burden for me. An appointment was made for another consult on Friday, at which time he would have all the results and we would know the situation for sure. He urged me to remain optimistic, implied that he had a good feeling about “this one”. He allowed me to hang on to the possibility that it might not be cancer though he also let me read between the lines sufficiently to appreciate that was all that it was, a hope. It all hanged, in reality, over whether this little invader was a well-behaved individual or an exploding fire-cracker sending it’s starburst seedlings throughout the rest of my body in minute fragments.

So, it’s Thursday and first off I have to give blood for the tests, wouldn’t do to try it with the green-glowing radioactive blood that I’ll have after the scans. Then off to have my lung function tested, fabulous nurse who gave me every possible encouragement to keep blowing when my head felt like it would explode. 112% on the initial blow (that’s 12% better than average for the arithmetically challenged) but overall 76% of normal. Not bad, Conrad guessed it would be around 70% so, hey, this is ten percent better than that, right?

Then, here I am in a small room, sitting on a bed, dressed – if you could call it that – in one of those silly hospital gowns that I haven’t figured how to fasten. So it’s just wrapped around me…there’s some debate over whether or not I should have drunk black tea and coffee when told to fast. I assure the lovely Claudia that Dr Lewanski did tell me that was ok and that I confirmed it with the guy who called yesterday to confirm the appointment – I even repeated back, “so just water, black tea, black coffee, no sugar, right?” “That’s exactly right!” he says to me. I realised an issue with The black tea thing as I was getting ready – Ri isn’t an incredibly observant individual, especially first thing in the morning but it would be just my luck for her to spot it and realise that a) this lack of milk was a total break from the norm and b) as a veteran of many hospital exploratory missions and operations that “no milk” was the order of the day…I needn’t have worried, she didn’t spot it, which is just as well as I didn’t have any clever excuse I could think of.

Claudia stabs my finger and checks the blood sugar – can she see that I had some in my first cup of tea? An injection of radioactive glow juice, but a warning I might need another, something to do with the coffee, my Pet/CT becomes a CT. followed by a PET. No effects of the first injection at all, (really shouldn’t have put that quarter spoon of sugar in the first black tea…).
I’m escorted back upstairs and handed over to Michelle in the CT room. A little difficult to understand, her east-Asian accent, very nice but not big on the charisma thing. Seemed to really struggle to get a vein up in my left arm, she felt the right had been abused enough with the blood tests (did I mention those? oh no well there were the blood test phlebotomy appointment first, interesting conversations about rubber gloves and people smuggling drugs through customs (programme on TV, Nothing to Declare). She could see “a nice big juicy vein” but for some reason didn’t get it to come up the way she wanted. Lots of rubber straps, clenching of fist and finger slapping later it appeared the cannula was in but I didn’t feel it happen so good on yer, Michelle, nice one.

When that stuff starts pumping, whatever radioactive goo it is, your face gets a flush like the biggest blush you’ve ever felt, simultaneously your bladder feels warm and full, in a comforting way as if you could lie there and wet yourself and not fear doing so but rather indulge in the warm comfort of it. Odd how it’s not just the mental surrender one feels in the impotence of the situation, the abboragation of responsibility, the deference to the professionals but even your body becomes similarly compliant to whatever forces are deployed upon it.

It’s an entirely comfortable, almost comforting experience, the knowledge that your body is yielding up its deepest darkest and hitherto well hidden secrets to the overpowering might of modern technology. No longer are these things strange, awe inspiring secrets of the science of the body, they have been conquered, they shall be revealed in all their base ordinary mundanity. So much the better if these steps are taken early enough, the fear is that we are not looking at a nice, tight, contained circular lesion but rather a scattergun pattern of itty bitty cancers swirling around looking for a dark, secretive hiding place amongst the maze of the lymphatic system. If that’s what we find then, folks, let’s get real here. If on the other hand, it turns out to be the most orderly and well mannered of evil critters – strike you as a bit much to hope for? – then hey, they can cut out a piece of my right lung and toss it away and Bob, as they say, becomes a close blood relative.

So CT over I’m escorted back down the stairs into the care of the antipodean Claudia (Melbourne actually) who politely parks me in my waiting room for half an hour with the lights turned down with instructions to just rest and relax. Not the most arduous of preparations I’ve ever had to undergo but leaving me in silence with nothing but my own thoughts doesn’t come without its own special challenges. When she collects and shepherds me into the room containing the waiting space-age marvel of a modern day PET scanner the first thing I spot is the CD in the boogie box, “Do I get music?”. Indeed I did and great it was too, perhaps it’s a sign of the average age of today’s cancer patient or perhaps it’s such fabulous and timeless music that it will endure across the ages for ever more. If I recall the sequence, Dionne Warwick, The Four Tops, Jimmy Ruffin, Smokey Robinson, after that I’m a little hazy but there were only a few more tracks before the whirring sounds and the various horizontal manoeuvrings of the table bed ceased and I was delivered to the brighter lights outside the machine signalling the end of my all too simple, too pleasant experience.

Back in my little room, removed from the strange embarrassment of hospital gown, slippers and robe and once more in my own comfortable skin, the inevitable impatient question but, what do you know, she’s forbidden to reveal anything. Not so much as a nod or a wink or the proffering of glossy literature on suitable funeral homes. A bit of a disappointment but not unexpected. At least this is NOT the NHS and so I only have to wait until midday tomorrow, one more difficult to explain trip to London – these interminable legal meetings, oi vey! So midday tomorrow and Conrad will tell me what? Can he tell that it is, incontrovertibly, the dreaded cancer, I think he can but they will still want to do a biopsy of course to determine which of the seven (yes, seven) different species of cancer if might be. They range in severity from the benign “I was just sitting here because it seemed to be a nice piece of real estate upon which to hang my hat” variety through to the raging, ghengis khan types that just want to kill, conquer and ultimately commit suicide by literally biting the hand that feeds and killing me, its obliging host. I can’t help but wonder, well, wouldn’t you?

So, my array of tests over, I met with Daniel yesterday, what a lovely man. I felt I had to share this with him, for very practical reasons, and felt relatively easy about it because on the one hand, though we are very friendly, he’s not what you would describe as “inside one’s circle of close friends – so he’s less likely to be deeply affected by the news, I hoped. On the other, not being in that circle, the information was certainly safe in his hands. I need new trustees for the trust, and I believe I can trust Daniel to treat such a role both professionally and in a way that he would think I would have wanted. I also figure the issue of a will has kinda become rather important and, it occurs to me as I write, it would be a good idea to prepare a list of people who should be advised of my departure so that Ri doesn’t have to cope with that in the midst of what will for her be considerable grief. But back to the will, again I need an executor and who better than Daniel to both draw it up and execute it. All in all this is quite a considerable burden to place on one person, I must make sure he’s properly compensated so there is no contention in his mind, or anyone else’s, when it comes to rendering an account for his services as executor on both matters. He readily agreed to everything i asked of him, went out of his way to reassure me in various ways and proffered his help in any way at all whenever I might need it. Last night he sent a very touching email just to prove that my first contention was entirely wrong. He was clearly very affected and has just moved to the heart of that aforementioned circle.

So I’m once more aboard the Gatwick Express, it’s Friday and I’m heading in to meet Conrad, Dr Lewanski, to get his verdict. One more invented business appointment to satisfy Ri’s curiosity which is fast becoming ‘suspicion’, even the ubiquitous “are you having an affair” enquiry this morning. I am strangely calm. In a sense, this is the biggest event of my (only) week long journey to date – it seems much longer. A genuine Pullman Belle train to my right! Fabulous sight and has got the whole train buzzing and phones/cameras clicking. See what I mean? Calm, as always, it’s a thing, a task, a challenge, something to be dealt with. Gather the facts, assess it calmly, decide on a “solution”, a course of action at least. Here we are at Victoria, no rush, let the crowd move out, my time is precious and I again refuse to join in the hectic bustle for no apparent reason. Twice this week I’ve walked to The Cromwell. This time I don’t have the spare hour. I’ll walk part way and hail a cab to finish the journey…

Sloane Square, by a different route this time, good place to stop, sit, I know, I know but also to have my “last” cigarette. That’s three different routes I’ve used and on the way, a piece of memorabilia. “Eaton Continental” on the corner of Eaton Terrace and, what, Chester Row? A little grocer-cum-reckons-itself-a-bit-of-a-speciality-foods store, a customer from circa 1979/80 for my Redmile-Gordon Provisioners (Wholesale Division). Wow, I’d completely forgotten.

From here I can walk a little more, grab a cab later or grab it now and walk locally. Don’t want to be late for my own sentencing now do I? I think we play safe and grab the cab now.

On the radio in the cab, a discussion about the mansion tax, talk of poor people walking out of the estate agent’s with a cheque for two million quid because they had to sell the house as they couldn’t afford the tax…”Not a problem you and I are likely to worry about, eh, cabbie?”. After that of course we spent the next five minutes putting the world to rights and then I’m here. Familiar smiling faces in Radiotherapy reception, I remember the coffee machine instructions. Bizarre, there’s apparently something special about Fridays, a sort of club has formed. Three guys all around my age or more, everyone knows each other, chatting about the different people they see, calling out pleasantries to the reception staff – about whom they have clearly learned some personal details. Is this what it’s like when you start a treatment programme? I guess it would be. People you don’t actually know but whose shared experience removes all barriers and the need to explain or apologise. Hmmm…

“You guys sound like regulars”, I volunteer to introduce myself. “Us, we’ve got loyalty cards, we have”, jokes one. I laugh. I was going to make a crack about living long enough to collect on the points but that’s the kind of crack reserved for established friends or acquaintances, not Londoners you just met thirty seconds ago. “This your first time?”, asks his friend. “I’m here for my sentence”, I offer, I quickly tame it down but still got the chuckle I was aiming for,”Well, my diagnosis”.

It’s 12:10, he’s running late. On one level it seems cruel, on another it likely means he’s spending time with someone who needs that time. Who wouldn’t want the same thing in his place?

A mature nurse chats to some of the patients, clearly familiar with them and genuinely great in the way she relates, like a kindly aunt. “Is this your daughter?” she enquires of a guy about my age, mid-eastern origin, cool looking, westernised. When he confirms, the nurse turns to the daughter and, for conversations sake, asks “So, how is he behaving himself?”. “Not so good with the smoking”, she replies. You can feel the unspoken plea behind the words, it’s gut wrenching stuff. 12:20 now.

At 12:25 and fearing I’m supposed to be meeting somewhere else I step up to the reception desk just as Conrad is approaching to invite me in. By the way, that’s what happens in a private health care environment, doctors come to you and invite you in, they don’t summon you with a bell or at the bidding of an underling.

I don’t know where I start, how I carry on relating the story from here. I guess I have to explain it all but mostly I just want to run out in the street screaming, jump up an down shout, hug perfect strangers and generally CELEBRATE! I don’t understand why they don’t keep a fully stocked bar in reception for just such occasions – I suppose it would be a little insensitive for some but I’m sure most people in this situation would just want to share in any good news story that was going. We, Alina/Lina/Stephanie and me, we’re going to lobby for one.

I guess I should explain, to myself more than anyone. Yes, I do have cancer, that’s now an established and indisputable fact. Yes, I do have a 4.2 cm spitulate lesion on my right lung. Ugly looking little fucker. That’s what we’re celebrating. That’s what I’ve got. That’s the sum total of what I’ve got, that’s the good news – all I have is lung cancer!! I don’t have fifteen other cancers, I have nothing creeping around in my nooks and crannies, I have nothing in my lymph, in my spine, in my throat (despite the huge lump that’s there right now), in my groin or my bladder, in my prostate or my colon, nothing, not a solitary sausage, not a minute fragment. I just have what looks like one huge evil creepy looking, spiky lesion that looks like its crawling, hunting, espying it’s prey as it feeds glutton-like on the sugars in the fluid they injected. It feeds so much, it steals so much of the available sugar and consumes it with such energy that it glows white hot on the CT, white hot! Other organs consuming said sugar at a fast rate only rank yellow on the full colour display, the colour being heat sensitive.

But that’s it. Evil as it looks, voracious and aggressive as it clearly is, it has actually behaved itself impeccably, keeping itself to itself. It has not exploded its cells into a myriad parts and scattered them across my finite internal universe. It appears operable. It appears that whilst I have to donate an important and irreplaceable part of my lung – and my resulting lung capacity – this thing can be removed. It can be cut out. In short, it can be destroyed – before it destroys me.

Conrad, we’re operating on first name terms at my request, after all, as I said to him at the outset of this consult, he’s likely to be the most important person in my life, for the rest of my life, however long that may be, or not. Anyway, Conrad was just great. He was almost as excited as me. He showed me all the scans, turning my whole body around on the screen in glorious full colour 3D, pointing to my various organs and showing not just the total absence of any black specs (we’re on the PET scan now not the CT, come on, keep up), but also the perfectly healthy appearance of each of them. He has of course combined that with the blood test results which confirm exactly that. Cholesterol: perfect, Liver function, all the numbers: perfect, this is a body that just keeps on trucking regardless, it just does its thing, it works, there’s just this one bastard invading organism that it couldn’t stop. “With a liver like that you can drink yourself silly”, says Conrad with a big smile on his face.

He’s spoken to a colleague of his, Brian O’Connor who would do the bronchoscopy that I need. They give me a sedative and then slide a camera/whatever/thingumy up my nose and down into the lung where they (hopefully) see the little critter from the inside, bite a small chunk out of it and take it away for analysis. A biopsy if you will. There is a possibility that it is of a kind that they can’t easily remove but Conrad really doesn’t think so – he’s been right so far so I’m inclined toward optimism.

He calls his friend who operates out of the mews near the hospital entrance and yes, he will see me more or less immediately for a consultation. At his request, Alina offers to escort me over there and on the way she said something to which my eyes, throat and tear ducts responded in telltale fashion. Without hesitation she grabbed me and gave me a big hug, sweetness itself and how wonderful to feel that gentle human contact, it took every effort I could summon to let go.

Brian is a lovely man, a big softly spoken Irishman, a Dubliner who migrated twenty years ago and time has softened that Dublin accent so much I thought he was from the west. He looks at all the pictures and is clearly amazed at what a lucky little sod I am. “Normally”, he says, “when I’m talking to someone with lung cancer my eyes are down on the floor because, frankly, I’m usually looking at a death sentence.”. He continues, “In your case, you know what? I think we’ve got it just in time”. Again with the throat thing and the tear ducts, for about the tenth time today. I feel like a great big stupid soft thing but then, in my more self-forgiving moments, I figure I have some justification.

We talked about the smoking. We talked about the insurance company. In this context Ri cropped up in conversation, the ironies of fibrosis for a non-smoker, and he asked who her lung guy was. “excellent guy” he says when I tell him about Toby Maher, “leading world authority”. “I don’t know him personally”, he continues with perhaps the most glowing reference of all, “I know his ‘boss'”.

So I’m on the train home, writing this and I get the call I’ve been waiting for from the insurance company – they will cover me after all. Seems this is my lucky day.  Thank you Hitch.

In Retrospect

Never forget, Never forgive, Never again!

No pleasant read, this, no more pleasant than it was for me to write.

I’ve written very little about the “Coronaphobia Episode” during the history of the 21st century, at least in long form. I’ve written countless tweets on the matter and, to be fair, there’s probably been more written on the topic than any other in all of human history. There again, there’s never been a more calamitous example of human folly in all that time.

There’s a desire amongst the majority, I suspect, to just move on, to put it all behind us. Nowhere is that more keenly felt than amongst politicians across the western world (excluding Sweden), the meeja who promulgated and promoted their propaganda, those who publicly wished all the unvaccinated a painful death and “public health officials” eager to distance themselves from their ethical abandonment.

I feel no such desire. In an ideal world, I’d like them all hunted down and shot – or hanged. I don’t much mind which as long as it gets as much global news coverage as did their earlier malevolence.

I know that will shock or offend some but I make no apology and there is good precedent. Humanity does not need these egotistical ignoramuses in any position of power or authority, ever again. Thinking aloud, I suppose the logical conclusion of what I’ve just written, if it please the faint hearted, would be to simply ban them from ever holding such a position in the future. But it’s impractical to enforce and, in any event, when it comes to accountability I’m a great advocate of retribution.

The mantra I will take to my grave, sooner or later:

Never forget, Never forgive, Never again

I said there was precedent. My mantra bears a striking resemblance to the calls made after (and ever since) the last great psychosis, that of the mid 20th Century. Some will shrivel at the parallel but I can think of no closer equivalence.

Growing up in post-war Britain, these questions pervaded.

How could this happen?

How could they (the German public) not know?

How did ordinary people become so dehumanised?

How were the educated ones, the scientists, the academics, fooled into going along with it?

Why did no one speak up?

We all know of which I speak and I also know, using my sensitive, Jewish, New Yorker wife as a touchstone that she and many of similar culture will think me quite mad and grossly offensive for equating the two. But I’m absolutely right to do so.

The Jewish People have taken an understandably proprietary ownership of the Holocaust and who can blame them. Not only were they the greatest victims by number, the roots of the discrimination and enmity that led to those events run deep and long through European history.

I have a different perspective, however. For me it’s not an issue of faith, culture or heritage. It’s an issue of power and control. It’s an exemplary lesson in the manipulation and perversion of good people to do something unimaginable, by malevolent forces bent on an objective that no civilised society would ever submit to, absent those manipulations. In short, good people and bad of all faiths, cultures and nationalities are equally capable of such deception and acquiescence.

As I said, these questions have overshadowed my entire life. I long ago thought I’d pretty much worked it out. Watching the unfolding propaganda of the “Falklands Conflict”, then two Gulf Wars, sealed my belief, yet still I clung to the faith that it couldn’t happen now, not in modern, progressive times like these.

As Prof John Gray maintains, however, there is no such thing as progress, not in the arena of Human relations, societies. No upward graph of progress here, just a roller coaster rising and falling with the events of the times.

With all of this experience and aforethought, nothing prepared me for Coronaphobia. How could this happen? How could they not know? How did ordinary people become so dehumanised? How were the educated ones, the scientists, the academics, fooled into going along with it? Why did no one speak up?

Well, now we know. Or, at least, those of us who’ve been paying attention knew all along, many others are or will soon catch up as more facts emerge into mainstream media, facts that were always painfully evident but constantly denied, labelled as misinformation and those who revealed them as anti-vaxers, domestic terrorists and far-right extremists. All part of the century old script.

As John Mills famously said: “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.”

I can’t imagine Mills was overlooking the other essential component, that the vast mass of the people were gullible enough to be influenced by either, he just felt that was taken for granted.

There’s a school of forgiveness at large that pleads on behalf of the “bad men”: They’re not really bad, they did what they thought was right, based on the evidence they had. Wrong. That’s exactly the absolution that every member of the public is entitled to, for going along with the crowd. I don’t like it but I accept the inevitability of it. That cannot be extended to the central actors: media, politicians, doctors, academics. These people are in their positions because they claimed the right to be so, they claimed authority, intelligence, ethics, expertise, impartiality. They clung to their authority whilst jettisoning every other moral or intellectual vestige of the rest. They rewrote every rule in the book, hundreds and thousands of years of learning, abandoned. They hid their cynical smiles behind something called “The Science”. Dictionaries are too analogue for the now, we’re progressive and words mean whatever we want them to mean, like “man” or “woman” or “race”.

There is rarely someone we can call “a bad man”, they don’t see themselves as bad, we judge them in retrospect, based on their actions. Like all of us, we’re simultaneously capable of good and bad so what separates us? Those that do bad from those that don’t? Well, for most of us, we have very little authority over others. Perhaps our spouse or our children, but limited. Perhaps the children in a teacher’s class, perhaps the parked cars we are policing. The people I care about, the ones under discussion here, hold sway over millions, with absolute power and authority – as has just, conveniently, been proved in the biggest social experiment in history. We lost. We will keep on losing and now they know it.

So they come to their position having some conviction that they do so to improve the lives of others, to give something back, or so I’m told. The more the Emperor’s lack of apparel is revealed the more I’m forced to wonder if any of that was ever true, at least in any altruistic sense. Could that not be the facade their conscience creates to cloak their real greed for advancement, advantage, money, power, recognition, egoism?

I’m afraid that is now my settled conviction. I hear nurses striking for more pay, claiming it’s to save the NHS, postal workers saying it’s to protect a precious public service, there is no immunity to self-delusion, least not one that separates them from us.

Our brains are oh so clever! They have a mission, to keep us alive, fit and free from anything that could harm us, such as our conscience. It’s a mission doomed to ultimate failure but pursued doggedly and without let or hindrance. Anything the conscience finds uncomfortable, the cerebrum will gild with flowers and intoxicating perfume, the bad smell to stifle. We have all experienced it, both in others as in ourselves.

We are herd animals, imbued with an innate, protective survival instinct that drives all others, all decisions conscious and unconscious. Conscience may moderate if ethics triumph but the person, body and soul, must be protected above all else. Ethics are negotiable.

We want to be loved, not least by our selves. We don’t want to be vilified, especially by our selves. We don’t want to become unelected and lose every glory we had fought for. We fiercely protect our status, the respect and position we have earned. We are willing to sacrifice almost anything (ethics, morals, friends, family, anything) just as long as we can create a pleasant enough, barely believable and thick enough cloak with which to disguise the disgust we would otherwise feel for our own person.

And so, it happens…

First there is concern, something is happening, we get wrapped up in the excitement. It gets reported and it seems shocking. The clamour grows and now there’s genuine fear. We have to take action, we have to be seen to care, to be dutiful, to earn our keep, to issue messages of assuagence, to make plans, to prepare…..

It’s exciting. It’s novel. One assumes a level of importance in one’s role that was previously all but ignored. We get carried away. There’s much chatter, opinions abound, one seeks comfort in the most authoritative source that feels reassuringly generally held.

And so it begins…..

Confession is good for the soul but not for one’s career. First, of course, one would need to recognise one’s error. That cloak is thick, barely penetrable. The longer the position persists, the more intractable a retraction, a volte face. Lies get built upon mistakes, till every issue looks like a nail to your protective hammer. The delusion is stealthy, it is powerful, it eventually becomes all embracing. Anyone who even suggests an alternate perspective indeed any suggestion that runs contrary to the herd narrative is attacked, viciously and mercilessly.

We watched this unfold, all of us. It was not a subliminal advert on our TV screens, it was a sustained, multifaceted assault that continued unabated for over two years and still rumbles on. What is left of surprise to me is that any of us managed to protect ourselves sufficiently, and not succumb, unlike the majority.

There will be some reading this who genuinely won’t understand what I’m saying, others who will brand me mad or conspiratorial. Water off a duck’s back but for them, lest they still claim ignorance, I will spell out the atrocities:

1. We, the west and in particular the US, funded the development of a Frankenstein virus. We wrote the genetic code, patented it and outsourced production to ill-prepared, inexperienced staff working from insecure premises in Wuhan, China. That was a series of crimes specifically aimed at humanity. Then we lied about every single detail.

2. Western governments colluded, both in this and what followed, against the interests of the very people they were paid and entrusted to protect.

3. Human beings, citizens, subjects, were forcibly locked in their own homes. They were denied freedom of movement, of travel, of assembly, of association. Rights won at great cost over centuries.

4. Children were subjected to some of the most grotesque abuse I’ve ever witnessed, including social and sensory deprivation not to mention medical experimentation.

5. Elderly folk were incarcerated in infested, infected premises, medical care withdrawn, banned from associating with their loved ones, even in their final days.

6. Anyone who dared speak out was cancelled, vilified, ostracised or sacked – regardless their credentials or the voracity of their facts.

7. The entire global economy was shut down as if it could be switched back on, at will, like a lightbulb. The costs of that action, in money and lives, will be felt for decades.

8. A very large percentage of the western population now consist of cells trained to emit a pathogen throughout their bodies which has ‘unknown’ capacity for harm. That is to say, we’re aware of many of the harms, just not all of them.

9. Anti-terrorism tactics, fearmongering, incarceration, control, dictatorial, authoritarian rule, police brutality and stupidity, courts of law and prisons, all the weapons of the State, were brought to bear against their own citizens in pursuit of this neurosis.

10. Millions of people had the doors slammed in their faces when they tried to seek healthcare. Millions wait for operations, or for a now terminal diagnosis. The repercussions will reverberate for decades.

And why? All for what?

To “save” us from a Frankenstein virus of their own creation, as similar to influenza as makes no difference either in its severity, symptoms, susceptibility or survivability.

The infection fatality rate for flu is approximately 0.2%, at the high end of estimates, about the same as Covid. Luckily if you’re <75 y/o, it’s a tiny fraction of that.

The average life expectancy in the UK is 80.9 years. The average age of death for those “where Covid was mentioned “, whether in passing or otherwise was, wait for it: 82 years. Covid is, apparently, an elixir of life.

For this we gave up every freedom we possess. We dressed in stupid masks, some even donned plastic bags over their heads, or their entire bodies. People stood on marked spots on the floor and followed one-way arrows around foodstores. Women meeting up in the park for a walk were arrested for daring to bring coffee. Protesters were beaten mercilessly whilst the dumb coppers got down on one knee at protests organised by left-wing lunatic members of a BLM Ponzi scam in honour of a genuine bad man, one Floyd somethingorother, as the little grunts defaced statues of Churchill, Bomber Command and others. Churchill, the man who singularly spared these same plebs from German parentage.

The true list of affronts to civilisation is long indeed, far longer than anyone has time to read, though I think I’ve read most of it over the last three years. I carry the emotional scars forever.

We’re told we must forgive them “for they knew not what they did”, I don’t care one jot. If they didn’t know what they were doing was wrong, they were singularly unqualified for their job.

We’re told “they based their decisions on the information available at the time”. Well so did I and many like me and that same information spoke clearly to me as far back as Jan/Feb 2020, a month or two before I caught the airborne respiratory virus myself, a coronavirus much like those that can cause the common cold and made worse by human engineering to which our immune systems were unaccustomed.

So to return to my core theme. Approximately seven million people are deemed to have died, globally from Covid. Near as makes no difference to the number the Germans, under Hitler, exterminated in concentration camps after incarcerating them, having already stripped them of their rights, their humility, their respect, their jobs, their old people, their sick people, their health and their possessions. Sound familiar? No? Really? Then I have no more words.

Some tell us, they were just following orders. Well, what do you know? As Christine said from the witness box, “Well they would say that, wouldn’t they?” And as everyone said at Nuremberg, we don’t give a flying fuck, you should have said NO!


This little snippet from the Matt Hancock memoir “The Pandemic Diaries” sums up the panic, callousness, stupidity and ignorance of very ordinary people driven by fear and false motivations.

Talking of the NHS planning what to do with cancer patients:

“It was feared chemotherapy would make them more vulnerable to the disease, so hospitals were supposed to switch to radiotherapy. It now transpires they didn’t have the necessary kit.”

To a layman this sounds odd, to anyone familiar with cancer, it sounds criminal.