From the age of sixteen, I have always loved driving. Initially a motor scooter (sadly not a Harley Davidson, although I am now of the age where it would be ideal!) and then a series of cars including an MG Midget sports car and an Austin Healey Sprite.
But the most glorious moment was taking delivery of the most iconic of vehicles. A Real American Jeep. A memorable and wonderfully enjoyable “truck” (an American phrase!). A 4L Jeep Cherokee Orvis. The American Dream came true! Go anywhere a real classic! Driving this Jeep was a joy. And on American Independence Day, the Stars and Stripes flew with the pride of Anglo-American camaraderie and friendship. Regardless of the weather, I knew nothing could stop me and the Jeep to drive to any chosen location.
One humorous moment was when visiting a little village in Devon, and what must have been a flock of seagulls mistook my Jeep for a latrine! I was washing off the massive load of bird muck, when a vicar walked passed and stopped; aghast at the mess on my otherwise pristine and shining Jeep. She said, “Goodness me”, I replied, “And I thought God drove a Jeep.” She doubled up laughing, which was infectious and provided further motivation to bring back the Patriot Blue color, cleaning this divine Jeep of mine.
So, what on earth has an American 4litre straight six-cylinder automatic Jeep (color, Patriot Blue) to do with health issues?
My son inherited the love of American vehicles which must be in the genes. He has a Wrangler 4L, which although older than my Cherokee has every possible extra and looks brand new! Being a passenger with the doors off and roof down is an experience never forgotten.
Another American dream (and judging by people stopping and staring) which is his pride and joy is a Chevrolet Corvette Stingray (V8, manufactured in 1973, but looks new).
Driving to an auto show in convoy with other Corvettes is a magical experience. People, especially youngsters stop walking, stare in awe and wonder and eventually waive with their enthusiasm on seeing and hearing this curvaceous beauty.
So, what on earth has an American 4litre straight six-cylinder automatic Jeep (color, Patriot Blue) to do with health issues?
One day in late 2017 my wife noticed that I gone ‘blank’; a vacant look on my face and seemingly on another planet (for a male this would be either Jupiter or the imaginary planet Zorg! Naturally, I denied this and carried on as normal; typical male reaction! However, one day, visiting our son, he also witnessed an even more obvious and rather disturbing ‘blank’, far away look on my face. The strange thing is, I did not realise what is happening.
Well, with the endorsement of my son and an equally concerned wife, the next day I was ‘taken’ to the local doctors’ surgery. The doctor, an empathetic lady checked the key life signals and provided us with a note to take to the local hospital for presentation to the Accident and Emergency department. Within minutes I was admitted to a ‘critical’ ward.
I have since been back a couple of times to say thank you and hand over a Christmas card.
Indeed I was kept in for two nights! I can remember the delicious food, and especially the sticky toffee pudding, a family joke as it a favourite of mine! The hospital, which is a National Health Service institution has its own kitchens! And amazing medical care and compassionate clinicians and nursing staff.
I had a letter published in the regional newspaper praising the wonderful staff.
After further investigation to achieve a diagnosis, including scans and a standard blood test, a somber-looking consultant advised me that I had what is called ’Focal Seizure’. I was then wheeled off for a full magnetic resonance scan, but on being enclosed in a tomb-like machine, had to advise the staff that I would ‘freak out’ if I entered this technologically awesome system, and the staff immediately moved me to a CT scanner which did not totally envelop me, and just focused on the head. The medics did not overuse the word ‘epilepsy’ at that time for want of scaring me, imagining the usual idea of shaking and foaming at the mouth. Fortunately, not this version!
The next day, relaxing in a very comfortable ward and receiving the most personal, caring and vocational, compassionate attention of nurses and the ward sister, a consultant walked up to my hospital bed, closed the privacy curtains, and well, I thought she announced herself as a neurological consultant (my hearing is not so good) but she stated that she was a urology consultant and need to conduct an examination and biopsy! Confused, I asked what the reason was. She explained that the standard blood test revealed a sky-high PSA level of 25! “What is the PSA level?”, I asked. ‘Prostate-Specific Antigen’. None the wiser; although I knew of prostate cancer, I delved deeper into this mysterious description. She replied that although a further test would confirm or otherwise that I have prostate cancer. So, I entered with a ‘head’ problem only to be diagnosed with a ‘nether region’ problem!
Prostate cancer was confirmed! That was quite a moment of reflection and shock. It always happens to other people. A former colleague has his prostate removed; something I really did not contemplate.
Cancer is a terrifying word. But I am a positive person and strongly believed it was curable and no big deal!
A few days later, after being discharged, I had to return for a bone marrow biopsy. The ward sister and an amazing French nurse explained the procedure. A local anesthetic and the doctor were to ‘drill’ into my thigh bone. The reason being to check if the cancer was confined to the prostate or had spread to the bone marrow, where red and white blood cells are produced. I asked humorously if it was to be a Bosch drill. The way I deal with ‘trauma’ is to talk and use humour! I was asked if I wished to elevate to another level of consciousness, or in fact painless sub-consciousness, and joked saying no. Anyway, nitrous oxide is given to women during childbirth. A few seconds passed and I submitted to the nitrous oxide (‘laughing gas’) and puffed and panted while the nurse and sister held my hands. My wife was sitting further away in the ward, and apparently bemused at my typically male behaviour!
During this time, I was talking for England! Describing how delicious Galway Bay Irish oysters are to the Irish sister. Fine with cool Guinness or a dry, Sancerre Rouge. And describing how many English folks say they had a bad experience eating oyster; usually, because they literally threw the oyster down their throat, which means, if it is ‘off’ it is too late! I then followed up with an elaborate description as to the correct way to eat oysters. Squeeze of lemon and they should contract, smell the oyster; should be sea-fresh then chew it. If there is any doubt, spit it out!
Eventually, I was advised that it was all over. My humor took over, As I called out, much to the amusement of the nursing staff and doctor, “is it a boy or a girl!!?”
Following the main treatments, the next step was a series of hormone injections which lower the PSA level to about 1.5 (and yes, I did experience ‘hot flushes’) and radiotherapy. Five days a week for four weeks.
In the radiotherapy treatment section, there is a patient waiting area where many folks with horrendous inflictions, including cancer of the brain, and other traumas, sat. It was quiet. Little conversation. An atmosphere of apprehension and fear of the unknown, which is understandable. Who wants to admit to having cancer (the most negatively emotive word)?
I engaged with people. I empathised, as did my wife. Eventually, we had everyone talking WITH each other, lightening the formerly doom-like negative atmosphere.
Then the charming student radiologist from Normandy would initially call out a name. Eventually a first name, which was friendly and welcoming.
I was asked to lie down on the clinical platform. First, there was a CT scan to ensure there was no ‘wind’. I hoped each time the click of the system heralded the move to the radiotherapy. If not, it was as I called it, ‘Chicago Syndrome’, much to the amusement of the staff. And requiring a run-up and down the nearest stairs!
Then there was a ticking sound and if all was well, the actual radiotherapy commenced and focused on a tiny tattoo for precision.
The staff were truly amazing. When the daily sessions and four weeks were over, I missed the atmosphere, chatting with other patients. Returning to the radiology department many months after, it was moving because the receptionist had remembered my name, as did the radiology team. Perhaps it is because I cannot thank the clinicians and staff enough.
They saved my life. Had the medics not taken a blood sample, including the test to see what my Prostate-Specific Antigen level was, as there were no symptoms of prostate cancer, I would have been dead within two years. This type of cancer spreads to the bone marrow and beyond, like any cancer. I was seemingly fit, except for the focal seizures! The level was 25 and the normal healthy level is around 1.5 to 2.00. Immediate action was taken in parallel with the focal seizure/epilepsy. Apparently, I had a couple of years left on this planet.
I still visit the ward where I had the bone marrow biopsy. The welcome is moving and truly amazing. I discussed my love of Paris and began to describe walk up to Boulevard Saint Germaine and was about to mention the rather special brasserie called Lippe, but she beat me to it and we laughed at the fact that Brasserie Lippe is considered to have the most arrogant waiters.;
I gave the nursing staff the newspaper where I had praised their vocational compassion. The nursing team includes the lady who ensures the ward is spotless. And she is very much part of the team.
So, what was more traumatic? Being told that I had Focal Seizure, related to epilepsy and put on tablets that I will have to take for the rest of my life, or prostate cancer, for which I experienced the appropriate treatment, and still have regular follow-up tests?
Here is where the Jeep comes in! I am not allowed to drive for at least a year after the last Focal Seizure.
Sadly, I endured another two Focal Seizures, but the medication is now more effective. Bottom line, I may not be able to drive again. Suddenly the frightening realisation that I would not be able to enjoy the freedom of driving and having to look at my Jeep but unable to get behind the wheel was rather traumatic.
Being told I had the most frightening, terrifying infliction…cancer, and floating off to a level of denial, but eventually landing with a crash as the truth hit me. This was a moment I will never forget, and also the fact that had the hospital not have taken a blood sample to check my PSA level, I would not be typing this out right now. Perhaps an even more dramatic stimulating thought process is how I could use my experience for the benefit of others.
Life-changing, yes. I appreciate every minute of my life, and do endeavor to help others; especially very old folk who can feel alone and forgotten after their husband, wife, or life-partner had passed away.
A number of friends also have prostate cancer, and we talk with each other, and as I have been through the procedure, I can help them come to terms with the fact and swap notes on the symptoms. Sometimes with laughter, especially regarding ‘hot flushes’! One person, in particular, was diagnosed with prostate cancer a little late and it had spread to his bone marrow. He has undergone chemotherapy, and jokes about his bald head, hot flushes and is about to commence radiotherapy. He is ferociously optimistic and maintains a surprising level of positivity.
The most obvious and selfish element and greatly missed aspect is not being able to drive my Jeep and enjoy the freedom.
But what is the use of freedom if you are no longer of this world?
I arrived at the hospital with a ‘head issue’ a form of epilepsy and came out with a potentially killer cancer. Not once since then have I awoken thinking my God, I have cancer. Not once.
My message is to be optimistic and positive. And this is what I champion, empathy, kindness, and positivity.
Simon, A very inspiring message my friend.
I am delighted you found it inspiring. Many memories return as they are happing as I ready the words.
Reality and positivity can be used to lift yourself and others. As you clearly do here. This rings true for me. Reality happens with sudden lurches. Staying positive . . . works. Such a strong message.
You share your experience in such a delightfully confident and unmistakable way.
Thank you Simon. I appreciate you.
Wishing you a wonderful today. Each day that’s a scratch on eternity.
Thank you so much for reading the essay and for your gracious comments.
And I appreciate your time in taking the trouble to read and respond. It’s quite a long account!
Wishing you a pleasant weekend blessed with Peace, Harmony, Positivity and Kindness.
My kindest regards to you,