Tagged: NHL

Then this

I am taking a break from writing brand new blog posts over the summer.

Instead of posting new work I am giving readers the chance to read material from the archives of my blog.

In no particular order, here are twenty of my favourite posts from the last four years.



Then this.

We are sitting with hospital mugs of tea, in the Quiet Room. We are all leaning forward, listening to the doctor. Outside, the binging of the drips.

She smiles, is patient with us, answering our questions calmly, one by one.

A beige folder is on her knee. The doctor pulls out a piece of paper, readjusts her glasses, and reads from it, summarising the words she knows we will not understand.

B-cell, she says. Definitely. The histology confirms it. Not T. Which we had thought was better. Until


Then a knock. Fingers on the door, a ringed hand, the dance of apology. By all means.

It’s just that

Another piece of paper is brandished, handed over in silence. The two women exchange looks.

Temperature has fallen and increased at the same time (my father reappears from the car park). It’s just–

I don’t bel–

You never

The doctor stands up. (A nurse comes in). I need to make a phone call, she says. Right now. If what this says is true then

The nurse holds my wife’s hand. I lock hands with my wife. My mother’s sniffing.

Hard heels on a hospital corridor. The doctor’s face at the door. The hint of a smile. More of a grimace, the effort of not smiling beginning to tell on her lips. Her eyes are different: filmy, soft.

I have spoken with the radiologist, and he says, he is absolutely in pieces I can tell you, he says that it appears we have made the most dreadful mistake. All I can imagine is.

She glances at the paper again.

If what this says is true, it means you are getting better and your treatment is working.

I cannot say how sorry I am.

Or how delighted.

It’s been quite an afternoon. Few days for you I mean. Enjoy tonight if you can. Enjoy each other.

It’s going to be all right.


First published 4 May, 2014

This is the day

I am taking a break from writing brand new blog posts over the summer.

Instead of posting new work I am giving readers the chance to read material from the archives of my blog.

In no particular order, here are twenty of my favourite posts from the last four years.



This is the day we go the hospital as usual. We have banter with Jörn and Nadine while they inject me. Jörn’s swearing makes us all laugh. For a moment we forget why we are there.

This is the day Jörn says I am sailing through. He ‘accidentally’ orders me more antibiotics and calls me an unrepeatable name.

This is the day.

Instead of going home we are shown into an office, the desk flanked by people. Jörn is there, but there are no jokes, and no swearing.

This day.

When they say ‘I’m most terribly sorry, but…’ and everything goes blurry, as in a film (you thought it might).

We are shown into another room, with candles and a sofa. Where we cuddle in quiet for a few moments before Jörn plonks himself down next to us, suddenly filling the room.

He never takes his eyes from us once.

This room. This day. Now.

Where we learn the names of new drugs, new procedures (we had always wondered what was behind this door), and how often. And my chances.

And Jörn saying ‘If you’re dealt a shit pack of cards, you still have to play with them.’ And that he has relapsed too.

Like yesterday.

And that he’ll be going away (he recommends Vodka and speed metal) for a while.


Then silence. Then see you tomorrow (more tests).

The day you tell your children. For not pretending.

Yesterday, today, tomorrow. Like any other (April) day. But. No.

This day.



First published 23 April, 2014

Why aren’t you dead yet?


Jörn Cann wasn’t my friend. He was my doctor.

He was famous before we even met him as the doctor who had had what we’d had. ‘He knows what you’ll be going through,’ whispered my consultant.

Moments later he put his arm around me and told me we were not going to get on, on account of me being a Chelsea fan. If it is possible to fall in love when you’ve just been diagnosed with cancer, that is what happened to me.

He was the least PC person I have known. He swore, beautifully and extravagantly, at everything. He admonished me for being ‘male’ about my treatment, only to display great tenderness mere seconds later as he reassured me I was in fact ‘sailing through’ it.

The first day of my chemotherapy I saw him leap out of his chair, stride across the ward and bend his runner bean frame down to the face of a sleeping patient. ‘Have you died or something?’ he shouted. ‘Why not?’ This particular patient was known on the ward for her loquaciousness, keeping up a running commentary on every minutiae of her thinking and seeing. Once the laughter from behind the desk had died down, I could see what Jörn wanted was not to be left alone.

He held my hand, told me to fuck off, sat with me in silence.

When the (mistaken) news came of my relapse arrived it was Jörn who talked us through the implications, pretending to temper his language as he went: ‘If you’re given a shit pack of cards, those are the ones you play with.’

We found later that he had relapsed himself only the previous day.

I still saw him on the ward after my treatment had finished. We talked about football, his rock collecting expeditions, his photography.

There seemed nothing he wasn’t interested in.

The last time I saw him was in a supermarket near to the hospital. He stopped as he always did for a natter, asking after my family, our trolleys almost touching.

He had just finished another trip for some rocks, up a volcano I think he said.

A Case of You


The way it starts. With an ending. Just before our love got lost. We have all been here: the wit of welcome. But the voice, shattered, early morning. A rasp. Nothing left to give. (The whole point.) Then Canada. O Canada. A moment of pure release, luxuriating in the extended vowels – hymn to landscape, a horizon I do not know but now image because of this voice. Just a nudge on the gas, nothing more, exquisite. In my blood like holy wine, sung with exhaustion, not celebration.

The pressure on the word lonely. This has been felt. Love is touching souls? An angel begins to climb the stairs, looking forward to what might be up there. You’re in my blood, now with a bit more purpose. I still don’t believe she’d still be on her feet. she’s saying it to be truthful to the idea (what you do in a cover: stick to the script) of faithfulness, of hanging in there, of showing up.

I met a woman. Joni sings man. kd, I do love you. The difference is? (The difference of course!) The pressure of that syllable: deeds. An entire history of untold stories and unmentionable betrayals. Deeds. What we do to each other. When we want to, when we don’t. When we’re looking, when the other is looking the other way. Intentional? There are no accidents. She knows what she’s doing. She knew your deeds. And now we do, too.

Go with it and stay with it. Joni sings him. kd. The twist. The gauntlet thrown down. Have you any idea what you are letting yourself in for, this thing, this horse ride rollercoaster lifeboat rising tide called love. Have you? Any idea whatsoever?

Be prepared to bleed. A fried said that to me once. Her kitchen, not mine. Papers between us. Sunlight. The last time I saw her, thin, knowing she had months. Her cancer and mine. Be prepared to bleed. She finished the quote for me. She knew everything, had read and listened to it all.

You’re in my blood like holy wine. This third time holy is extended, a howl, possibilities of God, sex, rawness and The End collapsing into each other. Wine no longer whines but it triumphant. An explosion. In that kitchen I said: This is my chemo-hymn. You’re so bitter, baby, and so sweet. The insertion of baby, this last time round. She loved that, taking something out of context and twisting it, making it into something else entirely which has nothing to do with anything except itself, a universe only you walk in, private and unsullied. Desire. Release. Healing. Collapse.

I could not listen to it for months.

For months it had been there and now I could not bear it. It came on in a car park once. I had to call my counsellor. Tears in Aisle 7, with the dishwasher tablets, for no reason, out of nowhere.

I could drink. The voice cracking on I.

The cracked I. Cracked and collapsed. Singing.