Short blog from me after a conversation with my mum. On Tuesday this week my Dad had a blood transfusion. Dad has cholangiocarcinoma, or bile duct cancer, and despite being generally healthy he had started to get breathless, become very pale, and lost energy. At his most recent consultant’s appointment we found out that he was anaemic and by the time he got the transfusion on Tuesday his haemoglobin level was down to 8, which essentially means that his red blood cell count was dropping.
Photo by cogdogblog on flickr (cc)
Having a transfusion isn’t that unusual in people who are undergoing chemotherapy (not that Dad is) or who have cancer. You can read more on the Macmillan site here. He said the whole process was completely painless, and only took six hours, during which time he was able to eat, drink, watch TV, read his book and so on. My mum was reflecting on the process the day after and had been really struck by what a gift it is, to receive someone else’s blood. Her exact comment is the title of this blog post:
It’s only when you need it that you realise what a gift it is.
I used to give blood as a student and when I worked in a university, because it was easy and only involved popping in when a donation session was happening. I’m struck by how lazy my approach to donation has been though and will be seeking out the next local donation session and getting myself down there, after all I don’t have much use for my spare blood….and most remarkably my Dad has already felt a huge benefit, he has even had warm hands and feet for the first time since he had a major operation 3.5 years ago. It could of course be complete coincidence, but I doubt it.
So next time you give blood please accept my thanks, it’s people like you who are keeping my Dad alive. That is something fairly awesome. If you don’t give blood maybe you’d consider it – check out the NHS Blood and Transfusion Service in the UK or the American Red Cross if you’re elsewhere.
If you’re feeling all manner of generous perhaps you’d also consider donating bone marrow. A good friend, Betty, donated her bone marrow this week and I my sense of admiration is so immense I can’t really describe it. I’m sure we’d all like to think we’d do the same, but to do so you need to give blood, join the register, and then undergo surgery. She is now recovering and will be 100% fit soon. I only hope that the person who received it recovers as well, the odds were narrow, but I hope that Betty’s gift affords them a new chance, like Dad’s transfusion did this week.
To the blood and bone marrow donors of the world – please accept my gratitude and thanks. You are all awesome.
Those of you who visit here occasionally (I like to pretend that some of you are repeat visitors) will know that I’m often digging around for people who are inspirational. Top of my personal list would probably be my Dad (if you missed it earlier this week his tumour shrank slightly since his last scan so that was great news), at the moment a close second are Ollie and Megan, my cousin’s kids. Their Dad was killed in Afghanistan last month and they’ve decided to try and keep a positive focus for his birthday next month by doing a sponsored silence to raise money for 1 Rifles Swift and Bold appeal – you can show them your support and donate a couple quid if you like over here.
In both those instances I’m impressed by their fortitude, by their attitude to just keep keeping on. Cancer and grief are hellish things to have to deal with, never mind if you’re only a teenager (or not yet a teenager in Megs’ case). But what has this got to do with Karen Darke? Well she is another source of inspiration, in fact arguably one of the most inspirational athletes in the UK at the moment. I first heard about Karen a few years ago, 2008 to be precise, I was squatting up on the speakers ahead of the Do Lectures that I was luckily enough to be attending. One of them was Andy Kirkpatrick and his biog included reference to a trip to El Capitan that he’d made with Karen Darke. You can learn more about Andy here. When I returned home from the Do Lectures one of the first things I did was order Karen’s book If you fall and since then I’ve been following her life from a distance.
Since then, Karen and Andy have continued on their adventures. In 2009 Karen became World Para-Triathlon Champion, Sea-Kayaked in Patagonia, won a Bronze Medal in World Cup Paracycling. The following year she joined Team GB Paracycling Team and she is now British Para-Triathlon Champion and in training for next years Paralympics. The 4 minute film that follows explains better than I can – it’s well worth your time, go watch now
So the news is that Dad’s main tumour has shrunk slightly (only a couple of millimetres) and the other two have shown no significant change.
No conversation about chemotherapy either.
Not sure any of us can quite believe it. Can’t stop grinning. Not often you get good cancer news.
I took this photo just over four weeks ago, on my Dad’s 64th birthday. I’ve no idea what he was contemplating, if indeed he was, but I like to think he was thinking how awesome he is and that his fight to stay well is worth it.
Four years ago my fantastic Dad was diagnosed with Cholangiocarcinoma – never heard of it, you probably wouldn’t have, it’s Bile Duct Cancer which is very rare. There are approximately 1000 new cases in the UK each year and prevalence rates are estimated to be 1-2 cases per 100,000 people in the Western World. Which just proves the point, my Dad is exceptional, in fact I’m tempted to add a zero and make him one in a million.
Last week he had blood tests, Monday he had a CT Scan with a contrast dye and tomorrow we (Dad, Mum and myself) are going to see his consultant. Dad’s condition is terminal and each time we see his consultant I never expect to see him again, but Dad amazes us all and has remained relatively healthy.
Just lately though Mum has admitted he is getting breathless without much exertion. Arguably it could be old age, or general lack of fitness but I think we all know that it is far more likely to be linked to the spread of his cancer. So tomorrow we’ll hear the latest results, we’ll have more of an idea of how far it’s spread and where to, and I’m confident that Dad will be offered chemotherapy again. Six months ago he was offered it and after much thought turned it down, three months ago he was far more interested in decorating and enjoying the summer to want it, tomorrow I suspect he might feel differently.
Last week Steve Jobs died, and in the flurry of online activity that followed his death I found my way to his Stanford Commencement Address from 2005, you can watch it on YouTube here, it’s only 15mins and highly inspiring IMO:
Steve Job’s death, and the attention that followed it, brought home the reality (again) of loss and the impact that has on many people. There was one particular quote that has stayed with me and played on my mind all week, I thought I’d end this post with it as I think it’s always worth remembering – not just that we should all find the courage to follow our own path, but that death itself has a sense to it, even when it doesn’t feel like it.
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new
This evening I watched Young Soldiers, a new short BBC3 documentary that follows the lives of four recruits to the British Army from basic training through to frontline action in Helmand. Those of you who are regular visitors might know that I have the utmost respect for those serving in our forces, as much as I really struggle to understand their motivation at times, I am fascinated by it though. If you are anyway interested then the documentary is compelling viewing.
This week marked the 10th anniversary of the British Army’s arrival in Afghanistan, during that time thousands of civilians have been killed and injured, 382 British soldiers have been killed and hundreds have been injured. On the 10th anniversary L/Cpl Jon McKinlay was buried, he was the 381st soldier to be killed in Afghan and my cousin’s former husband and Dad to her two children. I’ve chosen not to blog about Jon, despite how openly I talk about most things, his story didn’t feel like it was mine to tell. You can read his obituary here.
That said I wanted to mark his death in some way on this blog, and I came across an article on the BBC site about a new exhibition at the Imperial War Museum North, called In our own words and it felt worth drawing people’s attention to. I’m going to try to get and see it, but take a look at the feature on the BBC – it explains the complicity of the conflict far better than I could.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
RIP Jon – Swift and Bold