In September 2007 my Dad, Bobby J, turned 60. Having recently taken early retirement from his job as a postman, him and my mum were both looking forward to easing into retirement. At about the same time my little sis, Abi, and her fella, Steve, announced that they’d set a date to get married in early June 2008. Within a week of dad’s birthday our lives had turned upside down.
My dad is from Boston, Lincolnshire and so we’d always joked about him being a yellowbelly but he literally turned yellow in the course of a few days. To cut a very long story short he had developed obstructive jaundice, caused by cancer of the bile duct, cholangiocarcinoma. That September marked the start of a very challenging nine months for our family – if people want to know more just ask and I’ll do a separate blog on that.
For the sake of this post I wanted to focus on one of the hardest things to deal with, which was not knowing whether Dad would survive or how long he had left. Initially we were told he’d be extremely lucky to make Christmas 2007, he went on to have major surgery in January 2008 with horrendous odds, including a high chance of not surviving the operation. Then he developed MRSA and it looked like that would finish him off. However, despite all of the bad news and being incredibly poorly, dad’s attitude throughout was staunchly optimistic. My dad is a big believer in the power of Mind Over Matter – that combined with a healthy dose of Julian stubbornness meant that in Spring 2008 he started chemotherapy to try and kill any bits of tumour that they weren’t able to remove in surgery. He was determined to be back on his feet in time to walk my sister down the aisle that June.
Dad’s illness was hard for all of us to deal with but it was particularly difficult for my little sis. She’d always been daddy’s little girl, she is the youngest and the apple of his eye. She also prefers to ignore things for as long as possible, she doesn’t do talking about death or illness very well. So she had to arrange her wedding not knowing if dad would make it. She bought her wedding dress about six weeks after dad was diagnosed, just in case she needed to use it in a hurry. Throughout dad’s treatment there was constant banter between them…she frequently would tell him off for attention seeking, and tell him that “it’s all about me you know dad”.
Dad had to stop chemo early because the side effects were too great, he lost fine motor skills in his hands, his skin was burning from the drugs and until days before Abi’s wedding he literally couldn’t walk due to blisters and burning sensation on the soles of his feet. In hindsight, there was never any doubt in my mind that Dad would walk Abi down the aisle at her wedding…but I acknowledge that hindsight is a little deceptive and there were many moments of doubt.
I wanted to write this post, partly as a precursor to nine months – part two, that will follow in due course. However I also wanted to share a happy cancer story. There was very little information available about bile duct cancer when dad was diagnosed, all that we heard often was that very few people survived as it was rarely diagnosed in time for successful treatment.
I’m not sure how much of Bobby J’s survival and recovery was down to luck, his relentless spirit, his stubborn positive attitude, having a goal to look forward to, or just the fantastically amazing care we got from the NHS (his GP and the staff at Torbay and Derriford Hospitals). What I do know is that you’d struggle to find a prouder man than he was the day he walked Abi down the aisle….or a prouder family than we were, all of us bursting with pride, relief and gratitude.