Making friends with the locals and Pea & Ham.

Where my parents live is a very Jewish area and the street often has visits from what my parents have dubbed ‘the Jewish Mafia’, the hassidic men who go door to door dispensing, well I’m not sure what they dispense because I’ve never answered the door to them before but they dispense something. Anyway, I was chatting to my parents in their living room the other day when the doorbell rang. Seemed a bit unfair to make the disabled bloke get off his arse and answer the door so off I trot to see who it is. And lo and behold, it’s two of the Jewish mafia.

“Hello” I say cheerfully. “Good afternoon” says the smaller of the two, “We’ve come to bring you some matzah. The grain has been guarded from the field all the way to here”. He hands me two boxes of matzah. I’m a bit puzzled as to why they’ve been guarding grain so closely but from his expression this is a good gift and it’s nice for people to come round and give you things. I live down the rougher end of town, the only free thing you’ll get from someone on your doorstep where I live is a gobful of nonsense. “Thanks” I say, giving him the benefit of my finest cheerful smile. It’s clearly a bit wonky at the moment because the larger one looks terrified and backs off up t he driveway slightly.

“You know you should be spending Pesach in Jerusalem with the Messiah?” asks the smaller of the two. I’m still reading the back of matzah packet rather than thinking about filtering what comes out of my mouth so I say the first thing that comes into my head “Ah well the thing is my dad’s got terminal lung cancer so we can’t go abroad at the moment, we have to stay close to home because he can’t be in the car for too long”. Massive silence…..understandable really, there’s no sensible reply to that. The larger one is now backing further up the driveway away from the crazy lady, while trying hard not to make eye contact or sudden movements in case it startles me into doing something batshit mad. The smaller one is made of sterner stuff however “Ah right” he eventually says, “Well when the Messiah comes we will all be healed”. I’m still reading the packet, “Lovely, we’ll be looking forward to that because chemotherapy is supposed be a right bastard”. Another massive silence, during which I realise that I did in fact just say that out loud rather than in my head. At this point even the smaller guy gives up and scampers up the driveway tossing a ‘Have a nice afternoon’ over his shoulder. I’m guessing we won’t be getting any more free matzah anytime soon. I take my two boxes into the living room. “Look” I show my father the boxes, “Some bloke just gave me free matzah” and I tell him my little story.  “You’re meant to tell them you’re not Jewish you pillock” he informs me while laughing heartily at the fact he’s clearly bred a not-right who has the ability to scare total strangers while trying to be nice. Oops.

In other news I am trying to make lots of nutritious soup for my dad to eat when he feels hungry and to this end my mum has lent me their soupmaker. It’s a very clever gadget that prepares all the bits and cooks them all in the one jug. Yesterday I made pea and ham. I prepared it all, popped it in the jug, set it to cook and waited. When it finished cooking, the instructions said ‘pulse for a minute to blend’. So I switched the dial to ‘pulse’. Pea and ham rose majestically up the sides of the jug, the lid blew off and bounced off the ceiling, the dog yowled and adopted the brace position ready to flee but wasn’t quite fast enough as pea and ham left the jug with all the force of an exploding volcano and hit him, me, the walls and even the ceiling, leaving everything in a 5 foot radius coated liberally in both peas and ham. The dog hadn’t a clue what to do next, he just stood there blinking as peas dripped off his ears. At this point Mr V came in to see what the noise was all about, he took one look at the vegetable coated kitchen, wife and family pet, shook his head ruefully and left again. I was still picking peas off the dog well into the evening and I found a pea in my hair this morning. I shall be writing to the manufacturers of the soupmaker this evening to ask them to include the instruction “Ensure lid is securely fastened” BEFORE the instruction to pulse.

Learning to adjust.

This cancer thing is a real bastard, let me tell you. All we want is a straight bloody answer: where has my dad’s cancer spread to and who is in charge? Can we get these straight answers? No. The thing about cancer seems to be that 74 different people are involved with the treatment and none of them seem overkeen to share information with you or in any rush to get anything much done.

In case anyone reading this is of a medical persuasion and in the future ends up dealing with this sort of scenario, let me tell you something – to go from ’58 year old father potentially requiring a hip operation’ to ’58 year old father with terminal metastatic lung cancer, presenting secondaries in several bones, the lymphatic system and christ knows where else’ in a mere month is quite a journey. It might be commonplace to you, you might see it every day, we don’t. We weren’t ready for this, we weren’t expecting it and so a little urgency from you, a sign that you’re doing something productive and it matters would not go amiss.

The odd thing about cancer is that it moves your parameters. The other day he ate an omelette and we were all delighted. This is because for a few weeks he could only eat soup. A few months ago an omelette would not have been cause for celebration. He isn’t on the lung ward of the hospital like he was the week before last when he got rushed in with pneumonia. We see this as a positive. In days gone by it wouldn’t have even registered because it would have been normal. Currently he has the cancer, the very tail end of the pneumonia and a broken rib where the bone cancer has left the bones brittle but he’s still speaking and making some jokes so we don’t see it as the end of the world. What sad little things you cling to when everything falls apart.  When virtually every bit of news you get is crap you take a tiny little good thing and hang on to it, reluctant to let go and stare the inevitable down. How long will it be? Who knows. Not us that’s for sure, he has good days and bad days so it’s impossible to tell. Saturday was a good day, Sunday was a bad one. Bad days will probably become more frequent as the treatments kick in. Radiotherapy and chemotherapy can take their toll on a person.

 Will my irritating and unpredictable tendency to burst into tears at odd moments outlast my father? Again who knows, I sincerely hope not because having to explain why anything from the Dire Straits ‘Brothers in Arms’ album makes you cry is ridiculous. Cancer is a little bit like being dumped in one way – do you remember when you broke up with someone as a teenager, when it was the biggest tragedy in the whole world and everything on the tv, the radio, in magazines and on billboards was about love and how everyone was in it except you? Well cancer is the same. You end up with a relative with cancer and suddenly everyone on the sodding telly has terminal cancer of one variety or another. And they and their fictional family are all dealing with it bravely and stoically, not crying in a corner over Dire Straits or talking to themselves in the kitchen or finding on Saturday evening they’ve put away the shopping incorrectly and the toothpaste is in the fridge while there’s now two pints of cottage cheese in milk cartons on a shelf of the tins cupboard. Every charity bag through the door is looking for clothing to raise money for cancer charities, Macmillan is advertising on every static space in the city, the papers and magazines are full of cancer charity ads. For the love of god can we just have a TINY break from cancer for 5 minutes? What I didn’t realise until this happened was quite how many people experience it. Where I walk the dog you get to know other owners who walk at the same time, including the owners of 2 Newfoundland dogs. Chatting to them it turns out that her dad died of lung cancer and his dad died of throat cancer. Friends from school have got in touch with their story of a relative with cancer. It’s terrifyingly common.

So there we are, cancer. Seems the ads are right, it DOES turn your world upside down and shake it about. It’s not done with us yet either, who knows where this will go next. One thing I do know is this though – I didn’t get this stubborn-as-shit attitude from the milkman, he’s not given up yet and neither will I. He’ll go down, it’s lung cancer and you can’t beat it but he’s going to go down fighting and that’s all I could ask of him. That and no more.