My Dad. He was honestly the best, one of life’s greatest people. He worked so hard yet always had time for his family. He retired early at 56 and looking back thank goodness he did.
We started 2016 like most people do, toasting the new year and totally oblivious to what was to come. He had always been in great health and aside from a bad back every now and then he was not a frequent visitor to the doctors. In fact last assessment he had been given a clean bill of health!
I remember a conversation with him in 2015 where he’d said about having no intention of dying anytime soon. No of course not because my Dad was going to live until he was at least 90, right? Wrong!!
2016 has in reflection been a bad year. So many famous people have died and most of them sadly taken by cancer. No one in my family had ever died from cancer, in fact hardly anyone had even had cancer. Until 2016.
I remember it all started with Dad having quite a bad back. He was uncomfortable at Christmas and as it was something he was used to none of us thought anything sinister of it. Come April he was really starting to suffer. It was starting to affect his golf and his lifestyle. He was struggling to do normal things but put it down to back ache. He should really have cancelled coming with Mum to help us sort our house out in France. But Dad is stubborn and he didn’t want to let us down.
He was in a bad way by the time they got to France. He was struggling with his breathing and basically described the sensation like having a broken rib. He actually thought his chiropractor had done some damage. We virtually had to force him to go home early but they did and Mum made sure he saw a doctor as soon as they returned.
From then on life seemed to move in slow motion. Everything took forever. The GP sent him to the hospital for scans and tests and he was found to have fluid on his lungs. Ask Dr. google about this and it throws back stuff about lung cancer at you. Impossible, it can’t be lung cancer. Not my Dad. It must be something else like pneumonia or an infection.
As the fluid was clearly what was causing my Dad a lot of health problems he was admitted to hospital. He was soon put on a chest drain and it was clear to see, when visiting, that he was in a bad way. But no one prepared us for the worse, in fact they were mostly saying it was unlikely to be cancer as no mass can be seen on the scans. However, it did look like his right lung was partly collapsed.
Mum and I had gone to visit him one afternoon and he was sat in the patient lounge as he detested his ward and the noisy people on it. He didn’t know how to tell us but they had told him that morning that he has cancer. Nope that can’t be right. How on earth can he have cancer. They had told him that they had found cancer cells in his pleural effusion. (fluid on his lung). OK this is the worse news but we can beat this. Lots of crying and persuasion later Mum and I went home in tears. How could this be happening. How could the man we love so very much be having to face this. How is this fair. Especially lung cancer. My Dad wasn’t a smoker, nor was he ever exposed to asbestos. He passive smoked a lot though at meetings at work, day after day. Could that be the cause? One thing I know for certain I really can not stand to see anyone smoke now.
That night after telling my husband the dreadful news I went on Dr google again. Cancer cells in pleural effusion = not good news at all. It is more than likely stage 4 lung cancer and the prognosis is bad. Very very scary. But Dad can beat this, right?
What followed was just a living nightmare. It was weeks and weeks from first diagnosis to first chemotherapy treatment. The NHS hospital messed him about no end, mostly trying to ‘fix’ the pleural effusion. He was in and out of hospital, promised one thing after another. Appointments missed, scans missed, opportunities missed. They even sent him off to Nottingham at one point to try to improve things for him, that was an utter mess too. To see a family member being treated like he was is just heart breaking.
Mum and I were with him again when he was told that his cancer was incurable. The words we dreaded to hear were uttered and Dad was told his care would be palliative. There was no chance of making 5 years. His cancer was non small cell lung cancer. Although it is slow growing it had been diagnosed too late. This is very common with this type of cancer as it is so hard to diagnose in the early stages.
So many things were said by Dad that echo around my head today. Mostly about Jamie, his near to turning 3 much loved Grandson. My boy who we had struggled so much to have. Our little miracle that he was now going to miss out on seeing grow up. He was devastated. Obviously we were all incredibly upset but even worse was how upset my Dad was. He was beside himself. Seeing him like that made it all that much more harder.
In the end he couldn’t stay with the NHS any longer. He had to go private. Even if it meant delaying his treatment more while they had a private referral. But he had to, the NHS was failing him on so many levels. Mum and Dad did a ton of research and found a Dr Poppat at The Royal Marsden in London who has glowing credentials. He seemed to offer us some hope. Not just with chemotherapy but with future treatments if the chemo didn’t work. Sadly chemo does not respond well to his type and stage of cancer but we were ever hopeful. He gave us hope.
Chemo sucks big time. It made my Dad even worse. He could barely do anything by now and it was a good couple of months since his diagnosis in May. You could hear him struggling for breath all the time. He must have been so uncomfortable and he was clearly in so much pain. Pain he tried to hide but as time went on. Sometimes that much pain can not be hidden. But he tried, he really tried. We’d go outside and he’d muster up strength to play with Jamie. Be it his beloved golf or throw and catch in their garden. He was a shadow of the fun Grandad that he used to be. He was always chasing him around, playing hide and seek or sports in the garden. But he tried, he really tried and I have so much admiration for him.
Sadly Jamie will never truly remember how great, how fun and how crazy his Grandad was. All I can do is remind him. This is not enough, he has been robbed of an upbringing with this great man. We managed a few days out with him but there were more cancelled days out than ones he could manage. 2016 was not the year we’d all been hoping and looking forward to.
The chemo’s rolled by. The first one had been a success. A scan showed that the cancer was actually getting a bit smaller. They had found small cancer spots on his liver but it seemed to be good news. Time went on but Dad wasn’t getting better. He was getting worse. A lot worse. Maybe it was the chemo weakening him? He went for a scan after his last round of chemo. Hopefully this would show the cancer getting even smaller.
I had a bad feeling though. A really bad feeling. I was out with Jamie when I got an email to ring them. I wasn’t going to ring I was going round. I was in tears as soon as I got there. I knew something was wrong. The news was sickening. The last few chemo’s hadn’t worked at all. The cancer in the liver was a lot worse too. Dad was going to die, very soon and there were no alternative treatments to try. He had just a few months left and he may not even make Christmas. Boy did we cry! And we spoke so much from the heart. Again I was left with words that will stay with me and haunt me always.
From then on he went rapidly downhill. He could barely eat as his breathing was so bad. By the middle of October his quality of life was practically zero. My Mum had an accident outside on the 16th and we feared she had broken something. Thankfully all was well but I stayed with them that night. The next day Dad was in a bad way. We had to get him to a hospice asap. He said to me ‘It’s not supposed to be like this’. Those words ring through my head often. No Dad it wasn’t.
A very lovely Macmillan nurse found Dad a bed at the Butterfly hospice in Boston. He was taken via ambulance that afternoon. He managed to walk down the stairs and out the house himself. I visited him with Mum and Jamie the next day and I was overwhelmed by the lovely and caring staff at the hospice. This place is full of angels. How they cope seeing so many people die I don’t know and in such sad circumstances.
My brother and his family also visited Dad that day. I was glad I took Jamie. Yes Grandad was very poorly but he had seen him getting worse and worse since April. I was glad we all saw him that day. The next day was the 19th October and Mum and I went over in the afternoon. What a shock. We were told when we arrived that Dad was very close to death. He had something wrong with him that would kill him soon, probably caused by an infection. When I went in his room to see him I had to run out again. The change in just a few hours was huge. He looked like he was about to die.
I mustered some strength and rung my brother and told him to come over right away. Mum and I sat with Dad and told him to hang on as Ian was on his way. Dad couldn’t really see us anymore and he struggled to talk. Communication was mostly through nods. Although he did manage one last sentence ‘I haven’t done my tax return’. This was such a Dad thing to say! But we were told that he could hear everything we said and to just talk to him as much as we could. He was in so much pain and holding our hands seemed to help. We said everything we wanted to say to him and Ian did the same when he arrived. I feel lucky to have been able to do that.
A very kind and warm hearted doctor talked us through everything and even said it was ok to go home for a bit if we needed too. We tried a vigil of all three of us sleeping on loungers next to his bed. How could I sleep though. I just lay there listening to his breathing. They changed his care to quality of death and put him on some really strong drugs to help with the pain. It put him pretty much into sedation but he was still trying to communicate with us.
Mum and I went home for a couple of hours sleep while my brother stayed with him. When we returned around 9am he looked a lot worse. His breathing was changing too. Close to 11am we asked some nurses to help make him more comfortable. When we returned to the room he clearly didn’t have long left. We all told him that if he was ready to go then we were ready too. Through many tears we watched him pass away. Death wasn’t how I expected it to look and it wasn’t how I expected it to be. It was heart breaking. My beautiful Dad was gone. Around 11:20am on the 2oth October he took his last breath. All his awful pain had gone. In a way it was a huge relief but mostly it was utter grief.
What followed was all a bit of a blur. His funeral was one of the most attended funerals that the crematorium in Lincoln had ever seen. My Dad touched the lives of so many. He was so respected and so many held him in such high regard. Both my brother and myself spoke at his funeral. How we managed that I still don’t know but we did because we wanted to honour our amazing Dad.
I miss him more than words can ever say. I miss our chats, our daily emails, his endless advice, his endless naggings, his quirky and fun personality, his laughter and his smile. I miss his cuddles and his kisses. Life will never be the same without him. I have developed a need to share and a need to write so that is my therapy and that is what I will do.
I love you so much Dad. Thank you for being the strong and great influence in my life.