"Good times and bum times:
I've seen them all, and my dear -
I'm still here!"
Stephen Sondheim, Follies
It's like the song says. I'm still here! Despite almost three years of chemotherapy, I'm still alive and kicking. Well, alive anyway! The latest chemo regime is Capecitebine in daily tablet form, which is really affecting my hands and feet. They're red and very tender, because the toxic chemicals affect the nerves and the limbs are furthest away from the spine. I've also put myself on Turmeric/Cumin supplements, since many people have been hailing it as a great natural controller of cancer - and that's what I'm intending to do: control it, for as long as I can.
I've now taken early retirement from the Jesuits in Britain, since I genuinely feel I am not able to apply myself adequately to the commitment and level of professionalism that full-time employment requires. But that doesn't mean I'm unemployable. I very much hope that with this new degree of flexibility, I'll be able to take on occasional media assignments, whether it's the odd broadcasting/voice-over job or some writing/editing.
I might be down, but I'm not our yet!
I can't help feeling that the word 'palliative' is so negative. For me, it immediately conjures up the idea that there's nothing more that can be done: it's the end of the road, you'll just have to live with it. The next stop is the hospice (maybe) and then cemetery. Being told that you're now entering the stage of 'palliative care' can feel like a death sentence. So I've just had a look at what the Marie Curie website says about it and it gives a fair amount to think about: https://tinyurl.com/hvj8krh. Yes, it does include 'caring for people who are nearing the end of life'; but it also talks about improving the quality of life, relieving pain, managing whatever treatment you're undertaking, living positively, and a whole host of other aspects. And so, as I embark upon the next stage of chemotherapy, I suppose I need to focus on those.
I've only had one dose of Carboplatin & Paclitaxel so far and have yet to experience any nasty side effects (except tiredness but that could've been simply hanging around the Trevor Howell Day Unit for several hours yesterday). But I know the effects are accumulative, so who knows what lies ahead? It's the start of the tunnel and I'm still aiming to see the light at the end of it. I am still hoping and praying that, by the time treatment finishes, I will feel relatively fit and energetic enough to resume some (if not all) of the activities that I enjoyed before I was diagnosed. Am I being realistic? Or am I being an ostrich? Maybe a little of both. We'll just have to wait and see.
While I'm logged on and sharing my random ramblings with you, I am also very mindful however of a very dear friend of mine who's facing far more severe side effects. The chemo really has hit her for six and she's now reached the stage at which she's considering saying 'no more'. It's hard not just for herself, but also for her family who are watching her pain and discomfort and despondency. For them, there seems to be no light, only a long, dark tunnel. I feel so fortunate. And I ask you (dear reader) to offer a prayer to whoever you consider your God to be that if 'palliative' for her means the most extreme case, that it will be a peaceful and painless path.
Yesterday, I got the news I was dreading. It wasn't totally unexpected; but it was pretty shattering nonetheless. The secondary nodules on my lungs - the Carcinomas that were first identified in my bowel in 2015 - had increased in number and grown in size. So, in just over two weeks, I am going to start another round of chemotherapy.
This time, the treatment will be stronger and even more invasive: a combination of Paclitaxel and Carboplatin (Taxol/Carbo) and the side effects will be even more extreme: total hair loss, utter exhaustion, very high risk of infection, possible changes to my skin and sensation in my limbs, bowel issues (how can you have both diarrhoea and constipation?) and various other nasty symptoms resulting from the toxins that will be pumped into my body over the next six months. The good news (if there is any) is that the oncologist described the increase in the nodules as 'significant but not dramatic'. Nevertheless, it seems clear that my life is going to be put on hold for most of 2017, with no guarantee of the outcome at the end of the treatment. The drugs will be administered once every three weeks over six or eight sessions at St George's Hospital in Tooting, south London.
I keep asking myself how I feel about the news - how I really feel - and, to be honest, I still don't know. On the one hand, I'm determined to keep fighting. The oncologist was reassuring inasmuch as he considers my overall health and positive mental attitude to be in excellent condition to start undertaking the treatment. I know it won't 'cure' the cancer; but at least it might shrink the nodules or possibly just stop them growing further. In which case, I'm feeling determined to see as many more birthdays as I can after my 62nd, which is coming up on 20 March. But ultimately, I have to accept the fact that this is - in all likelihood - my death sentence: it's just a case of not knowing when, precisely, the executioner will arrive.
Well, until the 'fat lady' comes on stage and starts singing her final aria, I might be down but I'm not out yet. I've got more to do - places to see - people to meet - before I go. I'm dreading the side effects from the treatment and - hell, why deny it? - I'm scared of what lies ahead. But, from where I'm standing at the moment, the fat lady is still in the wings, running through her scales. She ain't singing yet!
I'm conscious that I've been very remiss in updating this website; but I'm also aware that several people have used it to contact me over such matters as their memories of Blair Wilson (always appreciated and enjoyed) and queries over such matters as performing Goodnight Mr Tom). So, apologies for anyone who happens to log on for up-to-date blogs. Until I'm feeling a little more energetic post-chemotherapy, these are likely to be few and far between. I could rant and rave about the result of the EU Referendum, but chose to do that on my Facebook page instead: Ged's Facebook page
It's now nearly 12 months since I started chemoradiotherapy for bowel cancer and subsequently metastatic nodules on my lungs. The good news is: the original treatment seems to have been successful (it cleared the bowel cancer) and the latest scans on my lungs are positive too: they've shrunk, although I know this will only be management not elimination. The side effects remain though - mainly fatigue. Many thanks to all those who've supported me with their kind wishes and prayers over this difficult period and, of course, the staff at the Royal Marsden Hospital in Sutton and St George's Hospital, Tooting.
Part of my recuperation should have been two weeks in Sharm el Shiekh over Christmas and the New Year; but that, of course, had to be cancelled due to the security situation around the Red Sea. Worst affected by the terrorist threats, of course, are the staff in the resort - some of the warmest, most hospitable, hard-working people I have ever met. Tourism in the region is down by about 80% and I pray that it may recover soon. I for one look forward to returning there in the not-too-distant future.
I also had to pull out of the Avalon Theatre Company's production of the musical play Jack the Rippper - which they staged very successfully (without me) in June 2016. Well done, gang! I hope to be back with you next year. In the meantime, below are some highlights from recent productions I've done with them - and with the Chase Theatre Group.
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Well, let's get the hardest news out of the way first: I'm currently undergoing a combined course of chemo and radiotherapy for bowel cancer. Daily (weekday) sessions at the Royal Marsden Hospital in Sutton - with Capecitabine tablets for the chemo. It was diagnosed on the day before I flew off to Egypt for a holiday in May 2015 (great timing, huh?) but it didn't come as a complete surprise, to be honest. I'd been experiencing blood in my bowel movements for several months and initial thoughts were piles - then they thought they'd identified a fissure. But when they went in (literally), they found cancerous growths: relatively early stages, they believe, and hopefully quite easily treatable. But the regime I'm on is going to be intense over the next few months and the side effects are likely to be pretty severe - fatigue, nausea, diarrohea; and that's just the good bits! Work, thankfully, has been very supportive - insisting I take as much time off for treatment (and recovery) as I need; but I don't do 'time off' well - unless it's under my terms; I don't like it being imposed on me by circumstances beyond my control like this. I need to keep active, and that's probably going to be one of the hardest parts of all this. Family and friends have been great too - though they are inclined to fuss (I don't like being fussed over either, hehe). But at least it's giving me the time to update this website.
So, how did I feel? Well, physically, not too bad - so far - but I am only in the early stages of treatment. Mentally: well, there's an irony that it's hit me in the arse when, having been a heavy smoker for 40 years, you might have expected it to attack the lungs. But, there you go - shit happens, as they say - and quite literally in this case. More broadly, though, I suppose I'm scared and feeling very vulnerable. Worst case scenario says the treatment might not be successful and, after all the drugs and radiotherapy, I might still be en route to a premature death. Not nice to think of when you're only 60 but then, my beloved Blair had his life cut short at the age of 41, so nothing's guaranteed, is it - except death and paying taxes, as they say. I'll return to my thoughts about Blair in all this shortly.
Let's assume, then, that the treatment does work as they're predicting. The next few months are going to be hard. I'm going to be weak; I'm going to be cantankerous (sorry, Frank!); and quite possibly, I'm going to be in a great deal of discomfort (at best) or pain (at worst). No one looks forward to that. I have to trust in the skills and abilities of the medical experts and in the support and prayers of my family, friends and colleagues. I'm also trusting in God giving me strength and caring for me, though my faith does tend to waver considerably - even though I was brought up a cradle-Catholic and have worked at the heart of the Catholic Church for the past 25 years: I would hardly say my faith is a fortress. I believe in the basics but it's far from a blind faith. I often wonder how much ritual and sentimental clap-trap obscure the fundamental belief in God's unconditional love for us that means He not only created us but cares for us: loving us despite all our failings and doubts. And yes, I have many doubts, that no amount of prayer - either my own or other people's - can eliminate. Yet, at this difficult stage in my life, I have no alternative really except to trust in Him and His providence, do I? Without that, I would be truly alone.
Which, I suppose, brings me back to Blair, at which point my eyes well up with tears, even though it's now been 16 years since he left me. How different would these past 16 years have been, if he'd still been here? Where would we be now? What would we have done? Where would we have gone? We'll never know. I'm basically happy - or lucky - or both now. I've got a comfortable home, a good job, solvecy (who would have expected that!?) and, of course, a great band of friends around me. But I miss the intimacy of quiet nights in the arms of the man I love. Unsurprisingly, I suppose, he feels particularly close to me at this time of illness. Not a day has gone by since he died in 1999 when I haven't heard his voice in my mind; I've held conversations with him, argued with him, laughed with him. Sometimes, I've just listened and felt his arms and his love enfold me. This morning, I heard on the radio Michael Jackson's 'You are not alone': as usual, it felt like a message from beyond the grave. And part of me even thinks: if treatment isn't successful this time round, at least we'll be reunited. But damn, I miss that man!
Anyway, time to wind up these random jottings for the time being, I suppose. I was just wondering my purpose - not in life (!), but just blogging like this. In one way, it's a sort of therapy, a release. I enjoy writing and this enables me to express myself, unravel my thoughts on paper or on a screen, even if no one ever reads what I've written. But then again, someone else might chance upon this website, someone - even - who might be going through something similar, an illness, or a loss, or some other challenge in life. If so, I very much hope that my own experiences might offer you some comfort and, should you want to contact me, just drop me a line via the Contact link. I want to update some other pages with photos of recent productions and snippets of news, but I'm getting bored now: short attention span, see? Time to save and exit for the time being ...
Congratulations to my neice Sally and my great nephew Will - who both achieved a 2:1 at university this summer! Sally (right) has been reading media studies at Cardiff and deserves a career in broadcasting; and Will is now in Cambridge working hard for his post grad. Well done to both of them! Will (below) is pictured at The Making of Harry Potter theme park. For more photos of him, his brother Oli and their mother, Sarah (my niece), click here.
GOODNIGHT MR TOM
In June 2014, I had the great pleasure of playing the title role in the musical version of Goodnight Mr Tom. The script was written by Michelle Magorian, based on her award-winning novel. The music was by Gary Carpenter. It was not an easy score to learn or perform; and the synopsis was bleak - even though the ending was heart-warming. Nonetheless, the amazing cast of the Avalon Theatre Company excelled.
In particular, I need to mention the two lads who played Will (William Beech): Laurence and Kai. Each brought his own endearing vulnerability to the role and were a delight to play opposite. Will was befriended by another London 'evacuee', the flambuoyant and charming Zach, played by Alex Cusano, who brought a tremendous depth and sensitivity to the character.
Follow the link on the left for a selection of photos from the two dress rehearsals of Avalon's Goodnight Mr Tom. There are lots more: send me a message if you'd like to see them.
News about the recipient of the Blair Wilson Award
Oscar Castellino - the recipient of the Blair Wilson Award - is currently singing in India. He recently gave his graduation recital at the Royal College of Music and I expect to be able to upload more news about his plans for the future here shortly. Oscar is pictured (far right in the photo) with tenor, Russell Watson, and singers from the RCM who performed at the Classic BRIT Awards at the Royal Albert Hall on 2 October 2012.
In Conversation with Luis Dias: Oscar Castellino, baritone, 1 August 2012
"The RCM gives its students many opportunities to learn and perform, but it is up to each student to make the most of them in their own individual way." So said Oscar Castellino in a newspaper interview in India,shortly after starting his studies at the Royal College of Music in London. He continued by paying tribute to Blair Wilson - in whose name he received a modest award that will enable him, over the coming years, to continue his studies at the RCM. "As a result of my initial success," he says, "I was offered the Blair Wilson Award and the Lee Abbey Award. Blair Wilson was a very successful tenor who died early and I am proud to carry on his name and legacy. Being associated with his name helps me work harder to maintain the highest standards. I have a great working relationship with Patricia who is my principal study teacher; that is something all students dream of." Read the full, exclusive interview with Oscar in the Navhind Times here.
Indian Baritone, Oscar Dom Victor Caastellino, gained media attention in 2012 for being one of the "soaked singers" (BBC) at Queen Eliazabeth's Diamond Jubilee
Celebrations acclaimed for their "grit and determination" (The Telegraph) when singing in harsh conditions. Castellino and a few other singers were interviewed by the BBC in early June, 2012.
Castellino is unique in his fascinating journey from a corporate job in Mumbai into the hallowed halls of the world's most renowned Western Classical music conservatoire. Introduced to classical singing by reputed soprano Patricia Rozario as a part of her initiative "Giving Voice to India", he received his first vocal lesson at the age of 23. He then got an opportunity to work with famed baritone Tom Krause at a masterclass in Salzburg. Krause and world-renowned pianist Norman Shetler, in Salzburg, were keen that he pursue a career in singing. Guided by Rozario, he auditioned successfully for a coveted place at the Royal College of Music, London, where he is currently training his voice with her.
Recent performances include Bass Soloist (Bach) with the RCM Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir (Sandwich, 2012), Tosti songs at the Italian Song Concert (London, 2012), song settings of poems by Victor Hugo for soprano and baritone at (Con Brio, Mumbai 2011), as baritone soloist for Stainer’s Crucifixion (Mumbai 2011), selections from Schumann’s Dichterliebe at Schumania (Mumbai 2010). He shall be performing Handel arias and duets at Con Brio 2012 (Mumbai, July,2012). Castellino is the recepient of Lee Abbey Award and the Blair Wilson Award. He is also generously supported by the Tungare Manohar Family Foundation, the Godrejs, the Navajabi Ratan Tata Trust, the Sir Ratan Tata Trust, Meher Pudumjee and Sophie Ahmed as well as numerous well wishers who have contributed towards his studies.
From Tosca - Giacomo Puccini:
della Madonna al manto,
e diedi il canto agli astri,
che ne ridean più belli.
I lived for art, I lived for love ...
I gave jewels
for the Madonna's mantle,
And songs for the stars,
That shone forth with greater radiance.