Suprise after dancing flamenco in Jerez: Living with colon cancer

Well there I was dancing one and half hours of flamenco in Jerez while attending all the gigs the festival had to offer  yet feeling slightly tardy about it all, searching for energy each day. Also embarrasingly wondering why I was not in first group in Manuela Carrasco’s  energetic Bulerías de Jerez class  but with the slow dancers in the  last one! True I had passed out on the ‘plane on way to Jerez and despite having rigourous  full day check up at local hospital put it down to Ryan Air’s blue and yellow  neon colours at 6am and a dodgy sandwich (even though hospital said neither true!).

I got home and went to doctors – saw a locum –  maybe a virus? – a few sachets in case bowel problems were  mix of strange sausagy shaped very thin strips of  diarrohea and a feeling of  impacted shit. I spare you no details readers as this is a warning to all: had I attended to abnormal bowel movement following trip to Venezuela (and  before) last July 2010 my condition might have come to light and  might have been dealt with  sooner. I did give samples post-Venezuela then for microbes and nothing was found. Doctor said come back if it persists. As i had done the national bowel (shit on carboard send it to Dundee) test and it came back fine i just thought i had irritable bowel syndrome (dangerously self-diagnosing as i went). Daily I had several savage early morning  evacuations and then nothing for 24 hours so i could live with it. I noticed other things like fat intolerance but little else.

However i now feel the unusual apocalyptic thoughts i had from time to time (things like is this what life will be about for next 20 years living alone? still freelancing, doggedly blocked by self from writing  desired books despite publishers and colleagues interest?  and occasionally even the big question – what have i ever added up? – where am i Jan? etc) were actually a product of the cancer taking hold and filling me at a sumblimal level with knowledge that my time maybe almost up! which is a bugger as i am only 62 and have three lovely children, and now a wonderful grandchild Kabe,  who is a  joy, and another arriving soon (expected immanently July 11th).  I LOVE LIFE too and consider   fantastically fit – swiming weekly plus  twice weekly aqua aerobics a tthe wonderful  Warrender Swimming Pool (how i am missing friends in that group ; Taoist tai chi every wed morningat Cluny Centre round the corner with Gill and Glen; cycling; walking pilgrimage for at least a week each year with Northern Cross to Lindisfarne at Easter time; walking montly with local womens walking group; climbing Blackford Hill at least once a week often with my mate Jan Newton; dancing flamenco weekly with Saliha at Alba Flamenco; eating healthily and to my childrens chagrin  always happy to evangelise and offer unsolicited advice to  others on their diet – poor ex-lodgers!  now i have had my come uppance big time as  i have a stage 2 cancer stage 4 presence i.e. fatal really – although cancer language has changed- one does not have terminal cancer,  one is not dying of cancer: one is living with it and fighting it every step of the way!!

Why do I have this cancer which has crept up on me so silently?  It could be from food itself : eating too fast and not chewing enough and not allowing enzymes to break food down; all the hidden chemicals in food chain. It could be hereditary as my Dad James Darling Fairley  died from cancer but he was in his mid-eighties. I have had breast cancer in 2004 (as my aunt Mary did)  but this is entirely different cancer and unlikely to be related (the last one ahd not spread to lymph glands) save my body has obviously got used to making faulty cells.

Back to my story: most untypically unable to get out of bed at weekend (not even for my church on Sunday, Christ Church –  which i love as a calming riutual and communion  for the wonderful community of folk there i have got to know over 17 or so years) yet having nil symptons to report ot NHS direct i soldiered on until Monday morn  when i got another emergency appointment  at my surgery. Within minutes Dr Uttley had diagnosed a blockage in colon: within an hour i was at emergency ward at Western General  (getting  a taxi there in brilliant sunshine; taking Guardian,  a few books and water in my bag… emergency  overnight not registering in brain at all). Within 2 hours full team of  surgeons and young doctors in green closing curtains around  my bed telling me that i needed an emerency opeartion for an almost totally  blocked colon which luckily had a widget of space still for water and liqueds to pass through so they could wait up to 36  hours so i could have a full scan so they could see the size and position  of it ! Overnight food a yoghourt. Lovely visit from daughter Fran. All rather alarming.

Most frustating  too  as was due to review Cuba’s Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club the now  touring arm of ther legendary Buena Vista Social Club  at Edinburgh Playhouse for Scotsman. BVSC  are old mates (yet i can still be impartial I can I promise -they have got remarkably kitsch but the standard of musicianship and play is still the highest you can find anywhere in the world and they are ace entertainers). I would have seen guitarist  Manuel Galbán (a man who has directly and  unhesitatingly propositioned me  the last ten or so times we have met up – ever since we met back stage at Barbican and then in Havana actually. I always told him bad idea to mix work and pleasure!). So i would have seen Galbán  play what was to be his last ever Edinburgh  gig  (he just died July 7th 2011).  I would have spent time with singer extraordinaire Omara Portuondo – the only veteran female singer left in the world   of her generation and class still performing anywhere  – who is an old mate and had wanted to hug her and catch up. So near and yet so far.  Considered nipping out of hospital for a couple of hours and probaly have could but would have been totally stupid if typical me so decided to let it be a fantasy.

Next morning drank lots of special aniseed flavoured water to blow up organs so scan can get a better picture  of things. Within an hour surgeon alone came and closed curtains round bed – Mr Paterson – apologising for having to  tell me while on my own but he could see large cancerous growth spreading out at entrance to colon from stomach and would have to perform an hemi-colectomy  first thing next day (i.e. excise half of my colon). He hoped i would not wake up with a colostomy bag but could not rule it out. He said things looked not so good from the scan but he would know more afterwards

I remember joking as they took me to operating theatre that having been there four  times before in 2004 when i had breast cancer i was not in the least bothered: would have been more scared of going up Pepsi-Max big dipper at Blackpool which i did once quite happily – my idea even – with my Cuban ‘friend’ Filiberto Mora and it  was scary as hell.

Skip to next day: amazing treatment as they had no beds in high dependency so set up a small room for me with nurses there every 15 mins overnight.  The anaethetist had considered  an epidural to protect wound (a mighty fine scar which runs from above stomach button to crotch – oh dear no more bikinis!)  to help first 48 hours recovery  but dopped this idea as due to age and fears around blood clots I would need to move in first 24 hours. Instead they had fashioned little circuit of wires around  the wound for local anaesthetic which meant pain minimal and i could sort of move.

more later


About Jan Fairley

I am an experienced and passionate ethnomusicologist working as an arts and music journalist and broadcaster, writer and editor as well as researcher, lecturer, radio presenter and producer. I have a breadth of organising experience at home and abroad. I am a fluent Spanish speaker. I love travelling and have worked abroad (notably Chile 1971-3 and again in 1994) and researched in Cuba, Spain, Brazil, Argentina, Finland.
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