This Mortal Coil – Song to the Siren (video)

It occurs to me these lingering fragments of cancerous tumour are like a Siren’s song that draw me back whenever I try to escape them. They sing to me and promise to enfold me if I sail to them. Here they are, waiting to hold me. They certainly draw me back again and again to hospitals.

Let’s do a quick plot recall. Tiny specks of tumour on both left and right lungs. Showing up as active so probably cancerous. Best to remove them and to do it by full open-surgery in order to visually assess the situation and palpate for other lumps. Can’t do both lungs at once (they have to stop them breathing while they operate) so it’s two operations roughly 4 weeks apart.

So they go in for the left lung. It’s a planned 2 hour op and the target is a 1.2 cm lump which the scan says could be centrally located. Imagine a large wet sponge that has a blob of paint splattered on it. Imagine if (somehow) the paint spot was in the centre of the sponge and you wanted to cut it out with a sharp knife. Difficult. That sponge was my lung and that was what they expected to do. In fact, the good news was that the blob was on the surface and they only had to cut away a V-shaped wedge to excise it. The bad news, however, was that there was a cluster of spots lining the main tube into the sponge (the Bronchus). They couldn’t just remove them without taking half (or more) of the lung so they took out one that was accessible, froze it and did a slice for analysis. The lab said it was not cancerous. On that basis they did not want to proceed so they sewed me up again, and the whole thing had taken 10 hours. Before I was discharged they told me it was likely that if it did turn out to be malignant they would use radiotherapy rather than surgery to remove it.

The next appointment I had was with the original hospital. Spoke to a doctor there who told me the next stage was to remove the smaller lumps from the right lung but they would do this using a type of radiotherapy called RFA, which is like blasting the tumours out of existence with high frequency radio waves. “You do mean the right lung and not the left?” I was sure to ask. “Yes” came the reply. It will require a third hospital (London) because it’s specialised. Three hospitals now – I feel like I am getting special treatment; told someone recently that I was A-list for the NHS.

Then I got a letter from hospital #2 (where the op was done) and they say they will use radio on the left lung *if* that proves necessary, and to establish that they may do one of those needle biopsies to take out more tissue samples for analysis.

Does the left lung know what the right lung is doing? We will find out. I have a face-to-face meeting with them this week.

I’m not at all unhappy if they decide not to use surgery for the right lung. I’m only just comfortable and don’t want the extra pain. But they convinced me it was a good idea once before so I have to ask: What’s changed?

And so the planned “one/two” series of operations looks to be dragged out now into more and more visits. More scans. More biopsy. More hospitals. More new ways of attacking this beautiful deranged lifeform that swims in my veins and draws me to its seductive charms. So very Prometheus 🙂

I’m in this mood because yes, I do feel like I am in the grip of a force. But also I read “Sightlines” by Kathleen Jamie. There’s an essay in there where she describes her reaction to her mother’s death. She leans on a friend who is a Pathologist and he shows her microscopic images of cancerous tumours at her beckoning. There’s some amazing poetic descriptions of the irregular landscape of the tumour, with all it’s inlets and bays and mountains stained into bizarre colours by the chemicals they use.

And so my foolish boat is still leaning,  broken lovelorn on these rocks…


There’s some doubt over the actual words of the song. In the Tim Buckley original (1970) it’s “Were you hare when I was fox?” which is neither here nor there. In the classic 1983 This Mortal Coil version it could be “Were you here when I was full sail?” This is certainly what it sounds like on the CD and video. In the Sinead O’ Connor version this is quite clearly what’s sung. But I like the interpretation (based on a TV show version) that it’s “Were you here when I was flotsam?” because I like the image of broken boat pieces floating on the shapeless ocean after an encounter with the Siren.


Something of a coincidence that I was thinking about This Mortal Coil / Cocteau Twins and now Elizabeth Fraser (the singer in both – do keep up) appeared in an interesting interview on the Guardian site. She’s making a comeback this summer at the Meltdown Festival on the South Bank, as curated by Antony Hegarty this time around. Sent me into a tizzy of re-listening to Cocteau Twins circa 1982-86. No harm done, as they say in Ireland.