When you have incurable cancer you collect stories about the life and deaths of other cancer patients. The closer their case is to your diagnosis, the better. You read the articles like everyone else – how a person is planning to end their chemotherapy because of the dire side effects and perceived futility. How they hope to make it to Christmas (and then don’t). It all seems a mystery how a drug can work one time or for some time, and then work no more.

But recall what it is that cancer does best – it divides and multiplies. If it meets a drug that stops it doing that, it adapts and starts again. The cancer cells may be killed off, but then the cancer stem cells are there to start the process all over again. Relentless.

If I’ve been quiet. perhaps it’s the blues. In a calm October, as the world turns another season, it’s starting to feel like there may not be too many more seasons to follow. “And the trees grow high in New York state. And they shine like gold in Autumn. Never had the blues from whence I came. But in New York state I caught ’em” (Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Talk to Me of Mendocino). It’s that old cliche. The world screams past in a blur while you walk in slow motion against a grey day background.

What brought me low was news from Addenbrookes that they had no slots available on a drug trial that would be suitable for me. It wasn’t clear how we went from optimism one week to ‘nothing doing’ the following week. I asked all the rudest questions I could “is it a lack of funding” “shortage of drugs” etc. but it just seemed like I had ticket 55 in the deli counter queue and they ran out of food at customer 54. There were no slots on either the Darpin or Zensel trials, and all they could say is ‘sorry’.

When the oncology team told me there were new tumours (progressive) I left a lot of questions unasked because they were pushing the phase 1 trials angle.  Now, I requested strongly that they return me to that team so I can ask those questions. They did, and the date set for that is Nov 10th. Guess I’m a low priority now.

But they also said that they would ‘call around’ to see what other cancer research centres might be doing. London and Leicester came up negative, but the Royal Marsden in Surrey might have something to offer. I got a call asking if I’d consider it, and I said ‘yes’. Nothing to lose.

On Friday I went down there. Gave blood, did tests, met the medical team. They seemed switched-on but I’m not building up any hopes after the Cambridge outcome. It’s a huge undertaking. Bad enough to go to the local hospital one (or even two) days a week while the trial is running, but this is all the way down in Surrey. It’s a full day of travel and treatment. I’m a beggar not a chooser now, but I made a mild request that they try to fit me to ‘the‘ trial, rather than ‘a‘ trial. They have many trials and they do the most targeted or directed treatments in the country. They have the best genetic screening (KRAS, BRAF, NRAS, etc) available. So I asked they take their time initially to wait for the gene results to come back from the tissue samples they will get from the Cambridge deep freezer where bits of me now reside. Then put me on the trial with the strongest hypothesis that it might match my case.

As I put it to them – I have very few options but time is on my side.

They agreed.

And so, at the still point of the turning world, I wait. I’ll talk to Cambridge on Nov 10th about the possible ways these tumours might progress. I’ll talk to Surrey on Nov 26th about what they may be able to offer. To stay with T.S.Eliot, it is “Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards, Neither ascent nor decline” (Burnt Norton, 1935).

And until I know more, I’ll read about the outcomes for others. “These things mark time and make us pause” (Mark Kozelek), and make us ruminate on the quiet desperation in which we live our lives. There will be plenty of time later for me to tell you about tumour load, infection and embolisms; and how these things are the real killer. The real irony at the moment is how many people tell me how great I’m looking. I haven’t lost a lot of weight but am a bit slimmer and all my hair is growing back strong.