Today I picked up a word. Literally. On the pavement there was one of those fridge magnet poetry words. The word was “much”. It was funny, because as I walked to work that day I was feeling less than my old self and I got to thinking about the quote from the Alice in Wonderland movie where The Mad Hatter says to Alice: “You used to be much more…muchier. You’ve lost your muchness.”

I feel I’ve lost much of my muchness this year. But who knows what that is any way? In the book the Dormouse gives a little speech (after a pinch from the Hatter) on things that begin with M, then points out: “you know you say things are ‘much of a muchness’ – did you ever see such a thing as a drawing of a muchness?” Alice had not.

But things are panning out to be much of a muchness. After the disappointment in August of a hastily-cancelled operation for the vocal cord, early September brought the message from my Urologist that he didn’t think the bladder procedure we’d discussed would do much good. He seems to think that it’s a goner, probably paralysed in some way by collateral damage to the nerves from my 2009 operations. That doesn’t quite sit with the scan results that show enlargement and physical blockage, but this is the topsy-turvy world of hospital consulting rooms. Things make sense if you mean them to.

I’ve learned that the key thing is to buy yourself time quickly on hearing a “sorry, but…” speech from all doctors. Otherwise, you are out the door with no ticket to the ball and plenty of time to regret it. With a ticket, you can still decide to not go to the ball. Details are dull, but the end result is that I convinced him that the 30-40% chance of success was good enough for me, “under the circumstances”. By the time he wrote up the meeting and sent me the letter, the odds had gone up to 50%. Hurrah for us. Statistically significant. Not.

But even after my playing the “I have a short time left” card, it still looks like a 3 to 6 month wait for the procedure. Again, the general anaesthetic will play a role but this one can be done under an epidural / spinal anaesthetic, so not a game-stopper. When the time comes, should I do it? Another surgery to recover from, with no extension on months to live in return. But (maybe) a 50% chance of improved life quality.

And now, at last, I have a new date for take 2 on the larynx – it’s October 6th. Just a matter of overcoming the fear of the surgeon’s scalpel while lying awake under local anaesthetic. Fear masquerading as choice, as Karl Verdake puts it in this song.


Still, time drags on. Again.

If only it were a matter of dawdling along these halcyon days of Summer, maybe it would matter little. But there is less physical comfort to be had now, especially at night. It’s hard to sleep for long periods without the intrusion of the tube causing me to waken. Then, as Gerard Manley Hopkins put it in 1885: “I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day”. It’s tempting to stare into the dark room and think about it all, what’s happened up to now and what might come next. During the day, walking to work can be a right pain. Sitting for long periods can be a right pain.

It is all a bit Emerson now, living a life in quiet desperation. Although I am surrounded by love and indulgence, life with palliative cancer is like living alone in Thoreau’s log cabin in the woods. No one could ever accuse me of seeking out discomfort and suffering. I’ve made it my life mission to do quite the opposite. But sometimes the wilderness finds you.

There’s a recent article in The Atlantic by Diana Saverin, which talks about the way that terror and tedium can co-exist. As she puts it in “The Terror and Tedium of Living Like Thoreau“:

Most moments—in my life, at least—do not involve terror or euphoria. Most moments do not bring extreme pain or some unforgettable lesson about this weird world where we all live. All of them pass somehow or other, though. They make up minutes, and then days, and then a life.

But, to quote Lewis Carroll once more: “I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.”