Monday 4th July 2005
My diary starts again – and with good reason. Today I learnt for certain that I`m going to die – to be precise – that I am dying. I`ve got cancer. Of course, I was quite well aware before that the only thing I knew for certain about the future was that I was going to die, but now I know that it will be sooner, rather than later.
For the record, I’ve been alive for 63 years, 11 months, 9 days and approximately 2
hours, 30 minutes! That’s approximately 832 moons!
I`ve been pretty certain I had cancer for a while now - I am familiar enough with my own body to be able to sense something like that, but now I know for certain. I`ve got multiple myeloma – I can’t say that I really know what that is, but here`s what Encyclopaedia Britannica has to say about it:
also called plasma cell myeloma or myelomatosis malignant tumours of the bone marrow that usually occur during middle age or later. Myelomas are slightly more common in males and affect mostly the flat bones (e.g., ribs, sternum, pelvis, shoulder blades) and vertebrae.
The disease occurs when B lymphocytes or their precursors multiply into clones of cancerous plasma cells that develop into tumours. These tumours then produce large quantities of a slightly abnormal antibody. This antibody, called myeloma protein, has no infection-fighting capability and replaces most healthy antibodies in the blood. When the tumours occur in multiple sites, the disease is called multiple myeloma. Myeloma proteins can collect in the tubules of the kidney and cause renal failure. Bone destruction frees calcium into the circulation, and the calcium may be redeposited in abnormal places such as the kidneys.
Symptoms and signs of multiple myeloma include pain, anemia, weakness, susceptibility to infection, a tendency to hemorrhage, shortness of breath, and kidney insufficiency. Pathological bone fractures may occur, and neurological symptoms may follow the collapse of affected vertebrae. The disease is progressive, and prognosis is quite poor. Chemotherapy and radiation are the most common treatments. In the presence of multiple lesions, only symptomatic treatment is possible; when only one lesion is present, irradiation or surgery may arrest or cure the disease.
This looks pretty grim, but the doctor said that with current medical knowledge I could live for another 10-12 years. Let’s hope he’s right. That way I’ll reach 1000 moons!!! But if it’s not – that’s life! One Internet site estimates from 15 months to 5 years!!!
What may seem funny to anyone reading this is that I am very happy to have cancer – my long-term wish to enjoy dying as much as I have enjoyed – and am enjoying – living has been fulfilled. The last thing I wanted was to die a decrepit old man, peacefully in my sleep. I shall now truly revel in every day as if it is my last. My universe is alive and kicking within my soul, which is perfectly healthy, as is my brain, so I shall live, move and have my being, and worship this wonderful world in which I have the privilege to live and above all love my darling wife Zorica and thank God, Fate, the ‘Creative principle’ - whoever or whatever it is that runs things - for every second he or it has given me with her and every second he or it has planned for me to continue to be with her. I feel it will probably be for quite a long time – otherwise I should have died exactly two months ago on 4th May after visiting Tito`s House of Flowers on the 25th anniversary of his death. When about to cross the road on the green light for pedestrians – two lanes of traffic had already stopped for several seconds – something prompted me to glance left and I saw two black limousines hurtling towards me at least 100 kph. They sped straight through the red light and could quite easily have taken me with them into instant oblivion! According to the doctors, the cancer took hold around two months ago. If it was going to finish me off quickly, Fate would have put me out of my misery there and then! As it was, it gave me the opportunity to live on and fight!
I also have to thank the bucket of water that I picked up carelessly, putting my back out (once again). This time it took a different course – different sort of pain, that manifested itself mostly when lying down. Getting up in the morning has been agony! I knew something was seriously wrong and suspected cancer fairly early on. I realized that my suspicions were well-founded when Dr. Stojanovic, the rheumatologist to whom I went first, told me that the results of my blood test were `surprising`. So much information in such a simple word. Anyway, if I hadn`t put my back out, maybe they wouldn`t have discovered the myeloma so early on!
At least now I know for certain - and the initial feeling is of great relief. And I know why I can`t do so many things – like putting on my socks first thing in the morning!
It was Dr Bogdanovic, the hematologist who did the tests that confirmed the cancer, who said that I could live for another 10-12 years. I personally give myself much less, though I certainly shan`t give up fighting. I remember seven or eight years ago having a feeling that I wouldn`t live longer than 65. Let`s see what I write on these pages in 1 year, 21 days time!
Dr. Bogdanovic – who was an ‘extra’ in Babino Unuce 29 years ago as a schoolboy in St Sava’s primary School!! – sent me to the head of the hematology department, Prof. Darinka Boskovic, which seems to be another great privilege and insurance that I’ll get the best possible treatment. My doctor will be Dr. Jelena Bila, who doctored in multiple Myeloma in Heidelberg, the European centre for the study of the disease. Here, there’ll certainly be no waiting for months as there would certainly be in the UK.
Isaiah 38:1 In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came unto him, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not live.
When I do pop off, if those I love and who love me want to do things my way, then please bear the following in mind:
NO PICTURE in the deaths pages of the newspaper under any circumstances – and no ‘after a long and serious illness’ or any of that twaddle. As far as the picture is concerned, I remember the horror I experienced when I saw all those pictures on the last pages of ‘Politika’ – I had never seen anything so macabre in my life!!
If I’m considered important enough to have any sort of commemoration ceremony it must be light-hearted, with some excerpts from Neven and Poletarac and plenty of laughter. And called ‘A Celebration of a Life’ (Proslava jednog zivota) and not a ‘komemoracija’ Any of my pupils/students who are willing to do so can read some poems in English. There are plenty of quotations that reflect my philosophy at the end of the third volume of ‘Pigs...’ (Appendix) And let someone say, in my name, that I died happy and was happy to die. Actually, I think I’ll write something to be read out in my name – then there won’t be any misunderstanding. Like the British actor, John le Mesurier, who wrote his own obituary and started by saying he hadn’t died, he’s just ‘conked out’! You’ll find my ‘obituary’ alongside this ‘Diary’ on my computer
Cremation, of course, and the music at that kitsch moment when the coffin is swallowed up, should be Abba’s ‘The Day Before You Came”. I know I’ve spent most of my life listening to and enjoying classical music but it always sounds so pathetic and sentimental at cremations and funerals. The song is poignantly suitable as it gives an account of a ‘normal’, routine life the day before YOU (cancer) came!
It will only be my body that’s dead, I’ll be living on in everyone who has known me, and so let them celebrate my life and enjoy and reflect on the bits of me that have found their way into them.
Now comes the complicated bit. My ashes must be thrown into the river, and if possible into the Fordingbridge Avon from The George’s garden – as described at the start of the third part of my semi-autobiographical trilogy ‘Pigs Do Not Eat Banana Skins’:
“Dust to dust, ashes to the ducks.”
Peter’s attempt to inject some humour into the proceedings failed miserably. The only one to laugh was Peter. God, it was pathetic. As if they had never known him. Sipping their halves of bitter and their gin and tonics and talking about anything but Andrew. At least Andrew was being disposed of as he had wanted – his ashes shaken into the river Avon from the garden of his favourite Elmsbridge pub, The George. They would then travel through the countryside of his childhood towards the English – oh, so English - Channel and from there, Andrew Beresford would traverse the seven seas. No passport, no visas – as free as a sardine. Not only would he do what he had not succeeded in doing during his life - travel round the world, he would become an integral part of that world. Part of Gaia.
“I’ve enjoyed living so much, I want to enjoy dying. No passing away peacefully in my sleep for me – I want to be told: ‘We can’t operate – the cancer’s spreading. I give you six months at the most.’ Six months! Six months to reflect on my life and to revel in the process of dying…”
This was written three years ago! The only difference is that they have given me longer than six months – at the moment! Anyway, I`m going to enjoy however long I`ve got. I`m beginning to enjoy this dying business already!
When I do reach the moment of death, think of the last words of Marcus Aurelius:
Weep not for me, think rather of the pestilence and the deaths of so many others.
How relevant are those words today, in the 21st century, when there are SO many others!!!
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