Ralph had just celebrated his 65 Birthday (June 2014) and life was just beginning to get back on track following a heart attack in 2010 & suffering injuries in the London tube bombing in 2005. In fact everything seemed dandy, we had just become grandparents for the first time & Ralph had taken early retirement due to his earlier health issues after some 45 years in the insurance industry & I had taken voluntary redundancy after 35 years in Banking. We were all set to do some more travelling etc.
In about the September of 2014 a cyst which had been slowly growing on the back of his neck for several years (and which had been the subject of many trips to the doctors & hospital over time but seemed on the face of it, nothing to be concerned about) suddenly became extremely inflamed & infected. Our GP lanced it & put him on very strong antibiotics & over the next few weeks, whilst unpleasant it gradually healed up. No explanation however could be given for it’s sudden change in condition.
About November that year, Ralph & his son went out for the day, when they got back that evening, Ralph began to feel rather feverish, shivering etc. The next day our GP thought he’d picked up a chill and within a week he seemed back to normal, over the weeks that followed Ralph complained of a niggling pain in his right side, a pain in his shoulder & generally rather run down. As he’d had a heart attack & had injured his shoulder in the London bombing we all assumed his aches & pains were down to these events. Ralph never one to really complain just soldiered on.
On December 9th 2014 however ( the date being my birthday) we went to a Christmas meal with a group of friends, Ralph had been complaining again about this niggling side pain but it wasn’t going to stop him going out! But later on that evening he was sick, but we put it down to the rich food he’d been eating that day and again brushed it off. Once home however, he looked & felt unwell & the pain in his right hand side was getting considerably worse, so late that evening we visited out local A&E. They thought the pain & other symptoms were probably down to gall stones so we were referred back to our GP & Ralph was told to go on a strict low fat diet. The odd thing however, was that his blood sugar reading was a little bit higher than it had ever been before but then as a diabetic myself I know that pain can have an impact on it, so again we weren’t initially overly concerned.
Ralph embarked on his diet, a hospital appointment was booked for scans in respect of the suspected gall stones & further blood sugar, blood tests were undertaken. In the meantime, we limped through Christmas & the New Year the best we could. However, on Friday afternoon 2nd January 2015 things took a drastic turn, Ralph was extremely poorly, he’d w (but we’d put they down to the diet etc) and more worryingly was drinking buckets of water and wasn’t able to quench his thirst. He was also looking very sallow but as he’s from South Africa his skin did often look rather yellow during the winter months so again on it’s own wasn’t a concern. I eventually took his blood sugar reading and to my utter surprise, it was “off the scales”. A quick trip to our GP resulted in Ralph being rushed to A& E where he was put on an emergency drip & insulin with me helping the nurses take blood sugar readings throughout the night ( I work as a volunteer at the hospital).
To cut a long story short, over the next 3 weeks Ralph was in & out of hospital, had numerous tests, (at this stage thinking being it was all down to gall stones) and scans etc. Eventually, one of the consultants ordered some scans on his liver & confirmed there were some “spots” which he’d like to take biopsy from. Apparently he’d see someone once before with the array of symptoms Ralph had & thought a cancer was in fact the underlying problem. On the 17th January 2015 this was finally confirmed, although it was several more weeks before the severity & type of cancer was finally diagnosed. He had a very rare form on Neuroendocrine tumour which had spread to his liver. It was terminal.
Ralphs reaction however was, oh well I’ve just got get on it with it, telling friends & family “we’ll have no long faces here” when they came to visit. It was finally agreed Ralph would undertake 6 chemo sessions, albeit it was a bit of a gamble as there was no bespoke chemo & it’ll be trial & error. Ralph, being Ralph, even set up a spreadsheet on his laptop to ensure he took his pills properly & kept a diary sheet to ensure he was eating the correct food combinations (a rainbow diet!) Etc. Ever Mr organised !
Ralph coped extremely well with the chemo, apart from a couple of overnight stay in hospital due to fever etc, and was also undergoing a monthly injection to help keep his pancreatic symptoms at bay & jaundice under control. After the 3rd round we were overjoyed to find the tumours in his liver had shrunk & there were no new ones. (The tumours were spread throughout his liver so surgery was not an option). After the 6th round (on his 66th Birthday in fact) the situation remained stable. Even the oncologist was surprised at his progress.
He continued to visit the MacMillan centre at our hospital for the next few months to have his injection & remained in good spirits, telling everyone he was “living with, not dying from his cancer“. He formed a great relationship with the staff there & they all enjoyed his infectious good spirits. However mid August 2015 he felt unwell, a routine visit to see his oncologist confirming his fears, the cancer had started to grow again. A further rounds of chemo was begun, but this combination could effect his heart, which was already damaged from his heart attack. He met with his cardiologist & joked about fast cars & red wine as was their norm, before the cardiologist said “the worse that can happen, if you go ahead more chemo is your heart will give up the ghost first, and perhaps that’ll be a blessing in disguise” it might seem uncaring, but fortunately it’s the kind of truth Ralph needed to hear & we agreed to the treatment.
Late August 2015 we hosted a 90th birthday for Ralph’s dad, a huge affair at the hotel we were married in some 9 years earlier, inviting many friends & family from around the country. It was a good day, but only Ralph & I knew at that time, this was in fact Ralph’s “living wake”. A bitter sweet memory for me.
After the second round of chemo, it was clear it wasn’t working this time & after another overnight stay in hospital we agreed to stop the treatment, after all the Rugby World cup was starting that night & he wanted to get home to watch it on TV. We were advised he had 6-8 weeks.
Our wedding anniversary was on Thursday 24th September & Ralph was feeling fine, but extremely tired so decided to spend the day in bed having our ” John & Yoko” moment. Friends were coming over for a curry evening that Saturday, but Ralph was physically unable to get out of bed to join us at the dinner table, he did manage however to write down his famous family curry recipe, something I treasure to this day.
The following week he deteriorated fast and family, colleagues & friends came in their droves to see him & to say their goodbyes, some bringing me food as is the African way! Ralph had already decided he wanted to spend his last days at home. My good friend & alternative therapist spending several nights with me to help care for him.
On the Thursday evening it was strongly suggested to me that a Marie Currie nurse should spend the night, along with my alternative therapist friend, and at 1.15am on Saturday the 3rd October Ralph passed away peacefully. My friend had studied as a “Soul Midwife” and this had been her first experience, I have to say, although I’m the world’s biggest synic it was a beautiful & calm passing & I’m sure he was completely comfortable at the end.
His funeral was 2 weeks later as we had to book a double session at the crematorium to count for the number of attendees & length of service. His work colleagues, clients family & friends & Masonic brothers attended in their numbers & we went to the hotel where we’d been married & held his dad’s 90th birthday and had a Fab & cheerful Wake, just as Ralph would have expected.
It’s clear now, that over many years, Ralph had various symptoms that on there own didn’t really add up to anything but collectively were all symptoms of his pancreatic cancer, he was never formally tested for the MEN 1 Gene, but given his symptoms & African heritage it’s highly probable, although not certain he may have been carrying this. It’s certainly something his son, daughter & grandson should be tested for in the future.
Ralph tackled living with cancer by facing it head on & dealing with things as there arose. He kept on smiling, being strong & loving life. He left a great impression on every one he met, and has left me with so many beautiful memories. He will not be forgotten.