Sunday, 28 January 2018

My friend David is dying

David and I at St Bees. We have selected pebbles to carry
to the east coast and throw into the sea.
My friend David is dying.
He is not the first friend I have lost to death. When I was 17, my friend John Hall fell out of the back of a van (drunk) and died on the road; when I was in my thirties, my friend and best man Robert Broomfield died after a long struggle with kidney problems caused by spinabifida (a condition rarely seen in the UK today).
But David is different: just over two years ago he and I walked Wainwright's Coast-to-Coast route together. We planned a follow up – Offa's Dyke or Cleveland Way – but instead he has taken the long walk from being a healthy and fit man to the edge of death.
I've known David for about seven years. His wife Joyce and Margaret became friends through helping at the old folk's club in the village and then David moved into Berberis Close so became our next-door-but-one neighbours.
David worked Knarr Farm, around 350 acres to the east of the village, but sold up around four years ago to retire. When I started running the Thorney Post, I wanted someone to write a farming column, so he became Rambling Sid.
One day at a party in the garden, he said he'd always wanted to do the Coast-to-Coast walk, but no-one would do it with him. I said I'd do it and about a year later we thought we'd better get it sorted.
It was a terrific two weeks. We bonded as friends through the challenge, found humour in adversity, made fun of people who were annoying and of each other.
Around 18 months ago, the winter after our spring walk, David got pneumonia and it knocked him for six. It took ages to recover and he had tests which showed a slightly leaky heart valve and an enlarged spleen. The tests went on for ages and they finally discovered he had leukaemia.
The discovery came more or less at the time that it turned from a liveable-with, self-managing condition to an aggressive, destructive cancer.
I wasn't at all worried. I thought leukaemia was treatable. Perhaps the treatment would be unpleasant, I could envisage David losing his hair, having a tough six months and then enjoying another 15 years or so.
He did have an unpleasant course of chemotherapy, but it wasn't effective and a bone-marrow transplant was not an option because of his age and general fitness. David turned down a second course of chemotherapy – not a cure but an unpleasant way to get a few more months – and has been visiting the hospital two or three times a week for blood transfusions. These provide him with the platelets and red-blood cells which the cancer destroys.
He was expected to die before Christmas, but has been doggedly hanging on to life and I expect that soon, he will decide he's had enough.
Leukaemia destroys your blood, it leaves you with no energy, no ability for the blood to clot and no immune system. It will kill you by either an everyday infection or virus that most of us would shrug off or by an unstoppable haemorrhage or stroke.
It's not the emasculated, treatable condition that I thought. It's a dangerous and devious disease with many weapons in its arsenal.

I don't know how long David has left. I saw a slight change in him this week, which leads me to think it won't be long, but I don't know. I hope his end, when it comes, will be quick and painless – and I will miss him.

Footnote: David died on February 4, 2018 at the Sue Ryder Hospice, Thorpe Hall.