Running on Empty

January 24, 2018

One week ago.


I’m recovering, at last. It’s been a grim week, in bed for five days running to the loo every hour and a half. If I could have dragged the loo into bed with me I would have. I’ve never felt so ill. I could feel my mind closing down, thoughts disappearing, all sub-conscious effort focussed on getting my body over this toxic shock. An overdose. I was physically wrung out.

Days later when I realise there has been a loo gap of six hours I know the worst has passed, as it were. Over the next day or two I feel my mind reawaken and begin to look outwards again. I feel like I’ve just done ten rounds with Mike Tyson – or maybe just one.

I’m sitting in our sunny kitchen as I write. I’ve taken myself off all meds except iron, as I still have a tendency to anaemia and I know the signs. I have a consultation with my oncologist in ten days and I’m going to ask for a break from the chemo. I need to recover, the nerves and skin of my hands and feet need to recover, my guts need to recover, and the thought of more chemo going into my arms chills the hell out of me. I’ve been taken to the limit.

Gloomily we have been advised by my GP to arrange a meeting with our local hospice to discuss the care I may need at some point. This is really to get paperwork in place, but it’s a sobering prospect. This is all very much at odds with my current state of mind, which is to start a new photo portrait project, make more sourdough bread, do a road trip up the east coast of Britain with Manda, and get back on the bike as soon as I can to build up to cycling 100 miles for Cancer Research.

There’s stuff to do.




I’m getting back to normal, feeling stronger, eating well, and I can walk for an hour before getting fatigued. We are in a small, quiet and very warm meeting room at Grove House, a local hospice that arranges support for patients and their carers, either there or at home, or both. We are talking with Joan, a kindly lady very experienced in These Things. We give her the history of my illness, and she understands that we are pretty organised, as self-sufficient as we can be, but need support at critical times. I realise it’s been less than a year since All This started. Well into the talk, I am asked two crucial questions which Joan emphasises that I don’t have to answer now. But I do. Where do I want to die, and when I die do I want to be resuscitated?

At Home. No.

Joan says it’s not set in stone, I can change my mind as and when. She offers all sorts of support, and we are overwhelmed. Some of it is appropriate to us, some of it feels a bit ‘old people’s homey’. The emphasis there is on quality time with a doctor or nursing staff, or a counsellor. There are groups the teach mindfulness and relaxation. She says peer support is very valuable. The meeting brings everything into sharp focus, and still I am not ready for this yet, confronting a reality that is still very surreal. We are given leaflets and booklets that I can’t bring myself to look at.

We get home and drink tea in an emotional daze. We have another meeting in two days at Mount Vernon with the oncologist. He will give us options according to the amount of chemo I’m willing to have, and after he’s seen the CT scan, according to the rate at which the cancer is growing. The chemo has left me traumatised and I’m hoping there is a purely oral alternative. Intravenous chemo is not an option for me at the moment. With sessions three weeks apart, I feel terrible for at least a week afterwards, okay for the middle week, then worried sick for the last week in anticipation of the next session.

There is a lot to weigh up – a decent quality of life for a shorter time versus feeling crap all the time.

We are nowhere near the end yet, but as Amanda said today, ‘I’m going to carry on planning for it, while not believing it’s going to happen.’

I think I feel the same.


Nick Havas
10:46 January 26, 2018

It’s so hard to find the right words Steve. I have had the prod and poke and will have an operation as soon as our brilliant but severely let down health service can fit me in. It’s nothing too serious though. Your words inspire me, all of us in fact and your work has always inspired me - I doubt I’d be doing what I am now without your fearless encouragement. Stay strong- we are with you. Xx

11:52 January 25, 2018

Keep up the good fight

23:22 January 24, 2018

A brave warrior you are Steve xx

Tony S
21:12 January 24, 2018

Let me know when you are up for a cuppa and chat. As always, sending positive thoughts, got a great new book that you will like, Photo project sounds fab! Will in box you.....

18:17 January 24, 2018

Thank you for your honest reflections of your journey. I don't know if the information I sent in the e-mail could be helpful but please have a look if you haven't done so already. Sending you all lots of love xxx

Neale James
17:55 January 24, 2018

I echo all the comments. I haven't been prodded and poked as you suggested as my own doc actually said no need unless I start presenting issues. Which I found quite incredible being a man of 50 now! I particularly echo Lesley's words in wishing that the strength flows back into you soon. I for one want to see this new photo portrait project as soon as possible. All my love Steve to you all x

Mark Seymour
16:29 January 24, 2018

Tears in my eyes ... hope to catch up soon buddy x

Jacky Pfister
15:41 January 24, 2018

You lift my spirits and make me cry every time Steve. Team Shipman is a formidable force. xx

14:01 January 24, 2018

Can't find the words... just hoping there's something positive for you at the next consultation and that the strength flows back into you. With love xx

Nigel crump
13:02 January 24, 2018

You are an inspiration to us all Steve. It must be tough to keep going physically and mentally. But you give us all hope. Truly. Best wishes to you and your family Nigel

Stephen Fox
12:12 January 24, 2018

I just cannot find any meaningful words to say how I feel ... Just to let you know I did heed your advice on an earlier blog by the way to start the prodding and poking process you advised before x mas and also now enjoying a daily diet of your wonderful green juice. So a big thank you for your thoughtful words of advice to all of us. You are just an amazing guy and I just feel so sad about what you having to go through . Fondest regards Stephen

10:41 January 24, 2018

Wordless. Much love x

09:37 January 24, 2018

Thanks for your words Steve. I’m actually at the gym this morning getting back into say you have inspired me to get fit again is an understatement. I hope the deep hurry’s up for you.


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