Saturday, 28 April 2012

When the World Tilts on it's Axis

I've had a lack of posts recently, and for a very good reason. My world has tilted on it's axis and I find that most days I'm struggling just to stand upright.

Around 12 weeks ago Shane (the grumpy old man I live with) started complaining about a pain in his back. Like any male he refused to go to the doctor saying it was just a pulled muscle. Eight weeks ago the pain was so excruciating he was taken to hospital by ambulance. That's when the ground under us started to tremble. Ten days later, specialists stood next to Mr Grumpy's hospital bed and announced he had eight weeks to live, give or take a few weeks of course because medicine isn't a perfect science, or so they said. Shane was diagnosed with small cell carcinoma of the right lung.  I didn't need to be told that this was one of the most aggressive kinds of cancer you can get. I already new.

Up until that point I'd never paid much attention to the saying "truth is stranger than fiction" but recently I've learnt that it is. When I wrote my first novel, Finding Angel, one of the characters, Steve Jax, was married. It became clear that he was a good candidate for his own book so, of course, I had to get rid of his wife. Callous...yes. I wanted something that would kill her quickly so I turned to my favourite research tool, google. By the end of the book, Steve's wife was diagnosed with a terminal illness...small cell carcinoma of the lung. Fuck. Who knew?

Mr Grumpy, before he got sick.
When the doctors announced Shane's diagnosis, I felt sick. My research already told me everything I needed to know and doctors confirmed the accuracy of what you can find on the Internet these days. Small cell cancers are the most aggressive and fastest growing kind of cancer you can get. In Shane's case the disease was advanced, but more tests were needed to tell us how advanced, there are treatment options in some cases but there is no cure, the cancer will kill you. Doctors scheduled a PET scan. They told us the scan would show what they call 'hot spots' in Shane's body. Cancer cells in clumps as small as eight to ten cells. He had the test and his body lit up like lights on a friggin' Christmas tree. The lung was the primary sight, other cells of varying size showed up in his lymph nodes, his neck, his liver, and in the bones of his ribs, spine, hips and the large bones of his arms and legs. Treatment options were limited. Doctors offered chemotherapy, a four month intensive treatment that he may or may not survive, that may or may not work to extend his life. As I said, medicine isn't a perfect science and as such outcomes can't be guaranteed.

Shane declined their offer of treatment. His philosophy being, why delay the inevitable. Why indeed? When doctors looked at me and asked what I thought I could only answer one way. It's Shane's life and I support the decision he's made.

So the world continues to tilt. Life confirming it is stranger than fiction every day. Over the last few weeks I've sat at Mr Grumpy's bedside and watched his eighty year old father beg him to have chemo, the answer was still no. I've seen him in such excruciating pain that he changes color like a chameleon as doctors battle to get his pain to a tolerable level, they now seem to have won that battle. I've listened to Shane comfort family and friends, reassuring them about his imminent death, when it should be the other way around. I've born the brunt of his anger when he's told me to fuck off and get out of his hospital room. I've fought with nurses when his pain medication has been overdue (yes, my terms of endearment moments have been many, although I'm sure in the movie Shirley MacLaine had her meltdown far more eloquently than I do). I've watched his chest stay motionless and found myself willing him to please take another breath. And over the last few days I've sat next to his bed and prayed for all this to just end. Selfish...I know...but sometimes when you're on an emotional roller coaster, all you can do is feel whatever's thrown at you, and brace yourself for the next crest of joy or gully of pain.

At least the world isn't completely upside down just yet. Even though Shane and my world may be spiralling out of control, the rest of the world is still normal. Well, as normal as it pretends to be. I'm trying to hold onto what I know will be my reality after Shane's gone. So, in the midst of all the chaos, edits for Playing Jax are done, it's releasing in May (hopefully). Healing a Cougar's Heart went through the edit and release process and came out a few days ago, which was ahead of schedule I think. And despite everything that's going on I've now gone back to working on the next cougar manuscript again, so with any luck I can get it to the publisher on time. Yes, even though truth is stranger than fiction, it's fiction that's currently keeping me sane.

So, as the world continues to tilt all I can do is be there for Mr Grumpy, watch and wait, try to maintain my balance, and hold on so I don't fall over the edge.

Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't. Mark Twain

Post Update: 

My Grumpy Old Man, Shane Charles Tollis, passed away at midday on Thursday 4th May. He was 56 years old.
RIP Shane and thank you for sharing your love with me.


  1. Oh dear Jan. Hard to know what to say. So sad. You two seem a wonderful couple. ((hugs))
    I get what you mean about fiction keeping you sane.

  2. Jan, so sorry to hear this story. I admire your courage and Shane's, too. Not everyone can face this with such grace. You'll both be in my thoughts and prayers. We all, at SCP, applaud you.

  3. Jan,
    I have no words to express, but only tears. I too have experienced this same diagnosis with my father and later cared for my mother with another type. Oh God I feel for you. Keep strong and if you need to just talk to talk for no other reason, then feel free to contact me anytime. Please, please take time for yourself even if a few minutes a day. Bless you and your family during this challenging time. Hugs and prayers.

  4. You make sure you take some time for yourself, Jan. Everything else can wait in the light of what's going on in your life. You spend every precious minute you have with Shane and God bless both of you.

    Sandy Sullivan

  5. Jan, I was crying to hard as I read this that I couldn't see the words most of the time. I am so sorry you, Shane, and your family are going through this. I've had you in my thoughts and prayers so many times these past few weeks. That you researched this for a novel is just the universe's way of preparing you. And getting immersed in fiction when the world tilts on its axis has helped me, too. I wrote the opening scene to Masters at Arms with Adam grieving in the bus station after a rough day with my sister and her oncologists last May. I thought, maybe if I write the worst there, then it won't happen in the real world.

    Remember to breathe and lean on your friends and family. I know you probably prefer to show the stiff upper lip around others, but it's okay with the chin quivers a bit to let someone wrap you in a big ol' hug. Take care, hon.


  6. My heart goes out to you and Shane... I cannot imagine what you are going through. Everyone who has passed in my family so far has done so quickly and unexpectedly...
    I know what you mean about your fiction holding you together- I am not a writer but an avid reader and when things get too tough for me to handle I immerse myself into one of my author friends' wonderful books until I can breathe again...
    I am sending out healing thoughts into the universe for you because I know your heart will need them.. ((((HUGS)))

  7. I have no words of comfort to offer none seem sufficient, but you and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.

  8. Jan, I'm so, so sorry. Sending hugs and prayers for you both. I'm glad you're there for him.

  9. Thank you all for your kind thoughts, prayers and good wishes. They mean a lot to me :)

  10. As a former nursing assistant, I've seen what you're seeing - and with family members who have passed from cancer, I can relate. Just breathe. I am so sorry, Jan. My family and I pray for you both to get through this - always remember that even when you feel like it, you are not alone. *hugs*

  11. Best wishes to both of you. Words are, in this instance, maybe just a tad inadequate.