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Colin McAlpin: ‘This cancer is tougher than I thought, but I am doing my very best to fight the tubby-bellied little bully off’

Colin McAlpin shares his latest thoughts as he continues his cancer journey

From left, Staff Nurses Sophie Andrews, Lorna Brownlee, Orla Carr, Sister Louise Brown and Staff Nurse Rosemary Ogle with Colin McAlpin
From left, Staff Nurses Sophie Andrews, Lorna Brownlee, Orla Carr, Sister Louise Brown and Staff Nurse Rosemary Ogle with Colin McAlpin

I still have cancer (small 'c', he deserves no better) and the fight goes on. I did not realise how tough the little 'c' is. He calls himself Cancer, but he is nothing short of the little tubby-bellied bully who strolls the district accosting victims. But even as he does, he must know, and does know, that his days are numbered.

It may come tomorrow, it may take years, but eventually one day we will have him hiding among the detritus of the bins, quivering in fear, knowing he is finished.

I am still here in hospital and we must continue to hit him and support all the cancer organisations in whatever way they require. I am now in week four of my stay at the cancer centre and being supported by people like David, a nursing assistant, and all the wonderful nurses.

David is interested in history and travel and sports. Long hair, ponytail, little beard and, for those of us in the wards, he arrives in the morning as Captain Sunshine. When we see him, we are uplifted. David's function in life seems to be to gently keep us all going, like all of the many nurses on the frontline.

Being here so long is bittersweet. There's no sign of fear, maybe I am keeping it within me, but I am as jolly as someone under the circumstances can be. The one thing that has changed is my new outlook on dignity.

If a young nurse is prepared to do to me what you do not want to know about, then my dignity means not. They wash your backside, they clean you up, they change filthy bedsheets that you have created. Is that what you call loss of dignity?

Cleaning me and cleaning the bed, they manage to make light of what I would have once considered an embarrassing and deeply personal situation. But to them, you are another human being in need of help. They are there simply to keep you alive.

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A good friend and frequent visitor to my bedside, Chris Beverland, has raised an interesting point. How do I, a 77-year-old man, feel about being cleaned up by young, mostly female, nurses?

Whatever I see myself as, whatever I once was, suddenly I'm lying there with a self-image that ultimately counts for nothing.

Happier distractions are my regular jaunts to the hospital gym. I've never used a gym in my life, but my legs and arm need to get stronger and, once again, I am in the hands of a terrific couple of young physiotherapists. There's no Olympic, or Commonwealth, Gold in view, but in several years' time, you could be seeing me doing circles and straddle jumps on the asymmetric bars.

What they have devised is a programme of gently walking 10 steps, grasping two side bars and 10 back again. I never knew walking could be so difficult. Knee bends, leg raises, catching and throwing a ball are all part of the routine. And note to Mr Baxter (Stephen, of Crusaders fame), I am glad to report my goalkeeping skills have not faded.

As well as my dwindling personal independence and physical ability, thanks to my strong medication, I have now entered the strange world of delusions. All of them are crystal-clear in my mind, but when I reach out to touch them, my fingers go through them.

The images include children climbing the wall, animals racing each other across the veldt, rows and rows of mathematical equations and letters that form no sentences.

I see things coming towards me, but I know they aren't real; I know they can't hurt me. But I know they may be hurting the sad, homeless figures we see in doorways in our city. These are the people I have passed every day and ignored. But if I get out of here, I will make sure I contribute at least a cup of coffee, a sandwich, or even a bone for the inevitable mutt who lies loyally by their side. Will you do the same?

This cancer is tougher than I thought, but I am doing my best to fight the little 'c' off. So, think of all of us suffering any disease in hospital. We are all fighting the same enemy.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph