Today is Red Apple Day!
Towards the end of 1993 I can remember my father grumbling occasionally of stomach pains, but he wasn’t a person to complain too much, and he simply got on with life. He was 60 at the time, just about to turn 61, and was looking forward to retiring to travel the world in a couple of years time. The following is something I wrote not long after that time:-
Christmas in Darlington was the usual family affair. My brother Martin was home for a couple of days, and in time-honoured fashion we went out for a drink on Christmas Eve, and as usual we promised mum that we would not drink so much that we would be too ill to face the Christmas dinner she would be making. However, as usual the Christmas spirit was upon us, and on Christmas morning we both felt quite queasy, although not quite as bad as the year before.
On Christmas Day we spent the morning opening our presents and then while I tidied up and mum, assisted my Martin, made the lunch, dad had a snooze by the fire. As he slept my cat curled up beside him to share the warmth.
My dad was a really energetic, and I suppose slightly eccentric father, and it pained me to see him so ill and listless. He had been diagnosed as suffering from cancer of the bowels a couple of months earlier, and although he put a brave face on, I knew it had shaken him very badly. He was often in considerable pain when he moved, and had been pretty much confined to the house lately by his illness, which for him was very frustrating.
He had been very active before becoming ill, and was a regular badminton player, windsurfer and motorcyclist. When I look back over my life I realise how much I have to thank my father for, and what a huge influence he has had on the person I have become. Instead of the usual family-type beach holidays we were often taken on multi-activity adventure holidays as children.
It was on these excursions that I discovered my love for climbing and caving, orienteering and hill walking, skiing, camping, canoeing, sailing, and a range of other activities. At the age of twelve, although I didn’t know it at the time, my future had been shaped by the holiday we had been on. My interest in outdoor activities was eventually to lead on to a teaching degree at Liverpool Polytechnic, specializing in Outdoor Education, and from there into working in centres just like the one we had been on holiday to all those years before.
At the age of sixteen my father treated me to the finest birthday present I’d ever had. After a day of training I made a parachute jump from 2500 feet, but unlike most of the other fathers that I knew would have done, my dad didn’t just come and watch, he came and did the parachute jump with me.
He had done a course on hang-gliding, had dabbled in the world of dinghy sailing, was a keen and competent snow-skier, and had traveled around Eastern Europe on a motorbike. He had enjoyed a very full and active life. Christmas that year was tinged with a sadness at seeing my dad so ill.
In mid January I was back in Darlington again when dad was taken back into hospital for a further operation. He had been whisked to hospital on New Years Eve in terrible pain, and had had an operation to remove part of his colon. It seemed that this had not been completely successful, and further surgery was required.
My dad died on January 22nd. He never really fully recovered from his second operation, and as the doctor explained to us, there was no further help they could give. He had been heavily sedated and had simply faded away.
So this week in Australia it is Bowel Cancer Awareness Week (8th to 14th June), and today is Red Apple Day.
Bowel Cancer is treatable if discovered early enough, and can be screened for with a simple test. It is recommended that anybody over 50 should be tested, and people with a family history of bowel cancer should be tested from an earlier age.
My dad died when I was 30 years old. After he died our doctor suggested that both myself and my brother should be regularly screened from the age of 40. I turn 45 in just over a month or so, and this is one of those things that just seems to get put off again and again. I keep saying I am going to get round it, but as yet never have. I have just made a commitment to myself today that I will do this before the end of this year!
My dad’s death had a huge impact on me, and pretty much stopped me in my tracks. I still think now about all the plans he had and all the things he was going to do, the places he was going to see, and I feel sad that he missed out on all of this. And I suppose in a way this has shaped my attitude of simply getting on an doing what feels right, right at this moment.
I don’t know what my dad would think of what I am doing now, but I know he would have supported me in this as much as he supported me in everything else I chose to do.
Thank you dad, for all that you gave me, I miss you.
More information at:
Bowel Cancer & Digestive Research Institute Australia
The Institute’s mission is to decrease the impact of bowel cancer and digestive diseases in our society and help save lives through support of ongoing medical research and responsibly raising community awareness of risk factors and symptoms, in order to facilitate early diagnosis and participation in screening programs, where applicable.