Lift up the T-shirt, what did you find?

30 Jan

Today, I bumped into a person whom I hadn’t seen for a number of months. He’s not exactly a great friend or a passing stranger. I met him over a year ago. Well, actually, he said he recognised me from somewhere and introduced himself. We started talking and from thereonin, every time we saw each other, we would exchange pleasantries and I would get to hear how life was treating him.

In December 2011, I heard that his young daughter had passed away. I don’t think anyone knew how James was coping. All I knew is that he wasn’t himself. As I was working as a volunteer in a charity shop, I observed his behaviour when he popped in and informally monitored his mental health state. After working for so many years in the care sector, I can’t help but assess people and would do anything to help someone in need if I could. I waited for James to approach me but he never did. All I heard through a colleague was that he was receiving Counselling and was on anti-depressants to cope with his grief.
For all his bravado and pleasant conversations, James is a relatively private person. So I owed it to him to respect his space.

As I said, I hadn’t seen him for some time, so when I saw him in the British Heart Foundation charity shop, we took the opportunity to catch up on our news. We spoke briefly about holiday destinations and work. Small talk. Then James said he had cancer. He pointed to his chin and neck and explained he had enlarged lymph nodes, although some people said he “looked like a hamster”. He pointed to his groin and indicated it was spreading. Then he said he had it on his back and promptly lifted his shirt to expose what looked like a large cancerous hole on his back, about the size of a cricket ball. James coolly explained how it first came to his attention. He had happened to be wearing a white T shirt and a friend pointed out that there was blood on the back of the T shirt. James touched the area in question “as you do”, he said and could feel what appeared to be a mole. He then went to the doctor who promptly investigated the mole. James was informed that the cancer may have been lying dormant for about 20 or 30 years and something like stress may have triggered it off. The immune system may begin to shut down and become more susceptible to infection or any other ailment, disease or medical condition, he said.

James said he could deal with it and is fortunate to have adult children who motivate and support him throughout his “ordeals”. He said he could cope with cancer and finds it easy to talk to people about what he is going through. But he said talking about the death of his daughter leaves no room for discussion.

For now, that is a closed door and he cannot bring himself to speak about it. Bereavement, loss and grief are strong emotions and it is shame we cannot speak more openly aboout death and dying as much as we can speak of the other ills of this world…

James said he remains optimistic, lives each day as it comes and is fortunate to have his family and loved ones around him, to support and re-assure him.  For all that he has gone through, I have to admire and respect his  determination and magnitude of inner strength.

Sporadic encounters with James made me feel that all I could offer him is a helping hand if he needed it, an ear if he wanted to speak and a cup of tea if he ever felt the need for informal respite or a break from the emotional and mental toils of the day.

I think that is all I can do.


The Learned Kat



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: