Kempton Park Racecourse hold their antique fairs on the second and last Tuesdays of the month.
Out of all the ones Elaine and I did in the 90’s and early 2000’s they consistently proved to be the most lucrative.
They start at 6am so we had to sort and load-up on the Monday beforehand, then travel overnight- a ninety mile trip- to get a good pitch, then try to catch a few hours’ sleep in the truck before kick- off.
The buyers who turned-up were serious spenders. They didn’t just look and poke and make comments like “Oh we found one of those in grannies loft, but we chucked it out Ha- Ha.”
(If I only had a pound for every time!)
We always did well but, being outside had to be wary of the weather.
One Tuesday small, fluttery flakes of snow started to fall out of a slate grey sky at about 5.30am.It got harder and harder.
Some sellers didn’t even bother to unload. A few die hard buyers came out early, but soon retreated against the white onslaught.
We unloaded everything, but after some early sales to regulars it all just died off. The blanket of snow made our gear look as good as everyone else’s but Elaine’s face just shouted of disappointment. She always put such effort into it all, as indeed she did with everything she turned her hand or mind to.
Elaine would simply never admit defeat so even though many around us packed-up and left, we remained, determined to stick it out.
By 11am though it seemed hopeless. The weather had eased off but there was hardly anyone left around so we started brushing off the snowy foe in preparation to packing up ourselves.
We were always near the top end, close to a separate parking area where large vehicles could drive in, via an alternative gate, for loading purposes.
The sound of heavy diesel motors made us look up, as into this area drove three huge coaches followed by a large panel van and then a 7.5 ton truck.
The coaches proceeded to disgorge hoards of foreign passengers on an antiques buying tour-the van was for any items too large for the coaches. The truck was with film prop buyers, who were regulars, but all had been stuck the other side of London due to the snow.
They descended on the few of us left like a plague of starving locusts. The snow didn’t seem to bother them at all. Pleased to be out of the confines of the coaches, they laughed, took photos, and bought and bought and bought.
It turned out they all feared everything would be over by the time they reached Kempton, so they were overjoyed to find some of us still there. Elaine, of course, was in her element.
We were on our way home before 1pm. There were only a few odd bits to load back up.
It proved to be one of our best days anywhere ever.
Elaine’s beaming smile all the way home, could have melted what was left of the snow.
Monday 21st December, evening.
I’m at home when the phone rings just after 6pm.
“Hello is that Mark?”
“It’s Doctor Kevin here, I’m Elaine’s doctor at Forest Holme.”
“Hi Doctor Kevin, everything alright?”
“Yes fine, no cause to worry, just a courtesy call really, to introduce myself.”
“OK, thank you.”
“Elaine has settled-in, we’ve taken blood for testing, should have some results in the morning. Our main concern is getting her pain under control.”
“It’s been pretty bad doc, for her to complain it has to be.”
“Yes so I understand, she told me about last night. We can’t allow a repeat of that.”
He continues, “Mark, please understand Elaine is with us for assessment purposes only, at present. She is not a palliative care patient at the moment. Is there anything you wish to ask me?”
“I can’t think of anything.”
“OK fine. If I call at the same time tomorrow I may have more news for you, would that be alright?”
“I’ll be here.”
“Till tomorrow then, goodnight.”
He sounds like a nice guy, but there was no real news there. I always suspect that they know far more than they wish to tell.
Elaine calls about 9pm to say she’s been asleep, that they’ve taken blood, and is on her oral pain medication, so fingers crossed for a better night.
She sounds pretty sleepy as we say our goodnights.
It’s a strange night for me home alone. There have been so many others in the past when Elaine has been in hospital. But this one has the element of a countdown beginning about it and I am feeling very uneasy.
Could this now be the bullet we can’t dodge, we’ve got away with it so many times before, but what if?
Neither Elaine nor I are quitters, we simply could not afford to be. We’ve never given up to the cancer, just once would be all it needed. Our life together depends on our refusal to change our position or compromise.
We’ve both been born with an obstinate streak.
With Elaine it’s pure determination, whatever.
In me it’s unwavering stubbornness, and most likely a refusal to see what others take as common sense.
The two of us together make a formidable crew and I’m damned now if I’m going to let the creeping doubts get the better of me.
I stay up as late as possible, hopefully to gain sleep quickly, and not have to lie there trying to best guess scenario the future.
I hate going to bed alone. There is a coldness about it that always feels slightly too familiar.
Elaine calls just after 7am on Tuesday morning. She sounds groggy and says she did not have too good a night’” Couldn’t get comfortable, pain kept me awake.”
She’s ‘tried’ some toast and porridge for breakfast. But I know ‘tried’ means she ate very little.
We agree to speak later that night.
For the life of me I can’t remember how I passed the day but the phone rings again dead on 6pm.
“Hello Mark”-its Doctor Kevin as promised.
“How are you Mark?”
“That depends on what you have to say.”
“Well we’ve run quite a few tests, some of the results are a bit bizarre.”
“One thing we have learned, Elaine’s sodium level is low. In fact it’s very low, which would account for the confusion that she’s experiencing. It’s a known symptom.”
“Any idea of the cause doc?”
“Not at present, we’re running more tests.”
I think back to my conversation with Elaine this morning and mention that she said about not having too good a night.
“Yes I know Mark. We’ve now changed tack on the pain medication and have put her on a syringe driver so as to by-pass the digestive process, this should work a lot better for her from now on.”
He continues very quickly, “Mark, would you like to come and see Elaine tomorrow?”
“Yes of course I would but what about the Covid restrictions? I thought Christmas Day was the only chance to visit.”
“Well, I don’t see why we can’t make an exception in this case. Perhaps I could come and meet you then to?”
All of a sudden alarm bells are ringing inside me- I may have been born in the morning but it wasn’t yesterday morning.
“I’ve got the feeling you’re trying awfully bloody hard not to tell me something.”
There’s a few seconds of silence before he takes up again.
“ Ok Mark she said you both always wanted the truth, however hard.”
I remain silent so he continues.
“I gave Elaine a complete examination this morning, and afterwards we had a long talk together. You want me to be honest Mark, the fact is Elaine is now far too weak for any more anti-cancer treatments, chemotherapy now would just result in killing her outright. The cancer has spread quickly and she hasn’t got anything left to fight it.”
No more chemo’ means there’s absolutely no chance of halting the cancer. It means my wife is going to die.
As Doctor Kevin continues he seems to confirm my voiceless thoughts.
“Mark, in light of this our view on treating Elaine has changed- she is now under palliative care.”
I don’t speak.
Diplomatically he carries on “ What time do you think you’ll be here tomorrow?”
I gulp down the fear, “How about midday?”
“That’s fine Mark, I’ll come and find you after then, goodnight.”
“Ok doc – and thank you.”
My mind was struggling to grasp the enormity of what he had just said. How the hell had it got to this stage so quickly?
Just a few months ago Elaine was still on Targeted Therapy and all was going ok. But was it?
That treatment was causing the internal inflammation she was experiencing. Were they so concerned with that, that they took their eye off the cancer, long enough for it to gain a stronger hold?
All these treatments are wonderful in so much that they prolong and save lives. But there is a price to pay, the side effects. The other conditions they can, and do cause, can be as dangerous as the cancer itself.
These latest developments for Elaine are the only real time that the cancer has made her ill, all the others have been caused by the treatments. But without those treatments she would have been dead long ago.
I realise I’m sat staring at the phone as it makes a funny noise to tell me the call has ended.
I can’t help but feel that it’s calling time on my wife and marriage too.
To be con’t…