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coming out of the cancer closet

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coming out of the cancer closet
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Image by postbear
i turned 43 today. typically for birthdays i remove myself from whatever the day’s activities would normally entail and go for a walk, either to a favourite part of the city or to some new unexplored place. given my knees, this year (and last) i decided to stay close to home and play around with hallowe’en costumes as i was invited to a small party by neighbours. the awful dress pants are a bit of the costume i left on – more of the rest later.

six years and two days ago i was diagnosed with cancer, exact specification unknown at the time, but likely non-hodgkin’s lymphoma. nhl (the hockey cancer, a nurse brightly informed me) is the most common type of cancer and includes many diverse subtypes, some of them not terribly worrisome and some more deadly than a thousand cobras with guns soaked in cholesterol. my usual luck held up and i wound up on the nasty end of that continuum, though not at the extreme of it. that diagnosis comes with some cautions, though, as what i’m afflicted with is rare enough that no doctor wants to give much of a prediction for future events. i do know that not many people survive it, that it hits males of advanced age most typically, and that the subtype is still being nailed down and was first described in the late 70s or early 80s (and even that is argued about).

initially the doctors thought i had crohn’s disease or some super form of colitis or ileitis. after having had my gallbladder removed when it rebelled and transformed itself into a toxic pudding ten years ago, i was warned about potential gastric freakouts down the road. i paid attention to my pancreas (who doesn’t?) and had my bile tested from time to time. no real warning came until some heavy gastro-intestinal distress (the details of which i’ll spare you) hit in the summer of 2004, followed by light-headedness. thankfully i have a smart doctor for a gp and he ordered dozens of tests, finally resulting in the cancer diagnosis (by a group of young french interns who had a camera ten kilometres up my ass). after visiting sunnybrook hospital i had a team of oncologists and began chemotherapy.

chemo is rarely easy, but my initial experience wasn’t too bad. the first treatments made me feel a lot better right away, and having a plan of attack does wonders for you psychologically. my hair fell out in clumps and the skin around the follicles actually hurt, so shaving my head wasn’t pleasant. being bald was not a problem, but the pain was annoying, as was seeing my beard fall out in patches, along with pubic hair. i don’t shave, pluck, tweeze or manscape anything and frankly find that behaviour unappealing in the extreme, so i wasn’t happy with the situation. eventually they fine-tuned the basic CHOP therapy i was receiving and the alteration of some of the chemicals stopped the hair apocalypse.

the second stage of my chemo involved some rather more serious chemicals. initially the cancer was found only in my intestine, a large section of which was promptly removed (and hopefully made into a bitter haggis), but as testing continued, it was found that my pet cancer had invaded other areas of my body and more bits and bobs had to be excised. i signed on from the beginning to be a part of as many studies as wanted me, some that were meant to educate new oncology doctors and nurses and some that were narrowly studying my subtype so that oncologists globally could learn more about it. that decision helped me later on when my knees needed attention, as a doctor in munich i found on the internet had treated someone there with a similar cancer and we used some of his techniques on me.

the third stage was simultaneously much easier and much more difficult at times. by the time i was receiving the third variation of chemo, i was well used to it and my body was dealing well with the healing poisons. then my oncologist found cancer cells present in my spinal fluid and had to whip out a big gun. i had to get injections directly in my spine, and that is not a comfortable feeling. as well, i began donating and banking (for myself) bone marrow in case the cancer invaded there. donating bone marrow is easier now than it was in the past, i’m told, but they still have to restrain people at times. new positioning dulls some of the pain and stress, but the essential problem remains: dealing with a large-bore needle as it’s pushed deep into your back, penetrating your spine. inside that needle is a screw mechanism, and that is bored into the centre of your bone until it twists out a fairly big section of bone marrow. it’s a unique feeling to have someone insert a rather large gauge needle into your back and screw bits out of the core of your bones while you can hear this awful scraping sound, your back turned, knowing that you pretty much have to do this or go buy a headstone. the pain is fleeting, though – once the needle and auger are removed, you feel very little. at this stage of my cancer i felt great and was back to work, even riding my bike up to the hospital (6 kilometres, approx.) for some treatments.

some of the stress and trauma is terrible, some of it far less problematic. each patient is affected differently, and some warnings i received in my initial "so you have cancer!" class never manifested as irritations. i only ever had very mild nausea, thankfully, but patients around me could keep nothing down. some foods changed, though – avocados tasted like crap the whole time i was in therapy, but i now enjoy them again. acidic foods are to be avoided when in chemo, but i love tomatoes and citrus so would eat them as much as i could stand – small mouth lesions often develop in patients, but i either have an iron mouth to match my gut or the chemicals didn’t hurt me in that manner. i did wind up having to take steroids, though, and that’s the source of much of my knee trouble. they cut off or impair oxygenated blood flow to the joints and extremities and as i was warned, this can result in bone death. avascular necrosis is the official diagnosis, and i have it in spades. so, two knees are gone and i’m now a cyborg, something that surprised all the doctors – apparently it’s rare enough that one knee would die, let alone two. luck, as ever, is with me.

i mention all this now for a few reasons. at first i told very few people – those who know me well are familiar with my habit of not revealing personal data much unless it is required or those who i am informing are trustworthy, sensible people. i don’t believe that anyone has a right to know all of our secrets and private information, and i’ve stopped being bothered by the hurt looks of people who react badly when i tell them they are prying. i also thought that once the whole cancer deal was done and over with i would just resume my quiet little life and no-one would be the wiser. now, of course, with the knee replacements and gastro-adventures and other medical nonsense, it’s just too much work to not explain it all. even online, where it’s easy to misdirect others with shiny things, it still requires gymnastics at times to edit out some details, gymnastics i can no longer easily perform given the inert matter in my knees and skull. i explained this to a few people here and in real, non-online life recently since i knew this year i’d be letting the internet in on the secret. some i told earlier, particularly if they had to begin dealing with cancer or any other troubling illness and i felt i could help out. if you received no personal memo on the matter and you know me in real life or via komputron, don’t be offended, please. i’ve been busy.

this is a terrible photograph to attach all this to, but it had a certain charm to me. the hat was a gift from an old friend and it arrived last night. it’s too small and i don’t wear hats often, but it may stay. the shot also reveals a bit of what cancer does to a body, which is why i used it. not being able to use my legs the way i used to means more body fat and less muscle. that gut alarms me, and the time i’m allowed on the bike or in the pool at the gym isn’t enough to make me lose the fat yet. another six months or so and i should be in better shape, but that depends if nothing else goes wrong. the short-term prognosis is unclear – i’ve been doing bloodwork a lot, lately. the longterm? i’ve already lived past my initial expiry date, since the doctors collectively predicted i should have been dead withing two years of diagnosis, so i’ve had more than four extra years so far.

one final thing: one reason i’ve been reluctant to mention this to a whole host of people is due to bad reactions. for me, that includes having people fumble for words and then run off, never to be heard from again (really, it happens) to my least favourite, the gloopy outpouring of sympathy. usually accompanied by sad eyes and manifestations of enya songs, the hand-holding, weepy "i’m-so-sorry" routine is exactly what i don’t want and antimatter to my health. so, if you have syrup to pour, do me a favour and pour it down the gullet of a nearby child.

Ashton Court Country Club
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Image by brizzle born and bred
We look back to the time when Redwood Lodge was the Ashton Court Country Club

I wonder how many club members who go swimming there, or use its extensive modern gym facilities, know that Redwood Lodge Hotel and Country Club on Beggar Bush Lane was originally built as a lodge for Sir Greville Smyth’s ornithological collection.

The wealthy Smyth family, who had lived at Ashton Court mansion for some 400 years, were forced to sell their extensive estates just after World War II, and John Ley, the then owner of the popular Glen dance hall on the Downs, jumped at the chance to start a country club in the lodge.

This and many more interesting stories about the early days have come to light during a £15 million refurbishment programme by present owners Folio Hotels.

They tell us exactly what John Ley got for his money and the changes he made to make the club one of the most successful in the country.

See Link Below


Built in 1898, the “Bungalow”, as it was known, was quite stylish in an Arts and Crafts sort of way, with carved stone fireplaces and wooden panelling.

Luckily, it’s still very much intact and still an integral part of the club’s facilities.

Next door in 1950 was a plainer wooden building, built in the Twenties by Lady Smyth’s daughter as a children’s wing.

In the countryside but just outside the city, the location on Failand couldn’t have been better, and some 20 years later the club, still run by the same family, could claim to be the largest of its kind in the country.

The cost of membership, at present £120 a month for a family, was just over £10 a year.

But visitors were also welcome to play a game of tennis for between two shillings and sixpence (12p) or use all the facilities on a Saturday for 10 shillings (50p).

Fifty years on the attractions on offer seem very old-fashioned.

In fine weather, you could go for a leisurely stroll around the rose walk or the deer pond, later to become an outdoor swimming pool.

On the front lawn, for the more active, there was a choice of putting or tennis.

Inside, apart from the lounge bar and dining room, could be found a sun lounge, a ballroom, a card room (later converted to a dining room due to lack of use) and a television room.

Scantily-clad students from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School found temporary work here as cigarette and flower girls and cloakroom attendants.

Ten years on again and there was parking for some 200 cars.

There was also a new entrance porch, a new ballroom bar and a new bandstand, plus a dining and cloakroom extension.

Outside could be found a new greenhouse, teak garden furniture for sun lovers and a cedar wood tennis pavilion for more active members.

There was also something of a novelty – a “tuck shop” extension for snacks and the like.

By 1970 – something of a heyday in the club’s membership – there was parking for 700 cars.

As well as relaxing and being entertained, members wanted more activity, and the club, moving with the times, offered a choice of two open- air pools, one heated indoor pool and 10 tennis courts, three of them floodlit.

There were also 10 squash courts, four badminton courts and an indoor bowling green, opened by Clevedon’s bowls champion David Bryant.

A big treat was saunas in the changing rooms.

If this wasn’t enough, there was table tennis and a four-table billiard room. For quieter times there was a 10-table bridge room.

The Ranch House with its classic Sixties wood-slated ceiling (it’s still there but painted white) offered both early evening cinema and later a disco.

The ballroom, which hosted cabaret, was also available for dinner dances and private functions.

Local singer Anita Harris, Terry Hall’s Lenny the Lion, comedian Derek Roy and Welsh singer Ivor Emmanuel were just some of the stars gracing the cabaret stage throughout the Sixties and Seventies.

Conferences and other corporate events were also catered for.

Lunches and the occasional cabaret were available in the sophisticated Garden Room along with self-service buffet plus entertainment.

In the evening you could enjoy an international cordon bleu menu which included such delicacies as caviar (45 shillings – £2.25) and turtle soup (five shillings and sixpence – just over 25p).

A cup of coffee here wasn’t cheap – it would set you back two to three shillings (10p to 15p).

The Sports Room was open from noon to midnight with liquor licensing for the club being until 2am, something unheard of by the city’s pubs which were kept to strict licensing arrangements, even for Christmas and New Year.

The room had been designed by none other than that much esteemed local architect Raymond Stride.

For those wanting a quieter, less active life, there was a relaxing lounge with a colour TV – a rare treat in the early Seventies.

Dave Young, a 59-year-old maintenance worker from Bedminster, joined the country club – then owned by local entrepreneur John Pontin of the JT Group – in 1977 as part of a team of six.

Their brief included looking after the 16 acres of woods and gardens – something now done by a contractor.

“I originally came as a temporary worker recycling the bottles, but stayed on,” he told me.

“I’m now the longest serving member of staff.”

Had he seen many changes?

“There was very much a family atmosphere among the workers in the Seventies. Now with changes of ownership, its more corporate.

“I remember the big snooker tournaments we used to have here, along with the big names in the sport such as Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins.”

The snooker hall, which could hold 200 and really put the club on the map, is now a restaurant.

“We’ve also had big stars staying here,” said Dave.

“I remember Bruce Forsyth arriving in his Rolls-Royce – he used to play golf over the road – and comedian Jim Davidson when he was with HTV’s Alison Holloway. Tommy Banner from The Wurzels is also a member.

“I get some perks – I’ve got club membership and I can stay at cheap rates at other hotels owned by the same group.

“With people’s changing lifestyles there are more members here in the evening than there used to be and more families.”

Roy Rahamn, now 72, is another club old-timer.

“I originally came here in 1976 as head waiter,” he explained. “Then I left, but I came back and now work part-time as a casual in the catering section doing breakfasts.”

The current club manager, Gordon Riddell, arrived here from Dublin a year ago after 20 years in the hotel business.

He’s now overseeing the refurbishments which will see the number of bedrooms increased to 175.

In the past, the country club has belonged to both Whitbread and Corus.

Have you any memories of Redwood Lodge when it was the Ashton Court Country Club?

Fairmont Empress Hotel
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Image by masmediaspace
From Wikipedia:
The Fairmont Empress (most commonly known as The Empress) is one of the oldest and most famous hotels in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Located on Government Street facing the Inner Harbour, the Empress has become an iconic symbol for the city itself.

The hotel has 477 rooms, with most either overlooking the Inner Harbour or the hotel’s rear courtyard gardens. It has four restaurants, including The Bengal Lounge, which is decorated in Victorian-era, Colonial Indian style (when Queen Victoria was the Empress of India) or Kipling’s, which is named after its once frequent guest and visitor, author Rudyard Kipling. In 2005, Kipling’s closed its doors to the public in order for the hotel to gain more space for private functions. The hotel has gym facilities, a whirlpool bath and an indoor swimming pool.