Friday 8 November 2019

Introducing Hera

We sold Juno with the slightly vague and dreamy idea to buy a catamaran and sail back to the South Pacific where we spent such a wonderful time with our friends on the World ARC in 2015. Our plan was to spend the northern hemisphere winter cruising the islands of Polynesia, and summers back at our new home on the Isle of Wight. With the ink barely dry on Juno’s transfer documents, we complete on the purchase of a Catana 50 catamaran, now named Hera, with a view to an Atlantic crossing in autumn 2018 and the Pacific in 2020.  And then I have a blood test.

Moving to the Isle of Wight has been a complete joy, and I must confess something of a surprise.  While I had always enjoyed sailing to Cowes and visiting friends on the Island, what I hadn’t appreciated before was the beautiful coastline on the south of the island with huge horizons, rolling farmland and sandy beaches. Life here is a throw back to a bygone era where there is little crime, a gentle pace and time to be courteous. Every time we catch the ferry across to the island it feels as if we are going on holiday and our move has been a huge success.

One of the first things that Caroline insisted that we do when we moved here was to register at our local health centre, a tiny doctor’s surgery in Niton.  A few routine questions from the nurse, a blood sample taken from my vein and we were done. Two days later I receive a call from the surgery asking me to come in and discuss the results of the blood test. “My diary is clear over the next few weeks, when is the doctor free?” I ask. “How about this afternoon?” says the nurse.

My PSA, a test for prostate cancer, is high and the GP refers me to a specialist. From there, events move quickly, with MRI scans, more blood tests, a biopsy and then a meeting with the urologist, Professor Stephen Langley, to discuss the results. I ask Caroline to join me and we are shown into his consulting rooms at the Nuffield Hospital. By this stage I am mentally prepared for bad news but nevertheless his confirmation of the diagnosis still hits us hard, and a feeling of enormous fatigue descends on me as we try to digest all the facts.  Stephen is charming, gracious and balanced in his delivery and he is also optimistic that a complete cure is possible. However first he wants me to have a bone scan as a matter or urgency to ensure that the cancer hasn’t spread.

A bone scan involves injecting a radioactive substance into a vein that is taken up by the bones and shows on an infrared camera. My friend Oults accompanies me to the hospital on this occasion and on the way home we kill time by practising navigation with a hand-bearing compass.  It works fine for Nick but when I hold it, the needle goes wild, the radioactivity in my blood sending the magnet into spasm.  The days following the bone scan are very difficult. A negative result would mean that the cancer has metastasised and spread to other parts of my body making a complete cure very unlikely. For the first time Fatty and I consider the possibility that our future together could be very uncertain.

The meeting with the surgeon is late in the afternoon and as he greets us at reception his first words are ‘by the way, the scan was fine’. All the stress and anxiety of the past few days just seems to drain out of me and as I sit in his room to discuss the treatment I just feel exhausted. I never thought I would be happy to say ‘I only have cancer’. We discuss the treatment options and agree the next steps. Hormone therapy for three months followed by radiotherapy and then finally brachytherapy. Hopefully the treatment should be complete by Christmas, although I will have to take the drugs for the next two years. Ho hum.

The Death Plan was my label, deliberately provocative, urging anyone who had a big adventure, to do it now, as we never know what the future holds. Of course I never thought it would apply to me, but now I have a glimpse of that future. I hope that the next phase of the plan will be possible and that we will sail back to the Pacific, but if there was ever any doubt, the future is uncertain.  I am determined to plan for the future - but to live for today.  

My treatment has meant that our sailing plans have been delayed by a year but we have used this time, based in Puerto Calero marina in Lanzarote, to make a number of improvements to Hera and to prepare her for the Atlantic crossing. My only regret is that my darling Fatty, who has been an absolute rock, will not be crossing with us, but she is busy provisioning and we are once again surrounded by lists and storage boxes and Hera’s waterline is visibly rising by the day.  I am delighted that our crew of good friends, Andrew, Mervyn, Oults and Rosie have all signed up again and we are now preparing to leave with the ARC on November 24th.  

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