Tuesday, 15 July 2008

We were healthy

Watched a very moving film about Theriesenstadt yesterday in which a ninety-eight year old Jewish pianist recounted the story of her survival as part of the prisoners' orchestra: We were given black water in the morning, she said, and white water at mid-day, and black water again in the evening, and yet we were healthy. Why? Because we looked forward to playing in the evening.

In the same film, a horrible nexus was drawn between the anti-semitic writings of Wagner and the use of music by the Nazis as a warped cultural tool with which to bludgeon the inmates of the concentration camps. (Primo Levi writes of how he will never get the music of the Lager - those infernal German marching songs, out of his mind.) Wagner believed that Jews had 'corrupted' the music of the Romantic period by their use of minor chords, and that their only hope within German society was to 'go under' (assimilation or annihilation?); yet it was Felix Mendelssohn who resurrected Bach's Matthew Passion! Perhaps this Nazi infiltration of the highest of the arts is an example of how a good impulse can so easily turn to bad - like a cell turning cancerous and setting forth on its interminable death march. For me, though, after watching the film, it was a message from the gods of the power music has to heal, minor chords or not. Beethoven felt it at Heilgenstadt, where it turned his mind from thoughts of suicide to thoughts of transcendence. And how Beethoven transcended! Wow! I was playing the Fifth Symphony - for the first time in years, as part of my current music studies. What a testament to healing that is, and what a powerful force for good.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008


The issue of co-funding, which I understand to mean patients paying for part of their treatment on the NHS, has been much in the news lately. If I sat down and thought long and hard about it, I guess I would have to stick by the original guiding principle of the NHS: that treatment should be freely available to all at point of need. The problem is that it isn't. But should those who can afford to pay for part of their care, such as drugs like Sutent, or the one that's keeping me alive - Herceptin, continue to receive all other procedures, such as scans and bloodtests, free on the NHS? To allow this inevitably suggests a two-tier and therefore unequal system, and to me, as a socialist with a very small sss, that has to be wrong.

On the other hand, imagine (as I can only too well) a scenario where a potentially life-saving drug, trialled and used successfully in other countries, is refused to an NHS patient on grounds of cost. And imagine if that patient could pay for the drug by cobbling together the money for that, but not for all the other procedures. And imagine still further another patient who could afford neither the drug nor the other treatments, but got the other treatments and not the drug that was being bought by the person in the next bed...No, no, no... It's a moral minefield.

Why can't these drugs simply be made cheaper? I understand that there are research costs to recoup on the part of the drugs companies. But why are cancer drugs in Britain VAT rated (like children's shoes for God's sake)? Why are they more expensive here than in other countries in Europe? Why not more freely, more widely available?

All this went through my mind when I was waiting for my recent hysteroscopy down in Penzance, imagining the worst-case scenario of another heavy duty cancer treatment programme, based on the usual nightmarish number of variables (disease location and process, stage, prognosis, treatment options, etc.). The hysteroscopy showed nothing at all (in fact, I quite enjoyed the cosy cottage hospital atmosphere of the day-case ward and my pre-op visit from a charming German anaesthetist, who said he would 'proceed' away from my vocal chords, I having told him my breathing was fine because I sang...). But lying on the CT scanner bed last week, for my 6 month check, I was overcome by the sort of free-floating anxiety that usually assails me at the main hospital, where once you stray outside the oncology areas, you are subject to the usual waiting about and vague air of incompetence. What if, what if, what if...

The cure for that, of course, is life itself. Live it. Seize the day. I drove up over Dartmoor with my daughter last week, relishing the scenery of South Devon, so unlike our scenery in Cornwall, and against which I have always had my Cornish father's prejudices (I'm not a Devon person, was what he used to say - and he always went on about the parlous state of Devon's roads (Conservative mean farmers).  But last week, through my extra rose tinted cancer-survivor's specs, I saw Devon in a different light. Cricket on the lawn at Dartington; the clink of iced champagne glasses at the open air Shakespeare; the sun going down on the English meadows. 
I can understand people wanting to sell all they have to buy more time for that kind of thing. For life.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Ancient Healing

> Click the link below to view the icon of St Panteleimon,
> inspirational healer and martyr.

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