A strange kind of home

I returned to the Millbrook Suite this week. It sounds almost glamorous and the uninitiated might believe it’s an opulent spa hotel somewhere balmy, exclusive and ridiculously overpriced. It’s true Millbrook welcomes an exclusive clientele and some eye-wateringly expensive activities occur there. There are few places in the world where one treatment costs between £2000 and £30,000 plus specialist staff and equipment (equally essential).

For all the things Milbrook Suite is – friendly, supportive, exclusive – it isn’t a haunt for celebrity-style pampering, the kind I’m told you find at luxury beach resorts. The staff provide an exemplary service and the treatments come in costly courses of between 6 and 12 sessions, that’s where comparisons with swanky hotels end. Fortunately service is included and visitors don’t pay, at least not directly, which is good because most of us couldn’t afford it… But what price do you put on the countless lives passing through Milbrook on their way to treating or managing cancer?

I’m one of them and on the treatment front so far so good, the £150,000+ looks like money well spent. Dr C is happy with progress, all is as it should be except joint issues that continue to perplex us both. More drugs or further investigations were briefly mentioned however I can’t recall a case of someone dying from joint pain. I told Dr C I’ll put up with it, unless he knows otherwise. He scratched his head turning his hair into a small replica of the Sagrada Familia then laughed and said he wasn’t aware that happened terribly often. So we’re avoiding further medical interventions to counteract the side effects of previous medical interventions. In my view there are always consequences.

There were 7 more lives in the waiting room this week. Some are getting better, some are forced to increase their efforts to overthrow the murderous stalker within. Millbrook Suite might be considered depressing because everyone attends knowing they have no real choice. Do nothing isn’t an option yet for some the medical staff reach a point where treatment stops working and they can offer nothing more. A man from my chemo days had lung mets confirmed; we talked about it while waiting to see Dr C. He laughed and said at least he’ll get some value from all the tax he’s paid – he thinks five years is achievable (they give him 12 months). I agreed and secretly asked whatever higher authority might be listening to please give him at least five more years because in the grand scheme of things it isn’t so much to ask. This is the reality of Millbrook. Complete strangers are thrown together and forced to confront mortality whilst accepting their bodies are no longer a safe place to reside. They laugh in the darkest moments. I’ve never quite belonged anywhere because my experience of life has been far from straightforward. It made me an anomaly and awkward or pitying questions always came up – in short, how do I cope with so few happily ever afters? I gave up asking why (the deaths and disappointments kept happening) a long time ago because there’s no other way to survive and remain sane. I find I fit in a little better at Millbrook where none of the lives are straightforward. It’s a strange place to call home and definitely wouldn’t have been my first choice but at least I’m not a curiosity there!

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8 thoughts on “A strange kind of home

  1. This is not the original comment I had intended, as that seems to have disappeared into the ether. This was a wonderful piece of writing Tracy. Life is certainly strange and is definately unfair. Places like the Millbrook Suite bring people together who otherwise would probably have never met. Of all the people I have known in my lifetime, the nicest, most genuine and most deserving have been those I have met in places like the Millbrook. The inner strength of these people has always amazed me, mainly because, despite their own problems, insecurities and uncertain futures, they willingly give their time and what energy they have, to support others who, through no fault of their own, are ‘in the same boat.’ Even now, working with people in their own homes who are either severely disabled, suffering from one or more dibilitating and progressive diseases, or are terminally ill, I have found them (and their families) to be more ‘giving’ than ‘taking’ on many occasions. These are the people who show what the Human Race can be at its best, in spite of all adversity.
    If only ‘people’ valued other ‘people’ as much as some of the less important things in life, what a much nicer world it could be!
    Wishing you, and all those who are still receiving treatment at the Millbrook (and all the other treatment centres that do such good work) all the time they need.
    Life, after all, is not about posessions or wealth, but about the love and wellbeing of our fellow man.
    Love always. Dad xxx

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    • Thank you Dad. Strangely enough I replied and the reply didn’t work either… So this is a second attempt too… (Technology is soooo frustrating sometimes!) I have never really valued material things, I have worked hard for the few I have and I look after them because I wouldn’t be able to afford to replace them, but ultimately they are just things.

      People are something quite different. I have come to appreciate how fragile and unpredictable life is, how easy it is for people to cause untold problems for others through attitudes and behaviours and how unnecessary that is given the very short time we all get here. I have met truly wonderful people who have run out of time far too soon and truly awful people who seem to skip through life without a thought for their fellow humans, the planet or the other things that live here. It sometimes makes me wonder if the wrong one was put in charge upstairs after all!

      We humans still have so much to learn… I’d like to hope it would happen in my lifetime but even if I lived to be 792 I’m not sure it would happen. In the meantime I’ll continue to do my bit just like you do in the hope that some of it makes a difference. Sending much love always xxx

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  2. Another piece of good writing Tracy ,where would we all be if those fabulous people at Millbrook were not around .Thinking of you take care ,Aunty Linda xxx

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    • Thank you Aunty Linda. I dread to think where we’d be… I know I wouldn’t be here now without them and the same is true for most of the patients of Millbrook. Men, women, children, teenagers, elder folk and those somewhere in between like me would all be in wooden boxes or urns. Thank goodness everyone doesn’t want to be a politician! Sending much love and a big thank you for all your support xxx

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  3. I am happy your health remains good and that you gave solidarity to the man who just wanted another 5. It is not for us to question, but to do our best as the situations arise. Wonderful writing!

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  4. The most memorable line I have seen in a long time, “Complete strangers are thrown together and forced to confront mortality whilst accepting their bodies are no longer a safe place to reside.”
    While reading this post I was, as is often the case, caused to ask myself, “Where is home?” While, on this chilly morning (just recovering from a -12 low last night) I am grateful for the four walls, roof and floor that surround me, It can’t be that this physical space is home. The central thrust of your piece has made that abundantly clear.
    So, then are we to fall back on the memorable lines uttered by Descartes over 350 years ago (cogito ergo sum) and insist that it’s all inside our heads, and assume that so is home. Nonsense! There may be a few who spend all their time inside their own heads but most of us have to turn eyes outward and deal with the very real world tat surrounds us.
    Our bodies, then? Based on your beautiful line, that can’t be it either. After all, one of the main things we seek from home is safety and if it’s not there we soon leave.
    So where then?
    No easy answers to that one, except to say that, since all of us experience life in a way that is, in sum, at once both unique and complex then we should assume that each one of us will likely arrive at a slightly different answer and the search for that answer is very much a part of what keeps us going on a daily basis.
    It’s December 1, the time when many start focusing eyes on end-of-year celebrations like Christmas and New Year’s Eve; a time when sentiment trumps logic 🙂 and insomuch as one keeps balance in mind I see nothing wrong with that. In fact, I’ll just borrow one of the most used phrases about home, “It’s where the heart is,” and use it for my own mantra, leaving behind, then one more question: so what is the heart?
    And so, back again, then to that pursuit of life: needs, wants, values, responsibilities, suffering, joy, all sustained by inner strength and the help of others….
    And at the heart of it all…
    Ah, yes…

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    • I studied philosophy quite recently and enjoyed it a great deal. Having been fiercely rooted in science and facts that prove or disprove theories, philosophy was different, unfamiliar and as each argument made twists and turns in all directions it became the most thought-provoking experience I’d had for a long time. Except for life itself which, when considered beyond the realms of the every day things we do (almost on autopilot), soon becomes the ultimate riddle – who are we, what are we, why are we, where are we going, is it the right direction, is it all predestined, does free will really exist? But these are searching questions and even the ones we think we know the answers to – who am I? – get different responses at different points in our lives. But at this time of year when the nights close in, the trees are lit and festivities begin the questions seem to fade into the background and sometimes that’s how it should be…

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