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About the author:
Ernesto H Lee is the author of three books in The Dream Traveler series that follow the exploits of the Dream Traveling Detective, Sean McMillan.
The first three books in The Dream Traveler series are Out Of Time (published August 2018), The Network (published October 2018) and Finding Lucy (published March 2019).
The Fourth book in the series, 'Fools Gold' is expected to be published by the end of 2019.
He is also the author of the tragic romance novel, 'Walk With Me, One Hundred Days of Crazy.' This was published in July 2019.
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What inspired you to write your book?
Cancer is something that touches on so many lives and I wanted to show that even when faced with the worst possible news, hope can always be found.
Here is a short sample from the book:
After my initial diagnosis, I had spent nearly two weeks researching my condition and looking into who the top specialists in the UK were. My final shortlist had three names on it. After a consultation with each of them, I had sat down with my father and brother to make the most important decision of my life to date.
With his impeccable credentials and an even more impressive track record of success, I finally chose to put my faith and my life in the hands of the eminent Harley Street Consultant Oncologist, Dr. Alan Bleakley. More than eighteen months on, he now feels like a close friend, and I feel like I know the layout of his surgery better than I know my own apartment.
As with all close friends, there is an unwritten rule that no matter how harsh the message or the opinion, friends should always be honest with each other. They shouldn’t be afraid to tell the truth and they should never, under any circumstance, try to sugarcoat the message in an attempt to spare the feelings of the other person.
With Alan, this has never been an issue. By the very nature of his profession, Alan Bleakley is as straight as they come when delivering bad news. Unfortunately, this is of no consolation to me, and despite there having always been a chance of this scenario, it’s a bombshell none the less. After delivering the latest bad news, Alan tactfully stays quiet and allows me a couple of minutes to fully digest it, before he speaks again.
“Mark, I know we’ve discussed this possibility before, but I think now is the time to look at the options we discussed prior to your last transrectal MRI scan. You should really consider the—”
“Sorry, doctor, but am I missing something here?” I angrily interrupt. “You’ve just told me that my tumor has grown and that the cancer may also now have spread to my lymph nodes and bladder. Is there any real point in continuing this conversation? When I first met you, you confidently told me there was a ninety-one percent survival rate for prostate cancer at my age. That was pretty good odds by any measure. So, what the hell went wrong? Did I back the wrong horse?”
My outburst is completely uncalled for, but, ever the professional, Alan doesn’t immediately respond. Instead, he allows another short pause for me to compose myself, during which I immediately regret speaking to him in such a way.
My reaction to the news that my cancer is now at stage four is most likely a scenario that he has witnessed many times before, and whilst I have no doubt that he has heard a lot worse from other patients, this is still no excuse for my behavior, and I offer an apology.
“I’m sorry, Alan. I didn’t mean that the way it sounded. I’m truly grateful for your advice and support. I just never thought it would ever get this far. I’m forty-one years old and I have no idea if I’m going to see my next birthday. I really don’t know what else to say.”
“You don’t need to say anything,” he replies. “I do need you to listen carefully though, and then I suggest you go home and speak to your family.”
I nod my agreement and then I ask him how long I have left.
“Well firstly, Mark, let’s clear something up, shall we? Stage four cancer doesn’t necessarily mean that we are out of options. It’s very serious, of course, but it’s still possible to beat or to prolong life expectancy with the right combination of therapies and surg—”
“But, how long do I have?” I Interrupt again.
My question causes him to look down at his notes and then he frowns and pushes his glasses further back on the bridge of his nose.
“Your best-case scenario without further treatment is nine to twelve months, but it could be as little as six months. However, with surgery and a more intensive application of hormone therapy and chemotherapy, there is a real chance of…”
Dr. Bleakley is still talking, but he lost me at six months and my mind wanders to a place where all that awaits me is a protracted and painful death. The way I see it, the only two options I have are to continue my unpleasant course of treatment with a slim chance of beating my cancer, or to walk away now and make the best of what little time I have left. Neither option gives me any sense of comfort or hope, and when he realizes that I am not listening, he stops talking and reaches across his desk for my hand.
“Mark, why don’t you go home and get some rest. I’ll ask my PA to make you another appointment in a few days’ time. We can discuss then how you’d like to proceed. Would you like me to arrange for one of our drivers to take you home?”
I can still barely comprehend what is happening, but I get to my feet.
“No, that’s okay, thank you. I think I’d prefer to walk for now and get some fresh air.”
Alan gets up and walks me to the reception to make my next appointment. His PA is an attractive blonde in her early thirties, and despite her best efforts she is failing horribly to hide the fact that she knows the details of my latest prognosis.
On my previous visits she was chatty and bubbly, but today her smile is forced and I’m almost feeling embarrassed for her. To save both of our blushes, I turn away and pretend to check something on my cellphone whilst Alan checks for the next available appointment.
“Joanna, please check if we have a one-hour slot available on Monday for Mr. Rennie.”
There is a short pause and then she asks me if 2 pm would be okay, adding, “If two is difficult for you, then we could also fit you in at four. Which would you prefer, Mr. Rennie?”
“Both are fine,” I reply, “so put me down for the 4 pm slot, please. I can finish work early and I’ll head straight home afterwards.”
“Okay, that’s confirmed for you,” Joanna says. “Would you like our driver to take you anywhere?”
Alan replies on my behalf, “Mr. Rennie would like to walk to get some fresh air. Mark, please let me show you out.”
I turn towards the door, but before either of us can move, Joanna informs her boss about his next appointment.
“Dr. Bleakley, Dr. McKenzie is here to see you next.”
We both turn to face the waiting area and the stunningly beautiful woman sitting on one of the leather sofas. I had been so wrapped up in my own thoughts that I hadn’t seen her when I came out of Alan’s surgery. Now, though, I can’t take my eyes off of her. She is in her mid- to late-thirties, around five-feet eight-inches tall, slim with a fair complexion and long black hair. I’m wondering about her connection to Dr. Bleakley when he puts his hand on my shoulder and my concentration is broken.
“Mark, are you sure you won’t take that ride? It’s no problem, the car is just outside.”
I decline again and Alan walks me to the door. He shakes my hand and tells me again to speak with my family.
“This is not the end of the line, Mark. There are options. I’ll see you at 4 pm on Monday, but feel free to call me if you have any questions before then.”
. . . . . . . .
I step out into the street and Alan closes the door behind me. The time is just after three, but I have no appetite to go back to work. My boss and my colleagues are all aware of my condition, and I am in no mood for the inevitable questions, or the barrage of advice and suggestions that I know will be waiting for me. They all mean well, but for now I just want to walk and be on my own. It will be bad enough talking to my father and brother later today, without also having to explain myself a dozen times to my workmates.
Without really knowing where I am going, I slowly walk down Harley Street and take some time to reflect on the frailties of life. Less than two years ago, I hadn’t a care in the world. Approaching my fortieth birthday, my career in the city was on the rise, and I was living a life that most can only dream of.
As a successful commodities trader with one of the leading London trading houses, I had it all. I had more money than I could spend. I had the flashy car, a penthouse apartment, memberships to the best clubs and, above all, I had my health and a beautiful fiancée.
I still have the material things, of course, but the things that mean the most are long gone. My body has been ravaged by cancer, and unable to cope with the challenges of my illness, my beautiful and caring fiancée turned out to be not so caring after all and is now engaged to one of my former friends.
I stop for a moment and take in the sight of the impressive Victorian and Edwardian period buildings that dominate Harley Street. It’s famous as the center of private medicine in England, for those fortunate and wealthy enough to be able to afford it.
A fat lot of good that has done for me.
Despite the enormous sums of money I have thrown at my treatment, it has still not been enough.
When the odds are against you, it doesn’t matter how much money you have. You still can’t win.
At the top of Harley Street, I turn right onto Devonshire Street and then left onto Portland Place until I reach the crescent that encircles Regents Park. It’s still early September, and although I’ve been walking slowly, I am sweating.
I take off my suit jacket and tie, and for a moment I consider going into the park, but then decide against it. Inexplicably, I leave my jacket and tie hanging on the railings and I turn right towards Marylebone Road. I’ve lived in London for more than fifteen years, but I’ve never been to this part of town before and this is the first time I’ve seen the John F. Kennedy Memorial close-up.
The memorial itself is beautiful in its simplicity. There is a bust of JFK on a tall black plinth with the simple inscription ‘John F. Kennedy 1917–1963’.
I compare my own situation to his, and then completely irrationally I find myself getting angry that he was forty-six years old before he died.
“For Christ’s sake, even he made it to forty-six. What the hell have I done to deserve this?”
My question is to myself, but my outburst has caught the attention of a small group of elderly American tourists who are also looking at the memorial. One elderly gentleman wearing a baseball cap emblazoned with a US Navy emblem and the words USS Arizona approaches me and puts his hand on my shoulder.
“Are you okay, son? You look a little pale. Can I help you with anything?”
His words are sincere, and I find myself blushing as his friends crowd around to offer their help. I assure the veteran that I’m okay and then I ask him about his cap.
“The USS Arizona, wasn’t that one of the ships at Pearl Harbor?”
My question makes him smile and his chest swells with pride as he confirms that it was. I can tell he is itching to tell me more, but I interrupt him and ask his age. If I thought his chest couldn’t swell anymore, I am instantly proved wrong as he answers me.
“Would you believe me if I told you I was ninety-two years old, son? I was just eighteen when the japs attacked us at Pearl Harbor.”
I’m stunned at how well he looks for his age and I ask him a final question.
“Would you say you’ve lived a good life, sir?”
“I think so,” he replies. “Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t led a perfect life and I have plenty of regrets. But, on balance, yes. I think I have led a good life. Is everything all right, son?”
“It is, thank you. You’ve been very helpful.”
I shake his hand and then leave the veteran and his friends to mull over my last comment.
I continue to walk, but now I know what I want. I want some time alone and I want a cold pint. On Euston Road, I stop outside The Green Man pub to check my phone. It has been on silent for the last few hours and I have half-a-dozen missed calls and text messages from my father and brother asking me to call them. I message them both to tell them that I’ll call them later, and then I turn off my phone and go inside the pub.
This is my first visit to The Green Man, but if I had to put a label on it, I would describe it as a contemporary British boozer. The clientele, however, are anything but contemporary. Even without needing to hear the accents, most of the drinkers have tourist written all over them. It’s likely they are here simply to tick the trip to the British pub off of their bucket list.
I walk towards the bar and signal to the barman. He is a tall, good-looking young man with tightly cropped blonde hair, so it is no surprise when he greets me with a strong Eastern European accent.
I return his greeting and order myself a pint of Stella Artois. Then I take a seat in a quiet booth opposite the bar.
I watch for a few seconds as the condensation runs down the side of my glass, and then I take a large gulp and savor the taste of the cool liquid. If anyone was watching me, they might think that I’d never had a cold beer before, and they wouldn’t be too far wrong. After my diagnosis, and on the advice of Dr. Bleakley, I gave my lifestyle a complete overhaul. Healthy eating, a sensible exercise regimen, no more late nights and, most importantly for my immune system, no alcohol.
In retrospect, that all seems to have been a bit of a waste of time, and whilst I’m not entirely sure if I’ve lived a completely good life, the words of the navy veteran have made me realize that I at least need to live what little of my life I have left.
I finish my drink and head to the bar to order a refill. While the barman fills my glass, I turn towards the end of the bar to watch the early evening BBC news. It’s the usual banal rubbish, but when I hear a soft female voice ordering a drink, I turn back towards the barman to see who it is.
“Hi, Pawel, a gin and tonic please, and make it a double.”
The accent is distinctly northern and not at all what I was expecting. As stereotypes go, and based on looks alone, I would have put her down as a London girl, or, at the very least, home counties privately educated. The accent is not the real surprise though, and as she catches my eye, we both awkwardly look away.
I take my drink back to my booth and put our encounter down to nothing more than an embarrassing coincidence. Despite this, I keep looking over towards her and more than once she catches me staring.
After catching me for a third time, she smiles, finishes her drink and picks up her handbag. To my great relief, she walks towards the door, but then she turns and walks back in my direction. I look down, hoping she is going to the bathroom, but she stops and puts her bag down on the bench opposite me. I look up from my drink and she asks if I’d mind her joining me.
I’d been hoping to be left alone and, gorgeous or not, her interruption is unwelcome, and my response is suitably curt.
“That really all depends on what you want. Did Dr. Bleakley send you to spy on me, Dr. McKenzie? Are you going to report back that you caught me having a sly pint?”
“Yep, that’s right,” she replies with a smile. “I followed you with the GPS tracker that he implanted into you earlier today. I take it that you didn’t know that Dr. Bleakley is an undercover agent for MI5?”
Her response makes me blush and without waiting for an invitation she sits down opposite me.
“I’m no different from you. I needed a drink and was intending to have one before going home. I didn’t follow you. I live close by. What’s your excuse?”
“This is my first time in this pub. I started walking and ended up here. You haven’t answered my question, though. What do you want?”
“Just some company with a like-minded soul. I’m guessing you came here to get some peace and quiet and to escape reality for a while. Well, so did I, but when I saw you at the bar, it made me think about fate and what really matters most in life.”
“I’m sorry, I’m really not following you, Dr. McK—”
“Call me Karen,” she interrupts and holds out her hand. “And you are?”
“It’s Mark, Mark Rennie. But didn’t you know that already?”
“Why would I? Are you famous?” she adds with a smirk.
Now I’m completely confused.
“Sorry, Karen, but can we start again, please? What’s your connection to Dr. Bleakley, and what did you mean by a like-minded soul? Did Bleakley discuss my case with you?”
She laughs slightly and then takes me by surprise as she reaches across the table for my hand.
“That would be a massive breach of patient and doctor confidentiality, Mark. And, besides, it wouldn’t mean all that much to me. Pediatrics is my specialty. My business with Alan today was completely personal.”
“Okay, so, part two of my question?” I ask.
“Yep, part two, that’s the real winner for both of us. I wasn’t trying to listen as you were leaving the surgery, but I heard Dr. Bleakley tell you that you still have some options. I, unfortunately, am out of options.”
My look betrays my surprise, and without thinking I blurt out something about how she looks so normal.
This causes her to laugh again and she thanks me for the compliment. “Thanks. It’s amazing what a shitload of medication, makeup and a wig can do. Believe me, though, ovarian cancer is a bitch, and underneath this extremely expensive wig I’ve got the whole Britney Spears meltdown thing going on. Do you want to see?”
She jokingly tucks her fingers under the wig to lift it off and laughs again when she sees the panic in my eyes.
“For a man knocking on death’s door, you really need to loosen up and live a little. What’s the worst that can happen?” She says with a lift of her eyebrows.
“I’m sorry, the news today hasn’t quite sunk in yet. You seem to be coping okay though. What’s your secret?”
“There’s no big secret. I knew deep down that my cancer was terminal. So, when Alan confirmed it today, I think I was already mentally prepared for it. The way I see it, I have two choices: I can sit around waiting for the end, or I can make the most of what time I have left.”
I nod my head and tell her that I was thinking much the same thing.
“Great, so we’re in agreement,” she says, before calling to the barman. “The same again for both of us, please, Pawel. And two shots of the tequila gold.”
“Oh no, no tequila for me,” I protest. “I’ve got work in the morning.”
Pawel looks at her for guidance, and after squeezing my hand and telling me to relax, she tells him that we’ll both have a tequila. He smiles and starts to prepare the drinks, and I tell Karen that she is playing with fire.
“You do realize that with the medication I’m on, there is a distinct possibility that I’m either going to pass out or throw up?”
“Well, the same applies for me, but let’s hope we don’t pass out. Throwing up might not be such a bad thing though.”
“And why would that be?”
“Two reasons. Number one, it will do us good to get some of that medication out of our system.”
“Wonderful! And number two?”
“Number two, Mark, is that we’ll have room for another tequila.”
She looks at me with the wickedest of smiles and I can’t help but smile back.
“You really are quite crazy aren’t you, Dr. McKenzie?”
“Not yet,” she replies. “But I’m hoping to get there quite soon. Now, are you going leave me to drink alone or are we going to have some fun?”