The man with nine lives

RON HASLAM'S medical record is a classic example of how 'it never rains, but always pours.'The diagnosis of terminal cancer in his bone marrow is the tip of the iceberg in more than a decade of health scare after health scare.

RON HASLAM'S medical record is a classic example of how 'it never rains, but always pours.'

The diagnosis of terminal cancer in his bone marrow is the tip of the iceberg in more than a decade of health scare after health scare. Yet HAZEL BYFORD found Mr Haslam has an attitude which won't be beaten.

RON HASLAM never left his heart in San Francisco - but he did lose a big chunk of it there.

It was while he was on business in the American city, that his hectic lifestyle caught up with him and he had a serious heart attack which killed a third of the vital organ.

Ron, of Rushmere St Andrew, was previously the epitome of being fit and healthy, and hoped the scare was both the beginning and end of his health's bad luck. But today he has told how his phenomenal medical story never ended there, and now it has taken another twist with the diagnosis of terminal cancer.

Ron, 66, could be forgiven for thinking he's been dealt a bad hand but instead still considers himself lucky and while his body deteriorates, his mind stays strong.

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He said: “The hospital consultant told me I'm not taking the cancer seriously, but what do they want me to do? Jump out of a window or sit and cry about it?

“All I can do is live life while I've got it.

“I don't want to know too much about what it's doing to me, or whether I'll be in a wheelchair within six months. I'd rather just keep going until I reach the stop sign.

“I've an agreement with the hospital that they don't tell me what's coming. That way I don't worry about it.”

Ron's heart attack was in 1992 and although he returned to work as a BT executive engineer, he found the pressures increasingly difficult and accepted early retirement, aged 58, in 1998.

Not wanting to stop work altogether, he became a self-employed business consultant for private companies. Many of them were abroad and he often travelled across the world, giving lectures in Korea, Moscow, China and India.

Just like his heart attack, his second major health scare also came when he was miles away from home.

He said: “I was fit and health until the heart attack but from that point on it's been one thing and then another. I went back to work but physically and mentally I found it such a strain. I used to fly off the handle a lot and got angry really easily.

“I went self-employed and was coming home from India in 1998 and thought I had Delhi-belly but I went to the doctor and it turned out my aorta was swollen and at risk of bursting.

“I had to go through aneurysm heart surgery where I only had a 20per cent chance of survival.

“The aorta did in fact burst but I was pulled through with blood transfusion after blood transfusion and somehow survived, remarkably again.”

Aside from a hernia operation,, and depression and insomnia, the next big health scare came in 2002 Ron worried he was coughing a lot. Doctors diagnosed fibrosis, probably caused in early life, but while he was being treated checks found his heart was beating irregularly and swollen again.

He was put on a course of tablets and more routine checks showed one of his kidneys had stop working when he had the aneurysm.

That led to him being admitted to a kidney ward where it was spotted he was producing abnormal levels of protein - and that is when the bone marrow cancer was diagnosed.

It is doses of chemotherapy, steroids and Ron's positive attitude which are now helping him cope with illness.

He has been willing to try less conventional treatments, like the 1950s baby scandal drug thalidomide, alongside chemotherapy.

Doctors thought the effect of the drug cutting off blood supply to the extremities could help cancer patients but unfortunately for Ron he suffered from the side effects and his fingers and toes went dead.

It left him with an irreversible tingling in his fingers and the feeling of having pebbles in his shoes when he walks.

Ron, of Chestnut Close, takes part in as many activities as his body allows, including running a weekly art club at Rushmere Sports Club, mainly for heart attack patients over 60.

He said: “I get a lot of satisfaction from helping people in the group. People come and say they can't draw and it's helping them and getting their thanks which means so much.

“I can't walk very far. I can't decorate or garden so I have to keep busy with my hands. I don't want to be lazy but my body won't let me do things, it's incredibly frustrating.

“I always thought that in retirement I'd be able to travel and do all the things I enjoy.

“Drawing and painting are two of the only things I can do. Those and other fiddly things with my hands like making bread, woodwork and crafts. I carve and sculpt and have tried calligraphy and sowing.

“When I was doing national service with the RAF in Cyprus between 1958 and 1960 I discovered I had a skill for deciphering and coding. I tried occupying my time with Sudoku puzzles but I find them too easy.”

Born in Bolton, Rond was raised, and got his first job as a technician, in Manchester. He moved to Ipswich in 1981 to further his career at the BT centre in Martlesham. He moved with his son Jonathan and wife Judith, who retired as a classroom assistant at Birchwood Primary School in 2003 to help look after her husband.

Judith said: “Every hospital department he goes to, the doctors look at him and think 'how is he still here?' Our GP thinks he was a cat in a former life.

“It astounds me how cheerful he remains and it's a shame his body cannot be as active as his mind.

“We just hope the drugs companies stay one step ahead of us and as one treatment doesn't work, they have another one waiting for him to try.

“I think I'd have given up long ago but he's so determined. I have days when I feel sorry for myself but he never does.”

Ron, a former chairman of charity Heartbeat East Suffolk, said: “When people get ill the partners go through it just as much.

“Judith has just as much right to be scared and she sometimes reaches across to me in the middle of the night to check my heart's still beating.

“I don't know if I'm unlucky to have been through it all or lucky to still be here. I do count myself lucky though as I have my wife, my son, a home and hope.”

MULTIPLE myeloma is a form of cancer which affects plasma cells in the bone marrow - the cells which usually produce antibodies.

There are around 2,400 people diagnosed in Britain each year.

The condition is called multiple myeloma because the majority of patients have the disease at a number of places in their body.

It is accompanied by a breakdown in bone structure because of the increased activity of cells in the marrow which continually break down and reform bone. In myeloma, the destruction exceeds replacement and leads to holes in the bone.

The causes are not known and signs of the illness are very gradual. Typical symptoms are bone pain, fatigue, anaemia and fever.

It is more common in older people, particularly men, and is twice as common in black people.

November 1992 - Cardiac arrest while in San Francisco leads to 28per cent permanent heart damage

March 1998 - Abdominal aortic aneurysm repair

May 1998 - Hernia operation

October 1999 - Diagnosed with depression and insomnia

October 2002 to September 2003 - Diagnosed with fibrosis and further scans showed heart swelling and irregular heartbeat. Blood checks show tablets given to help heart problems were causing kidney damage

September, 11, 2003 - Discovered only kidney is working and excess protein found in the bloodstream

September, 15, 2003 - Bone marrow tests show multiple myeloma

IPSWICH Town FA Cup hero Roger Osborne has a portrait of himself, drawn by Ron, hanging in his dining room.

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