James describes how singing and songwriting has helped him through his cancer and facial palsy journey.
My name is James Parkin. I’m 42 and live near Basingstoke in Hampshire.
My hobbies are playing guitar and singing. I’ve been singing since I was 8 and playing guitar since I was 15. I was rubbish at it until I got divorced at 35 and suddenly had more time on my hands. I released two albums of cover versions in 2011 and 2015 respectively and In January 2016 I promised myself I would write one song per month and make my first original album by the end of the year. However two weeks later I was diagnosed with a particularly aggressive cancer of the parotid gland. It had been there for at least 18 months. Of course I’d noticed the lump and the pain (particularly when it took hold of my nerves – that really hurt; excruciating at times). But I kept getting inconclusive results, so by the time I got a conclusive result it was a bit of a mess in there and the tumour had wrapped itself around my nerves.
When the surgeons removed the tumour, they also severed my facial nerves on the right side of my face leaving me paralysed on that side of my face. That was the just the start of my road to something resembling recovery. Next came radiotherapy. A long drive from Basingstoke to Guildford and complete loss of taste buds through the summer, not to mention wearing a horrible mask that pinned me to the table whilst they blasted me with radiation for 10 minutes a day for a couple of months.
Next, I had a nerve graft to try and get movement back to my face. I couldn’t smile. I missed not being able to smile more than anything. People smile at me all the time – I just grimace back at them. I wanted to be able to smile at my daughter on the outside, not just on the inside. They took a nerve from my thigh and put it into my face, complete with its own blood supply from my groin. That operation took 14 hours. It didn’t work first time round and I haemorrhaged, so the nurses applied leeches to my face to try and control the blood flow for a couple of days. That didn’t work so they re-did the operation. Except they had to wake me up just after putting me under before they could restart it because my throat was so swollen from 14 hours of tube being down it the previous day, it meant they couldn’t get a resuscitation tube down it. So, they waited another 24 hours and then re-did the nerve graft. I was then in intensive care for about a week. Its amazing how weak I became from those days asleep in intensive care. Sleep was almost impossible as I had a bed that kept moving to help me with my bed sores which had developed from the long operations. The food was really really bad.
After about 10 days I was able to go home. I had a massive lump of fat on the side of my face keeping the nerve warm. I looked like the elephant man. I cried when I saw it. Cried harder than I’ve ever cried. I’ve not cried since though. I went in to look better and came out looking much worse. I wore a scarf 24 hours a day for three months to help keep the nerve warm but also to hide my embarrassment. I was just glad it was winter! I then had a platinum chain put into my eyelid to help me close it and a sling put under my eye to help keep it the same height as my other eye. I’ve had quite a bit of Botox. But so far, nothing has made much difference (except I have lots of scars). Still no movement. Still no smile.Throughout this time I kept writing songs. Some of the songs came to me in my dreams. I’d wake up at stupid o clock in the morning with a melody and/or some lyrics in my head. I’d be convinced for a few minutes the song was already invented, but they never were – so I would record the melody or lyrics on my phone and then head back to sleep. Some songs were directly about what I was going through with the operation (a song called ‘My Cure’).
Another song was about psychological depression (‘A later not to miss’), quite a few love stories about falling in love, being in love, breaking up. I was in a relationship which was rocky prior to and during the above. Being alone through much of the above was really hard. I recommend being married or at least living with someone (that isn’t my mum….no offence mum) if you get cancer or facial palsy. I also wrote a lullaby for my young daughter. Three of the songs were co-written at a song writing retreat with Scandinavian girls. They are very pretty (the songs and the girls). I recorded the album in Ascot and Malmo in Sweden in June, July of 2017. I released it in August 2017. In the first few days of release I’ve had 40,000+ new followers on Facebook. It’s a good album. I’m really happy with it and for me, facial palsy was not the end of a dream – My songs start in my dreams and I think my musical dream is nearer its beginning than its end.
Listen to James’ new album ‘My Cure‘
Disclaimer: Please note that views expressed are person’s own and should not be considered a recommendation of particular medical treatments, therapies or surgeries. We would always advise you seek advice from a health professional with experience in facial palsy who can assess your individual needs.
Last reviewed: 21-09-2017 || Next review due: 21-09-2019