My name is James Parkin. I’m a singer/songwriter/guitarist aged 42, originally from Southampton.
Its a cold Thursday evening but life is good...1 year ago I was lying in Intensive Care, with leeches on my face.
I've come a long way in 1 year.
2 weeks ago I was interviewed by the BBC about my work with Cancer Research UK. Today I hit 43,000 followers on Facebook. This coming weekend I'm being filmed by ITV at the Facial Palsy UK Charity AGM talking about my experience with Cancer, Facial Palsy and performing songs about that experience from my debut Album of original songs called 'My Cure'.
I’ve been singing since I was 8 and playing guitar since I was 15. 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.
Unfortunately, the tumour had wrapped itself around my nerves, so when the surgeons removed the tumour, they also had to sever my facial nerves on the right side of my face leaving me paralysed on that side of my face.
Next came radiotherapy, which caused a complete loss of taste buds, 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.
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 which was also not without its complications meaning I was then in intensive care for about a week - much of that time 'asleep'.
As if things couldn't get any worse, when I woke up Donald Trump was President!
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 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’). This song is being used by Cancer Research UK
as part of their upcoming 'Stand Up to Cancer'
Another song was about psychological depression (‘A later not to miss’) but taking note from the Beatles 'Help', I recorded it as an uptempo number to hide the misery that lay within. I was in a relationship which was rocky prior to and during the above, so quite a few love stories about falling in love, being in love, breaking up.
I also wrote a lullaby for my young daughter (named 'Lullabye'). Three of the songs were co-written at a song writing retreat with Scandinavian girls. They are very pretty (the songs and the girls). With their involvement, it made sense to record the album in Ascot and Malmo in Sweden in June, July of 2017.
I released the album in August 2017. For me, Cancer and 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. That journey continues and I'm playing live at least once a week and starting to write more songs.
'My Cure' may not have actually been My Cure, but it was damn good therapy and it helped me vocalise the positive spirit and mindfullness that helped me get out of that hospital bed, hold my head up high, stand on my own two feet and sing louder and with more heart than I'd ever sung before.