Don's Diary: Taking addiction abroad

November 30, 2001

For the second year running, I am honoured to be the keynote speaker at the Canadian Foundation on Compulsive Gambling Conference.

Last year my hotel room looked directly over Niagara Falls. This year my inspiration has to be drawn from Toronto's tower blocks.

After the conference I head over to McGill University in Montreal, where I spend a productive time writing research papers as visiting professor in the psychology department's youth gambling centre.

I also end up doing quite a lot of Canadian media interviews following a suicide at the Montreal Casino.

At a conference hosted by Harvard University I give another keynote speech on the impact of technology on youth gambling. I am delighted with the feedback that I receive, but keen to get back to the United Kingdom as I have a six-months pregnant partner and a younger sister diagnosed with incurable breast cancer.

My sister has asked if, in my capacity as a psychologist, I will give a talk to her cancer support group about mind over matter.

Between the end of exam marking and the exam boards, I fly over to New York for five days to be a keynote speaker at the National Center for Alcohol and Substance Abuse conference on the inter-relationship between gambling and other addictions.

My heavily pregnant partner flies out with me and we manage to take in the sights. Little do we realise that 12 weeks after we stand on top of the World Trade Center, it will be no more.

The conference is heavily covered by the US media. At the pre-conference dinner I have Ronald Reagan's ex-chairman of the Republican Party to my immediate right and Jimmy Carter's ex-health minister to my left.

Conference sessions are chaired by US television news personalities, none of whom I have heard of, but other delegates are constantly taking pictures of these people.

July and August
I had looked forward to a summer of solid research writing before the birth of my third child, but my sister is rushed to Nottingham City Hospital with renal failure, and I spend the next six weeks visiting her almost daily.

Although she has always been positive in outlook, things are getting progressively worse. She has developed secondary cancers, including brain cancer that we are told will eventually cause respiratory failure.

On August 28, the day after my 35th birthday, my sister dies. My initial relief that she is out of her suffering gives way to anger that someone so young should have to die in this way.

On the same day, my stepfather is diagnosed with bladder cancer.

Two days later I am back in the same hospital with my partner experiencing her first contractions.

A healthy baby boy emerges at 10.24am on August 31, but my partner suffers bladder trauma and a ripped uterus during an emergency caesarean section and we have to wait an hour before a consultant is found to repair the damage.

September and October
Both mother and baby are doing well, but I have not written anything for weeks and my work has seriously suffered.

With the start of term I have little choice but to get on with things. Slowly but surely I start to write again and my thirst for academia returns.

I attend my first conference for three months, the Scandinavian gambling conference in Stockholm.

Because everyone is giving their papers in their native languages, I have to spend breaks asking what they were about.

Almost back in full swing.

My stepfather has an operation to remove the cancerous growth from his bladder. Prognosis is positive but there is still a long way to go.

Mark Griffiths is a reader in psychology at Nottingham Trent University.

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