Cancer. It’s one of those words that grammatically qualifies as its own sentence. It also can be taken to be a death sentence or a life sentence. The truth in the 21st century is that it is becoming much less of a death sentence- But for most of us when we hear the word cancer, we can’t help thinking here is a sentence that definitely has an all too sudden full stop.
In most realities, cancer is in fact a life sentence that really does say sometime sooner rather than later you are going to die. A friend on Face book posted one of those “please repost this on your page for all those family and friends who have died, struggled with or even survived cancer”.
Okay upfront. I hate reposting other people’s posts; unless it’s a kitten playing a piano or a nun falling off a bus in the snow. I am really turned off by posts that almost guilt you into reposting; like if you don’t repost it, a cure for cancer will be set back by a decade. When I sent my apologies for not posting, I was challenged by my friend to share my own drive down Cancer Avenue. Buckle up, because here I go.
Cancer is an incredibly personal journey and no two people face the same challenge. It does not matter how severe the prognosis or how dire the consequences put before you, we all have a different experience. This is my Cancer Avenue. Firstly, don’t go any further if you are going to send sympathy. Fuck off now. Sympathy belongs in the dictionary between “shit and syphilis”. Please leave it there. I am an incredibly lucky person who has lived an amazing life. I have the world’s best wife and two incredible sons. I’m driving down a very well trafficked avenue. There were 17 million new drivers along Cancer Avenue last year alone. So there you go. Some ground rules. No sympathy, I’m lucky, I’m one of tens of millions on the same road!
My cancer was in a couple of lymph nodes in my groin. They and a few innocent lymph nodes were cut out on July 7, 2016; till now, there’s been no sign of anymore cancer. I had some complications and, like everyone, some follow-up procedures that left me with some adverse problems. Yes, some big problems that make my life uncomfortable. I have a thing called peripheral neuropathy that makes me appear to be and sometimes even feel drunk. My nerves in my feet in particular are stuffed. I have chronic pain in both feet and ankles, and my fingers. I lack balance. I get physically sick from just bending over sometimes. My cancer has a fair chance of coming back. Overall I’m just a fat dizzy man with sore feet.
The important thing is that none of this means that I am dead. And honestly, I believe I will probably out live most of the people reading this. That might be my predilection to a positive mental attitude but it is honestly what I believe. There are many good things about having cancer in your life. I no longer have an urge to sky dive or hang-glide.
Now, life-threatening moments are possible in every letter I get from the hospital. You see, when you have had cancer, the hospital likes to get you back in for check-ups fairly regularly; but with no set pattern. So, you open an envelope and don’t know if the appointment within is so the oncologist can stick their finger up your bum or just tell you the last MRI found 65 tumours. The good thing with this is that I feel fairly safe from suffering outrageous indignity during my last six months of life. I dreaded being in an institute with someone feeding me soup and jelly and wiping my bum for me; all while my addled brain’s recollection of my life and its glorious fun is being beaten by my goldfish’s recollection of doing circles in his bowl.
Don’t get me wrong – living long into old age has its appeals. I want to see my son Jake creating his audio and visual masterpiece and to watch my son Izak manage Birmingham City to their first premiership. But I’ve done amazing things already. Just a few years ago I was sleeping on the bonnet of my car in Death Valley when a big horn sheep licked my leg. You have never woken more alive than when your first vision of the day has huge golden eyes with rectangular vertical black pupils, two huge devil horns and 40 teeth in a mouth that only has space for 20. Needless to say, I didn’t need to go for another shit for days.
I have watched my sons score tries and look at me to check that I have seen them score. I have watched my wife sleeping while the sun rose behind her. I have lain on pristine tropical beaches, caught waves that have lifted and carried me along. I have sailed under parachutes and scuba-dived among a million tropical fish. I have watched manta rays dance in an azure blue ocean, a school of over 50 dolphins herding sardines, and stood on a cliff in Western Australia watching whale sharks, hammerheads and great white sharks doing the same. I have watched my brother-in-law delight at seeing his first whale breach right in front of him. I’ve carried baby turtles past hungry crows to the sea. I have stroked my son’s sore head till he fell asleep. I worked for television stations for decades doing a job that essentially involved going to lunches that sometimes lasted till breakfast.
No, I am not ready to go. But here is the thing. Cancer has allowed me to set my own course and gave me time to do one hell of a bucket list. Cancer might take my life and it could take yours. Some won’t get the opportunity to do what I did, or have the urge to do such things. But if you get cancer, seize the day. Because what it is really telling you is not that it’s time to die, but that it’s time to live. You have a chance to forgive and a chance to make sure that those who matter know that they matter and why they matter.
If my cancer comes back, don’t think of me as unlucky, don’t be sad. Most of all, don’t come to my funeral because I definitely won’t be there. In fact, there will be no funeral or gathering – I want to be cremated and my ashes spread in a few places. Here’s what to do… – buy a hit of whatever you love most. Be it Moet, Guinness, cannabis, cocaine, Sushi or a dozen oysters. Sit somewhere meaningful and think of a fun time we have had,- drink, smoke, snort, eat or shuck for me. I will do the same.
Remember cancer only wins if you decide to lose. Let’s be champions….