You never forget the day you get diagnosed with cancer but in the same instance, you never remember it. You might remember sitting in a classroom as a child and being asked a question to which you didn’t know the answer by an overbearing teacher; that feeling of helpless panic when the power of thought escapes you. This reaction is known as a reticular hijack, when the thinking human part of your brain stops working and the animal instincts take over. During this time the brain is virtually incapable of absorbing or learning which is why much of what that first Consultant said escaped me.
I do remember how I felt in the hours and days after that meeting. Last year’s Macmillan advertising campaign said in pictures what cannot be put into words; the collapse of your world and everything in it. My overwhelming feeling was one of fear. Fear of the future and its uncertainty. Fear of pain. But I think the deepest fear stemmed from loving someone totally and the desperate desire not to leave them behind. I find it impossible to imagine fighting cancer without Alison because the strength of two feels like an army in comparison and when the two become exhausted, others who love us offer words, hugs and strength. These are the times when your footprints in the sand go from two pairs to one as we are carried by the will and determination of others. I cannot thank these people enough. In 18 months of treatment I’ve enjoyed a great many brilliant days with my friends and family because this fear for me is not a constant presence but a regular stalker. Imagine that feeling you get when you realise you’ve left your phone or keys on a café table repeated twenty or thirty times a day – it’s physically and emotionally destructive which is why you must find the drive and desire to overcome as well as outlets for your emotions. Without these, you’d implode.
I write as an outlet. Sometimes reams in a week and other times nothing for weeks. I don’t know if contriving rhyming couplets is a common side effect of chemotherapy but in a staggering display of narcissism, I’m taking this opportunity to publish a couple of verses. Well, it’s my blog and I’ll do what I want.
Round 1 – written in the week after diagnosis
It’s a very clever thing is a CT scan
Because it can show you your guts like a packet of ham:
Tranche by tranche, slice by slice,
Your liver looks healthy – very nice.
The journey continues ‘til we reach the position
That’s piqued the interest of the chest physician…
To clarify the point he highlights the screen
On a section of chest twixt nipple and spleen,
“You see those black bits? They’re your lungs full of air,
But this white bit, dead centre, it shouldn’t be there.”
Like a boxer caught hard, flush on the chin,
I’m standing without but I’m drowning within.
It must’ve been Britishness that kicked in in a trip,
Time for stoical nods and a stiff upper lip.
Searching for words whilst fighting back tears,
Voice box and brain hijacked by fear.
We’ll be busy next week, cancel all plans
To make way for blood tests, biopsies, PET scans.
A once certain future is now shrouded in doubt,
We’ve taken a blow, we’re down but not out
So as we walk out the doors with more questions than answers,
We get up off the canvas. We will beat this cancer.
It’s not all been reflective rhyme though. Sometimes, particularly when off my face on pain killers, I resort to observational humour to enliven my day….
To be read in the style of John Cooper Clarke
Written after chemo number 2 and diazepam
My hair, it should have gone by now
But it still clings gamely to my brow
Except where on top it’s disappeared
Over the preceding thirteen years
For my shiny bonce I can't blame the cancer
But in baldy genes we find the answer
Self-indulgence at its very finest but I hope you smiled at these. If you know someone going through the mill, don’t underestimate the power of a visit, a card, a hug or even a song. A terrific friend of mine, Mr Brian Dunbar, wrote a song to motivate me, recorded it and stuck it on iTunes and Amazon to raise money for cancer charities. Previously he’d only ever smashed the karaoke but it’s Bon Jovi meets Jack Johnson – Bon Jovi soft rock and layered vocals / Jack Johnson beard. If you’re enjoying this blog, please consider buying it – it’s 99p – and sharing the link with everyone you know. It inspired me to Fight Like Fury.
or Google Brian Dunbar Fight Like Fury
Footprints in the sand is a reference to the poem by Mary Stevenson, for those who harbour faith…
If you've recently been diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma and have yet to receive treatment you could be eligible to take part in a new clincial trial. Read more here.