I’m 100% over cancer.
Except of course, I’m not. I don’t know if I ever will be.
It affected me in several ways: as a medical emergency, as a psychological shock, and as a variety of minor changes to how I feel, who I am, and what I can do.
The medical emergency part was fine. I wasn’t unsettled or concerned. There was pain, but there was also pain medication. And I took the view that everything that could be done was being done.
So I wasn’t too worried, because you should only ever worry about things you can change. And within 6 weeks the medical aspect was over.
In the immediate aftermath, everything was wonderful. The birds in the trees, the kids playing next door, the feeling of rain on my face. Life was grand.
I struggled to move for a few weeks, but then suddenly one day I could do a sit up or two, and before you know it I feel more or less fine. It’s about 10 months since the operation, and my scar-area still feels a little odd. Slightly bruised, and slightly numb too. But physically I’m back to normal.
I’m taking part in the trial of a new drug, which is a smart chemotherapy that targets cells which mutate into the cancer I had. It’s shown a lot of promise in people who have the cancer, and now they want to try it on people who don’t, but who are at risk of it coming back. That’s me. So I take the drugs.
There are side-effects, but not terrible. My hands and feet ache. I sometimes get headaches, but not noticeably more than I used to. One of the side-effects is that the drug makes your skin itch, so to counter this there’s a steroid in it, which makes it difficult to keep weight off. I have to watch the biscuits (which is a problem when you’re addicted to HobNobs).
I found out today that I’m not allowed to go to Kenya. The drug reduces my resistance to yellow fever, and a vaccination would be useless. So I’ve had to cancel a trip that I was looking forward to. It was only business, and only a few days, but I’m disappointed. I’d been dreaming of an African sky.
I’m not immortal. I think boys believe they are, and even though I’m 41 now I still retained that sense that life would just bounce off me. That feeling has gone. I don’t tiptoe through life in constant fear, but I’m aware now that shit happens. Injury and sickness are not just abstract ideas now. They feel very real.
And I’m going to die. This is different from simply not being immortal. The immortality thing is a feeling that I have a certain vulnerability. When I say “I’m going to die” I mean that inside me, at the back of my head, there’s a clock ticking. It’s going all the time. It’s reminding me that a year ago I thought for a while that I was on my deathbed, and that a whole army of regrets swarmed up around me.
I don’t want to regret anything. I want to grab hold of life and shake it up. I find myself frustrated and saddened by people who do exactly what I wanted to do a year ago – sit on the sofa after work, and forget about the world.
I’m aware that this makes me a total hypocrite. A couple of years ago I would be happy to get drunk or stoned, and lie around all day watching TV. I still like to lie in bed longer than I should, especially when it’s cold outside. But that’s a definite pleasure in itself, not the refusal to do anything else. As soon as I’m up I want to make the day count.
Oddly, people who know me say I’m much happier and more positive about life since the cancer. I thought I was happy before, but apparently I’m full of beans and smiles and action today. Who would have imagined that illness, vulnerability and intimations of doom would make a person so happy?!