How do I live now?

A while back, I wrote about being robbed of my future and not being able to plan ahead.  Well now, to an extent, I can.  The appointment with my oncologist didn’t start promisingly or kindly to my shattered nerves as I was told that, after the obstruction and emergency surgery, they had ‘feared the worst’.  But, following a review of my latest CT scan, the doctors were pleasantly surprised to see that the big blocking tumour appears to have been completely removed and the remaining ones in my liver an neck are ‘under control’.  This means that they don’t appear to be growing quickly and aren’t causing any obvious symptoms.  So apart from the surgery recovery, I’m almost back to normal – or as normal possible after having been, literally, gutted.  Well – for a bit – I’m being monitored every six weeks, so who knows.  Perhaps that’s why I was both given a three month sick note and told to literally ‘go and live your life’.  So now there’s a weeks, possibly even months long window of wellness, what exactly am I meant to do with it?

‘Enjoy yourself. Eat, drink, be merry. Go on holiday!’ I hear everyone cry, still, on a pretty much daily basis.  But that’s not how my brain works.  I find it hard to have fun without having earned it and, if I can be useful, I like to be.  And so if you know me well, it will come as no surprise to hear that one of the first things I did upon hearing this news was to check in with my headteacher and ask about the possibility of commuting the sick note and returning to work.  I’m fortunate to have a boss who is declaredly prioritising my ‘wellbeing’ and will consider letting me back only following an occupational health assessment.  I suppose this is for the best – a decision can be made for me without the emotion I’ve attached to it and the guilt is probably less harmful to me than the stress and physical/emotional strain of being a full time teacher might be.

But wow I miss it all so.  It was simultaneously uplifting and infuriating to attend a week of after school concerts recently as I saw just how good a job everyone is doing without me to not just keep things going, but really put on a show with the kids.  But I was under strict instructions not to even attempt to work and at times I had to literally sit on my hands in order to not get up and help.  On one occasion, I kind of forgot and found myself on stage putting out chairs and stands out for the cellos.

So whilst on a break from gainful employment, there’s been more writing and that’s gone rather well.  As well as the creative outlet of this blog, I’ve ended up appearing in all sorts of media both published and pending.  Most importantly, my writing recently appeared in a national newspaper, highlighting the warning signs of bowel cancer in the hope that others can learn from my reluctance and ignorance and maybe even save their lives with early detection.  I have a gut feeling (well – with what’s left of it) this is a job that will never be done and certainly not in my shortened lifetime, so this should keep me busy for a while.  And who knows – there could be more if I build enough of a portfolio to put myself forward for something more regular/substantial like a column or even a book, like all the hip young cancer patients seem to be doing these days.  Imagine if the bit I’m writing now about a column or book ends up in a column or book!  And this bit.  And perhaps even this.  Nah those last few sentences will probably be edited out – I tend to go off on tangents sometimes and very occasionally add a few too many qualifiers.

Now I’m recovering well, I’m no longer the family priority for hospital visits (long story!) so I took a trip down by the Solent to say hello to quite a few of them.  We spent an evening eating pasta and watching football often in companionable silence like any other extended family.  It was wonderfully uneventful – I probably need more days like that and I think I’ve realised what ‘quality time’ really is.  It’s been possible to see loads of friends too including the other day when the intention to play board games wasn’t realised because the conversation flowed so much that we didn’t get round to playing any.

And wow – I’ve started to return to the pursuits I used to love.  Night after night, I’ve been out to rehearsals and gigs feeling like a proper musician again.  One was all the way over in Kingston (upon Thames, not Jamaica) with a big band full of seasoned pros and I just about managed not to horrendously stick out.  Even the unseasoned college student sat next to me was navigating his way round some pretty ambitious trombone solos with an easy assurance I’ve rarely seen live.  The future of jazz appears to be in good hands.  Plus I made it out to Enfield to play in an orchestral trombone section of friends, which was complemented by the leader, conductor and fixer but, most importantly, told off for playing too loudly.  Such is the natural order of things!  It barely even mattered that Maud’s car spent the night in an unexpectedly closed garage, or that it had the remains of our pizza (erm…19?) in the boot.

Plus I’ve worked my way back into running in the past two or three weeks.  This has been a painful and painstaking process, but I’m just about noticing signs of progress.  Hopefully I’ll be ready for a marathon or short ultra by the time more chemo comes along and if I make it from 100 miles to cancer and back again, I’ll really have something to put in that book.

I still don’t know what I want to do with my life as it has become.  But recently, I’ve lived more than I imagined would ever be possible back in hospital those two short months ago.  I’m sure I’ll work on the overarching purpose, but for now, the ceaseless ambition to carpe that diem can relent a bit and I’ll just get on with accumulating those little experiences that seem to fulfil me, because, for now, they’ll do just fine.


  1. First things first! I’m so happy to hear how well you are doing! That is such wonderful news! Secondly, I want to tell you that I enjoy your writing very much. You do a great job with your writing. Thanks for sharing and updating us. Keep enjoying the things you choose to do!

    • Thank you Shanon! The writing has been primarily therapeutic for me but it’s good to know it’s well received.

  2. Hi Nathaniel

    I have come to your blog via the recent article in the DT and also found another piece you had written on Runner’s World. Your writing is humble, gracious and simply plain good. Your blog is a joy to read (not always in content!) but in style and what you reveal about yourself. I wish I was half the person you are. I also wish you well for everything that life continues to throw at you and as much enjoyment and fulfilment as you can get. Keep on going!

    • Thank you – this means a lot.

  3. Dear Nathaniel

    I am a student nurse currently on an Oncology placement. I read the recent newspaper article and then found your blog. I have been reading your blog and its been a sobering read. It has also been so uplifting and warm. I was indifferent to cancer before my placement. It was a constellation. It happened but was remote. It was scary but it was almost too far away.

    In a strange twist of fate three very precious friends within the same week got diagnosed with cancer. Colorectal/bowel, prostate, breast. Suddenly it was no longer out there. It was very much here.

    I read your blog and am not ashamed to say I have had more than one occasion of ugly crying reading it.

    I read up to you moving chairs and cellos for a performance and felt hot and wet tears flow. Thought I best pen you a reply.

    What do you do with the extra months of wellness. You feel you do not earn this respite. I hear you. I always worry I haven’t earned my leisure time and I work myself hard. I feel guilty about taking time off. Lately I have come to accept that truly I do not need permission to rest or rejuvenate. We are but slaves to our own mind.

    I hope you have many moments of wonder in the time ahead. I hope you will go on a journey somewhere. Selfishly I hope you blog of it so we can read it. I hope you have moments of beauty and calm and restfulness.

    Working in oncology aa a student nurse I have become painfully aware of how futile words are. The more one tries to provide comfort or reassurance or compassion the more I find words fail me. Companionable silence is more elegant. Know that I read you in companionable silence. Know that you will be read and cherished.

    I hope you begin to enjoy and truly delight in some restfulness.

    With all best wishes

    • I think you’re right – there are no perfect words – but thank you for these. I’m still working all of this out, but even with limited time, there needs to be a balance between work and rest and right now, I’m lucky enough to be well enough to look for it.

  4. Your blog has helped me in more ways that I can explain. I enjoy your writing and am glad to hear the good news about your tumors being under control. Looking forward to reading more about the experiences you are going to experience.

    • That’s really good to know – lets hope there will be enough health to experience the experiences I want to experience!

  5. Many thanks for the read and your positive outlook on life. As you know I too am a member of ELR and it was so encouraging to see how you are still going to live your life to the fullest (irrespective of your circumstances). Before lockdown when I heard that you were an ultra runner I thought it was for crazy people, however I was completely wrong. You may not remember but we were in a group running in Wansted Park and I said, “no way would I run that distance, I’ll just take a bike instead”. Just to let you know that 2 weeks ago I completed my first ever trail Ultra (50k) and so I give you full respect for your running abilities. It’s made me realise what you have to go through from the start to the finish line (with all the pain and bits in between). I couldn’t put myself in you shoes, but now I have an understanding of some of the joys of running longer distances. Keep the good work up (and the blogs) and maybe soon one day we’ll go for a long run.

    • Hi Mark,
      That’s great to hear. I maintain that I don’t have any running talent – the longer efforts are simply the accumulation of weeks, months and years of consistent running. Sure – once I’m back up to long runs, lets do that!


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