Sussex by the Sea

A few months ago, over chemo but before surgery, I wanted something to look forward to.  I didn’t really have anything, as at that point, I was staring down the barrel of at least four rounds of the stuff before they’d pause to see if it was working and it was pretty much a day by day existence.  So I thought it would be nice to book a little holiday.  I could invite some nice people who wouldn’t mind if I ended up unable to leave the house.  Hey if things were to turn bad, one of them’s a nurse.  Maybe somewhere near Kent, in between a couple sets of friends I might visit anyway?  Close – we settled on a weekend in a big house near Eastbourne and right next to the South Downs.  It had plenty of rooms and a pool table but also easy access to some beautiful scenery – perfect!

So perfect in fact that a week before the early April booking, and after having paid the money, I was a bit worried it was a fake listing as there weren’t any reviews up on the site.  But I needn’t have worried – this house was very much there and fantastic for us – the right mix of cosy comfort and holiday home level fancy.  Some pretty rubbish weather on Friday’s arrival didn’t matter either – I settled into my oodie (which took up about 70% of my bag but was so so worth it) and as people drifted in over the course of a few hours, there was much talking, catching up, (re)acquainting and, of course, plentiful pizza.

Apart from the constantly underlying sense of gratitude that I’m still alive to do nice things like sitting in a softly carpeted living room with a few friends, I just felt so comfortably at ease the whole time.  If you plan meticulously enough to have no particular plan, a holiday will do that to you.  No work, no emails, no endless hospital appointments, no bed time, no wake up time, no run plan, no responsibility and no agenda.  It could be argued that, whilst on sick leave, I could live like this all the time, but I think we’ve established that ain’t happening with this particular aspirationally conscientious cancer patient.  A holiday isn’t just a break from the daily grind of whatever’s  become normal and mundane.  It can be a break from all the mental weight that you don’t even realise you’re bearing.

It helped that my friends were all the right style of easy going but interesting and just really nice.  I’d half joked that there might be tension that all these genuinely nice people would compete to be the most nice in some kind of battle of niceness!  But this didn’t happen – well – if it did, they were all far too nice to tell me.

It also helped that I was still feeling, in relative terms, really good.  Emergency bowel surgery wasn’t at all fun (see the five part total obstruction saga) but it removed the most aggressively growing of the five tumours I know about and apart from a couple of permanent abdominal modifications, I didn’t (and still don’t yet) really have any symptoms.  So when working out what to do with a Saturday by the sea, it was me that suggested going for a walk.  We got to the Beachy Head pub and looked out at the kind of windswept coastline that Poldark would have considered dramatically breathtaking, let alone a load of city dwellers like us.  So we all walked along the coastline.  Correction: they walked along the coastline, carrying my bag (did I say they were nice?!) whilst I squeezed in a challengingly undulating yet stunning five miles. Ok – you got me. I lied about the run plan.

Having collectively worked our way along a decent stretch of coastline, we arrived back at the pub to enjoy the kind of meal that only takes place when you’re in frivolous holiday mode, really hungry and half drunk (those driving and with liver cancer formed the half who weren’t drunk!).  The cost of this meal was put in with other expenses like accommodation and we embarked upon the first board game of the night – intensive financial negotiation.  This is what happens when you’ve dragged five people out to Sussex and therefore want to pay for their stay etc. but they’ve already snuck some money into your bank account.  We eventually found a way through, so moved on to taskmaster, which on this occasion involved making miniature sandwiches, rotating on the spot for an open ended period and drawing strange pictures.  This was done whilst (for some unknown reason) consuming huge quantities of the kinds of childhood sweets we’d all long since abandoned.

Sunday was like Saturday but with more sun.  But despite the weather, it took more persuading for the group to go back to the downs as everyone else’s legs hurt. Mine didn’t and I was hit with the realisation that, although it feels like I’ve lost absolutely all my previous energy and fitness, perhaps I haven’t.  So after an improvised game of beach cricket at Birling Gap, I went out for another five miles over the notorious Seven Sisters, whom I hadn’t had the pleasure of traversing since the Beachy Head marathon about five years ago.  Well they haven’t become any more forgiving to runners but I just about managed to work my way over them whilst the others relaxed in a nice little National Trust cafe.  We took in a beautiful coastal sunset, then ate more delicious food.

This kind of weekend wouldn’t appear on anyone’s bucket list.  It wasn’t glamorous, exciting or thrill seeking.  There were no big occasions or huge events.  But it was really really special and when the group eventually parted ways on Monday morning, I just felt flat.  Not because anything was wrong, but because it was over.  And this is not the only time recently that I’ve thought about what I want from life now.  I’ve not sought out special events or any extreme forms of living.  Why look for more when you have ample comfort, good food, the ability to explore the beauty of nature and the best of friends?  Don’t feel sorry for me – I might be dying but, for now, I’m definitely living.


  1. I’m so glad to hear you had such a wonderful time! What a great way to spend time with good friends!

    • Me too!

  2. Hi Nathaniel,

    I just listened to your interview on the Runners World podcast. I found it incredibly inspiring. Hard to find the right words, but I absolutely wish you all the best and I will continue to follow what you write here.

    Best Wishes,

    • Thank you – hoping you’ll have some more running adventures to read about soon enough!


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