Death Row

‘You know – any of us could be hit by a bus tomorrow! So you should live every day like your last!’

I’ve heard a few variations on the above pretty often in recent months, so these statements are clearly the results of usual and logical thought processes.  But, as I gradually come to terms with what my life has become, the reality of the situation doesn’t quite fit the sentiment.  Not that anyone asked me to, I’m going to take a closer look at these words.

Before coherent thought emerges, emotions tend to prevail.  And it’s very difficult to describe what it’s like living under a death sentence.  No – I don’t think that’s an overly dramatic way to put it.  I know exactly what’s coming and have witnessed my method of execution up close.  No lefty lawyer is going to get me off.  There is no technicality, no fresh DNA evidence or surprise witness.  I’m on death row and this is coming.  We can talk about five year survival statistics (under 10%) or exceptional lives that have been extended by an eleventh hour clinical trial, but the expectation is that any of that stuff will be a stay of execution, not the removal of the sword of Damocles that’s nonchalantly swinging just above my throat.  The only uncertainty is the exact timeline.  No matter how ‘well’ I look or feel or how brightly the sun shines, my fate is sealed.

Living with this is strange.  Sometimes pragmatic resignation reigns supreme and I can live on a day by day basis and just take a carefree walk in the sun – I’ve done that a lot recently.  But there’s also an impending sense of urgency to get as much done as possible, which seems to be taking the form of a few impassioned pleas to enable whatever kind of grand emotive gesture of a project is on my mind – there are currently at least four on the go.  Some days catch up with me and I don’t emerge much further than my bed.  That’s the thing about ‘living every day as if your last’: it’s unsustainably exhausting – both in terms of physical activity and the mental anguish of having to make use of every second.  With chemo just around the corner, for me it’s also about utilising this window of relative wellness.  So much to do – such little time!  I’m paralysed by indecision and torn apart by the possibility that I’ve forgotten about an obligation or missing an opportunity.  I appear to have made FOMO into an extreme sport.  There’s a high level of background anxiety involved here.  Contrary to that is a kind liberty to knowing that my decisions are unlikely to have long term implications for me.  What’s the worst that can happen?  It already has and – whatever I decide – the big picture will not change at all.  Put all of that together and it’s like I’m living in an open prison.  Life and death weigh heavy on me – how could they not?

Compounding the immediate is the medium term thinking (the long term no longer applies).  Do I need to set myself up for one, two, three years or more?  How many of these years will be healthy enough for me to be active? Each scenario lends itself to different short term choices.  I’ve heard enough stories from people in my situation who didn’t seize (or should that be cease?) the day quickly enough, but also some who cut themselves loose from life’s routines and social contracts in order to live out their last months, but had, perhaps still have, years to play with and had to row back, awkwardly sustaining a continued existence.

The bowel cancer rate for the 35-39 age group is under 500 a year, 11 in 100,000 or 0.011%.  The chances of getting of stage 4/incurable cancer are smaller and I exhibited a distinct lack of risk factors but I can’t find specific data here.  Admittedly, the likelihood of getting hit by a bus is a little smaller with around 1700 UK road deaths per year or a 0.002% probability. However you look at it, statistically as well as notionally, I’m pretty unfortunate.  

And herein lies the difference between me and the general population.  You may be hit by a bus at any time – so might I.  This phrase is used to illustrate that unlikely life changing/ending events could be just around the corner.  ‘So relax and enjoy life while you can!’ … or so people tell me.  But my collision is imminent and I’m bracing for impact.  Try relaxing with a bus hurtling towards you – it’s not so easy to forget it’s about to run you over. I was once involved in a traffic collision and it hurt a lot!  I’m like the poor helpless damsel tied to the train tracks in one of those silent movies, but there’s no hero coming to untie the ropes – no matter how hard I struggle or scream.  It’s pretty hard to live in the moment or enjoy the sunshine with that stream engine chugging ever closer.

Likewise, optimism is difficult to achieve when you’re unlikely to live to see what you might be looking forward to.  There seems a point in many people’s lives where they start to consider their legacy.  Tony Blair famously prioritised this by sending hundreds of soldiers to die in ill considered wars and occupations – I guess that kind of backfired.  So it’s a dangerous thing to rush into working out how you’d like to be thought of when you’re gone and the words and deeds that will support that.  Of course most will have already made up their minds about me and there isn’t a great deal of time left to do anything about all that.  But it gets you thinking.  Maybe that’s the problem – there’s a lot to think about and I can’t help feeling that’s getting in the way sometimes.  It doesn’t take much to fill my head these days.

Enough over thinking then – for today at least.  The sun’s out and I’m going for a walk!

1 Comment

  1. You’re such a good writer, you have a way with words and can conjure up such vivid imagery for the reader that makes them think about life a bit differently :))


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