No Going Back

A look back at some of the earlier blog entries would suggest that my perspective has shifted. Perhaps this is to be expected: I’ve been buffeted around a tempestuous sea of mixed emotions on this most accursed of voyages aboard a creaky and leaky ship that is headed for some dangerous looking rocks and will soon be nothing but driftwood. Perhaps this window of wellness is the eye of the storm.

Early on, I started listening to back episodes of You, Me and the Big C.  I particularly remember one that was all about focusing on the positives.  ‘What positives?!’ I thought back then:  ‘How can there be any positives?  I’ll be dead soon – the worst has literally happened and I’ve had enough of the pain, discomfort, mental anguish and general all round impending doom’.  More than that – the consensus was that none of the three founder members would take away the years since diagnosis.  That the time had been valuable in a different way, and cancer had become part of who they were.

I couldn’t fathom this attitude at the time.  I wouldn’t wish this sorry existence on my worst enemy – and I’ve known one or two downright horrible people who’ve made crushing my spirit into a kind of cruel sport. How could anyone feel that being so afflicted has enhanced their life?

I suppose we all imagine what life might be like if we’d taken different paths, and of course I wonder how things would be if I didn’t have cancer.  I’d be working all the hours available and then some.  I’d have a go at fitting in the fun stuff like running and music and probably abandon social contact for long periods because I couldn’t manage it all.  Days would turn into weeks to months to years to decades ad infinitum and I’m not certain I’d have strayed far from this path.  Maybe I’d have taken a few months out with work related stress/burnout, spent some fallow periods nursing running injuries and taken the odd slight divergence like maybe playing a bit more drum kit out of educational necessity.  The ‘before times’ were – well – fine.  I’d just about established a way to get by comfortably – would I have gotten round to doing anything…interesting? Exciting? Remarkable?  Inspiring??  More to the point, would I have realised that I had?

I doubt it.  I would have been too tired and ground down by the repetitive nature of middle age settled life.  It’s just how things go at this stage and no one really does anything out of the ordinary or has anything to report.  It’s why people almost stop socialising by their late 30s.  Those with children seem to experience this to an even greater extent with extreme sleep deprivation and the mind numbing cycle of playtime, cartoons, meal prep and bedtime routines.  That of course is valuable and I’m not saying that people with conventional ‘game of’ life’ styles don’t have something meaningful to say or make an impact on the world in their own way.  But it really is possible to meander through life not really getting up to much and I’ll honestly admit that if I my life hadn’t suddenly and dramatically changed, I’d probably have continued to live a distinctly unremarkable existence.

But look at me now.  I’m on a mission.  I have impetus, urgency and a whole load of drive.  Even my most sedentary days are lived with a newfound intensity that I hadn’t thought possible  – a ticking countdown clock does that to a person.  I have a story not just to tell in passing but to shout from the rooftops.  I find myself in a position to influence people’s lives for the better and, if the message lands right, maybe even save them.  I’m working hard on trying to do good and really make a difference – that doesn’t feel like work at all!  I have a newfound capacity to abandon hesitancy and grasp all the nettles.  If I’m not quite ready for something, never mind – I won’t get another chance, so may as well go for it.  In everything, it really is ‘now or never’ and as a result, I’ve taken opportunities beyond the wildest dreams of my former self.  Everything I put my energies to right now is taking off.  That’s not just because cancer makes people listen or be more likely to say yes to me.  I’ve had a lot of time to not just to think but carefully consider and that’s resulted in downright better outcomes in all sorts of endeavours.  I’m on the fast track to maturity as I gain a sense of what’s really important and – though I can’t quite bring myself to acknowledge this – I’ve even been called wise.

I appreciate absolutely everything so much more now, especially the important people in my life.  That’s one thing George Alagiah talked about when thinking along similar lines.  He felt and expressed love and compassion so much more.  The old cliches really have something to them – at times such as these, you really know who your friends are and you only really appreciate what you had when it’s gone.  It’s a shame that – with people – it often takes death to teach us this.

Maybe that’s partly why I was quite profoundly saddened to hear that he’s died following a nine year battle with stage four bowel cancer.  Doubtless he’d have preferred the likes of me to be lifted by the fact that he lived well past his predicted demise and nine years post-diagnosis is extraordinary.  But I can’t help but be reminded of my own fragility.  Here’s someone who’s been on the same journey but miles down the road and battled hard year on year. Yet eventually this cancer took him, just like everyone else.  No one survives this.  I want that to sink in for a second.  Because people keep talking to me like I’m on the way to being some kind of miracle survivor and that this story might still have some kind of fairytale ending.  I’m no exception here.  I’m sorry – I really am and it’s hard to hear.  But it has to be acknowledged.  That new treatment or trial  you heard about – even if I’m eligible, it might give me a bit longer.  I will not live to old age.

But nine years – wow!  There’s a strange sense of competition in my mind.  If he’s had 17 rounds of chemo, I want to offer my arm for number 18 with a warm smile and laugh as the uncomfortable tingles spread from the entry site to my throat yet again.  He lived nine years – well I’m about 30 years younger – Surely I could squeeze 10 out of this broken but young and fit body? Especially as I’ve been told with certainty that I won’t live that long or anywhere near.  It’s hard to set realistic goals these days – why not a stage 4 survival record?

Whatever happens, cancer is now well and truly part of me.  Initially, I took steps to make sure this doesn’t define me – like avoiding photos in hospital and generally living as conventionally as I could to show that I’m still able to function like a ‘normal’ person.  But I’ll never be normal again.  What’s new is that I don’t desire to be.  People throw around terms like resilience, grit, courage, fortitude, inner fight etc. etc. Well I’ve been well and truly put to the test, and there are far worse ordeals certain to come.  With the time in between, I’m choosing to put myself through even more as I charge up and down a load of mountains just because I can.  No one is making me live like this.  Yes – before, I would have pushed myself a bit anyway.  But now it means even more.  I’ve really discovered who I am and it didn’t take any mindfulness retreats or team building weekends.

There are plenty of accusations that can fairly be levelled at me.  But no one can say that I’m not alive – truly alive – and determined to make use of that.  If I hadn’t had cancer, I wouldn’t have felt this.  I wouldn’t have built the self esteem that comes from people telling you on a daily basis that they admire the strength of your character.  I’m strangely at peace – ready – for what, I’m not sure.  And I sincerely doubt that previously I’d have been quite this happy.  I kind of feel the contentment that comes with having earned my rest whilst having no intention to do so.

I’m aware I didn’t feel like this about three blogs ago when I directly contradicted most of the previous paragraph.  Emotions fluctuate – I was tired, grumpy and probably hadn’t had enough coffee.  But that’s all part of the journey and I’m pragmatic enough to take what comes.  I get anxious and depressed sometimes, even if the overall disposition is a sunny one at the moment.  But that’s going to happen to me and shows that I care so deeply and lows will follow highs.  I’m ambitious and will never be satisfied.  I’m really really messy – I suggest investing in a hazmat suit before visiting my flat.  But all of that is part of my personality and even if I were insecure enough to attempt to change it (I’ve tried that at various points and it didn’t work), I’ll be dead before anyone notices.  And for the record, I wouldn’t.  I like being me.  It’s taken most of four decades but, finally, I feel it. It’s quite liberating not having to apologise for one’s presence or existence!

Of course I wish I’d never gotten cancer in the first place.  But now I have and on (and on and on and on) I go even so.  I don’t think I’m a changed man exactly – because the man I’ve become was always inside me – it just took this tragedy to bring it out.



  1. I sure like your writing, no matter if you are in a good mood or a more stressed mood. It seems to me you are gaining an understanding of yourself that many of us never experience. We sure had a great time spending time with you and also watching you and the band play.

    • Thanks Shanon!


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