On the Sick

I’m not feeling very well.  If you’ve kept half an eye on this blog in recent weeks, that will come as no surprise.  But I’m not talking about chemo; I’m talking about the throat/headache/mild fever type thing that’s doing the rounds at the moment.  Combined with the chemo, it’s not at all fun and instead of being on stage in Norwich this evening, I’m sitting in at home feeling sorry for myself, hoping the sore throat is down to this lurgy and not the neck cancer.  I’ve got a scan coming up, so we’ll find out soon enough.

I say mild fever because it could be worse.  My temperature could be above 38° and I could be riding this out in a hospital bed.  Today is marginally better than yesterday, so I’m hoping I’ve got enough immunity left to fight off whatever this is.  The alternative would be this developing into pneumonia with the risk of neutropenic sepsis and I’d rather the first option if that’s ok.  Thankfully, paracetamol is keeping this mostly at bay and I haven’t had to reach for the morphine stash I’ve still got from surgery.  Just as well – I don’t want to become one of those opioid addicts that blows their life saving on fentanyl.

Not that I’m planning on becoming an opioid addict, (e,g, I rationed the use of my morphine button after surgery because I was worried about this) it’s pretty lucky I have some savings, courtesy of not having any significant others or dependents.  I’m also fortunate to have a fairly well paying job with a public sector sick pay arrangement and (as long as I can force my way back to work in between bouts of chemotherapy) I’ll be financially secure for the time being, and when I can’t, I’ll be able to take ill health retirement and eek out a modest pension.  I should be ok for however many years I’ve got left – statistically, there’s a 10% chance I’ll survive another three and a half years.  No – that’s not five any more.  Time flys when you don’t have much of it left, eh…

Others in my position are not so fortunate.  Quite a few others, in fact.  I know this because I couldn’t sleep last night, due to throat pain, and switched on the You, me and the big C podcast to learn that terminal cancer patients of working age are TWICE AS LIKELY TO DIE IN POVERTY as those who are pensioners.  Please read that again and attempt to take it in.  I can’t really fathom it.  That an economically prosperous country such as ours chooses to leave people who are slowly dying of cancer with little more than statutory sick pay and PIPs (if they meet the ever narrowing criteria) is a national disgrace.  We should be taking to the streets over situations like this.  When you’re told you have terminal caner, the VERY LAST THING anyone should have to think about is money.  And – again – the charity sector are picking up the slack here with Macmillan providing grants/bursaries to those in need plus – locally at least – a financial adviser who’s full time job it is to support just one hospital’s worth of cancer patients to negotiate an incredibly convoluted benefits system.

I’m in a relatively good position with this and I’ve been losing sleep over it.  What if I retire too early and live longer than expected? Will I be able to keep up mortgage payments?  What if I really try to live and use what could be a last healthy year to go travelling or run up some mountains?  I wouldn’t be surprised if some of my bucket list Items cost as much as a healthy opioid habit, and it’s not hard to imagine myself finding a way to end my short life in destitution, like a modern day Mozart.  But at least I’m in a position to be able to make some of these choices for myself.

I’ve even got enough to make one of those on-air bets that politicians are shaking hands on these days and if any of those well-monied Tory grandees would like to wager £1,000 against me living to see them out of office, I’m good for it – and  if I win, the money would go to Macmillan of course.  And if not, well – I’ll be dead and the landed gentry can take their ill-gotten capital gains out of probate.  I imagine I’ll be too busy being dead to care much.

But spare a thought for those poor unfortunate rich Tory donors.  Inflation is hitting them pretty hard too and the tariff for a knighthood has gone up from whatever could be stuffed into an A5 envelope back in the Major era to an eye watering £5 million in the latest emergency honours list.  The justification for this act of cronyism/borderlinea corruption was pretty interesting in the case of this now British billionaire – donating some money to charity.  Others waded in on the radio this morning talking about the notion that honours are/d be given out service to the community or public in general.

Now – I’m not saying that I should have an honour or am remotely close to deserving one.  For a start, I haven’t amassed a £5 million fortune and (assuming’ve I’ve not fallen for a phishing scam I’ve not noticed yet) I haven’t given a penny to the Conservative Party.  But Dame Deborah James did receive an honour and I’m pretty sure she didn’t sign off on any Tory donations.  But donations she did amass, running to multi millions and I recently learned that the Bowel Babe Foundation is still going strong.  Dame Deborah was a teacher and runner, diagnosed in her mid-thirties, who did a lot of awareness raising, media appearances, podcasts and writing for national newspapers.  Does that sound at all familiar?

Ok – clearly I’d have to go some to reach the same philanthropic standards, so a knighthood is out.  But what about an entry level honour like an MBE? Does the Tory donation required start at cool million and increase?  Or are we talking ‘who wants to be a millionaire style’ jumps in prize money?  What if my £1k were enough if I subtly sneaked in a Jiffy bag full of unmarked 20s, whilst presenting a Downing Street petition or something?  Or even £10k – maybe I could set up a crowdfunder.

Would you donate?

Ok, Let’s be serious for second: Not even a flippin’ peerage would be enough for me to fund that ragged collection of morally bankrupt liars and supporters of liars.  I can call at least a handful of them liars because a) there is well documented evidence of enough frontline tories being wilfully and blatantly dishonest that it would be very hard to counter this commonly made allegation.  And b) I’m not an MP speaking in the House of Commons.  That’s probably for the best because I’m unlikely to live to serve a full term and wouldn’t want to cause the hassle of yet another by-election.

In any case, I know I’ll never have the money, influence or power for any attempt at ‘cash for honours’ to be taken seriously, even if I somehow were to end up with enough money in the bank to be able to move it offshore and dodge the tax.  I’m not even certain I’d be comfortable with letters after my name that refer to the British Empire.  But – you know – I’d dispense with the principled stance in order to see the look on my old dad’s face as some minor royal pins that medal on my chest and he can be proud of me one last time.  It might at least soften the blow of burying your youngest child.  No one should have to do that.

I know it’s a dangerous thing to become obsessed with legacy but I can’t help being constantly aware that if first impressions count, so do final ones, perhaps even more so.  I want to be remembered as someone who did his best to do some good in this world, even when that became unbelievably difficult and right to the end.  I don’t want people’s enduring memory of me to be as a poor forsaken cancer patient who died with his best years ahead of him.  Those years could well be happening now.  It depends how you measure success, I guess – I’m certainly getting more and more used to having expensive cameras shoved in my face, so that’s something.  So I’m blessed with enough health right now to continue to do at least something worthwhile and – whatever that is on any given day – I’ll focus on doing my family proud, so they can remember me fondly.  I owe them at least this. And I don’t need an honour, certificate, medal, trophy or even a blue peter badge to show I’m doing that.

Because, for now at least, I can do more than be someone, however ‘inspirational’ people consider that person to be.  I can do something and it would take the mother of all sore throats to stop that.


  1. Nat, I know I speak for all of us when I say you do already make us all proud, as you know you are my real life hero and we all love you very much. Our family will have a hole that can’t be filled when you are gone, and we don’t want that to be anytime soon. You keep fighting, you keep shouting your message, you keep living and we”ll keep supporting you every step of the way x

  2. We are thinking of you. This current virus is a nasty one and lots of people seem to have it…bad for someone with lowered immune system. Rest and recover. Lots of love from all of us.


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