My morning ritual is very well established indeed. At 7AM precisely my liberal elite grade II listed bedroom miraculously establishes a digital connection to the BBC Radio 4 Today studio. God knows why I to continually allow this happen every morning because its only usually a matter of minutes before John Humphries gets on my tits with a completely unnecessary attempt at playing devils advocate or a plain rude interruption of a politician who has finally finished loyally spouting the party line and is just homing in on a vague attempt to actually answer the question with the hackneyed sound bite that is least likely to haunt her at a later date. Or god forbid if they’ve been outside accosting random ignoramuses in the street who are happy to bleat on about the carelessly lost Holy grail of sovereignty that he seeks without realising that it was never actually mislaid in the first place, just misreported by the tedious rag that adorns his breakfast table, or more frequently, the dusty gap between the top the dashboard and and the windscreen of his white Transit. This morning however has a far worse fate in store for me, because today is Sunday. The tiresome Today programme will therefore be replaced with an even more annoying tirade of random Godshite from a complicit nun or bishop who has seemingly been challenged to utter as many logical fallacies as possible in 60 seconds without hesitation, repetition or deviation into basic common sense and logic. Before I can hit the off button though and save my brain from the inevitable onslaught of mass delusions, occasionally delivered in a higher key and set to a dirge of organ music, I am captivated by the familiar dulcet tones of Mr. Stephen Fry. If nothing else, Stephen can usually be relied upon to not suddenly burst into the credulous and vapid praise of a mythical deity, so like a generous Nicholas Parsons, I give the radio the benefit of the doubt. Stephen has in fact hijacked my radio for the express purposes of fundraising for prostrate cancer research. After Stephen’s brief tale of his own diagnosis and how it was fortunately detected early enough to be effectively treated, we hear the story of Mark whose diagnosis was not so favourable. As I listen to Mark’s testimony eloquently relayed by Mr. Fry my ears prick up at each similarity to my predicament. Like me, Mark is 52. Like me, Mark’s cancer was diagnosed too late. Like me, Mark’s cancer became inoperable and incurable. Like me, Mark was given eighteen months to live. Like me, Mark has been engaged with clinical trials to help future patients. Like me Mark has realised the preciousness of life and like me has (rather successfully by the sound it), been doing his damnedest to make the most of his remaining time. After the appeal, the continuity announcer revealed that since recording (unlike me), Mark has sadly died.
This is getting all to common. I have heard of, and known, far too many fellow cancer patients like me who have now inevitably succumbed to their disease. And yet I am still here. I feel like a soldier in the Great War stood in the middle of no man’s land amidst a sea of bodies while bullets whistle past me in all directions, grazing me but never seeming to hit any vital organs. And I feel a sense of guilt. There is no need to comment to tell me that I shouldn’t feel guilt for failing to die as expected, I know it’s not my fault and I know that I should just be happy and thankful that I am still alive and I am indeed immensely happy and thankful that I am still alive. But that whisper of guilt endures nonetheless. Just over a year ago, I wrote a few paragraphs for my friend Dean Burnett. Dean tidied up my thoughts and included them in the final chapter of his latest book, The Happy Brain. In the few paragraphs I sent him I described how despite being diagnosed with terminal cancer and believing I only had months left to live, I was surprisingly happy. I had accepted my fate, I had got my affairs in order and tidied up my loose ends. I’d contacted all my old friends, I was ready to die and happily enjoying my final months. Dean’s book however really could have used that little announcement at the end of that chapter explaining that since writing I had sadly died in order to add the desired poignancy and pathos, but my incessant lingering in this world has denied Dean that nice tidy ending. He has commented to me on the inconvenience caused. When I wrote the piece for Dean I was indeed happy in a strange way because my future seemed certain and unavoidable. Like the economic markets fretting about the uncertainty of Brexit knowing for sure that you are about the plunge over the cliff into a no-deal fiasco would at least provide the piece of mind of actually knowing and preparing for it in earnest. Last year I was pretty sure I knew my future. I was going to die; I did everything I reasonably could to prevent it but that was that, and I was happily living with it. A year later and that certainty has been replaced with uncertainty. Although I am delighted to have survived thus far against the odds the uncertainty I have no come up against is a tad frustrating. Will the chemotherapy just stop working next year, as it has for most other patients and allow the cancer to reach its usual fatal conclusion? Will the chemo continue to outperform expectations and enable me to slowly improve and possibly even enable me to return to work and my previous life next year? Or will it continue to just hold my cancer in the balance and keep me in this state of limbo for another year? I genuinely have no idea, and neither does my oncologist.
What I do know however is this. Here are two lists, one lists of things I expected to happen to me in 2018, and one of things that actually did happen in 2018, they are quite stark in contrast.
Things That I expected to happen to me in 2018:
1. Die of renal clear cell carcinoma.
Things that actually happened to me in 2018:
1. Had a CT scan showing a massive shrinkage in my cancer and three subsequent CT scans throughout the year showing the cancer being held steady in the shrunken state.
2. Watched my daughter graduate from Durham University with a first class honours degree in archaeology and shortly after celebrate her job offer as a professional archaeologist.
3. Attended 4 weddings and a funeral. I was delighted this year to witness 4 magnificent brides: Marianne, Jessica, Kathryn and Marina all tie the knot and to celebrate the life of my Auntie Jennifer.
4. Had numerous holidays and long weekends with friends to Wales, Stratford, Durham and Antwerp to name but a few. (Antwerp is about as far from the NHS I dare to venture.)
5. Visited countless record shop and grew my record collection considerably.
6. Attended loads of excellent concerts with friends and my children including: The Stranglers, From The Jam, The Animals, Stiff Little Fingers, Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets, The Decembrists and Greta Van Fleet.
7. Bought a Porsche and joined a Health Club
8. Completed the first draft of my book, and found an agent (but not a publisher)
9. Stopped constantly thinking about my cancer and continued to enjoy life.
I don’t have a clue what will happen in 2019 having previously never even daring to contemplate the possibility of actually reaching it, but as I’ve already cheated death to the tune of a whole year who knows? I’m one year up already so I can’t lose whatever happens.
Wishing you all a happy Christmas and a (possibly Brexit and Trump free) happy New Year.