Chapter 49: Celebrity Cancer Deaths

Celebrity cancer deaths are not a terribly novel phenomenon. As a compulsive record collector and obsessive music lover the heart-rending cancer deaths of George Harrison, Syd Barrett, Richard Wright and a tragic trio of Ramones (Joey, Johnny and Tommy), had been wretched to learn of. However, since my own terminal cancer diagnosis celebrity cancer deaths have appeared ever more prevalent and their poignance and melancholy seems to be agonisingly amplified.

On the day before the operation to remove my cancerous right kidney I awoke to the miserable news that Lemmy had just died of prostrate cancer. The man was a true rock legend with a constitution that I had previously considered almost indestructible. He was one of the many musicians who inspired me to pick up a bass guitar. Of course I didn’t know Lemmy personally, and other than seeing him live at the occasional Motörhead gig, I never actually met him in person, nevertheless it felt like I had lost a friend. After my operation as I lay convalescing and waiting for my fateful biopsy results, I heard the news of the deaths of two more friends, David from liver cancer and Alan from pancreatic cancer. David and I first became acquainted when I was a child and I sang along with him to his catchy little ditty about Major Tom. Whereas Alan and I hit it off a little later, shortly, in fact, after he fell out of the Nakatomi Plaza - he was always playing the villain.

After my radical nephrectomy, as I pondered whether my cancer would return, more familiar faces succumbed to various cruel carcinomas. Terry would no longer take the Floral Dance in vain and Paul had no more tricks up his sleeve. Later in the year when my cancer returned and had become incurable and inoperable the news still flooded in of more awful cancer deaths. Caroline had had her last heated debate and funny girl Victoria served her last canteen dinner. As my first line chemotherapy eventually failed and my demise seemed imminent I lay quietly listening to more cancer obituaries. Roger has stirred his last vodka martini and John had sold his last wizards wand.

When I unexpected started to pick-up this year on my third line chemotherapy treatment, alas many others where not as fortunate as me. Tessa will not longer be able to hold the government to account, Barry will no longer make me chuckle with his brother and Aretha although no longer with us, still has my respect.

And then only yesterday I read of the sad death of BBC broadcaster and fellow cancer blogger Rachael Bland, and I selfishly found myself once again pondering my own mortality and embarrassingly now observing the unfair fact that I still seem to be here despite my cancer diagnoses predating Rachael’s. Cancer is frequently described as a battle, but it is an analogy I dislike for many reasons. The battle analogy implies some sort of agency that many cancer patients like me simply don’t have. We may delude ourselves into believing we can influence how the cancer dice will land, but why fool ourselves? Cancer does not give a flying fuck about which God we chose to petition, it cares not one whit which quack German cancer clinic we hand over our hard donated cash to, it is totally impervious to which natural health supplements we consume and it is far to busy dishing out indiscriminate death to worry about our pointless and distracting array of inefficacious alternative therapies. Alas, even my frequently championed evidenced-based medicine can often do little more than weight the cancer dice slightly in our favour. It is however the best option available and if I have to roll the cancer dice, I will use the dice weighted with science, hope for the best, and try my damnedest to make the most of whatever life I have left. As the outcome of our cancer journey’s ostensibly relies on the chance roll of the dice (weighted or not), it would be absurd to apply some form of fake Trumpesque logic that would scorn those whose dice landed unfavourably and only praise those with winning throws. So called cancer “bravery” cannot be measured in how long we live, but in how well we live, the support and fact-checked information we can give to our fellow cancer patients and the preparations we can make for the loved ones that we will leave behind. I am clearly no braver than Rachael Bland, I do not have a better method for dealing with my cancer than Rachael, I am quite simply, just luckier. So far at least.

As I have blogged and tweeted about my cancer I have befriended many other fellow cancer patients, we have read each others blogs and tweets and shared our cancer experiences. That is how I came to know Amy. Technically Amy is not a celebrity and as I only knew her from her blogs and tweets I can not in all honesty claim to be her friend. Nonetheless I considered her to be as much a celebrity and a friend as all of the great people I have mentioned above. From following Amy on Twitter I knew what meals she had cooked, how she was feeling and the frustrations she was having with her stoma. On the first of April this year Amy tweeted “I’m dying actually. Soon. Update…” and she included a link to her Facebook page where she had provided an update on her rapidly fading health from her hospice bed. There were no further tweets. In the days that followed I searched her Twitter feed looking for any news or updates. I did not want to impinge on her family’s grief so I have not tried to contact anyone for details but I still occasionally check her feed. Deep down though I know what has happened. I didn’t know Amy, I never met her, I don’t know any of her family or friends, but I think of her a lot. She is a constant reminder to me of how precious and delicate life is.


  1. So now you know how I feel when you don't post an update for a week or two...or three.... Keep 'em coming please!

  2. My cancer has been (thankfully), a little less eventful of late, hence the reduced frequency in blogposts. Follow me on Twitter @Crispian_Jago for reassurance that I have died yet.

  3. You're pretty tricky if you're still blogging even though you've died! ;)