Cancer isn't always a death sentence
All of us are all too familiar with the horrors of cancer: the fear, the chemotherapy and all its attendant problems, the very real possibility of a premature death. How many of us donít have a close friend or family member whoís been touched by the disease at some point? Or indeed, had it ourselves.
I fall into the last category. This isnít going to be a breast-beating tale of woe. On the contrary, itís a celebration of life.
I consider myself to have been extremely fortunate. The type of cancer I had is relatively rare and, from all Iíve read and been told about it, fatal to 60% of people who get it. The only hope of a cure is surgical excision of the tumour; if this is not possible then the usual outcome is death within 12 months.
I was fortunate; my tumour was resectable. Resectable is a word thatís probably unfamiliar to most non-medical people (even spell-check suggests Ďrespectableí); it was to me. One of the things that cancer does for you is widen your vocabulary to include words that in all honesty youíd rather have remained ignorant of! Resectable means capable of being cut out. And that was what happened to mine.
Then Lady Luck smiled on me again; no chemotherapy. I was beginning to feel a bit of a fraud; Iíd never had a dayís illness and I was going to get away with what is probably one of the worst aspects of cancer. Admittedly the operation hadnít been as much fun as a night in the pub but that was all over and done with.
During the recuperation period I had a lot of time to reflect. The first thing that had taken me by surprise was the sheer volume of goodwill Iíd experienced. When I came out of hospital, my house resembled a floristís shop. I even had to borrow vases to accommodate all of the lovely flowers Iíd been given. I live alone and have no close family; all of these flowers, along with dozens of get-well cards, had come from friends, colleagues and acquaintances. I was quite overwhelmed. Some of the cards had come from people I barely knew, yet theyíd been thoughtful and caring enough to let me know that they were thinking about me. On the other hand, I had no contact whatsoever from the woman I considered to be my closest friend. She was the one I first turned to when I was diagnosed and her apparent indifference hurt me deeply. To this day I havenít heard from her.
Of course there were various reasons why some people didnít contact me. Another friend, who sent no message after the operation, had tears in his eyes the first time I bumped into him, about four months later. Guiltily he explained that he hadnít called because he was afraid of what I might tell him; he wouldnít have been able to handle it.
As a result of all this I found myself re-evaluating my own worth in a positive way. In all honesty Iíd always considered myself to be a bit of a waste of space; my presence or otherwise on the planet didnít make much different either way. This wasnít self-pity; far from it. Iím a self-contained pragmatist and those were the facts as I saw them, without emotion. But perhaps Iíd been wrong. Maybe there were indeed people who would miss me if I were no longer here. It was certainly food for thought.
The next thing that hit me was a strong sense of carpe diem. After all, tomorrow, as they say, is promised to no one. A friend of mine once told me that his family motto is ĎLive every day as though itís your last and plan to live foreverí. I donít know if this is an original thought but itís a good one. I suspect that life might be rather hectic if one followed it to the letter, but its message is clear and true.
This might seem like a non sequitur but bear with me. Iíve always been an animal lover. I donít particularly like that expression; it has sentimental undertones of Ďah, nice pussycatí, but it will suffice. (Iím particularly fond of birds so my thoughts about cats arenít always that complimentary anyway!) I was surfing the net a few months after my operation when quite by accident I came across what looked like a fabulous holiday. It was two weeks in Ecuador, mainly bird watching, followed by a weekís cruise round the Galapagos. The downside was that it cost several thousand pounds. My holidays prior to that point had always been a week or twoís slobbing round a pool in Tenerife or somewhere similar, at a cost of hundreds, not thousands.
I had a follow up scan due within a couple of weeks and I promised myself that if everything was OK Iíd buy the holiday. Everything was OK and I bought the holiday. It was a serious dent in my savings but what the heck? None of us is here forever and no one can predict what the future holds. Carpe diem.
That holiday was absolutely fantastic and was the first of four such holidays that Iíve now enjoyed. During the second of those I had the most amazing experience of my life; I canít imagine anything ever beating it. Should anyone have reached this point in my missive, and want to know what that experience was, Iíd be happy to write about it.
The point is that none of this would have happened had I not had cancer; Iím convinced of that. Iíve now spent many thousands of pounds on these holidays, money that I would have kept stashed away for old age. You may say that Iím lucky to be able to afford to do it anyway, and indeed I am.
Iím in no way trying to detract from the seriousness of the disease, nor to make light of what people less fortunate than I have to endure. But the diagnosis is not necessarily a death sentence; there are plenty of people to testify to that. And, as was the case with me, it can change your life for the better in the most unexpected ways. Donít get me wrong; given the choice I would obviously rather never have had it. It did actually return about 18 months after the original tumour was removed but again I was incredibly fortunate in that the second one was also resectable. Iím still on six-monthly check-ups and obviously there remains a residue of fear that it will return again.
But in the meantime I intend to waste no time in worrying about things that I canít control. Iím far too busy studying the atlas for the next exotic location to visit!