The Cancer Club
When I started this website it was supposed to be about diverse and interesting articles on intellectual topics that generated passionate but respectful debate; but what have you got? A series of articles that blather on about the life and times of a terminally ill twat. Before I report myself to the Trading Standards Authority for misrepresentation, that is still the intention. I continue to work on other non cancer related articles I hope will turn into something interesting.
However, what has become clear from the response from readers is that there is an appetite for an insight into my unwanted illness, it’s prognosis, and my unhinged mind. I acknowledge that appetite may be amuse bouche sized, and may be from an infinitesimal percentage of the population of the human race; but it exists, I have the time and inclination, and they always say write about what you know.
It is also the case that when writing my initial articles relating to my illness and prognosis that they were written with a certain audience in mind; that is to say family and friends to whom it might help communicate my feelings, and also to provide the benefit of my experience to anyone else unfortunate enough to find themselves in a similar position in an attempt to save them suffering similar pains unnecessarily .
Through friend’s recommendations, the website’s audience has widened to include people I have never met or even heard of, like a cancer themed Pyramid scheme. Some of these people contacted me to say they were going through comparable experiences and, though the writing was not specifically aimed at them as people with cancer, that they had enjoyed reading my articles and found my approach entertaining, if not useful in a community that is stereotypically sad and sensitively safe.
Over the last two years I have stubbornly entrenched my position of not engaging with the cancer community anymore than I have to. I go to the doctor, I take my medication, I discuss with my wife about what is going on; but I have always done so without joining support groups or chatting with fellow ‘sufferers’. I don’t want to sit around drinking stewed tea discussing which bit of me hurts and what type of chemo is worse, blah, blah, blah. I have enough of it in my life without dealing it out like a cancerous croupier or encumbering myself with anyone else’s baggage. So for those of you under the misapprehension of me as being a decent sympathetic person, now you know the truth. I’m a selfish arsehole. This was my thinking anyway, and while this may well still be true, in retrospect I suspect it has a lot more to do with fear. Do I want avoid witnessing first hand my future demise through others; promoting my positivity instead? Am I running to life, or away from death?
My insecurities and failings as a human being notwithstanding, having being contacted by others with cancer and being given this feedback, I made a decision to go to the websites of several cancer charities and simply say to them, “Hi, this is who I am. This is what I have been doing, and if you are interested in linking these articles or my site then please feel free.” I didn’t expect there would be any official takers especially considering my less than neutral tone on some traditionally sensitive topics, but to the contrary, several of them engaged and linked articles or included my story in newsletters.
In building these bridges I also found myself for the first time engaging in the communities of both Cancer Research and the MacMillan websites, and it has been a real eye-opener for me. It has been a reminder that despite my poor prognosis, I am still in relatively good shape compared to some (today anyway, and that is the only day I can worry about), and that through good luck or judgement there are several daily struggles I am not having to fight that many others do.
It has made me realise that the people with the least ‘hope’ are often the most extraordinary people. The support and sense of humour that these ‘Incurables’ in particular (as they are classed) provide each other is astonishing.
Incurable. This was a new term for me. I wasn’t sure if it was just the latest sensitive semantics in a politically correct world. Was I nominally termed incurable now? Or still terminal? But no, apparently there is a difference in that incurable means the cancer can be managed if not cured with current medical treatments, but that there is no imminent fatal prognosis. In some ways that sounds even worse to me, but my perspective got pretty warped the day someone said I have a terminal illness, which I still do.
One of the benefits of communicating with people in the same doomed lifeboat is that you are on a level playing field. It’s not so much that they can empathise with you, it’s that they don’t sympathise in that same well intentioned, but sometimes patronising way that the rest of the world can. It’s similar to the mutual perspective parents have. People without kids just don’t understand what it is like until they make that socially suicidal step themselves.
Having said all these positive things about coming into contact with so many fantastic, wonderful people through the cancer community, it also proved another point. Just like in any other walk of life, a small minority are bloody arseholes (I don’t mean the ones with colon cancer), and some might argue I am living proof of that. Cancer doesn’t care if you’re a wanker. I considered specifically venting my frustrations publicly, but decided it’s classier to just walk away, give a person the benefit of the doubt, and you know what they say about life being too short.
In joining this new cancer cadre, I also faced a rather disconcerting possibility about myself. Was the reason that I had avoided talking to others with cancer previously because there was a part of me that liked being special? Do I enjoy the attention? Do I secretly like being Cancer Boy? Am I the neoplastic version of ‘Daffyd – The Only Gay in the Village’? (I am actually starting to look like Matt Lucas now too. Thank you steroids!) Even if people categorically avoid talking to me about my illness, you can be pretty sure that if I go out in a group, I will find myself being quite popular as people consider, ‘This might be the last time I see him.’
It reminded me of a brief period of my adolescence where I thought it was easier to get attention by acting like a depressed suicide risk rather than actually being socially enjoyable to be around; that would have been far too much like hard work and required personality! Of course the downside was that sympathetic attention quickly evaporated like a spill in the Sahara. If I was left with anything, hopefully it was a life lesson learned that now gives me enough self awareness to at least ask myself those difficult questions, if not enough to confidently answer them.