Life, death, sex, drugs and a year of living with cancer

Tomorrow is the first anniversary of the surgery which both saved and fucked up my life. Since then I haven’t had a meal or been able to talk normally. (I can't sing either. But then, I never could.)

The good news is my ability to drink has improved in leaps and bounds over the last month. I may always struggle with eating, but I'm not so bothered if I can meet people for a beer or a coffee. The types of food I can swallow may be for ever limited. It should, however, be sufficient for me to stop having to be fed through a PEG tube into my stomach. I'll be able to swim again.

Beyond the practicalities, now seems a good time to look back at what the last year's taught me. Don’t expect anything profound. I'm no philosopher. Just because I'm often not that talkative doesn't mean there are great thoughts buzzing round my head. It just means I'm not always that good at small talk. Having had radical surgery on my tongue and surrounding areas hasn't exactly been beneficial either.

I do know I am uncomfortable with many of the militaristic cancer cliches. I haven't won a battle. I'm not brave as, to me, that suggests an element of choice and helping other people, neither of which is true. I've survived.

My current state of health is down to a combination of skilled medical intervention and 'luck', if that's the word, in having a treatable form of cancer. It's not the result of prayer or positive thinking. If I seem to be positive it's simply because I believe if life's shit, there's no point in adding to it by being miserable.

I have also learned that many cliches are only half true. For instance: “It’s at times like these that you learn who you real friends are.” To a point. What I've been surprised by is how numerous my friends are. I really have been reduced to tears by the sheer volume of those wishing me well and offering to help. The problem is that there’s generally not much that can be done except by those closest.

Barbara has borne the heaviest burden, but there are others who have been there when needed. It would be crass to name names. Equally, close family has pulled through in a way that would probably have been impossible for friends. The people who know will know what I mean.

The main legacy of the tumour under my tongue is dysphagia, the inability to swallow properly. I've written about it before and described how, strangely, I've got used to it. I don't get hungry any more, which leaves just the social aspect of eating and drinking. Being in a club, bar or party without a glass in your hand feels wrong. It shouldn't matter to me, but it does. It’s not going to make me stay in, but it has dimmed my enthusiasm for going out over the winter, but now I can drink there's no keeping me in.

It took until January 1 to make it to a club. Well, I wasn't going to miss DC10 on New Year’s Day, was I? And this time, for her first ever visit, I took Barbara along. We both really enjoyed it. The music was good and there were loads of people we knew. Even my oncologist was there. I probably shouldn't have been surprised. He is young and good looking. But he didn’t recognise us at first. Then the penny dropped. He quickly clicked from rave into sort of professional mode. “Es todo bien?” he kept saying. I just grinned.

Of course, perhaps I shouldn't be bothered about going to nightclubs at my age. But, I've never grown out of sex & drugs & rock & roll. I did go through a long sensible phase when I wore suits to work and all the rest of it. That really wasn’t me. It always felt as if I was acting.

My greatest pleasure has always been the joy of sharing a musical experience with other people. Often lots of other people. In my youth that experience was at rock concerts. In Ibiza it’s more likely to be dance music. As long as the shared passion of artists and audience is there, it’s the same difference to me. (Although I have become a little jaded with guitar bands that don't seem to have moved on since the 1970s.)

If you want to call my move to Ibiza, “arrested development” or a “mid-life crisis”, go ahead. I don’t care. I’m happy. (And I should say that it was me that pushed Barbara into moving here, although I think she’s happy.)

None of those feelings in the last paragraph are any different as a result of my cancer. It’s my view of what happens next that has changed. I never used to think much about the future. So when people ask, for instance, “Did you think you’d still be going to see rock bands in  your fifties?” I couldn't answer. I never thought ahead much. Or at all, really. My future concerns never extended more than a few months. I suppose that makes me immature.

I've never been ambitious or at all career-minded. As long as I've been earning something I've never worried too much about what was going to come next. “One day,” I used to think to myself, “I’ll find out what I want to be when I grow up.” It’s never happened. Of course, if I’d have had kids I would probably have been forced to think a bit more about a career, job security and a pension plan. I know some people manage to avoid feelings of responsibility even when children come along, but I know the middle-class angst weighs more heavily on my shoulders than that. Anyway, for whatever reasons, I never felt as if I was a proper grown-up.

So, when I was diagnosed with cancer, it felt as if I’d jumped from adolescence to old age in one go, missing out the middle bit. It’s not that I’d never thought about mortality before, but I’d always felt death was far enough in the future not to worry about today, or tomorrow, Or any time, really. With the cancer it became scarily imminent.  I never felt I was going to die within months, although I knew that was a possibility. It was more a matter of thinking that I’d do well to survive another 10, 20 years or whatever. But, if I look back 10 or 20 years, at the music, news or clothes, it doesn't seem that long ago.

I’m sure time is relative. After all, a week is the same proportion of your life when you’re ten as a month is when you hit your forties. It’s not surprising that things seem to happen faster as you get older.

Ideally, my cancer would have been a great motivator. Knowing I've only got a finite amount of time left should make me stop wasting what I have. Sadly, that's not the case. If anything I've become even better at procrastination.

The problem is I'm not quite sure where I'm going now. I am what I am when I grow up. All I know is I want to make up for the time and parties I missed last summer. Whether I have as much stamina in reality as I think I have. Who knows? But I'm determined to have fun trying. Just put me on that guest list.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s