Hi folks. It’s been a while since I’ve written so I thought I’d check in with you. How are you doing? Did you catch the [insert sports] game? Did you see [insert popular TV show] last night? Has that rash on your [insert embarrassing body part] cleared up? So glad.
You see, part of the reason I haven’t written in a while is that I’ve been feeling a little self obsessed of late and that doesn’t sit well with me. The trouble is blogging is a fairly one-way process so it’s hard for me to hear your side of the story without asking fake questions and making up the answers (this is borderline worrying on a number of levels) and that just doesn’t cut it. So, I’ve taken to social media in a slightly passive sense in search of the perfect meme or memes to act as the response to the questions that roll around my noggin. But, before I get to that, let’s jump back a step.
I had yet another PET-CT scan a few weeks ago and – after the false start of having a hypoglycaemic attack and having to come back on another day – the whole procedure went well. What was even better was the news a few days later that my scan was clear. Not just clear, in fact, but any little areas of concern had resolved or shrunk to a such a tiny level that it’s not even worth writing about. Now, I’m not underplaying this – this is fantastic news. That’s two scans in a row that have shown my body to be existing without cancer and that’s pretty incredible considering where I was two years ago.
The trouble is, I took the call about my scan results while I was trying to hurriedly knock up a PowerPoint presentation before a Zoom meeting and aside from scribbling a few bits down on a Post-it note, I didn’t really stop to celebrate it. There was no ringing of a bell, no applause and no guard of honour as I was wheeled out of a hospital clutching flowers and smiling humbly. I told my wife and family, of course, and there was happiness and relief but I felt like I’d missed my moment to properly celebrate and so the window of opportunity passed and I went back to my search for the perfect meme.
A few days later my wife and I finally went away for our wedding anniversary. We had planned to do this for our first wedding anniversary in 2020 but COVID happened, in 2021 COVID was still an issue and so 2022 became our first opportunity after three years of marriage. We found a tiny little bolt hole to spend the weekend in with no kids, no dog, no ‘to do’ list and a hot tub – time to chillax to the millax. Within an hour of arriving I had a banging headache but I took to the hot tub like a trouper and powered on through until I had to get out and developed uncontrollable shivering and shaking due to the change in temperature. What followed was a feverish night, some hallucinations and a little vomiting before waking in the morning and, you guessed, I had succumbed to COVID.
As usual my wife sprang in to action, sourcing a COVID test, thermometer and some basic food from the nearby supermarket all with an air of “I will care for you but only you could come away on a relaxing and romantic retreat and develop COVID for the first time ever…..and I will be disappearing to the hot tub as soon as I’m sure you’re alright”. It’s a reasonable reaction when you have to put up with my sick and sorry ass on a daily basis. Fortunately for me, COVID meant spending 12 hours in a comfy bed drifting in and out of consciousness while watching fragments of Joaquin Phoenix in Joker followed by six days of isolating in my bedroom whilst catching up on life admin. It’s almost as if having three vaccines and monthly doses of immune system boosting drugs kept me from the worst of the virus but that didn’t stop my family and friends being more than a little worried until I got the negative test result that I needed to be able to go on (fanfare please) an actual holiday…
That’s right folks, the whole clan took a flight from Bristol to Portugal and spent a week actually relaxing in actual warm weather. I’d love to share hilarious stories about getting strip searched because I was trying to smuggle insulin needles aboard a flight or my tiny stomach exploding on take off due to the change in cabin pressure but nothing that exciting happened. In fact, we had an incredibly smooth experience from start to finish which was exactly what we needed so if you’re looking for somewhere quiet to get away to then I can thoroughly recommend the former fishing village of Quarteira about a half hour drive from Faro. In fact, the only issue was that on approaching the airport in the early hours our drive was illuminated by the startling flash of a speed camera but, seeing as it was my wife driving, there was of course no film in the camera so she got away without a fine (bitter? Moi?).
So, I’m over the hurdle of having COVID and we’ve managed to get to another country and back which both represent pretty huge psychological barriers made of anxiety and barbed wire. However, there was still this nagging little noise buzzing away at the back of my mind that I could neither identify nor ignore. We landed, got our bags and made it to the car park bus before I switched my phone on and I saw the news that one of my fellow cancer battlers and old school friend had passed away a few hours earlier. This brought me back to earth with a bump and reminded me just how lucky I was to be essentially living a normal life as far as anyone else could tell. Sure, I might have suffered a few urgent trips to the toilet due to overindulging on Pastel de Natas during our holiday but I made it to the toilet on my own and it was during my holiday with my family – something for which I am hugely grateful.
The scrolling and searching for Meme wisdom continued with a little more intensity and desperation because I couldn’t get over the idea that I should be happier, more joyful or at least free of a weight that other people seemed to perceive as gone from my shoulders but that I could still very much feel. Then I found it, the holy Meme that explained why I felt the way I did:
Being cancer free does not mean free of cancer. It means you have to be constantly vigilant because melanoma is sneaky like that.
This was the one. You see, the first time I got the all-clear from cancer I had a very real sense that I had beaten the disease and somehow reversed the odds. But then it came back, and I wasn’t ready for that so now I can’t relax. Ever. I will need to stay vigilant, aware and slightly paranoid forever more and it was this realisation that allowed me to identify that small, irritating noise in the back of my mind – it was a beep. You know that really helpful beep that smoke alarms do every now and again to let you know that they’re still there and that you should check the batteries at some stage soon? Well, this is the ‘don’t forget that cancer could come back at any moment and there’s not a huge amount you can do about it’ beep and now I know what it is, I can’t unhear it.
I want to celebrate the little moments of success and I want to ring a bell in a hospital so I can put the video on Instagram but I’ve always had this inbuilt approach of thinking that if something has gone well then that just means you’re a step closer to something going wrong again. It’s not the kind of life approach that gets you a job at Butlin’s but it has probably stopped me from getting too giddy on the good stuff only to crash on the rocks of disappointment later on so I’m sticking with it for now. That said, if life gives you lemonade you’d better believe I’m going to use it as a mixer for some kind of fancy but drinkable cocktail so I’ll be making the most of what I’ve got, don’t you worry about that.
I think this is the point during which I’m supposed to impart some sort of parting wisdom but, honestly, I suspect my latest round of immunotherapy may have turned my brain to fudge considering it’s taken me three evenings to pull this blog entry together. I suppose all I’ll say for now is that if you or someone you know isn’t skipping naked down the road, bursting naked out of a cake or doing something else impulsive (and naked) immediately following a clear set of results then don’t give them a hard time. I mean, you wouldn’t start high fiving strangers in the street after narrowly avoiding being run over by an ice cream van and you wouldn’t immediately start setting off fireworks after a murderer failed to strangle you in your sleep. Sometimes you just want to get back to how things were and, for me, that means going to a few gigs, getting the odd lie in on weekends and enjoying tea at the perfect temperature. Stick that in your bell and ring it.
PS Bonus points to anyone who remembers the song that the artwork at the start of this piece belongs to. I had it on cassette single so it’s long gone now but it was a great little tune.