To paraphrase underrated 90s comedy character Swiss Tony, getting cancer is a lot like breaking up with a beautiful woman (or at least a long term partner, beauty has no bearing here). I know, I know, it sounds mental but I have a point to make in a roundabout kind of way. It’s a strange phenomenon that when you break up with someone after a long relationship your friends gather round and perform the most brutal character assassination on someone that you had only recently been head over heels in love with. That person who held your heart in the palm of their hands is now described by your oldest and closest friends as a bitch, heartless, evil and not good enough for you.
Similarly but conversely, when you get cancer and you start to open that fact out to people, you suddenly get overwhelmed by an outpouring of opinion, feelings and, until recently, supressed truths. Sure, I expected some love from my nearest and dearest and I got that in spades (thanks, by the way) but suddenly I started receiving messages from people I hadn’t spoken to in years (I’m talking 14 years) wanting to visit or just talk about the good times. It’s a silver lining, of sorts, that the many wonderful people I’ve come in to contact with over the years got in touch with me but it’s unnerving and overwhelming for a relatively shy Englishman to suddenly get so much positive attention. I can barely take a compliment on my shoes without wanting to disappear up my own arsehole so having a mob of mates, an assembly of acquaintances if you will, saying nice things to me is more than a little uncomfortable.
And then, just like you do after a break up, you have to reassess all of your previous life decisions, change your lifestyle to become the you you’d always meant to be and write a list of things you want to do with the rest of your life. The thing is, apart from hang around and watch my son grow up, laugh with the people I love and eat all the things that I’m not supposed to eat any more, I could only think of one thing I really want to do; go up in a hot air balloon. Now this depressed me slightly, shouldn’t I want to travel the world, have an orgy, eat spaghetti in a hot tub or ride naked on a horse on a beach? I mean, hot air balloons are still cool but I thought there would be something burning inside my soul that I just had to deal with.
Then I realised just how lucky I am. Sure, I’ve got a horrible disease but compared to so many people I’ve lead a charmed life. I’ve got a happy, healthy son and I know what it feels like to be loved by the person I am in love with – two things so many people never get to experience, not for a lack of trying. I’ve travelled to far flung countries and met people from different cultures, I’ve woken up on a dragon boat in a misty bay in Vietnam and sipped cocktails on a beach in Rio. I’ve performed on stage with some of my best friends who also happen to be fantastically talented musicians. There have been people genuinely thank me for improving their lives as part of my day job and I have felt the swell of pride that comes from job satisfaction (not every day but I’ve definitely felt it). There have been books I couldn’t put down, films that made me breathless with laughter and trips to the theatre that have changed the way I look at the world. And then there’s the music – I have absorbed music for as long as I can remember and I wouldn’t change that for the world (except that Eiffel 65 song, that can do one). Songs to touch every corner of my soul and put in to words the emotions that I have felt but couldn’t articulate at the time. I have even been lucky enough to meet some of my musical heroes along the way, a genuine privilege.
Whoever you’re breaking up with, though, you inevitably have to move on – whether it be to a one night stand or an ill-advised fling with platonic friend – and this is where the analogy runs out of steam. Then again, I’m not ready to break up with this tempestuous temptress that is my life so maybe I’ll buy it some flowers, a box of chocolates and play it some Take That through gritted teeth until it agrees to take me back. For good.