The New Normal #4 – The Break Up

To paraphrase underrated 90s comedy character Swiss Tony, getting cancer is a lot likecast 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.

The New Normal # 3 – The Bad, The Good and The Ugly

Right then, me again. Cancer boy. I had a consultation today and thought some of you might be interested in what happened – if you’re not then, y’know, stop reading and do something else. Like clean the toilet or polish your collection of horse brasses.

The Bad

So, my CT Scan apparently showed that the cancer has spread a little from my thigh up to my abdomen plus a couple of nodules have turned up (one in my lung and one in my kidney). This sucks but compared with the notion that my body was riddled with cancer this was by far the lesser of two evils. Melanoma is a tricksy little beast, apparently, so it’s still fairly unpredictable but there’s a whole host of research being done all the time so let’s move on to….

The Good

The lovely lady from Leeds who is now my key worker was able to poo-poo pretty much everything my ill informed GP had told me two weeks ago. Firstly, ‘Incurable’ is not a word that is so easily applied to melanoma any more and, although it can’t quite be replaced with curable, there is so much more that can be done which is starting to leave us folks with cancer in a place that is between incurable and curable – this place is called manageable with a possibility of curable. This is a good place to be compared to the place I’ve been for the last two weeks.

Secondly, chemotherapy isn’t the knee jerk response it used to be. Instead, I get to have an operation to remove the Granny Smith sized lump in my thigh which is delightfully known as a groin dissection – I’ll just let that one hang in the air while any male readers retrieve their testicles from inside their body and dry their eyes. All done? Good. And then, there’s the far more tempting sounding Immunotherapy (yes it’s a word, Word’s spell-checker just hasn’t caught up with the world of medicine yet). So, instead of bombarding my body with stuff that will generally make me vom everywhere and rot my teeth from the inside out, I get to have my immune system boosted like Lance Armstrong if he had been born on Krypton.

Finally, according to a doctor (a real, trained up doctor), I’m young, fit and healthy which is all in my favour. So, lump out of the leg, immune system pumped up like Donald Trump’s sense of self-worth, and a light at the end of the tunnel. Sure, it’s still a very long tunnel and it’s going to be painful to get through it but it’s not the brick wall we thought it was.

The Ugly

Now, you might be wondering how I know all of the above information. Well, I went to visit my new key worker who is a Dermatologist and, as part of this meeting, she wanted to do a full skin check. Yeah, a full skin check. Head and face, fine. Upper body, wobbly but fine. Feet and legs, not bad (I don’t mind my legs). “Can you just roll on to your side Mr Monger?”, no problem. All clear. Turn back on to my back you say? My pleasure. What’s that? Oh sure, that’s my left testicle. Yup, old lefty has just pulled a Partridge and popped out. Don’t worry folks, I styled it out and the offending item was retracted. Only to be followed by the ritual humiliation of having my arse crack checked for moles by a complete stranger wearing latex gloves. Like I said, ugly.

Anyway, if you can get the above images out of your head for long enough then I hope you’ll join me in feeling a little relieved and hopeful for the future. Also, a whole load of women that I know and love dearly (plus my 18 month old son) have decided to put themselves through the agony of running 3 miles for Cancer Research so feel free to sponsor them and make this a less painful journey for the next guy. Check out their quest here: 

The New Normal # 2 – A waiting game

839. 839 people read my blog post announcing my news that I had been diagnosed with skin cancer. Then a whole load of people sent me messages, comments and general outpourings of support which was great but I don’t have that many friends on Facebook so it was a little disconcerting. Encouraging but disconcerting nonetheless. After a few days of adjusting to our ‘new normal’ and getting away from it all in the big smoke the real world came crashing back in today with a CT Scan to start working out where the cancer has spread.

Now here’s the thing, there might be a huge amount of stress and emotional turmoil going on for me and my loved ones but I feel fine, absolutely fine. I had a lot of well wishers for the scan but essentially it involves a lot of sitting around, drinking a jug of water that I dearly wished was a jug of Sangria and followed by 5 minutes of being passed back and forth through a giant hoop on a bed with my trousers off. If you asked a child to mime it out for you it would be akin to poking one finger through a circle made by two fingers on the other hand (it wouldn’t be surprising if there was porn music playing or the Radiographer had a giant handlebar moustache). Now we wait for up to 4 weeks to find out if the cancer is just staying local in my leg or if it has gone walk about around the rest of my body.

So it’s a waiting game for all of us and that sucks. For every moment where I forget that there’s a giant ‘C’ printed on my forehead and life feels normal again, there is another one where my son looks at me, calls me daddy and reminds me of everything I might be about to miss out on if the results of that scan go South. I’m lucky to be around a small army of insanely positive people who keep infusing me with the ability to fight but I don’t care who you are, if you don’t have dark moments at a time like this then you’re either in denial or you’re not in full control of your faculties. It’s all the little things that crop up in your head to make you spin off your axis; like, will I get the chance to see all my friends for quality time again, have I got time to play a little Xbox still or is that a waste of life, what will the last band I get to see live be and which of my single male friends is best placed to take over from me if and when I fizzle out?

Maybe I don’t have to answer any of these questions for years to come, that’s certainly the plan, but it’s the waiting around that makes your mind drift to these topics. That can be at home while everyone else is in another room and you listen at the door, imaging life without you around. Alternatively, it can be while you’re sat in the waiting room at a hospital trying to figure just why nobody can ever seem to get your name right; seriously, in what universe is my name Ronald Mogo!?!? It’s Roland like the rat and Monger like the people who sell fish. Deal with it.