THE NEW NORMAL #23 – The Game of Life

I was playing a round of the popular tower building game Jenga the other day with my little man (by little man I mean my son Jake, it’s not a penis analogy although naked Jenga has potential….) and it occurred to me how much the games we play as children prepare us for real, adult life. In the case of Jenga, we are taught that no matter how carefully and precisely we build our lives up in to a neat but precarious tower, our own actions, the actions of others or a giant cat’s tail can bring it all tumbling down. Similarly, Snakes and Ladders gives you the false sense of security of progressing through life one square at a time – sometimes getting to skip ahead on a cheeky ladder – only to find yourself sliding down a slithery snake, back behind everyone else through no fault of your own.

The arse-end of a snake is where I currently find myself as my latest CT scan has brought me bad news for the first time – like the last dagger in a game of Pop-Up Pirate. Sitting in the familiar Oncology consultancy room with the replica Brian Pollard paintings on the wall and my wife by my side, we had all the familiar sensations of nervousness, fear and anticipation as my Oncologist walked through the mysterious side door. Normally, the diminutive doctor tells us the scans have come back fine before he’s even finished shaking our hands but this time his first utterances where “how have you been?” and “how is your chest”? Another game then – Animal, Vegetable or Cancer? And here is where it gets a bit tricky so try to keep up (it might help if you imagine my body to be a Rubik’s cube and each colour an important area of the body or it might at least keep the game analogy going). So, the Melanoma (White) that returned in my big toe (Yellow) made my immune system (Green) a bit weak and this has potentially caused the Melanoma to spread in to my lungs (Pink) OR I have developed a condition called Sarcoidosis (Blue) which attacks the lungs but can be treated with steroids and isn’t cancerous. Still with me? Well, one of the main symptoms of Sarcoidosis is problems with the eyes (Red) which regular readers will now be remembering I’ve had recently with the foggy Iritis condition. See, easy. And we didn’t even have to peel any of the stickers off.

Now, we’re obviously rooting for Sarcoidosis as the lesser of two evils (which is odd considering the NHS website refer to it as a ‘rare condition’ and according to a website about famous Sarcoidosis sufferers – yes, really – only Bernie Mac, some Dutch King and a few other c-listers have had this) but if the cancer has spread then that is a far bigger problem. The next step is to have a Bronchoscopy which involves a doctor sedating me and sticking something long and plastic down my throat until he can see inside my lungs. This puts me in mind of the dubious lucky dip we used to do at school Summer fêtes although I really hope he doesn’t reach in and pull out a Yo-Yo or a packet of Hubba-Bubba (although, if those are the items showing up on the scans that would be a massive relief and would explain where my Yo-Yo and Hubba-Bubba has gone). I’ve also still got to have my toe chopped up on the same day I was supposed to be going to be Fat Boy Slim (I’ll just be Fat Boy Sitting-Down that night instead) and we have a trip to Mexico to prepare for but it’s going to take a lot more than lumpy lungs and a misshapen toe to keep me off that flight.

As always, the worst thing with all of these things is the waiting. Games like Patience, Frustration, Buckaroo and Operation teach us the importance of staying calm and having a steady hand but waiting on something that you have no control over is an absolute killer and is certainly never featured in one of the worst named board games of all; the Game of Life. At no point in any version of this game do you get a card or a square saying ‘sit out the next 6 rounds while everyone else gets on with their lives and wait to see if you’re sicker than you thought you were’. It’s a valuable lesson to learn but I’d defy any pre-teen to sit there while their competitors fill up their cars with wives, husbands, children and pets and not want to flip the board over after three rounds at most in an absolute rage of injustice and boredom. Personally, I always liked word games like Boggle and Scrabble as you had some control over your success and it wasn’t based on chance as much as it was skill. That might explain why the only question I managed to ask after receiving the bad news was how to spell Sarcoidosis – there’s a triple-word score if ever I saw one.

So, a little less toe, sort out my lungs and keep an eye on the pancreas (that’s another story for another time) while my eyes are back to their wonky best so something is going in my favour. The main thing to remember, at all times, is that as long as your life doesn’t resemble Screwball Scramble then you’re probably doing alright. Or Dreamphone. Dreamphone is terrifying.

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