THE NEW NORMAL #31 – KENTUCKY FRIED CHRISTMAS

I bloody love Christmas. The food, the drink, the presents, the friends, the family and, frankly, the lack of inbox activity. It’s all good. The best bit, however, is the fact that you get to stop, reflect and look forward to a new year, a clean slate and maybe a gym membership….or maybe not. For me, right here and now, I’ve got heaps of reflection and a family size bucket of looking forward with extra fries and a large Diet Coke. However, if my History teaching father has taught me anything, it’s that you start with learning from the past before you move forwards into the future, so here goes something….

In the last 12 months I have managed to get married (awesome), travelled with my family to Mexico (super awesome), started a new job (professional) and saw Aussie legend Kylie and Kiwi rockers Shihad who were both on my musical bucket list (Antipodean). These were all good things and things that a lot of people never get to do, so I feel incredibly lucky (although the Shihad show was only a quarter sold out so if you missed out on that then that’s on you). I’ve also been able to watch my little boy start school, something I wasn’t sure would ever happen, and seeing the pure, unbridled joy on his face as he discovers reading and writing has filled my heart up (to the point where some of it leaked out of my eyes…..as tears, that wasn’t a reference to another freak medical condition where bits of my heart actually start to leak out of my eye holes). I’ve watched some great films, binge watched half of Netflix and discovered some great new music through my other blog (Listen With Monger, check it out). All in all, on that evidence, it’s been a pretty awesome year and that’s what I have to keep telling my self and my long-suffering wife.

You see, throughout the year there’s been a yin to the positive yang, a Wario to the Mario or a Bodger to the Badger, if you will. In the last 365 days, I’ve developed Iritis in both eyes, had my melanoma come back twice (once in the toe, once in the pancreas), had the end of big toe removed, got closer to death than I thought I ever would in Somerset and have developed an insulin deficiency which leaves me not quite Type 1 diabetic but as near as damn it. I spent 5 nights in hospital, had 5 CT scans (at least one of those with a PET), had 3 ultrasound scans (2 from the outside and 1 on the inside), 1 bronchoscopy and more eye tests than I can remember (all thanks to the NHS and my regular National Insurance contributions – in your face, Tories). My weight has yo-yoed according to whether I can eat or not, I ripped the front off my car due to trying (and failing) to drive with a crippling headache after (probably) going back to work too early and I’ve had to cancel numerous social engagements with friends, family and a certain Mr Norman Cook. But, still, all in all it’s been a great year.

Before you ask, no, I haven’t been at the sherry like Theresa May watching the country burn, I’m just genuinely glad to be here. There’s a lot of good around at this time of year but if you listen past all the Wham, constant sleight bells and the sound of ringing contactless machines (doesn’t sound the same as cash registers but nobody uses cash anymore), you will hear the sound of people quietly declining a drink or making an excuse to leave a party early without really giving a reason. For those people, this really has been a shitty year where they are fighting a battle of their own, have lost someone close or, worse, are in the process of losing someone close. I hate being in hospital but when you’re in for a few days and then you get to go home you do come to realise just how precious that freedom and independence is. The folk all around you with semi-permanent poster displays of get well soon cards and 2 inch thick medical records are in there for the long haul and, let me tell you, I NEVER want to experience what a hospital food Christmas dinner tastes like.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to sit pretending that I leap out of bed every morning, throw open the curtains and sing good morning to the world (largely because I sleep naked and there is an elderly couple across the road who I might just finish off with such behaviour). No, there are tough times going on for me and my family which are impossible to ignore and it’s only in these circumstances that you realise just how depressing a lot of Christmas songs are. I mean, ‘Last Christmas’ (is it?), ‘Lonely This Christmas’ (I hope not), ‘Stay Another Day’ (not a Christmas song, per se, but seasonal and an uber downer, thanks East 17) and then there’s Mariah Carey but she’s just depressing whether you’ve got cancer or not. The point I’m making (and one I’ve made before, I’m sure) is that however badly off I think I am, there are people I would really rather not swap places with right now. The parents caring for their child with a terminal illness, the family having to spend Christmas in a B&B because they just got evicted, the mum having to visit the food bank for Christmas dinner or the immigrant so far from home or normality that they don’t even know if the rest of their family is still alive.

I’m not saying you have to cancel your plans and donate your Christmas lunch to the local food bank or invite a homeless person in for the day (although if the mood takes you, that’s great) but maybe just be thankful for what you’ve got. Sure, you might have an annoying relative who will moan throughout Christmas day or your kids might be ungrateful screen addicts who’d rather have a Nando’s gift card than actually engage with their grandmother but at least you’ve got those people and they’re there at that moment. If you feel yourself slipping into a festive fug then just step out of the room, stand just out of view and just listen for a minute. Then imagine what it would be like for them if you never stepped back in to the room or if you couldn’t hear those voices – I’ll bet you a whole chocolate orange it will talk you back from the brink of flipping the Monopoly board over in a rage.

For me, I’m looking forward to some downtime before kicking off a new decade with a new bit of treatment. In 2020, I will have a CT scan on 2nd January to see what the melanoma is doing to my pancreas and, all being well, I will start my first course of Immunotherapy on 3rd January. This will involve half a day of sitting in a chair and having drugs pumped in to me that will boost my immune system and generally make me feel better (Adam, before you say it, yes this is what we trained for during three years of university). Immunotherapy treatment will only start, however, if the melanoma hasn’t spread far enough to make my pancreas a danger to other organs otherwise they will need to operate and remove all or some of the infected thing. All I have to do between now and 2020, then, is stay well enough to receive treatment and keep my blood glucose levels in check which is easy with all the healthy eating and exercise that goes on in late December, right? Then again, with my track record…..

So, if you see someone hanging around by KFC on Christmas day in a hospital gown then it’s probably me or a homesick Japanese tourist with bad fashion sense (Google it, the Japanese go mad for KFC at Christmas). Either way, stop and say hello – I could just be having a worse Christmas than you and that will make you feel a whole lot better.