Wednesday, 5 January 2011

The Problem with Cancer…

…is that it wants to get everywhere, into everything. Horrendous as it is that it takes away life, it seems to invade everything else too, to take away living itself: Every sense of my being and waking moment. A gnawing away of the soul, to leave a husk of what had once been. Living with cancer is like living a dream, a very bad one, 24 hours a day 7 days a week. No respite, no parole, no time off for good behaviour – just the reminder that this is now, that now there may be no future. There is no moment of laughing and forgetting, even though the laugh sounds real it hides the hurt inside. 

Inside my mind thoughts drift around, tethered to no central idea. Just another day of trying not to think about the C word, but failing miserably. Do I eat this, do I eat that? I better not, my body needs to work to 100% capacity. Do I stay up late? I better not, my body needs to fight the demon inside me. Do I bathe today? I better not, for fear of the rash that comes as a result of the drugs wrestling the invader into temporary restraint. Do I talk about this to friends, family? Do they want to know? Do they understand that when I don't answer the phone that I'm not ignoring them, not renouncing their friendship, just that to re-open the wound up again is to lay it open to the doubt that no-one can take away.

Brantrake Fell, Eskdale – Christmas Day training walk

But the question that Naomi and I both ask ourselves is are we now just more aware, or is cancer really everywhere? Every time I open the paper, watch the news, sit down to watch a film – it is there, there is no escape. It starts to wear me down, that it tries to infect my every moment. That another person dies and loses a short fight, sometime a long fight, but that they lost. That the person building his dream house no longer gets to live the dream, but instead we get a sunset scene with Kevin's voice-over. That the Hollywood dream machine now sees the C word as legitimate material for the multiplexes masses: John the hero does not get the girl, for she married her cancer stricken friend so that his son will not be without a family. In an alternative ending the husband gets an anonymous donation, obviously from the love interest, for a new drug that keeps him alive. We don't know how long his reprieve is for, as Hollywood does not control life or death, yet.

Beautiful Eskdale sees a Christmas sunset, December 2010

So I know that as sure as the sun rises, tomorrow will see the start of another day, and the end of life for someone living with cancer, despite the help of the doctors and nurses that try against the odds to keep hope and life alive*. That it might or not be reported in the news or made into a film. But not that any of it matters – we only have one life, so however it ends, it ends. Game over. But let's not walk away from life just yet, let's thank the stars that we get to see another day, live with hope that maybe we might get to see a few more days yet and find that inner strength to carry on, no matter how cancer tries to take away our pride. Standing up to cancer is hard, but if we all try in our own way perhaps we can make it go away once and for all.

p.s. After reading this we both almost decided that this was too heavy and honest, but then decided that it should have its place. So if you found it too much then I'm sorry, but life with cancer is not easy – so maybe that does not make easy reading in itself. Thanks.

*Having spent two days this Christmas as a guest of East Surrey Hospital I would like to say how truly amazing our health-care staff really are. Heros one and all. A big thank you.


  1. Thank you for being honest; thank you for being raw; thank you for being true to yourself; thank you for grappling; thank you for telling the painful truth. More days . . . more writing . . . Love and hugs from Alaska.

  2. Dear Jonathan, I hear you. It sounds like you had a really rough time over Christmas and I hope you soon start to feel a little better. You describe the cancer story very well. I remember the absolute horror of realising that I was in a nightmare that I wasn't going to wake up from. Terrifying stuff that defies words. My heart goes out to you. You are in our prayers. much love, Sue xxx

  3. Hi Jonathan. Firstly I am so sorry I haven't been in touch. You are in my thoughts and prayers for sure. You sound very brave and I can understand your constant reminders and that it is impossible to get away from. Really brave writing and very thought provoking. Keep me posted and if ever you want to talk to a different voice please call me. If you need my number I can email it to you. I will light you a candle at Mass on Sunday (I'm a Catholic.)Lots of love from
    Clare Ritchie
    Sorry this is anonymous couldnt get the url thing to to work!!

  4. Thanks for posting this Jonathan. Your honesty and clarity are remarkable. In Feb of 2004 my granddaughter looked to be headed for a wonderful life and my mother was told she would be gone in three months. Three months later Mom had staged a miraculous recovery and Alicia was gone forever. No matter what our fears and hopes, its not in our hands.

    I admire you because in spite of all the inner pain and fear you rise above it and live the life that is here as fully and passionately as anyone who has ever breathed. I had an uncle who
    My belief in deities is weak but I do believe in prayer and you are in mine every day.
    I have tried with limited to success to honor your honesty with my own. Bless you Jonathan

  5. Hi Jonathan
    I come to you from the links established by a great fighter, Steve Newson. It is truly amazing how you both have been so open and sharing with your battles. You are right, every day we experience, see, read or hear about another battle won or lost against Cancer.

    Good luck in your journey.

    Best regards

    Alan Whitford

  6. Jon, I have only just read this but am filled with emotions I am not sure I am able to convey. I want to applaud you in being able to put all of this into words. I think it is inspirational to us all that you can be honest...and I think the fact that it is "heavy" makes it so much more powerful. Something like Cancer should not be sugar coated!!! I know I am not good at staying in touch but you are in my thoughts often. Big Love to you and wishing you continued courage in what will come and how your life will unfold. Leah x