I had my pre-treatment blood test today at The Christie. It is a prerequisite to chemotherapy that occurs a few days before treatment to ensure my body is coping well with the drugs. As I sat waiting to be called, I read about Ali Stunt, the CEO and founder of Pancreatic Cancer Action. I’d really recommend reading the link as her story is quite shocking, and she is an inspirational individual. The below statistic jumped out to me as I read the contents of the page:
“Ali is currently in the 1% of people who survive pancreatic cancer beyond 10 years and it’s a lonely place to be.”
The 1% statistic immediately made me think of the “We are the 99%” slogan used by the Occupy movement, responsible for the Occupy Wall Street campaign in 2011. The ‘99%’ referred to the claim that the wealthiest 1% held more total wealth than the other 99% in the US. I’m not here to debate the validity of these claims, but it’s an excellent demonstration of how the 1% can be a difficult category to qualify for. The 99% would be more optimistic about their club membership in this instance, I’m sure. It did not make me feel optimistic about my chances. I forced myself to think back to my first meeting with the specialist at The Christie for some refuge.
The specialist emphatically told me that the literature on pancreatic cancer is not relevant to me. He said that my case is acutely unusual. I was much younger and healthier than the average pancreatic cancer patient, with the average age of a pancreatic cancer patient being 76. It is also typically predated with other issues, such as a history of alcohol abuse. The tumour was found relatively early for pancreatic too. It is generally asymptomatic and only discovered once it has spread, yet my tumour was found before this occurred. According to Cancer Research UK, though, there are on average 10,500 diagnoses of pancreatic cancer each year in the UK, so that meant 105 people surviving past 10 years from diagnosis… ouch. Although I have a lot to be optimistic about, trying to be in the 1% of any significant number feels a daunting prospect.
I felt a panic briefly set over me as I read the statistic. “I haven’t been in the 1% of anything,” I thought to myself before remembering that I had excelled in a speed typing test at university. The test was on the internet. Random words would come up on the screen, and you’d have to type them exactly as they were shown. You typed as many words as you could in a minute, then it told you how fast you were compared to all previous contestants. I finished in the top 0.1%. “Based on those statistics, I should be bashing out 50 blog posts a day,” I thought. My mood seemed to be changing. The last 7 days have been tough for me, though. Chemotherapy has been brutal, and I’ve felt drained mentally. It is a relief that I read the 1% statistic today as I was better equipped to deal with it.
I was called into the blood ward almost immediately after finishing the article. The nurse quickly started talking to me about how Spanish Amazon had better products than the UK equivalent, so she always ordered from there now. It was quite an entertaining distraction, and for the first time ever, I barely remembered her devious role in the situation as blood extractor. The statistic has stuck with me for the rest of the day, though, and I’m trying to explore why it is still bothering me.
It feels like there is an invariable link between health and wealth. The link is summed up nicely by rapper and wordsmith Pusha T in the song Exodus 23:1 – “Ask Steve Jobs, wealth don’t buy health”. Wealth means nothing if you don’t have health on your side to allow you to enjoy it. Conversely, if you have health on your side, you are perhaps wealthier than you may feel. That is a beautiful thing to bear in mind when you are yearning for more in life, assuming you are healthy.
Pancreatic cancer has allowed me to reflect much more on where my priorities lay. I was guilty of wanting more money, a better job and more perceived ‘status’ in work. A certain amount of this is healthy. It is good to have goals in life, and an individual’s life goal is unlikely to be ‘do not get cancer’ when they consider themselves perfectly healthy. The feeling that your health is now spent and that you’d do anything for more guaranteed time with your loved ones is difficult to address, though. It is a dispropriate reaction in my case, and I need to keep that in mind. I must concede; it was how I felt for a brief moment. But no matter what the statistics are, I am not a statistic. My case has its nuances and challenges, but it is also laced with hope and positivity.
My life has done a 180 in terms of priorities. I almost feel jealous of people who have a better guarantee of time, whatever that means. Time is not guaranteed to anyone, and I know that, really. No matter what happens, I am grateful to have gained some perspective on life. Attempting to get into the 1% of pancreatic cancer survivors who are still alive 10 years later is now my main goal. Similarly to a person whose goals are centred around wealth and getting into the top 1%, I wonder how achievable it is, but I have hope. In 10 years, my goal is to be reading over these blog posts and retaining the same perspective on life; to try and enjoy every minute I share with friends and family, keep my priorities grounded, and make the most of my good health whilst it lasts.
To end on a more positive note, I want to send you good vibes in the form of the below song and thank you for reading this somewhat random blog post. I hope you are finding ways of fighting the January blues and are adjusting back to the norm of life, whatever that is for you.