In the pursuit of positivity, I find myself gravitating more towards topics that lift the mood. Generally, I see this as a good thing. The blog is still ultimately about having cancer and dealing with the realities of that, though – the mental stress, the existential dread and the physical symptoms of both chemotherapy and cancer itself, which affects my pancreatic functioning.
Truth be told, I had a few hard days in this period post new year. My blog posts, ‘The 1%‘ and ‘I Guess We’re Mortal After All‘, both probably had the most apparent content indicating that I had certain things on my mind. The struggle felt futile more often than not for a few days, and I couldn’t compose my thoughts. A more difficult chemotherapy cycle than most, and a bout of mental depression after the high of the Christmas/New Year period left me worried. Suddenly, the next big event was the 3-month scan of the tumour in February. That was the first opportunity for things to go wrong. I wasn’t managing to see it as the first opportunity to get good news or, at least, find out the situation, so I understand the plan for the next 3 months. Knowing the following stages of the treatment plan is a fantastic thing. No matter what has happened with the tumour, the goal is going to remain the same – do as much damage to that tumour as fucking possible. But I needed a few days to process things, and I think I have processed them enough now to talk about them. The goal is to stay true to the struggle and put into words the sorts of things that can plague the mind of someone dealing with such a diagnosis.
The darkest place was the 2am wake-up on Friday that I discussed in ‘Some Positive News‘ (ironically). Morbidity was on the menu. After getting out of bed due to being wide awake, I went downstairs and lay there in the dark for 30 minutes, hoping to fall back asleep. It didn’t work, so I turned the light on. I noticed something about the below family picture in the lounge at that moment. I believe I was 14 when it was taken, or around that age, so it is approximately 14 years old now. I’ve been looking at it for that long and never really noticed my position in it.
My position in the picture is offset against my siblings; I am off to their left. I closed my left eye from my seat on the sofa and turned my head to the right side, so I was just missing from the picture in my vision. It looked wrong without me, but I couldn’t stop myself from doing it. Visualising a world without me in it, not something I had managed to do with any physical impetus before. My head was starting to hurt. I kept trying to look away from it, but I couldn’t. It’s what sent me down the negative path, looking more into pancreatic cancer statistics and getting a little bit lost in the whole thing. As previously mentioned, eventually, my mum came and sat with me, and together we navigated plenty of tears, deep conversations and beyond. It is already a special memory to me now, even if it was rather morbid.
I think this was sparked by a recent therapy group I attended. It was run at the Maggie Center and was for Creative Writing. The group is diverse; some are cancer patients, some cancer survivors, and others are bereaved partners of people who have died. For me, it really brought home the destructiveness of cancer. In ‘I Guess We’re Mortal After All’, I spoke to my old habits of worrying about my parents and how they would die, if they would suffer etc. Hearing bereaved family members writing heart-wrenching poetry about missing their loved ones was really hard. I felt so much empathy for them, and some of the writing was really beautiful. The games we were playing only allowed 5 minutes to write a poem based on some impetus that we had selected, such as underlying our favourite line from a poem that we had just read as a group. Some of the writing in that time was truly beautiful, and they were far more economical than me with their time. I’d barely written 4 lines, whilst others were writing stanza after stanza. Very impressive. The knock-on effect that I perhaps underestimated, though, was that it made me think of the void I would leave in the world.
I said in my ‘Passion As a Life Choice‘ post that people are one of my main passions in life, and I truly meant that. The comments I have received on my blog over the past few days have made me so cheerful. People are engaging in such a deep and emotive way, bearing parts of their soul and experience to me, based on some words I have written about mine. I love it, and I’m so glad people connect with something about the content. I’ve even thought about what I would have to do if I died to ensure all of you received such news. I’d like to think I would have enough notice and preparation to write a final note thanking all of you and leaving you with some wise words that came to me at that moment. I’d try and get something funny in there too, but I just don’t know what. Much of my comic relief comes from being horrible about the nurses who steal my blood weekly at the hospital – I’m sure I could get one more dig in at them. They are great, really though, I just wish they’d leave my poor veins alone.
I have a large family of 8, including my parents, and a close-knit group of friends. There are many people I really love in the world, and the list only seems to grow longer as I get older. I’ve always been someone who picks up friends where I go and tries to invest in them. Of course, some drop off along the way, but that is life, and when I find an opportunity to speak to them again, I try to, and it rarely feels like much has changed. The cancer has presented an opportunity to reconnect with so many people I know, and it has been lovely. This isn’t me saying that I am extremely popular and it would be a tragedy if I died for everyone who knows me, but I think I am safe in saying that I enjoy investing in people, and they recognise that I do in a lot of cases. It makes my bond with them feel tight, and I enjoy nurturing those relationships. So naturally, I wonder what my family and friendship circles will be without me, what will they say about me if I depart this life ‘prematurely’. It matters to me because I care about these people and the impression I leave on them. When I die, I want to have positively influenced the world around me enough for it to outlive my physical presence in this life. The blog feels like it resonates with people, which makes me so happy. That is one way I hope to be having a good influence on the world outside of my immediate relationships.
Strangely, another thing that may have sparked my negativity was getting the good news. I mentioned in the ‘Some Positive News’ post that hope is a worrying thing for me. My brain has always had a tendency to entertain the morbid and pessimistic. Optimism, over time, became easier for me to muster, but I still think my initial emotive response defaults to pessimism. I got better with optimism as I matured; I started doing well in my job and proving to myself that I was capable of things. Over time, I truly started to see optimism and opportunity where I used to see a threat and a potential to fail. It takes me a little bit longer to identify my pessimism where I am more emotional though, defeat it, and realise the positives in a situation.
Upon hearing the good news, I was initially incredibly happy, then realised my thoughts were telling me, “You can beat this, Dan, you already are.” The pessimistic messiah in my head replied, “GIVING YOURSELF PLENTY OF HOPE THERE DAN. HOPE IT DOESN’T COME BACK TO BITE YOU AT THE 3 MONTH SCAN MUAHAHA.” I genuinely spent about an hour feeling more sad than good because I’d allowed myself to think I might actually be winning the fight for a stray minute off the back of a single piece of positive news. It’s hard to measure your reactions when you feel your life is in the balance. How high are the highs, and how low are the lows? The lows have been far worse, and I feel like I’ve gained experience in them; the highs have struggled to make much of an appearance yet. Perhaps I just need time and a few more to know how I deal with them.
I’m happy to report that my head is in a much better place now. Reflecting on some of the fantastic actions of others and people in my life yesterday was cathartic. It really is an essential tool in life to think about what and who you are grateful for and try to communicate those things. It may seem cheesy or corny to do so, but it is the best way to clearly articulate just how important people are to you and the things they do for you. Also, as I have mentioned, all of the positive connections and comments this weekend have been delightful. If you think of anyone you believe would enjoy the blog, please encourage them to read and join in. I try and look at others work who follow me too, but if you have any blog posts you are particularly proud of that you have written, feel free to link them in a comment, and I will take a read. Others will appreciate it too, I’m sure! I’m always interested to see what other people like discussing and how they go about doing so. I also specifically say that writing is a passion in my ‘Passion As a Life Choice’ post, so I’m always out for more to consume. For now, I bid you all adieu and hope you have a great start to the week. A lovely friend of mine called Norah sent me this picture attributed to the fantastic ‘Japanese proverb’ this morning. Not the most specific attribution! It seems an appropriate end to this blog post though.
Charity Appeal – Prostate Cancer UK
My good friend Drew has just received a horrible diagnosis in his family. His dad has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Drew wants to raise some money for Prostate Cancer UK in response to the news and aims to run a marathon throughout January. He has already raised well over his target of £100, but that isn’t a reason to stop pushing. He has also already run 18.2 miles, so I think his distance target needs to be adjusted to be a bit higher. Aim for the stars, Drew! Unless you’re aiming for a very lazy end to the month… sneaky!
I know he would greatly appreciate it if anyone feels inclined to donate. Luckily his dad’s cancer is treatable, and he is currently looking at either surgery or radiotherapy. I’ll provide an update on how this goes in a later post. You can donate here. His family have always been great to me, and I know they will be supporting each other throughout this challenging time in any way they can, and I want to do what I can too.