Aiming to be Less Aimless

The ‘C’ Word

I remember being in primary school and making jokes about Coca Cola having drugs in it. At the time, I’m pretty sure it was only based on the fact that ‘coca’ was in the name which sounded a bit like ‘cocaine’, not on any research we had done on the brand; we were about 10 so I’d be more concerned if it was based on research. Come to think of it, it’s strange that kids were making jokes about cocaine at all but I think when you’re that age you are good at sensing what feels ‘taboo’ and leaning into it. I remember it also being the age where we started to indulge in swearing. There was a teaching assistant at the school who used to giggle at us saying mild swear words like ‘crap’ and the occasional ‘shit’. We had a lot of fun with her.

Since then, I’ve heard it said that the drink used to have cocaine in the formula. I’d never really looked into it or thought too much about it, but I’ve been sceptical every time someone has said it. It smacked of an old wives’ tale based on the brand name. Today, for some strange reason, I looked at the logo for Coca Cola as it sat on my television screen during an advert and started to really wonder where the name does come from. Time to do some research.

It turns out that the first recipe was created by a man called John Pemberton in 1885. John was a Confederate Colonel in the American Civil War, during which he was injured and became addicted to morphine. His intention was to create a substance which would cure his morphine addiction. A classic tactic to recover from an addiction – finding another substance that you deem less bad and getting yourself addicted to that instead. Like quitting smoking by becoming addicted to vaping.

In the original recipe were the ingredients Coca leaves, the plant used to produce cocaine, and African Kola nuts, which provided the drink with caffeine. These key ingredients formed the brand name. It was originally created as a tonic wine so was alcoholic, however the following year prohibition was introduced, so he changed the formula to make it alcohol free. Don’t worry – there was still plenty of coca in there. And Kola, presumedly.

Coca and opium tonics were becoming all the rage at the time, with people like Sigmund Freud claiming that consuming them can provide significant health benefits. Two of the ailments they believe it helped to cure were impotence and depression… How wrong they were about both of those things. I was surprised to read about Sigmund Freud’s love affair with cocaine, but then I wondered why I was surprised. I know hardly anything about the guy, other than the fact that he was seen to revolutionise the field of psychology, I believe. He wrote an essay titled ‘Über Coca’ (translates to ‘About coke’) which is both incredibly satisfying to say and also reminiscent of most of London’s streets on a weekend – lots of Ubers around and lots of young professionals with moon-pupils climbing into them, looking fidgety.

By the year 1900, cocaine use was much more widespread in society. This meant that the negative effects of it were also becoming better known, and in 1903 the Coca Cola company caved to public pressure and removed the coca from the drink. I wonder if they knew that a legend would be born that day. The old wives’ tale that is actually true. So true, in fact, that it remains part of the brand name to this day – a brand that is one of the most recognisable in the world.

So, cocaine wasn’t only in the drink, but it was actually seen as appealing enough to stick in the brand name itself to make sure people knew that they were getting coca when consuming it. I find myself more boggled at how many times I have seen the name Coca Cola in my life and never looked into it. It goes to show that we become acclimatised to the world around us. Huge brands like Coca Cola are so omnipresent in our experience that we barely even notice them. Worse, we probably feel comforted by them. I say that this is ‘worse’ because we stop really seeing or trying to understand the damage they are doing. We welcome the Coca Cola logo like a good friend as we walk into a bar whilst on holiday. Some people I know really do only drink things like coke and claim to not ‘like’ water. It’s absolutely crazy.

I read that the brand is now sold in over 200 countries. I then Googled ‘How many countries are in the world’ and Google responded with “Well, curious Daniel, there are 197 countries in the world.” I then Googled ‘How many countries is coke sold in’ again just to double-check and it really does say it is sold in over 200 countries. Not so smart now, are you Google. The fact is that it is sold in almost every country in the world, and I read online that the ones they do not directly trade in, local businesses import it to meet local demand. You can’t go anywhere without seeing it; every time you see an article about oceanic plastics, there’s a cover photo with a coke bottle or can in the middle of the pile floating in the sea. It’s quite depressing.

So, how am I attempting to relate this to my writing? I’ve been approaching the blog in a way that feels a bit aimless recently. It has been my assumption that so long as I am living and breathing, I’ll find things to write about and it’ll be fine. There’s also various ‘series’ that I contribute towards such as The Chemotherapy Diaries which provide a regular cadence of posts. I had hoped to do a bit more writing for other sources as I have been approached by a few, but none of these have come to fruition yet. As a result, I haven’t been writing too often for the blog. Sitting there reading about the history of Coca Cola, I realised that there are always things to write about if you’re looking for them, and if I’m interested enough to continue reading, others will probably be interested in it too.

And it is true too that you can become so familiar with something that you stop appreciating the depth of the issue at hand. Coca Cola may have got rid of the coca from their recipe, but they have kept the reference in their brand name. There aren’t many people who think twice about it now. It is so recognisable that it is considered irrelevant to most people what it means. It has become its own meaning, without needing to be broken down into smaller parts that explain the nature of the product. When it was made, it was appealing to the consumers to remind them that it contained coca in it. Only 20 years later they already didn’t want to drop the brand name, despite the namesake ingredient being removed. Now nearly everyone in the world know what the name Coca Cola refers to – it’s a mysterious black liquid that dentists and doctors warn you off during the day, then kick back and enjoy at night (probably). The most common thing I read in my research was that the recipe is secret and only a few select people know it; I wonder if they still get the caffeine from African Kola nuts… Who am I kidding, they obviously grow caffeine in labs now.

It’s coming up to 6 months since I was diagnosed and I’m nearly at the end of the 12 sessions of chemotherapy. The current routine has all become very familiar for me and perhaps, even, normal. I’m able to analyse a chemotherapy cycle and decide whether it is bad, good, or somewhere in the middle fairly quickly. My condition seems to finally have stabalised of new symptoms popping up too which is a relief – I was getting tired of raising new symptoms with my oncology team and hoping to be patient zero for that particular side effect. The jaw locking was the closest I came, but they shrugged it off as another muscle response to temperature. I’d always be excited to bring my new issues up during the check in calls, seeing it as a game where I was trying to find just one symptom which seems to shock or worry them in any way. “My nose has been bleeding again and I never used to get nosebleeds,” I enthusiastically say during a check in call. “Your platelets are lower than usual so it isn’t a surprise,” they reply in a monotone voice, thinking about whether they want a sandwich or soup for lunch. Damnit, I really am just another cancer patient aren’t I – a realisation even more degrading than getting the cancer in the first place.

The end of chemotherapy will certainly constitute a shakeup to the normality of the current situation. If I am told that I am going for an operation it will constitute an earthquake in comparison, in both a positive and negative sense. Positive because I will have finally been approved for surgery. Negative because I will have been approved for surgery – has anyone ever been excited at the prospect of surgery? Whatever happens, it’ll be the next phase. I’m learning to embrace progress instead of always hoping for improvement.

With the writing specifically, I’m going to try and establish a core aim when I am writing, instead of my current ‘freeflow’ approach. Although it is fun starting writing and not really knowing where you are going, it wasn’t the approach I had when I first started writing in the blog. I thought it may have just been a development in the way I write, but if I’m being honest with myself, it is probably more out of laziness. Perhaps a little bit down to not being confident enough in my writing too. Sitting and researching something to write about is something that actual journalists do – not Cancer Dan with the Cancer Blog. I’m not sure why I’d see this as some sort of barrier to entry. In typical fashion, I’m probably worried more about how things are being perceived and how I may be judged for then, as opposed to concentrating on just writing things I like and want to write. It’s annoying and I need to stop thinking about it like that.

So, things you’ve (possibly) learnt in this article – coke is for drug addicts, Dan can’t write coherently and this blog post talking about aimlessness has a real aimless feel to it. Voila. Like any resolution, I’ll start abiding by it next time I write.

A Newcomer to Writing

The ‘C’ Word

As I’ve said a few times, writing is a new thing for me. Although that is true, it’s also a bit of a lie. Maybe ‘lie’ is a touch strong… ‘inaccurate’ is probably a better reflection of the reality of the situation. I have written a lot in my life, but I am new to writing for fun. I’m also very new to writing fiction. It isn’t something I had tried before I started the blog, but in recent months I have started to dabble in it as more of a pastime. I need to go back to my school days to discuss my history with writing properly.

In school, I always seemed to do well in English, despite putting in little to no effort at all. My immature philosophy throughout school and into my first year of university was that you are either good at something or you aren’t. The idea that you could practice, commit time and get better at something, didn’t register with me. I thought that was just talk to motivate people who were bad at things, in an attempt to make them feel less bad. When I saw professional athletes, I assumed that they had put in very little effort to get to that level of skill. “They’re just good at it,” I thought to myself, whilst acknowledging that it wasn’t the thing I was good at. It doesn’t mean I thought they were lazy and didn’t have to work for it, but that they always knew they were good at it and were always bound to be if they backed it up with some effort. It was easy to put effort into something you were good at; I knew that from playing the guitar, something I considered myself naturally good at.

This ‘master of none’ mentality did very little for me, and likely robbed me of a lot of valuable experience early on in life. Looking back, I wish I’d played football more, for example. The few times I tried and wasn’t very good at it told me that it wasn’t for me and I was bad at it. I hadn’t seen the time and commitment everyone else had put into getting to their proficiency, so I just saw it as a natural talent that I didn’t possess. That stopped me from trying at it, and I never really put any time into it. Nowadays, I wish I played it more because it seems like a good hobby to have, but I’m not overly fussed. Not enough to actually get out and learn it, anyway.

I bumbled through school and sixth form, never realising how lucky I was to be an A*-C student without really trying at all. There was something more in English, though, and I knew I liked writing the essays for some reason. When it came to selecting university courses, it was a no brainer for me. English was where my skill lay, English was what I’d do. My predefined personality, characteristics and attributes assigned my fate to English, so I walked that path with very little critical thought or second-guessing. The same philosophy applied to the idea of going to university – that was just what everyone had to do if they wanted to get a job, I thought. Everything is predetermined; what is the point in fighting it. It’s a very anti-entrepreneurial approach to life, but it’s easy.

I went to university and studied English. My love for writing essays continued, really. Throughout school and university, writing essays was my favourite part. When I did my MSc in Management at Bath University, the story was similar; my favourite part was writing essays. When I had to write a 15,000-word dissertation, I couldn’t wait to get stuck in. I finished it with months to spare and got a mark of 76% in it, which is a really good grade for such a large, convoluted piece of work. Despite these signs that maybe writing was something I should try and indulge in more in my spare time, I didn’t. I never really thought that I was naturally good at English because I enjoyed writing, and that was also what helped me in all of the other subjects where exams were largely essay-style questions.

Eventually, I realised that I had actually spent a lot of time writing essays and that it must be at least partially responsible for my level of proficiency. My time at Bath studying for my master’s also showed me that by committing some time to a new subject, I could do well at it too. It was a bit of a breakthrough for me personally.

The mentality didn’t change overnight, and I can’t put my finger on the main catalysts responsible for it changing, but it really has changed. I don’t ascribe it all to the fact that I studied business for a year instead of English; there were lots of things going on in this period. I was maturing and learning more about the world – it was harder to view things through such a simple lens. I remember reading the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and now think that was a bit of a turning point. He essentially breaks down a list of extremely successful people and discusses how they benefited from not only dedication and skill but also a level of luck and circumstance. It was the first time I’d seen someone paint a bigger picture of success, properly analysing some of the external factors which can play into someone becoming more proficient and successful in a key area.

It is incredibly empowering to believe that you can do anything if you put your mind to it. I don’t mean that in the cliche way that teachers or parents would use it. I simply mean that you can ‘do’ something, persevere through the tough stages, and build upon the foundation to a level of proficiency that is better than you would have started at. Early on is usually where you see the biggest improvement in a skill if you stick with it, in fact, so this stage is where you usually see the biggest and most noticeable changes. That was how I felt with guitar anyway. The first few years you improve a lot, but then you hit a bit of a ceiling where it takes a lot more time and effort, to achieve much smaller improvements in the margin of skill. It’s a fulfilling thing, but it takes a while to ingrain in your mind and behaviours. There are days when it feels like a chore, where you question whether you should be bothering and where the overwhelming emotion towards it is that you want to give up.

I’ve quipped to friends that I find the writing I do for the blog to be quite ‘cheap’ and ‘easy’. I think this is true, but it may sound more negative than I mean it to be. It isn’t that I’m not proud of the writing on the blog or that I think it is bad per se. It doesn’t really include any ‘characters’ or plotlines, though, making it easy to write. All I have to do is sit down for an hour or two and throw together some thoughts. Sometimes it takes a little longer to write, but generally, it is low-stress, easy writing. It makes it very enjoyable most of the time. It’s sort of like a therapy session; it feels like you have a captive audience simply wanting to hear your thoughts and how things are going for you, or this is how I approach it anyway. It is maybe arrogant to claim to have any audience at all, let alone a ‘captive’ one, but you know what I mean.

Having said this, I had a down period with the blog recently. I had quite a few drafts on the go but didn’t feel I was getting any of them in a place where I was happy to post them. This made me avoid writing because I didn’t know how to progress the pieces I was working on, and I struggled to feel inspired to write anything else with so many drafts in progress. They also contained a lot of ideas that I was really happy with. It seemed a shame to just delete them, but I couldn’t find a way to make them work in a way that I was happy with them. Overall, though, the blog posts are really enjoyable to write, and it is a welcome distraction from everything going on (not mentioning the ‘C’ word).

I’m still learning to enjoy fiction writing. It isn’t that I don’t enjoy any of the time I spend writing it or don’t want to spend time doing it. The difficulty comes in piecing together the narrative, figuring out the best way to portray things, writing the scenes, developing the characters etc. They’re all things that I haven’t tried to do before, and it comes with many frustrations. The whole process really plays into the hands of the critical part of my brain. I’ve always been quite self-critical, and I think I try and hold myself to a high standard. Sometimes you need to just press on for the sake of progress, though, and this is the part I am slowly learning. Instead of fretting over every word, sentence, or paragraph, sometimes you need to just write a thousand words and not care about it until later. That way, you establish a framework to operate in.

My new approach is to write out a plan on pen and paper about who my characters are, the main scenes I want to write and how they fall in the plot’s timeline. It has helped me fight through some of the more frustrating parts of writing, but I have not had a significant breakthrough with the technique. It hasn’t transformed my writing process yet, that’s for sure. I still haven’t finished a single short story that I have started, and the novel has not been progressed for a while. It is all a process that I am learning more about. I already had a lot of respect for authors, but it does give me a newfound respect. When you read a novel and everything perfectly fits together, you don’t think about how that person has built this world from nothing. They’ve agonisingly formed these characters that appear as natural as if they walk and talk in front of you when done well. You seldom see a sentence produced by a character in a book that looks out of place. That is a difficult thing to do.

I sense that my current situation in life (not mentioning the ‘C’ word) provides me with an ‘outlier’ moment. Writing is becoming an important part of my life, and I wonder if there is any way I can make some sort of career out of it. I’m not sure what that would look like, whether it would mean writing novels or doing some form of writing for more corporate purposes, such as copywriting, but I’m hoping I can do something with it. If nothing else, I hope it sticks as a hobby. Yesterday, I found out that my Dear Cancer letter had been accepted by the magazine. It will be in the June edition of the magazine. That will be the second thing I have had published in a magazine, the first being my 206-word story Hunter-Gatherer. These small successes give me hope that I may be able to turn it into something more significant than a hobby, but we’ll see.

Dear Cancer

This was written for a competition I saw on Twitter. The brief was simply to write a letter to cancer. I thought I’d do it as it sounded like an exciting concept and a fresh take on a subject that I have obviously tackled to death in this blog. Writing in a letter format was a bit of a struggle for me, and it felt pretty jarring with my natural writing style. I also wasn’t sure how to address the ‘cancer’ as a subject and struggled with the best way to approach this. That also made it a nice challenge, though. I’m reasonably happy with the end result, I think. It was nice to just try something new. I’ve also been looking for inspiration in my writing, and these sorts of competitions add a pinch of excitement. Upon entering, I didn’t see any conditions that mean I cannot share it on my own blog, so hopefully, it isn’t a problem. I can always delete the post if I need to and claim ignorance.


Dear cancer,

In November 2021, I was diagnosed with you after five weeks of hospital appointments, scans, and blood tests. I was 28 years old. I’m 29 now and eight cycles into chemotherapy, with four more to go before the next progress scan.

I’ve learnt to facetiously refer to you as ‘The ‘C-Word’ because of how people react to your presence. Some people tune out as I talk about you, probably choosing an ‘ignorance is bliss’ approach to the topic and assuming it’ll never happen to them. Others can’t bear to face the reality of it. “You’re young; you’ll survive.” It can almost feel callous when people say words to that effect, but I know that isn’t their intent. The fact is that you are scary. You’re the diagnosis that no one wants to hear, the one that everyone fears – the great equaliser. Every time I see a headline that a celebrity has died at an unusually low age, I reluctantly scan the article. Your name is commonly there. Sometimes the word ‘pancreatic’ proceeds, and my stomach sinks even more.

Many people, medical professionals mainly, express how unlucky I am to be dealing with pancreatic cancer at my age. Statistically, I am very unfortunate. I have heard several figures quoted as the average age of someone diagnosed with my ailment, all of them over 70. I’m a touch younger than that.

The week after I was diagnosed, I purchased a lottery ticket. I’m not a superstitious person usually, but I couldn’t help myself. I was confident I’d win something. How could I get pancreatic cancer at 28 and NOT win a simple lottery? It was easy compared to what I’d managed to achieve with you. The day came; I checked the Lottery app to see if I had won. Not one number. You have my number, though, and I’m left dealing with the consequences.

At first, that consisted of much existentialism. Immediately after my diagnosis, I spent three days in the hospital. Sitting in the bed as I waited for a procedure that afternoon, I thought about how long I’d be alive before I finally succumbed to you. Maybe three years. Maybe one. Perhaps I’d be cured; no, that last one couldn’t possibly happen. It’s undoubtedly a matter of time now. Better face the reality of the situation than delude myself with hope, a dangerous thing.

The ‘doom’ phase lasted a few weeks, sparked by the leaflets, and fuelled by some pessimistic doctors. “In a small number of cases, chemotherapy will reduce the size of the tumour,” I read in a leaflet titled ‘Pancreatic Cancer and Diet’; I thought this would be the least risky leaflet to read but even this contained harrowing information. The doctor had told me that I really needed chemotherapy to work if I was going to survive. I’m currently classed as inoperable because the tumour has spread to a major artery. I not only need chemotherapy to shrink my tumour but also to shrink it away from the artery, something which is down to potluck, apparently. Without the artery being healthy, I can’t have the operation. Without the operation, I can’t get rid of the cancer. Upon reading the sentence, I sat crying in my hospital gown and wishing I could just opt out of the whole thing and die. At the lowest stage, I thought about a train crossing I used to cycle over where the locomotives came flying through at speeds of up to 180kmph. That’s where I’d do it.

I’m happy to say that you’ve given me far more to be grateful for over time than to loathe you for. Reading has always been a big hobby, and I’ve always wanted to try writing, but I didn’t think I had anything interesting to say. After starting chemotherapy, I created my blog called Ebb and Flow. It doesn’t get a massive amount of views, but it is far more than I thought it would get when I started it. People comment on the quality of the writing, which makes me feel more accomplished than anything I’ve achieved in my job as an IT consultant. I participated in the Run 40 in Feb campaign for Pancreatic Cancer UK, raising over £7,000 for them; my campaign was in the top 1% of fundraisers on Just Giving in February. I’ve also asked my girlfriend to marry me and have spent more time with my parents than I ever thought I would again; I had to move back in with them as I couldn’t afford to live in London anymore whilst undergoing treatment. Every cloud has a silver lining, and I’ve found my fair share of silver linings over time.

None of these achievements mean as much as this final one, though… I’ve proven that I can fight you, cancer. I remember seeing the adverts for Cancer Research UK before I was diagnosed and having so much admiration for those fighting against you. “I could never do that,” I said to myself. I really believed it – I couldn’t even have a blood test without feeling like I would pass out. At the three month scan, I found out that the chemotherapy was proving effective and that we had almost halved you. The tissue around the artery is looking healthier, too. There’s still a long way to go before I can say that I am cured. The surgeons need to approve the surgery, which may take other methods such as Radiotherapy and Nanoknife to achieve. Then I need that surgery to be successful. After that, I go into the stressful stage of remission, constantly fearing that at the next progress scan, I find out you have come back with a vengeance, lurking like a shadow, dormant until detected.

It’s a long road, but it’s the only way out of the woods. I’m tackling it with my head held high, surrounded by loved ones and holding onto whatever hope I can. The worst that can happen is you win, and I die, but at least I’ll know I gave it a good go and found plenty of happiness doing so.

Hate and Prejudice

The ‘C’ Word

I’ve been slacking on the ‘C’ Word posts recently, either by not writing them at all or by writing them but speaking about the ‘C’ Word in them, going against the entire point of the series. Let’s hope today’s post will be a return to form.

I was scrolling through my Youtube feed tonight when I stumbled across a video titled ‘Do you hate the US? 100 Russians‘. It is by a channel called 1420, a ‘street journalism’ channel based in Russia. I found it recently as I was searching Youtube to try and find content that gives an honest reflection of Russian civilians’ opinions on what is going on in the war in Ukraine. The videos are centred around asking random people on the street a question, which is usually used as the video’s description. It seems that the channel has existed for quite a while, so it hasn’t been created in response to the war in Ukraine, but the current situation makes it an extremely interesting format to be engaged in making.

I don’t know the ins and outs of Russian law, but I do know that any form of journalistic endeavours there put the perpetrator at great risk of being on the wrong side of the government. There was a recent video of a woman holding up a sign with writing on it, which translated as ‘Two Words’. As soon as she unfurled the sign in front of the camera, she was detained by police officers. Quite incredibly, another woman then started to berate the cameraman asking if he is willing to interview people who agree with the war too, to which he responds that he is. She is then also detained by police. They must have assumed she was also pushing rhetoric that was considered ‘anti-government’, or just didn’t care what her opinions were but saw speaking into a camera in public as enough of a crime in and of itself. You can watch it here. It is almost comical until you remember that these are real and ordinary people being detained for stating their opinions peacefully in the street; in this particular example, they weren’t even expressing opinions, they were just daring to express anything. The reality is bleak and, unfortunately, though we kid ourselves that our society in the United Kingdom is very different, one which we are sliding closer towards with some of the reforms in protesting laws that are being pushed through here too. I do hope it could never get to this stage of ludicrous, though.

I have incredible respect for the people who run the 1420 channel, as they continue to record and upload this style of video despite the risks. I’m unsure if they feel at risk, and don’t know what their personal opinions or political leanings are, but that, if anything, should show what a great channel it is.

The ‘Do you hate the US’ video is quite long and I haven’t made it past about 2 minutes due to me not liking to dwell on war news for too long, but luckily, most people definitively say no. Or they at least say that they don’t hate the US population, but do not like their political system. I felt a huge rush of relief as I watched it. I have met a few Russian people in my life and I have always found them to be very open-minded and intelligent individuals, so I wasn’t necessarily surprised by their answers. It still felt good to prove to myself that there wasn’t a majority of people in Russia willing to state on camera that they hate another continent of people and hope their government would hurry up and nuke them; that is the sort of irrational thing you can start to think in such charged times and which, on a large scale, can lead to tensions rising to an unpalatable level. Russia has a rich history of culture, with many famous plays, operas and novels being written there. Their people are strong-willed and intelligent. I can’t claim to be an expert on this, but I was made aware of it through a rather random connection with the US.

I went through a period of only reading novels by the American authors Charles Bukowski and John Fante. I particularly enjoyed the protagonist in Fante’s series of semi-autobiographical novels called The Bandini Quartet. The main character’s name is Arturo Bandini and the series of novels follow him from childhood to old age, as he finds his way in the world as an aspiring, then (somewhat) successful author. He always has an arrogance in his own abilities and regularly goes on tyrannical rants to himself about how good a writer he is, whilst also comically idolizing people around him, such as an editor of a magazine who paid for a few of his stories. His absurd style has greatly influenced my writing in these blog posts, and I haven’t laughed as much at any other novel I’ve read. Dreams from Bunker Hill and Ask The Dust are both incredible books in the series and continue to be 2 of my favourite novels to this day.

Bukowski famously said that ‘Fante was my God’. He randomly discovered Fante’s work whilst trawling through a library shelf one day. You can see the influence on his work if you read a novel by Fante, then a novel by Bukowski. The auto-biographical form and dark, over-indulgent humour are evident in both, although Bukowski took the latter to an extreme that Fante did not. Seeing as I had found Fante through Bukowski, I started looking into other writers that Bukowski was influenced by, which was when I heard the name, Fyodor Dostoevsky, a Russian novelist. I started looking into other influential Russian writers and found there to be a long list of names, including people like Mikhail Bulgakov. It forced me to recognise a side of Russian history that I had been totally unaware of, one of free-thinking, innovative writing which was recognised across the globe. It made me address some bias that I obviously had towards Russia, and it challenged my perception of the country. I had never realised this about Russian history.

This is why I breathed a sigh of relief as I watched the video of Russian citizens recognising that feeling ‘hate’ for an entire population is ludicrous and that any ill feelings should be put towards whatever system is governing that population. US culture has dominated the world in my lifetime, and I wasn’t sure if Russians may feel a lot of hatred towards them. The video showed that they didn’t. I’d be interested to see what result you’d get if you asked the opposite question to 100 Americans. Hopefully, it would produce similar results.

Hate is a powerful emotion. If hate is successfully conjured up in a population against another population, then that is an extremely worrying situation to be in. If you have ever dealt with a truly hateful person, you’ll see that they are vacuous individuals who are extremely unpleasant to be around. That’s not to say that hate is never an appropriate emotion to feel, and it has its uses in the world. Powerful emotions force us to act in the face of extreme situations, helping us survive. The problem is that powerful emotions cut off the reasonable and analytical parts of our brains, and result in us engaging in extreme acts with little ability to evaluate them. Tactics such as identity politics are used to force us to feel powerful emotions towards a situation and/or population, which then allow for extreme acts to take place. I read a book on the Rwandan Genocide a few years ago, and that was an example of where drumming up hatred led to acts so horrific they seem to be a thing of dystopian fiction. One day people were neighbours, the next they were enemies.

Ukraine is currently being invaded, and the Russian government are engaged in all sorts of propaganda games with their population, the same way that our governments in the west are engaging in an information war by influencing us that what Russia is doing is evil and that what we are doing is successfully fighting back against it, in an ‘appropriate’ fashion. The difference between the West and Russia is that the west have enough journalistic volition to critique and challenge what their governments do. My worry with Russia is that the government’s total control of the media results in the population believing and supporting whatever schemes their government is engaged in. the 1420 Youtube channel offers a fly on the wall style look into what the citizens of Russia really think, and reassures us that they are very much the same as us. Some likely buy into extreme opinions on both sides, but most of those interviewed seem like reasonable individuals, with balanced opinions in spite of what their government tells them. It almost sounds patronising for me to say that, and I really don’t mean it to be, but we are lucky enough to have the technology now which prevents these types of smoke screens from being effective. Russia’s government can say they are engaged in a special operation to liberate Ukraine from extremists, but when they see videos online of Ukraine cities that have been raised to the ground by Russian shelling, they likely start to question whether their government’s ‘special operation’ is really benefitting ordinary Ukrainians. It allows people to draw their own conclusions about a situation and hampers their leader’s ability to influence their population. This also hampers their ability to drum up hate in their population for another people, as videos of their suffering humanises them, and helps Russians see that they are similar to each other. Normal people’s lives are being ruined by their armies in Ukraine; there are videos of the damage all over the internet.

Although I can honestly say there are very few things in the world I actually ‘hate’, I have used the word many times in my life in the colloquial sense. For example, for about a decade, any time I saw fennel on a menu or it came in a conversation I was involved in, I would emphatically state that I hated fennel. This was usually followed by a rant that I don’t understand why anyone would feel anything other than hate towards it, that people who don’t hate it clearly had something wrong with their brains, and that any emotion other than hate expressed towards it was inadequate. I recently found a recipe for pasta bake that used a bit of fresh fennel and reluctantly decided to try it, and now realise that if you balance it well in a meal, it can actually be very delicious. The conclusion that I drew from this is that being closed-minded to anything, even something fairly trivial, may prevent you from experiencing whatever is potentially positive about that thing. It will at least prevent you from understanding what someone else’s positive experience is from that thing. If I shut down any conversation about fennel with a rant about how much I hate fennel, I’m unlikely to be susceptible to changing my opinion or hearing out others on why they don’t hate it. My good friend Dan told me that eating fresh fennel soon after it has been picked is something he has treasured since childhood. I was in utter disbelief about this when he told me, but it has made me curious to try it. I’ve also had a very nice tea that uses fennel root to sweeten it. Look how far I have come… This leads me to my final point, another one about strong emotions and how it is easy to be swept into them.

In the past, I’ve been guilty of disagreeing with people on subjects that I know very little about and, in fact, don’t feel passionate about in any way, shape or form. I’ve spoken about this before I’m sure, but it really is worth emphasizing again. There is something about engaging in a ‘disagreement’ (which innevitably moves into an argument once the disagreement gets out of hand) that I used to find irresistible. The topic could be almost anything and I would come in with the opposite opinion of the person speaking, starting off as ‘devil’s advocate’, but soon assuming the position as a gatekeeper for an opinion I don’t hold, over a topic I don’t understand.

I remember a particular example where a colleague brought up flat earthers, and I quickly dismissed him and said that people who believed it were stupid. He then asked me how I knew it wasn’t flat, and if I had personally proved it to be round. We then engaged in an argument that lasted far too long, went far too meta and was never going to produce any winners. Alcohol played its part too of course, but the whole thing got extremely heated and, frankly, embarrassing. I remember that as a pivotal moment for me – the moment I realised that I don’t actually need to engage in these types of ‘disagreements’ and that they never resulted in me being any happier. I don’t mind a discussion now, but I try and approach them with more of an inquisitive attitude, as opposed to obsessively trying to be ‘right’ or to see everything as a competition where I need to be the winner. I stop myself from getting to the stage where I am blinded by strong emotions, which prevent me from learning anything or thinking critically.

It made me realise that all of the people that I knew and respected most were people who tried to stay calm, looked to engage with others over differing opinions and allowed their prejudices to be challenged. The people who were always desperate to be right, desperate to be seen to be the most intelligent and ready to engage in any argument were not the ones I idolised at all, yet they were all traits I easily identified in myself when I evaluated my past behaviour. It is my interest in evaluating these types of human behaviour that led me to the 1420 channel, and that inspired me to write this post.

Dan Ran 40 for Pan Can

Lucy and Me in Bed on a Bad Chemotherapy Day

The Run 40 for Pancreatic Cancer UK challenge has officially finished! My Just Giving page is still up here if you are yet to donate and would like to. I thought I’d write some reflections now that the challenge is over and use all of the positive adjectives to describe the amazing, fantastic, incredible, awesome, wonderful, tremendous amount of support that the campaign received.

As I write this, the campaign is on £6,653. The original goal of the campaign was £250. I hoped to raise more than that original goal, but I never imagined it would get as high as it is now. I’ve seen so many names in the donations that I recognise from various times throughout my life; people in my year at school, people I used to work with, friends of friends I have only met a couple of times. There have also been an astonishing amount of donations from names I don’t recognise and many from the secret ‘anonymous’ society. My siblings have been touched by some of the donations they have seen from their old colleagues and beyond. It is truly amazing how far it seemed to reach and how generous everyone has been. Thank you so much for all the donations and for making it feel so special for me.

The support was so great that I was contacted by the local paper, The Chronicle Series, who wanted to write an article about it. Unfortunately, I never saw that article come to fruition and have not heard from the journalist who contacted me. I haven’t chased him either; I just figured it would come out eventually in the month of February. It is perhaps too late to expect to see anything now, and I fear I may never get my newspaper clipping to frame and put on the wall… I’ll have to think of another scheme now, damn it.

A local clothes shop called Wall Street kindly put up information about the campaign in their window. They also made flyers which they were putting in shoppers’ bags. This was all done without any prompting from us. The owner asked my mum if it would be useful, and then they did all of the work to create, print and distribute the materials. Every time I walk past the shop, I see my face in the window, and I awkwardly try not to look for too long. It feels like I’m being vain just by doing so, which is probably an incredibly strange reaction to the situation. That was another incredible gesture, though, and one that my mum especially appreciated. She has been shopping there for years and was very touched that they were willing to do this for her, as am I.

The most donations came after the link was shared in a few local Facebook groups by my friends. This sparked a chain reaction of donations and well-wishing messages. I felt like a celebrity as my phone ‘blew up’ with notifications from Just-Giving. For 24 hours, it barely stopped flashing, and the total amount just kept creeping higher and higher. The only person managing to check the donation amounts quicker than my phone could be notified was my mum, who sat reading every donation, every message, and puzzling over every anonymous; she has been absolutely obsessed. I think she could reel off every name and comment by memory now.

On a more general note, the campaign really helped to focus me throughout February. I was always looking towards the next run, planning a new route, fighting harder to get out of bed each day and get out running. I may have underestimated just how much it did for my motivation last month, and it is now only becoming clear as I am in March and struggling to hit the same level. Even during the storms, I managed to get out and run, no matter how little I wanted to. I did also get fortunate with the chemotherapy cycles for most of February. It was only towards the end that I really struggled to get out running because of the chemotherapy. Luckily, I had already completed the distance by this point and was only aiming for more for my own ego. I wanted to get the total to 60 miles, but I only managed 53.64. This was mainly down to a bad final week where I struggled to do anything; the 2 runs I did manage were some of the hardest I remember in my life. On my final run in February, a 5K with my sister Josie, I had to walk about 3 times and felt like I was going to pass out at one point. I was not in good shape from the chemotherapy. Luckily, I ran yesterday, and I seem to have recovered from the worst of it now, but it has taken a long time compared to my ‘normal’ cycle.

Now that the campaign is over, I need to find something else to keep me going. If you read this blog regularly, you likely know that this is a tough week for me. Tomorrow I will receive the results from the CT scan I had on Monday. It will be the first update I have had on the tumour since November, and when I find out if the chemotherapy is working at all, and to what extent. My tumour is locally advanced, meaning it has not spread outside of the pancreas, but it has spread to a major artery. As a result, I cannot undergo surgery. Without surgery, I can’t be cured of the cancer, and it will kill me. Luckily for me, I am very young to have pancreatic cancer. You may be wondering why I used the word ‘lucky’ in that sentence… My youth and fitness mean that my body can take a lot of punishment and still recover relatively quickly. My oncologist warned me that there may be a lot of steps to take to get the tumour in a place where they can do surgery, but that I should be glad that those steps are available to me. Many others are diagnosed at a point where nothing can be done or are at an age where they are too vulnerable to have the full extent of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, nano-knife, and whatever other techniques are required. My age doesn’t guarantee me anything, though. I still may have a long way to go to get surgery, and it may never get to a place where it is possible. Tomorrow, I’ll discuss how the tumour has responded to chemotherapy and the next steps with the oncology team.

So as you can imagine, this isn’t a great week for me to understand how I am feeling about things. I am focusing on getting through tomorrow, then I can try and enjoy my birthday on Saturday (despite being in the hospital for chemotherapy). Next week I can decide what big schemes will keep me busy for the next few months until I finish chemotherapy in May (assuming the scan doesn’t change the treatment plan entirely). I’m hoping to get some more writing work for Pancreatic Cancer Action, and maybe some other charities/organisations, but we’ll see. I’ve also started to work on a few short stories and a book, but the progress on them is slow. I still struggle to actually sit down and just write. The blog has more direct purpose as I write it and know that I will upload it for consumption. I’m still not in a place where I feel any of the short stories, or potentially even my book, is for a bigger ‘purpose’. If I knew it would be published and that people would be interested in it, I may feel more motivated to do large writing sessions. Unfortunately, I haven’t convinced myself that any of it is for a purpose right now. I know that the right mindset is not to do it for any purpose, but just do it because I enjoy writing, which I do. I’m still new to writing, though, and it is easier to write things where you get quick and direct feedback from people reading. It’s all a process and I’m getting somewhere with it, I hope.

One last thank you to everyone who has donated and followed the progress on the Just Giving page. If there is anyone else you think may donate, please share the link with them. It’ll be open for a few more weeks yet! Today’s song is appropriately titled ‘Endorphins’ as that’s the best part of exercising – those juicy endorphins. The song also has quite a mix of sombre sounding lyrics whilst also being somewhat upbeat, a nice analogy of how my mood seems to be this week.

Hunter-Gatherer

The below short story was entered into a call by Bag of Bones. They provided a brief requesting that the entries be exactly 206 words as this is how many bones are in the human body. The genre had to be ‘horror’, but they said you could be creative other than that.

I do not read any horror and it is not a genre I enjoy indulging in generally. As the story was so short though, I figured I would have a go whilst sitting bored during chemotherapy. The result was Hunter-Gatherer.

Unfortunately, the story did not win. It was shortlisted, though. The full anthology, including the 6 winners and all shortlisted entries, can be purchased here from Amazon. If you are into horror, it may be worth the investment. I did not realise quite how many were shortlisted – it makes it feel slightly less special but oh well. Still nice to see my name in the contents of a publication!


Hunter-Gatherer by Dan Godley

“How do you know which ones are safe to eat?” He kicked his boot into the lifeless corpse and sniggered to himself. The body was cold and responded as enthusiastically as a bag of sand left out in the rain.

“Look at the tongue. If it’s got red spots or green gunk on it, you should stay clear.” The words read out like a script. She was sick of saying them.

“What if they don’t have a head?”

“They all have heads.”

“This one doesn’t.” He picked up his shovel, wielded the handle with both hands extended above his head, and ploughed it through the neck. It went in at an angle and seemed to get caught around the shoulder blade as it slammed through the flesh. She wasn’t amused as she watched.

“They were people, you know. Same as me and you. They suffered the same way we suffer. Probably more. Have you seen em when they start to get ill?”

“Fuck em. They’re disgusting. I’d rather not eat.” He was trying to pull his shovel out by putting his boot on the half-severed head. They could hear the bones crushing as he struggled.

“Seen this?” she said, swinging her shovel straight into his cheek.

Perfection

Striving for perfection
A feat that I concede
May lead to an imperfection
Of my personality

Critiquing all the writing
Ensuring it is free
From grammatical delusion
No need for subtlety

Proposition and a verb
The subject here is me
These rules are non-negotiable
Who has deceiv’d thee?

And please call me a pedant
A badge I wear with glee
There’s no shades to this grey
I’m apathetic to your grief

So smugly I deliver
My damned philosophy
I give to you my ‘feedback’
Update it by decree

Discussion

After feeling frustrated at how anal I find myself being over how the blog posts read, I wrote Perfection. It is supposed to be a humorous interpretation of an individual prescriptively reviewing a piece of emotional work, such as my blog posts about cancer. They are examining it with the same ethos as to how they would score an essay, ignoring what the words are saying and focusing on the inaccuracies of the grammar.

I studied for an English Language degree as an undergraduate. Some people who know this will occasionally use it as a quip when I incorrectly spell something, as if I spent 3 years reading the dictionary and studying the oxford comma. I have seldom admitted that we did have grammar modules, though, so it’s not totally unreasonable to expect better from me where you find such errors.

Due to the nature of the blog posts and how quickly I tend to write, read, re-read and post them, I find myself cringing at things I’ve written. It usually happens the next day when I decide to re-read the final version that I uploaded and start wondering how on earth I allowed such drivel to be made public to the world. In reality, I know that I am being a pedant and that the central point usually speaks for itself in the posts. If you notice something grammatically wrong, though, please let me know as soon as possible. I can then correct it before any more judgmental readers wonder how I got a first in my English Language degree because I did that, by the way.