John Leonard an audience of one.

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A pause for contemplation

I have recently read of people on the internet who have lost children to cancer. To say it in such a fashion cheapens the message somewhat, as if to reduce the loss of a child to a single sentence is to reduce the fury and impact that the family has to go through when confronting the fact that their child won’t be around to grow up any more.

But… Cancer. It’s still enough to chill the bones.

I’m writing todays’ entry in hospital as I go for my regular checkup with my oncologist. Not to labour the point, but I had my own experience with cancer three years ago, and although I know in my heart that I’m cured (not in remission, but cured, although it will take another seven years before my oncology team will say that), the need to come back to the hospital every four months still makes me uneasy.

My examinations are rudimentary. A physical exam, a chest x-ray every six months, blood tests at every visit. Still, this hospital is where I went through chemotherapy and the associated discomfort that that brings, and to return reminds me of that, even though I don’t visit the ward I was in; I just skirt the outsides of the treatment centres and sit in the restaurant eating a lunch that three years ago would have seemed a remote impossibility to digest.

I am often accused of playing the cancer card, and to be fair, sometimes I do. I’ve written before about the sense of relief that arises when telling someone you have cancer and are going through chemotherapy gets you special service, or lets you jump a queue. All these little things add up to relieve the pressure of living a little - because the pressure can be hard during treatment. Even now I still play it just to reset expectations or show someone that they are not alone in going through experiences such as those I went though - essentially I am trying to show that I can help, if so asked. I’m not asked very often, but I want to help. I want to show compassion and somehow leverage my experience to help others, to pay it forward, to alleviate the light sense of selfishness that my entirely self centred treatment engendered.

Regardless, I am now cured, but I still have to have checkups, and while they are physically trivial, they can be mentally tough. As a patient I am chirpy and lively but I’m still searching for that frisson of pause or doubt in those medical professionals whose opinion and expertise I have placed my trust - they kept me alive, after all. To see a pause in their examination or to sense a carefully worded phrase when reading results will communicate far more than it is supposed to. I am an adult and I know that they have seen this before and won’t allow themselves to slip and, anyway, I am better now. It was three long years ago and not a blip has shown itself on the numerous tests.

Nevertheless, as a man who is cured I still wait to be told that I have cancer.