Next week will mark the start of my 5 year “Cancer-versary”. I say start as I choose to let the event run for a week. From the day of the blood test results that showed my astronomical white blood cell count and led to the diagnosis of Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia, to when I started taking the drugs to bring things into check as quickly as possible, plus a few days to make sure I really enjoy it and can call it a party. Looking back at that week, so many things happened that when I read my diary entries now, they are like reading a work of fiction. Something distant that I struggle to relate to with the passage of time, some gallows humour, and frankly some impenetrable moments of deep terror. I am told that from the outside I was strangely calm through those early days.
I have learnt a lot in 5 years. I learnt what good friends really are, and more importantly I have learnt who *my* good friends are. I cannot thank any of them enough for all the things they have seen me through and that will be a debt I will be forever trying to repay. I learnt the value of perspective although I hadn’t gone seeking it. I had been arrested the summer before and was in the run up to being a defendant in the resulting court case as my diagnosis and early treatment was unfolding. That ongoing and immensely stressful process was thrown in to deep shadow by the crisis that started with being sat in a room at my local GP surgery by two doctors and told that they were almost certain I had leukaemia.
I try to worry less, as when it comes down to it, the crunch, the turning points, we look back in hindsight and realise that the big moments in our lives are a combination of circumstances well beyond our control with the occasional smattering of having been in the right or wrong place at any given moment. My appreciation for the beautiful, the absurd and the crushingly tragic has found new depths and rarely as singular entities. There are traces of the beautiful in the darkest moments of our lives and an absolute absurdity that any of them ever occur to us. So too for the hopeful ones, but when viewed through the lens of absolute and infinite unlikeliness of existing at all it’s hard not to view the things we become caught up in as anything other than comic.
But fatalism doesn’t suit me. Whilst each day is a gift, it’s a gift hard fought for. The outcome of any day is never assured and the start of the next never to be counted on, so there is the sense of gratitude in the morning when I wake and by the end of the day it is tempered with a sense of having earned the right to see the sunset across Crosby beach. Some of the closest people I have known, I have lost in the last five years and they no longer enjoy this privilege. If anyone asks what life tastes like, it is bitter-sweet but it is worth working for.
Which brings me to the most important lesson I carry from the last five years; getting used to saying ‘goodbye’. Nothing lasts forever. I work hard not to let my cancer, and yes, it is all mine, my little black dog, snapping at my ankles from time to time, define who I am. There’s not yet something I’ve let it stop me do, although there have been some delays and detours, it has probably driven me to do more than I ever would have done, but things are not as they were. The ‘new normal’ has never felt normal. I’ve found an uneasy comfort with having said goodbye to the old, although it smarted for a while, as strong, passionate goodbyes should.
Five years on, looking ahead at time that five years ago I didn’t know I would have, I am quietly optimistic that I might finally have a ‘quiet period’, some settled time, although I wont count on it! Plans, hopes and dreams converge on a point labelled the future, and the future gets the occasional glance, half an eye to make sure I’m still on target, but what I am interested in is the right now. That is the thought I’d like to leave you with if you’ve made it this far through reading this. Grab ‘right now’ by the nuts, smack it and yourself about a bit if either are not quite how you want them to be and start to hammer them into a shape that makes you a little happier. Yes, that is my focus, the now… and possibly the space between now and the next photograph.