These past few months have been pretty trying, haven't they? It is a bleak world out there right now and the madness of it all seems, at times, almost paralysing. Yet life goes on.
My question is: what kind of life?
And perhaps my experience can make us all look around and see that, however dark it looks, there is light in the shadows.
First, rewind two decades. It was 1995. I was 27 years old. I was horribly addicted to gambling, an affliction that hits over half a million people in the UK, according to NHS figures.
Then, blow number two: On June 13, 1995, the day after my 28th birthday, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Cancer of the lymph glands, to you and me.
Bad times. But let me take you quickly from there to now, then bring you in on how I got here. Today, I am 49, clean, a relatively successful -- but, most importantly, sanguine and satisfied -- theatre director, and now author. The book I am writing is subtitled 'How Cancer Saved My Life.' And I can honestly say that, without cancer, I may not have survived.
How so? Because cancer forces you to look into the face of death. If you are lucky enough to escape its clutches, surviving can re-awaken the lightness in your soul. I learned to embrace the beauty of the scary situation I found myself in. Because clarity is beauty. Insight is beauty. Generosity is beauty. Acceptance is beauty. Fear without bitterness is beauty. Discovering new soft, sweet-smelling baby hair on your misshapen baldhead is beauty.
But first, the gambling. Back then it was my one true love. Bruce Springsteen apart. Of course. But Bruce wasn't a love he was a life. Still is. Gambling gave me everything I needed. Adrenaline, excitement, escape. It wasn't better than sex. It WAS sex. It was sex and love all wrapped into one big gambling maniacal thing. I totally loved gambling. And gambling totally loved me. We would fight all the time but our make up sex was off the scale. Our love was unconditional. I would hate it, too. Obvs. Hate it more than I have hated anything or anyone before or since. Apart from myself that is. My self-hatred was total.
And gambling slowly made me feel numb. That's when you really have to worry. That's when your intake capacity is so high that only a binge of epic proportions will impinge on the deadness. Gambling was my abusive lover that I couldn't escape from.
And then in swaggered the big C. Cancer takes no prisoners. It leaves everything and everybody sprawling in its wake.
So the three-way fight was on -- between me, my cancer and my addiction:
Me versus Stage 4 Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.
This wasn't really a fair fight.
I was one lone, slightly odd, belligerent, would-be funny 28-year-old.
Cancer was thousands of years old with billions of ever mutating evil cells on its side.
It had mounds of experience as to how to break down my brittle defences.
I had me, a couple of pamphlets, a warped sense of humour and a few doctors armed with drugs.
In 1995, I didn't even have Google.
Me versus Gambling.
This was a fight that had been going on for an awful long time. A fight I had never really wanted to end. And, somewhat perversely, after the diagnosis, it was undeniable that the distraction of my gambling addiction was making the day to day of cancer living much easier to deal with.
Cancer versus Gambling
Cancer and gambling fought for my attention. They demanded that they were the first thing I thought of when I woke up and the last thing I thought of when I fell asleep. They were insanely jealous of each other and would constantly raise the stakes in order to get more attention. It was gruelling but also weirdly exhilarating. Cancer fought toe-to-toe with Gambling until, by April 1996, they ended up exhausting and extinguishing each other. I was the only one who made it out alive. Only then could I breathe. Only then did I have any kind of perspective. Only then did I really start to live.
So cancer DID save my life. It forced me to head on into the darkness inside of me and embrace the surprises I might find there.
And in a 2016 that's doing its best to freak us out and hide under the bed, we have to face our fears and move forward till we find the glimmer of light and possibility.
Or failing that, put Bruce Springsteen on the retro record player. That will put the world to rights.
If you want to help Raz's book become a reality, go to https://unbound.com/books/death-and-the-elephant