I had a dream, and while I don't normally share dreams on account of them being garbage, this one made sense of my predicament in an impressively parabolic manner, so much so that I almost bought my subconscious a pint to thank it for being so melodramatic. While taking a short break in La Rochelle a few weeks ago, I drifted off in the hotel bed as Claire went into town to get coffee and croissants. Suddenly a white mouse was right there crawling on the covers; I flipped the duvet and the mouse was jettisoned off the bed, and when I looked up to see where it had landed it had disappeared. While I wondered about where it could have got to, I returned my gaze to the bed before me, and there in its place was a gnarly black rat staring me down. I awoke startled, my heart beating in my eardrum. It didn't take long to make sense of it.
Last year I was diagnosed with and treated for colonic cancer, a fairly dismal experience but one I remained upbeat about throughout and didn't allow to get me down too much. I didn't want to blog about it because for me there felt like there was enough bad in the world, enough outrage, and there are plenty of people out there already writing about their experiences of cancer, some probably very well, although I tend not to read about it if I can help it. Most of all I didn't feel like I needed to add my voice because it felt like an aberration. This year it now feels like a part of life though. A few weeks ago after being told I was in fine health, my oncologist phoned me to tell me that he now thought some dots that had shown up in an MRI scan of my liver were the first stages of metastasis. I didn't know what metastasis was so I broke my golden rule and started Googling, and naturally I fell down a rabbit hole and came away fearing the worst. Fairly quickly I came to terms the best I could with the knowledge that I might die, and soon. You start thinking about how big the universe is and how unimportant you are in it and throw in the fact that everybody does it (dies I mean) and you start thinking "hmmm, it's annoying, but what choice do I have?"
But actually, after speaking with some very talented people at the hospital who I assume aren't just trying to make me feel better, I hopefully don't have to countenance the fact that this might be the end just yet. There are no guarantees of course, but what I'm up against is treatable they say. I'll take that. A bit more pain and hanging around and being at the mercy of machines is doable. It's a bit like going on a long tour with a really shit band. The chemo I've done for the last two days is certainly not as bad as my worst hangover was back in the day, but it does feel like the most oppressive jetlag, the plane having flown in from Mars.
My other reservation about going public with this illness is that you become Cancer Boy. You know, Cancer Boy! I might be 42, but I'll still be Cancer Boy to a lot of people. Stuff I've done before just becomes one blurred prelude to the main event. Editors stop giving you work because they think you're off convening with cancer somewhere. Someone jovially asked me the other day why I was in hospital, perhaps expecting me to tell him I'd got a splinter in my thumb; when I mentioned the 'C' word I saw the blood drain from him. Susan Sontag wrote Illness As Metaphor in 1978 and I read it in 2015, and while the treatment aspects she talks about have improved, the stigmatisation is still very much as real as it was nearly 40 years ago, but what can you do? I guess come clean, and try and carry on as normal. She also said this: "Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place."
I wish I could say I have nothing to declare right now.
This post first appeared on Jeremy's blog parisnatch.com