The Blog

Three Things I've Learnt as an Ex-Cancer Patient

I definitely don't walk around everyday thinking about how beautiful post-cancer life is, I think about that bastard who pushed in front of me at Upper Crust. You are allowed to grumble, it's cathartic, just don't stomp around acting like the world owes you one.

The best pieces of advice vary for me. The ones that I hear most frequently and forcefully are the ones I give myself the morning after a gin night out. I can no longer ignore the correlation between those and my very best terrible decision making. These advices, however, are easily forgotten and revolve around me keeping my big, fat, drunk mouth shut.

There are others I remind myself of when I start taking all the bullshit of contempo-cool living too seriously. When I'm grabbing at some added-extra flesh on my body or complaining that I'm so pale it's embarrassing, I try to remember the valuable lessons I learnt from having cancer at 21.

Fuck it. What's the worst that can happen?

One of the things I miss most about having cancer, hear me out, is that it gave me this entirely carefree attitude. I didn't really care what people thought about me, firstly because I was bald, and secondly because I was in the midst of a confrontation with my own mortality.

Baldness and death seriously boosted my ego. Half of it was based on the fact that when you have cancer and people find out, you can go from 'annoying' to 'inspirational' at a moment's notice. Regardless of my actions or opinion, I was considered a good person. Sounds dangerous but instead of abusing this position I developed this disgustingly positive can-do attitude.

Before cancer (BC) I had trepidations about putting myself out there, applying for jobs or work experience, even calling for a taxi, which is really lame. I lost all of that. I wrote a blog chronicling my cancer diagnosis and progress, making my life a bit of an open book. I spoke about having to use a commode, crippling constipation and having a hose in my boob, draining fluid from my biopsy. It was pretty candid. It was also the best thing I ever did; it's the reason why I'm writing this article now.

Apply for all those internships or jobs, email and ask for an opportunity. The worst they can say is no. All they have is your name on an email or a CV, you'll never see them. Fuck it. Talk to everyone and don't worry about what they think of you. If the person is a dick, they're going to act like a dick, it's nothing to do with you. You can generally tell anyway, they're normally riding penny-farthings down Shoreditch high street. If a dick thinks you're a dick, that's a good thing. Dicks.

There is no right way of 'dealing' with it

This is the one I feel most strongly about.

Don't let people tell you how you should be feeling, what you should be thinking, what you should be doing. They don't know anything. For example, at my dad's funeral, somebody gave my mum shit for not crying, implying that she didn't really care that much. I was three and my brother was seven, she was holding it together, she wasn't heartless. She remembers that to this day. They should have kept their mouth shut.

You surprise yourself with the way you deal with things. I was upbeat and easy going about everything while I was having treatment. I had my bi-weekly poison drip on a Friday and went out that evening boozing hard. Life felt pretty good sans-hair. When I had finished chemo and my hair started to grow back I began having residual emotional responses to the event. I went back to university and moved in a house with all my friends. I was happy but I started to lash out irrationally at everyone, arguing and crying, it was pretty insufferable. Some of the guys didn't make the connection and thought I was being a massive bitch but I was just dealing with it all a little late.

I found it incredibly hard to adjust to life-after and, in all honestly, I've only recently felt settled and like myself again. It all takes time and it's only you who knows how you feel. The moment that people try to second guess your decisions or tell you you're doing it wrong is the moment you tell them to fuck off. I've been guilty of this recently and I have to remind myself that just because I think I wouldn't react that way, it doesn't make it the wrong way.

You won't be doing the wrong thing if it's your friend and those acts of kindness, no matter how small, are never unwanted or unnecessary. Offer support or distractions, sit and listen or simply sit with them. None of it's wrong and they'll lead you the right way. A few of my friends just sat with me in silence when I was catatonic and I'll never forget it.

When bad things happen, no one is ever really prepared and there isn't one way of coping or moving on. Do what is right for you otherwise you'll fall apart.

It's okay to fuss about the little things, just remember it's a luxury

The full force of the jolt out of normality into the tragedy bubble is felt when you look at the Facebook newsfeed. Reading 'OMFG haven't got a seat on the train once this whole week. Hate my life ☹' makes you want to reach into the computer and claw the sad emoji off their fat face.

When I was ill, my friends would always shuffle awkwardly or apologise to me when they complained about a stressful day at work, squirming a little more if I was hooked up to my chemo drip at the time. I never minded though, it was all relative to their life. Furthermore I never tire of hearing a good story slagging off 'Gangly Angela' from work.

I think it's important to complain about the little things as long as you are able to put it into perspective. I definitely don't walk around everyday thinking about how beautiful post-cancer life is, I think about that bastard who pushed in front of me at Upper Crust. You are allowed to grumble, it's cathartic, just don't stomp around acting like the world owes you one, you'll only hate yourself later when something devastating happens.

When I'm getting overly eggy about something trivial, I think of one hot day in March, when I was lying in bed, dead hair scattered over my pillow. My jaw throbbed, codeine and tramadol ineffective, and my stomach felt like there someone was inside, scratching it with a dirty fingernail. I wasn't angry or screeching 'WHY ME?', all I wanted was to go outside and walk out in the sun. That puts things into perspective for me, every time.

Popular in the Community