In a week's time I will be celebrating my 50th birthday. This is a landmark I truly never thought I'd see, as I was born with a rare type of cancer called Neuroblastoma. It was a stage 4 tumour and my parents were told I would probably die. I underwent experimental chemotherapy treatment, as well as surgery and radiotherapy, and I pulled through. My parents, however, were told to go home and enjoy what ever time they had with me, as it was very unlikely I would survive beyond the age of five. They did exactly that, with the expectation that they did not have very long with their first born son. I won't deny I was a rather spoiled child, with a never ending string of presents which I guess where for "not dying". But rather than get weaker and slip away, I thrived and it was soon time to start at school.
Sadly just as I celebrated living past my prognosis, my father died suddenly. My earliest real memory is of the day my father died, and this led my mother to spoil me and my baby brother even more. It also caused me to grow up with this absolute feeling I would die early. You see as I learned more about what "having cancer" meant it became clear that I was supremely lucky. For some reason it seemed impossible that I would be that lucky forever. This belief was reinforced when I hit the age of 15, as I was struck down by a side effect of my cancer treatment all those year earlier. On April 30th 1981 I awoke to find I could not move my legs, and it transpired by spine had collapsed. Before this diagnosis I was told I was dying, as my cancer had returned. As I lay in my hospital bed I listed all the things I would never do. When I was told that my diagnosis was wrong and that I would live, but would never walk again, I was over the moon.
This moment made me the person I am today, and led me to build a life which encapsulated the motto "carpe diem". While I went on to live a life that most would envy, with global travel, media stardom, and lots of fun, I could not shake the feeling that I could never out live my father. As I reached the same age he died at, life intervened again. I had just met the woman who is now my wife, my media career was rocketing and everything seemed perfect, when I was involved in a car accident. Afterwards I struck down with chronic agonising pain, eventually leading my surgical team to discover I had broken my back... again! My condition spiraled down rapidly and yet again the Sword of Damocles swayed ominously above my head. I needed another experimental surgery to fix my spine, and as I wheeled into the operating theatre all I could think was "Was this it?" Was I correct to feel I could never outlive my father?
Well as you can tell from the fact I am writing this nearly 15 years after that surgery I was wrong. I made it and am now healthier than I have ever been. I now look back on a life filled with adventure and excitement as living a series of sprints. What has changed for me is the absolute assurity that I would die young has gone. I now hit 50 years on this planet knowing that I have no idea how long I have ahead for the first time in my life. Life really has turned from a sprint into a marathon and this is an amazing feeling! I don't expect an on coming mid life crisis, as I have reached a point where I might expect to live my entire adult life again if I'm lucky. And I really feel lucky. When I tell people my life story they usually react as if it's been a struggle to battle so much tragedy, but I just can't see it that way. I know that I have had a life second to none, and that all of the "bad stuff" has led me to an even longer list of "good stuff".
These good events are still going on too. As well as making it past my original prognosis by 45 years, I celebrate my 10th wedding anniversary in November. I have just taken part in a BBC training course for weather presenters, have had another appearance on Sky News reviewing papers and continue to write for various magazines and web outlets. I am also planning to spend my 50th year ticking dreamed of experiences off my not-bucket list. I have already been racing around the countryside in an all terrain scooter and have plans to go horse riding and up in balloon. I am even writing a book that explores what it means to be alive when you should really be dead.
This article isn't meant to be a self congratulatory hooray, although it is that too I suppose. I hope it shows that no matter what life throws at you there can be a silver cloud and if you battle through tomorrow can be amazing. I have no idea of what tomorrow might hold for me, but for the first time in my life I am sure there will be one.
Of course, my pessimistic side is now worried that when I feel like this is when it will all go wrong... but that's another story entirely.
All photos by permission of Mik Scarlet