Bravely battling my tumour

Saturday morning, and it’s business as usual. My wife drives with the kiddies to a friend’s house, and I make my own way there by bicycle, clocking up the miles in the wind and the cold.

Despite my increase in anti-convulsant meds, I have a seizure at mile 14. I get off the bike, wait for the seizure to pass, then get straight back on the bike and pedal on.

At mile 23 I have another. Wait. Recover. Then back on the bike, this time at a pace so slow a granny could have left me for dust on her shopping bike.

Which begs the question: am I bravely fighting my condition by refusing to get off the bike? Would hanging up my wheels be to give up?

Fighting talk.

There’s a language cancer brings that’s hard to avoid.

The cancer books and support groups talk of fighting your condition for everything that it’s worth; of not giving in to cancer, staying positive and battling on. Many of the charities adopt the same language.

I can understand how that might be helpful to some people with cancer and tumours. But I also wonder if it imposes incredible and often unachievable expectations on those with a life-limiting disease, who’s life is already difficult enough.

Don’t give up. Chin up. Keep fighting.

Yesterday, thanks to the drugs, I barely woke up all day. It left my wife having to cancel most of her day’s work to pick up my share of the childcare.

Was that fighting?

If further down the line I decide to protect my children by refusing the radiotherapy and chemotherapy that can only prolong but not save my life, will that be me being brave? Or me giving up the battle?

If I pulled on a dressing gown and went to wait for death in a darkened room, would I be admirably facing my mortality or being a coward?

Why isn’t it OK for someone facing a life-limiting disease to run around the house crying and lamenting? Why isn’t it OK to scream and collapse in a heap of despair and desperation?

Why do we always have to be so bloody brave?

Those who do die from cancer, early and quickly. Didn’t they put up a fight? Didn’t they try hard enough? Are the survivors always the best fighters? The strongest willed?

I don’t even know what fighting my condition would look like.

Is writing this blog fighting? Is trying to stay on the bike fighting? Is my giving up alcohol, and driving, and my old business, and my old life, fighting? Or is it giving in?

When I can hardly wake and lie in bed staring at the wall, wondering about my children’s future, is that a white flag? A retreat? A surrender?

What would I have to do to bravely battle my condition? To refuse to fight, what would I have to stop doing? Would anyone be able to tell the difference?

I’ve never been in a fight before, but I’m pretty sure you have to choose to be in one.

When I was at school, I got fought a few times – mainly by kids from my brother’s year – but I never hit back. (That would have been crazy).

Right now, I feel I’m being fought by my condition. I have successfully dodged a right hook there, a swing from the left here. A few punches have landed home, but many I’ve been able to avoid.

I don’t wake every morning with tactics and plans. I don’t have some solid resolve that if I have to go down, then I’ll go down all guns blazing. This isn’t some Hollywood action movie.

I’m not brave. As journalist John Diamond wrote in his book about his own cancer, taking the disease from my daughter and dying instead of her, that would be brave. But not this, an unchosen illness I can do nothing about.

I’m just getting on. Making the most of what I’ve got. Crying, and laughing, and forgetting, and remembering, and plodding and peddaling on.

Like we all do, cancer or not.

I’m pretty sure whatever I do will be interpreted as fighting when I finally, bravely, lose my battle. Before that time comes, I’ll just be busy living my life.

2 Comments

  1. Wow. Obviously told straight from the heart. It’s just bloody hard. It’s difficult to know what to say but as someone with a brain tumour this article is very helpful and just hearing your emotion is a life affirming feeling. Can see how much you obviously love cycling, you’re not going to stop doing it and that is brilliant. Keep on writing about it, it’s great to hear a frank and honest perspective.

  2. Makes me feel very small. I have never liked cycling since a child and felt I had really achieved something when I actually went on a bike ride with my daughter and her boyfriend a couple of weeks ago. We only went about 16km but I felt it was a major achievement. Then I read this and I realise it was nothing. But then again we all have to make achievements no matter how small in our lives.

    You write so openly about being brave and what does it actually mean? Obviously different people deal with these things in various ways. But regardless of whether it is brave or not you are having a big effect on other people through your blog.

    Enjoy Christmas with your family.

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