Am I angry?

I planned to write here tonight about how angry I am.

Angry that the evidence suggests my brain tumour is turning malignant far sooner than any of us expected, and angry that we only found this out thanks to some temporarily-lost test results.

I was going to write about how angry I’ve been by the reaction of some people to my tumour, some close to me, some I’ve never met. Anger like I felt this week when a stranger thought the most appropriate response to my news was to remind me that I hadn’t emailed back after they’d sent me two videos about how alternative medicine was going to cure my cancer, but that they were praying for me.

I was going to write about how angry I am sometimes when cars come so close to me on my bike, I can almost smell the distain for my two wheels on the driver’s breath.

I was going to write about how it makes me angry that even people who know I’ve just written a book about equal parenting sometimes still treat me as if my own children have nothing to do with me. That they look straight through me when I’m out with my wife and kids, as if I’m just tagging along for the ride.

I was going to write about how angry it makes me that my daughter’s non-religious school reads a prayer at lunch time, before the kids are allowed to eat. And that when I complained I was told the school was willing to accommodate my beliefs: my daughter could sit in another room while they did the prayer, if I wanted.

(What I have, I wanted to angrily reply, is a lack of belief. Not a competing one. The only relevant belief I do have is that religious worship in a non-religious state funded school should be opt-in, not opt-out).

I was going to write about all this anger, and then I was going to neatly sum it up by concluding that I’m not really angry about all these things. I am a bit, but each is really just a small expression of a larger welling up anger I feel, deep down in my soul, about how unlucky I am getting an incurable disease, one that is going to kill me sooner rather than later.

But today, as it always does, a long bike ride changed my mood.

Even the two seizures I had while riding this afternoon didn’t dampen my general feeling that, well, maybe things aren’t so bad after all.

As the headwind I rode into for miles this afternoon carried with it the distinct (but surprising) smell of barbecues, on a day so sunny it demanded cycling shorts rather than ‘longs’ for the first time this year, I thought of all that had happened to me in the last week.

Yes, there was the phone call about the chance my tumour is going malignant.

But that came after an amazing weekend at some kind and thoughtful people’s house. Not even people I know well: the mum and partner of some very good friends, who offered us all warmth, hospitality, space, and something amazing and delicious out of the oven every four hours. How can I be angry, when people give so freely, and openly?

While we were away, I headed out on my bike into the Wiltshire and Oxfordshire borders, seeking out the Uffington Horse, sculptured into the chalky hillside by humans at least 3,000 years ago.

Up a half-mile long and very steep incline, I found only its foot. It turns out it’s much better viewed from the air. But looking back across to where I’d come, I was awestruck by the geological ripples and dips that millions of years of movement and weather had itself sculpted out of the earth. How could I be angry when nature itself is so powerful and enduring, so effective at highlighting my irrelevance.

On the way back, we called in to see other great friends, to congratulate them on the birth of the new baby daughter, not even a week old.

As I held her in my arms, and spoke about bedtimes and breastfeeding where previously we’d have talked about music or careers or drinking, I couldn’t help but feel moved and a little jealous of the fuzzy new baby feeling I’ve enjoyed twice myself. How can I be angry when something so new and pure can bring such simple pleasure?

After Monday’s news, I received calls, texts and emails – even a box of chocolates – from concerned friends, trying to understand the implications of what they’d learned. Once again they offered unconditional and loving support, just as they have done since I took that first trip to the doctors a year ago. What room for anger is there, when my friends have so much care and love to fill up my life with?

This weekend we headed to the Natural History Museum in London. If anything was going to put my anger, even my life, into perspective, it was looking at dinosaur bones. The sheer scale of time these beasts lived for, the sheer scale of time between now and then. Where’s the importance of my anger, when time has stretched so far before me and will indelibly stretch so far in front once I’ve gone?

As I rode my bike today, feeling the warmth of the sun on my back, rising out of my seat to get a better view of the rolling Suffolk hills, I returned again to a place that makes me feel most comfortable.

I won’t say I’m glad have a brain tumour. I think those who say they’re happy they got cancer make me as just as angry as those who say it can be cured by sticking coffee up your backside.

But I will say it has sometimes reminded me how lucky I am to be me.

How lucky I am to have time with my family, to spend time with amazing and generous people, on an incredible earth, surrounded by inspiring views and cocooned by a universe more vast and mysterious than we can ever properly comprehend.

To be angry in the face of these things would be like cycling up that ancient hill at the Uffington Horse, taking in that awe inspiring geological view, and then being angry you can’t get a mobile signal so you can tweet about it to your friends.

Perhaps, as they would put it before lunch at my daughters’ school, I am counting my blessings. I simply call it being alive.

*

I had a very strange conversation in the middle of last night with Bradley Wiggins.

He and I were trying to work out who in cycling’s pro-peloton was gay. What could we do, wondered Brad and I, to help anyone feel comfortable coming out among their cycling kinfolk, and the cycling community as a whole?

We could only come up with the German Judith Arndt, the women’s world road champion. Considering she quite publicly lives with another woman, she probably doesn’t need that much assistance from the Yellow Jersey. Or from myself, for that matter.

I think my new mind-altering anti-epilepsy drugs might be messing with my dreams.


3 Comments

  1. Brilliant post, I had to look up the word visceral when describing your blog to a friend but visceral it most definitely is. I was in the V&A at 3 on saturday at the David Bowie exhibition. Would have been so nice to have bumped into you.

  2. I think that it’s OK to be angry when you feel anger but that does not take away from the beauty of the world or the compassion of others.

    I think that feeling angry about having a brain tumour which may be progressing faster than anticipated is not like being unable to get a mobile phone signal. You are much more precious than that.

  3. Dear Gideon,
    You and your family have every right to be angry.
    A life threatened to be cut all too short makes me angry for you all.

    Your write so elegantly it is inspiring to read.
    And it’s scientifically proven, as heard on Radio 4 so it MUST be true, that writing your profound thoughts for about 20 minutes, four or five times a week is good for your health, so keep doing it.
    (Although they did say these thoughts were to be private and not intended to be kept long term……..).

    Keep getting out on that bike.
    Great photo of the White Horse!

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