Updated: Aug 14, 2020
What is bad news and how do we define it? As a cancer survivor I have become a master of gauging my bad news and giving it a mark, a level if you will, according to its severity. I can work it out , rather like a scientist uses a seismograph to measure an earthquake. I can quickly size it up and work out the potential impact of the news - quickly assess what it will mean to me first and foremost – then my girlfriend and family and friends. Then I feel a moral responsibility to work on the news like a skilled tradesman to soften it up a bit, smooth off the jagged edges and make it more palatable and easier to digest. The news I share will normally frighten or upset as it involves such an emotive subject – most of the time my news is deeply sad and will no doubt involve an ensuing treatment regime and its challenging side effects or one day it may involve my death - so sharing this topic needs consideration and care. The path I am walking is scattered with obstacles, but the common denominator is really that basic – I’m afraid it doesn’t get any easier to understand than that. I never lie about it – my friends and family deserve to know the truth about everything, however bad the news is.
Sharing bad news is a massive responsibility that cannot be taken lightly but it does need to be shared or it becomes a burden - a gut wrenching weight that tears at your very soul. No one fighting cancer wants to be shackled down with chains of fear and guilt brought about by harbouring such a destructive and lifechanging secret. You have to talk about it - lighten the load – so that you can face and undertake the treatment and hideous side effects. You need to lean on people. The trick is to lean on the right people, people who can understand or have experienced the journey through their own personal life and experience. Unfortunately, cancer isn’t rare – its filthy legacy has tarnished millions of homes, blighting so many families. My story is not unusual, my news is only too common. It’s fucking tragic.
Cancer is the secret no one wants to talk about - but everyone knows about. I personally don’t see the point in lying about it – why would I? Lying just delays the inevitable and I have too much respect for the people I love. Cancer isn’t something that can be hidden, like a pregnancy the signs soon start to appear – which makes it worse if people aren’t prepared.
This journey provides so much unfortunate opportunity to share shit news. Every scan, blood test, treatment regime comes with its own drama and has the potential of providing something difficult to digest. Every oncology appointment is laced with something challenging which will either fill a room with tears of relief or can make the walls close in. I applaud and want to hug everyone who rides or has ridden this rollercoaster as its exhausting to manage.
As cancer patients we are masters at wearing different hats – disguises to camouflage the daily struggles that are difficult to manage or articulate. How do I deal with it? I get asked this question so many times. I think the answer is ‘I just do’. I chose not to hide my cancer adopting the ‘sharing lightens the load’. Like many patients who chose this candid but carefully choreographed approach I choose to be open and brutally honest, sometimes a little too honest. Cancer has crudely turned on light in my world and I chose to celebrate what I have, my life, my path, my story. I just get on with getting on. I told my clinical psychologist that I have crudely embraced my cancer, I’ve learned to live with it – I’ve befriended it. I told her, that by default, we get to hang out every day rather like partners in a dysfunctional relationship. We tolerate each other. I deal with my cancers ever-changing mood swings and bad temper and in return my cancer likes to challenge me – throwing me regular curve balls and daily puzzles to solve.
I live my life like a theatre production. I’m always performing, and my loved ones and friends are my audience. My cancer writes the script and my job is to deliver a flawless performance. I carefully consider how I’m portrayed and ultimately critiqued. I can meticulously rehearse the lines and act out my story - and hopefully my performance will allow my audience to chance to understand and digest the content, educate themselves and in turn become part of the production. Nothing is forever, morality is just part of evolution. The best and only outcome is to leave a legacy of happiness that people can share and add value to their own lives. This is not morbid it’s just a reality, sadly my reality.
In the last week I had some rather challenging news, news that I wasn’t expecting. So I digested it and I shared it and chose to lean on the people who I knew could help me cope with it. And then I moved on because this is how it works. This is cancer – this is my story.