Sunday, 1 July 2018

A Tap on the Shoulder

I’ve been struggling with more bad news this past week. Another good friend and neighbour has just been given a terminal diagnosis. She has an aggressive breast cancer and a full mastectomy was unable to remove all of the disease. So she now faces a course of chemotherapy to try and slow the disease down in order to extend her life. And this blow comes just a few weeks after my good friend and next-door neighbour passed away from a late-diagnosed and untreatable blood cancer. When the big C returns so starkly and so close at hand, it feels like a tap on the shoulder saying ‘You’re next’.

I know that this is all so much worse for the immediate family. I also know that at my last scan, six weeks ago, there was no evidence seen of the disease. But cancer is not a disease that is easily rationalised. When you have been in its clutch and escaped, you remain vulnerable to any sign of its return. Although appearing to function normally day by day, you are also always on alert and keeping watch. My oncologist has told me to check my body regularly for any strange symptoms and has given me a number to ring if I find something. I’ve not found anything yet, but if I did they told me that they would bring me in for an early check.

I’ve realised that the only antidote to this fundamental anxiety is living your life well. Doing what matters as well as you can and trying your best not to be distracted by things that in the fullness of time you’d see as insignificant. This sort of approach to life was exactly what Liz Atkinson spoke about at her early retirement a week or so ago. It was the most important thing that she had learnt from working for over forty years with people suffering from life-threatening illnesses.

At present, I’m spending plenty of time working on my poetry and going cycling in the fine weather. This for me is living well; for mental and physical wellbeing are surely interlinked. Over recent months I’ve put together a second collection of poetry. My first was published in late 2010, and in early 2011 I was diagnosed with cancer. For several years I didn’t write any poetry. I was almost totally consumed by fear and keeping watch. Then, tentatively, I began to write poetry again. In recent years, despite the series of operations I’ve had, I’ve been writing regularly. The style of my writing has changed post-cancer, as has everything else in my life.

I’ve had plenty of success with my new poetry: I’ve placed poems in a series of good journals on either side of the Atlantic and I’ve won a series of awards in poetry competitions in England, Ireland, Scotland and the USA. Now I’m looking to find a publisher for my new collection. There are relatively few poetry publishers these days and competition is fierce, so wish me luck.