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Annoying your cancer

Grandparents and children sharing tips and stories

From Neil Tunnock

I am 36. In September 2005 I will be 37. And I will be.

In August 2002 I was diagnosed with a somewhat virulent strain of neuro-endocrine cancer, spreading in secondary form to riddle my liver with lumps. Carefully and very politely I was told that it was likely I would become 'very ill' within 3 short months. The life cover policy, which required a certainty of death within 12 months, paid out.

Intermittently the cancer stops ambling along at 30mph, respecting speed limits, acting as a slow grower and floors the accelerator, kicking in the turbo to remind any doubters that it is in fact a fast grower, and 'don't you forget it!'.

It is January 2005. 24 months better than expected. Not ground-breaking stats, but still significantly against the odds. No miracle cures to offer though. A diet of raw brown rice and sucking on a carrot every day whilst standing on your head may work for some, (when needing an increase in book sales perhaps?!), but to be honest I very quickly got fed up of even reading about, or being pointed toward obscure miracle cures. Indeed I got pretty fed up of even reading about 'ways' of coping, or even about those who fought and won. Sorry Mr Armstrong. In part because I am incurable, in part because I prefer to retain the uniqueness of being the only person that I know of, with my cancer, and didn't want to be lumped in with everyone else who suffers from their own cancer, and in general seems either to be resigned to dying, or at the very least, keen to advertise their unfortunate predicament and induce sympathy from strangers. Leave me alone. I'm special. And you don't know I am ill.

So I wouldn't be the type to read this. Which is silly. But I hope that someone else may find it a little bit worthwhile, or at the very least, risible.

Top Tips, (on dealing with a terminal illness):

  • Lead a completely normal life. I work 2 days each week. I work hard 2 days each week and make sure that the old grey matter remains as stimulated as is possible. Having a terminal illness allows you the freedom to ignore office politics, say what you really know is right, and to actually get things done. And generally in a quicker and more efficient manner too! Who's going to argue?! And I go to the gym.
  • Go to the Gym. I am fortunate enough to have a brilliant personal trainer. The adrenaline rush, the routine, the ability to lift me out of the doldrums, (mentally and physically), never ceases to surprise me. Not a few observers, medical and otherwise, associate my continued rude health, (?!), with my strict 3 days a week in the gym. Aerobic machines and weights and not one person there would dream of believing I have cancer. Surpassing personal goals stimulates too. Mind and body again. Even on unpleasant chemo regimens I go, otherwise it costs me and I am Scottish living in Yorkshire so doubly tight with the filthy lucre. (Chemo is taken constantly in pill form, plus fortnightly afternoons on a drip. Debilitating, but not allowed to slow me down.)
  • Set Chronological Goals. Short and long term. Some personal examples include
  • A 3 month time frame guided me towards the goal of living for 3 months and one day!
  • Then it was Christmas
  • Then a family holiday I planned and arranged
  • Then making it to the gym
  • Then returning to work
  • Then reaching 6 months
  • Then attending a friends wedding
  • Then bench-pressing my own body weight
  • Then 12 months
  • Then being made a Director
  • Then seeing my nephew at 1 day old
  • Christmas again
  • Another wedding
  • Being in Sydney to see England win the world cup
  • Planning and hosting a huge summer party
  • To be best man at my dad's wedding
  • The Big One: making sure I am around to use my apartment in Dubai once it is ready in April or June 2006, (bought November 2003)
  • One of my best friends insists upon me attending her son's Bar Mitzvah. I think that takes place at the age of 13 or 14 - he is 7.

    You get the gist. Time just flies by.

  • Accept the Black Moments. Of course they are inevitable. Only break down and cry in front of one person. But make them the main beneficiary of your Will to compensate them for this burden. (Thanks Caroline). It does, and will continue to happen, despite the best of intentions. Accept it, move on swiftly and ensure occurrences are infrequent.
  • Get a Dog. (A spouse and family are acceptable substitutes). I live on my own. Despite a close family, (emotionally if not geographically), a wonderful estranged wife nearby and a fantastic few close friends, be wary of loneliness. It can conjure up all sorts of pessimistic feelings, mainly due to the time it leaves you to ponder about the future, or potential lack of it. Apart from ensuring that said dog will be properly looked after in Master's absence, (note to self: add in to previous section on goals -'outlive dog'), you then have the responsibility for something other than yourself. Clearing puppy pee, and worse, getting up early every day to encourage him to use the garden and not the kitchen floor, the discipline, (and exercise), of walking my pal across the moors and winning metaphysical arguments with him, are all rewarding and essential parts of daily life. The underlying theme is that all these tasks have to be done. There is no excuse for or possibility of procrastinating. I cannot say to myself, 'sod-it, I'll feed him tomorrow and stay in bed for today. It tends to go down rather unfavourably with my 11 month old Neapolitan mastiff!
  • Assume it ain't going to happen. How can that hurt?! Once you have arranged everything to your own satisfaction with regard to your Will, lifetime gifts, inheritances, to be buried or burned, donations, selected your favourite punk records that must be played at the funeral, (this is the greatest ever opportunity to create the perfect disco, only downside will be the inability to attend), then just pretend life is utterly as standard.
  • Throw a Big Party. (And I mean BIG). Hang the expense. It ensures that you don't really miss out on the above described disco. Bet you don't get many invitees declining. I had 1 out of 120. In fact, hang all expenses! What's the worst that could happen?! They find a miracle cure and you realise you are broke! I love my Porsche.

Any more points may bore or become a diatribe, or worse, start sounding like the cancer 'guide-books' that I abhor.

Hope this helps a little, makes you think, or even or only, produced a brief chuckle. I'll let you know if it was all bullshit and I pop my clogs tomorrow!

Do go the gym though. It works.

(Neil has now written Annoying Your Cancer part 2, which you can access from this link.)

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Updated: 28 September 2009