Thursday, 13 November 2014

Luck and Cancer

You are walking down the street. A piano crashes to the ground beside you. It turns out, that it was being hoisted into the upper floor of a nearby building in the unlikely way that happens in films and dreams. You are completely unscathed. You walk away shaken by what might have happened.
One by one, the people you meet tell you "You were lucky!".

I've always felt in similar situations, that you might have been luckier NOT to have been nearly hit at all, and that simply not being in the square metre of space that the piano suddenly came to also occupy might not necessarily be a sign of great fortune or that someone is smiling on you. Whatever the logic though, there's something about the way we think that means whenever something really bad NEARLY happens to us (but not quite), we always feel incredibly lucky, however nice it might have been for the bad thing not to have even thought of happening at all.

Being a cancer survivor is making me think again about my luck though. Obviously nobody would choose to have bits of their bowel removed, to wear an ostomy bag, to pump chemotherapy chemicals into their bodies, but I've met so many people in the last few months whose lives would have improved so much just from the chance to do any of those things, let alone all of them.

And here it starts to sink in how lucky I am.

I got treatment promptly because I saw a locum who wanted to do everything right. This meant I got the problem sorted before it got too advanced. Compared with many people facing cancer, I'm young and physically strong, enabling me to be strong enough to cope with surgery and with therapies that put considerable strain on the body. A 70 year old guy in the same ward as me had to do a test where he rode a bike before he could get surgery. He told me he couldn't even turn the pedals, so he wouldn't get the surgery. Much better to get cancer when you're young.

I have the incredible luck to live in a country where the people fought for a National Health Service. So I've watched highly paid professionals lining up medications, the cost of which I wouldn't even dare to ask. In other countries the cost of a cancer treatment would break a family, over and over again. Here nobody checks my insurance records, the care is provided. Free. Unconditionally.

On top of this, we have a society where there is statutory sick pay. My family will be able to live through this time. We take it for granted, but for the vast majority of people living on the planet, there is no such safety net. Life is far more precarious.

And I'm just so lucky in the sense of the circle of love and support that's grown around me. Family, friends and work collegues who have gone out of their way for me. Cards, phone calls, meals, people have travelled hundreds of miles to see me, lifts and other support has been offered, not to mention new tendrils of community  such as the lively facebook pages for baggies and ostomites.

 Most incredible of all has been Lorraine whose held it all together under immense pressure. It's been really great to know that I know so many loving and generous people!

If this seems like a session where I am "counting my blessings", I guess that it is. I'm counting them and finding that they're multiplying faster than I can count them. While the language that reflects such blessedness tends to be religious language, it's clear to me each of my blessings has begun in a human heart - they're products of a caring community, ethical workplace, loving family, and they are abundant.

I've a way to go yet. 11 more chemo sessions. I'm not looking forward to them. Don't let anybody tell you that there is anything to learn from pain, apart from how crap pain is. If there is a gift that cancer brings is the opportunity it gives for people to reach beyond everyday help and share a little bit more, those moments when human beings comfort and help each other in difficult times. My blessing is to have benefitted so much from so many of these moments since my cancer was discovered.

So should we call it luck? Abundance? Human Solidarity? Love? Something is working for me, and I'm so thankful for it.

"When you realise how perfect everything is, you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky..."

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