‘World Cancer Day’ is marked today, on February 4th. It is led by the ‘Union for International Cancer Control’ (UICC) to support the goals of the ‘World Cancer Declaration’ which was written in 2008. The primary purpose of ‘World Cancer Day’ is to raise awareness of cancer and to encourage its prevention, detection and treatment. ‘World Cancer Day’ seeks to significantly reduce illness and death caused by cancer and is an opportunity to rally the international community to end the injustice of preventable suffering from cancer. The day is observed by the United Nations.
‘World Cancer Day’ targets misinformation, raises awareness and reduces stigma. Multiple initiatives are run on ‘World Cancer Day’ to show support for those affected by cancer. One of these movements are ‘NoHairSelfie’, a global movement to have ‘hairticipants’ shave their heads either physically or virtually to show a symbol of courage for those undergoing cancer treatment. Images of participants are then shared all over social media. Hundreds of events around the world also take place to mark the importance of this day.
Today is and isn’t about me. Today is about all those people in the world who have personally been touched by cancer or had a family member, partner, parent, child, close friend or neighbour die from cancer. Thankfully, attitudes towards cancer have become much more enlightened during my lifetime, and great advancement has been made in its detection and treatment during the past two decades.
I am 77 years old now and recall a time as a child when the word ‘Cancer’ was deemed a curse to voice. It was considered too horrendous a word to be spoken aloud and was colloquially referred to as ‘The Big C’. Cancer would be spoken of in whispers. It was a medical condition that was deemed too impolite and inconsiderate to be spoken out loud. It was the silent fear of many that they would one day get this terrible illness and die a horrible and painful death. My own mother was a person who feared to get cancer all her married life, and while she died at the early age of 64, it wasn’t from cancer, despite her having been a chain-smoker most of her adult life.
You’ve got to have cancer or have a loved one experience it, in order to understand it. You must learn how best to live with it or else it will kill you off before your time. Today, many cancers can be completely cured and successfully treated to give one an extended/normal life span. Some cancers are extremely painful, especially in their final stages but the overwhelming numbers of cancers and cancer treatments today are manageable and bearable. For those who have stage four terminal cancer, there has been tremendous progress in the palliative care provided.
Whether one’s cancer is terminal or curable, how one deals with one’s cancer is of crucial importance to one’s continued health and sense of wellbeing. Yes, it is possible to be dying and still possess a sense of health and wellbeing!
The most difficult thing about dealing with cancer is not the illness itself, but with all its attendant baggage of physical, psychological or emotional nature. I refer to how we deal with inaccurate facts, irrational fears of the present and for the future, an inability to speak about one’s condition to trusted others, plus the sheer thought that one’s illness could/will lead to one’s death. Let me say from the outset, that we are all different in temperament and response and we all deal with similar situations differently. There is no universal way that is the right way to approach cancer for everyone whom cancer touches, but there are some things that undoubtedly help one live better with cancer and some that lead others to die sooner than they ought to.
First on my list of dos is to face the facts and the presence of one’s condition and do not seek to avoid that which has to be dealt with. Do not dwell upon dying, but instead learn to appreciate living if you want the experience of having a constant sense of wellbeing. Stay realistic but always remain positive. Every cancer study indisputably shows that positivity breeds success more often than its counterpart negativity. Recognise your strengths and also your weaknesses, and play wherever possible to your strengths instead of your weaknesses. Have someone you love or trust to talk to. Learn to accept help where it is genuinely offered. Even if it isn’t needed, its mere acceptance from another helps them to accept your situation also.
I was diagnosed with blood cancer in early 2013, three months after my marriage to Sheila. My cancer (CLL) is terminal and packs three serious consequences for me. First, it robs me of any effective immune system and this vital absence can turn someone else’s cold immediately into life-threatening pneumonia for me; a contraction of their bug can kill me and even breathing the same infected air space or shaking an unwashed hand can result in my death. Consequently, I have to choose day by day, if I should go out and meet people today and by doing so, play Russian roulette with my life if they inadvertently and unknowingly infect me.
Second, it is in the nature of my blood cancer to give me other cancers around my body the longer I live. Since I was first diagnosed, I have had three skin cancers operations, two rectal warts cancer operations, one lymphoma operation, two nine-month courses of chemotherapy, twenty sessions of radiotherapy and three years of fortnightly blood transfusions at the commencement of my blood cancer. I have been close to death on three or four occasions and during the first five years of my cancer, I was confined to either the hospital or my home for almost nine months of each year. I am presently awaiting another operation for a malignant neck cancer which has developed and apart from my wife driving me to hospital appointments and to see the doctor or nurse at the local clinic, I have been a hermit for three months. Despite all the above and the dozens of painful treatments associated with tests and treatment, I can tell you that since I married my wife, Sheila, I have never been happier in my life.
Third, is the simplest fact of all. My terminal blood cancer or one of its associated effects will kill me.
I recall so many instances about having cancerous conditions over the past seven years. Cancer is ‘a big C’ but the big C that cancer represents to me is ‘COMPASSION, COURAGE, CHEERFULNESS, CONSIDERATION.
For the first three years of my blood cancer, every two weeks I would attend Airedale Hospital Cancer Ward where I would have a blood transfusion and other chemical infusions for six hours each time. The cancer lounge where we would sit all day held around two dozen out-patients who were receiving blood transfusions and chemo infusions. We each had needles in our arms and depending on how early we arrived depended if one got an easy chair to sit in all day or had to sit in a lower and harder seated chair.
For three years, I met many cancer patients and the strange thing was, despite the fact that half the room had terminal cancer and the other half had curable cancers, few feared to talk about their condition in the most natural of ways. Many good friendships were struck up and often someone would stop coming. Naturally, we enquired. Some had finished their treatment; some had been signed off successfully and sadly some had died. During my three years of blood transfusions, I witnessed the compassion shown towards each other, their courage, and their constant cheerfulness and consideration extended to each other. God bless all of them.
Over the past three years, I have had the thoughts and the prayers of my wife, family, church congregation, friends, neighbours and Facebook contacts. Never has one man ever felt so loved. My cancer/cancers have given me the very best part of my life, and never once have I felt that I walked my road alone. What a great comfort such knowledge is.
So, if you have cancer, acknowledge your condition but please do not allow the rest of your life to be governed by it. Let your cancer be a part of you by all means, but never let it define you. You are much more than that.
Love and peace Bill xxx