My cancer – an injection of mortality awareness

A few months ago following a routine blood test I was diagnosed with moderately aggressive prostate cancer. It appears to be contained within the gland. Or so they think. I am currently getting ‘treatment’ – 6 months of hormones with 20 days of radiation in the middle. This might or might not ‘get rid’ of the cancer – which might or might not ‘return’ if it does.

There’s no certainty in this game, but when was there ever?

The bottom line is that if I live long enough, and I could still have more than a decade, I will probably die of prostate cancer. Hundreds of thousands of men do. Indeed I think it is the second highest cause of death by cancer for men in the west. Meanwhile the ‘treatment’ will definitely make me spermless and possibly also impotent and incontinent.

All this has been, and is, of course, hard to let in and I have experienced many waves of nostalgia, grief and terror.

But the process of ‘letting it in’ has also been, in some ways, wonderful. An injection of mortality awareness has its compensations.  Here is a metaphor which expresses how I feel:

I’m a fish with a hook in its mouth. There’s a line attached to the hook which someone on the shore is holding firmly. Most of the time I am still able to swim freely, though I am pretty much always aware of the line. Sometimes I feel a tug from the shore and am reminded, with a shudder of that place of suffocation on the smelly quayside. Sometimes I wish I could pretend to be free again, like I used to, but the line across  my back is relentless, strong and hopeless. I can even sense it in my sleep. There’s no escape. 

Fortunately the line also has its compensations…

It whispers: “Time is short. This isnt a dress rehearsal”. It calls me to savour each moment in a way I rarely did before …  to notice how sunshine rays sparkle the water and the beautiful patterns on the sand gleaming up from below. It invites me to enter into the sounds and colours, to inhabit tastes and smells, to caress my scales with the glide of water and to become porous to all around me. At night it invites me to lose myself in exquisite stars brightened by the black. Moment by moment I am offered sightings of divine beauty and mystery, I am beckoned to let go into trust and to soften my heart. 

And best of all the line invites me to dive down deep. It is less busy towards the bottom but I like it that way. For here in the calm still water I can access my gratitude. 

I am grateful to have been alive at all and to the awesome fact of existence. I am grateful to have been conscious and to be conscious still. I am grateful to be able to see and have seen the beauty. I am grateful for countless mercies, for sweet friends and dear family, for  love received and given. I am grateful for the blessing of each new moment and the fresh opportunities it offers. I’m grateful to love this awesome sea of which I am a part.

Realising how grateful I am, I am filled with a sweet joy, ripened in sadness. 

All about me there are other fish, some frequent the bottom, others swim near the surface. All are resplendent in their own way. Our colours are superb. We are sharing a fragile coral reef.

The other fish also have hooks in their mouths.

But some of them dont seem to be aware of this. 




4 thoughts on “My cancer – an injection of mortality awareness

  1. This is a masterful piece Wyon, -one of your best. I wish that all who face your “problem” were able to morph it into something so beautiful. For you, it almost seems as though you are better with this challenge than you were before. Now that is odd isn’t it; and, I suspect, not an actuality?

  2. Thanks Jane for your kind words. Sometimes it is an actuality. Sometimes not. It all depends how I am doing in the moment and most significantly whether I am managing to be in the moment at all. Certainly it has been a period of huge change for me. I was moderately depressed before being diagnosed, withdrawn and low in self esteem. Now I not depressed in the sense of feeling bad about myself – it seems indulgent to be judging myself for anything in the past and I am keen to get out there and relate as best I can. All we have is this moment. Mostly what I am struggling with when I am not in the moment are fears about the future – my treatment and what lies ahead beyond that. Many of these fears will not materialise in the ways that I imagine they might. But the reality of death is my biggest challenge to accept.

  3. These days they do a prostate test on all men over a certain age. I asked my doctor what chances there were of me ending up with that condition in that many of those around me suffer with the scourge. His replay is that we all have cancer cells floating around in our system but the immune system keeps them at a distance. That is until it begins to break down as we age. He reinforced what I’d heard from other sources. The great majority of men end up with prostate cancer, but they die of other natural causes, some reaching upwards to one hundred. They die with it but not of it. I find it comforting to know that there is a life beyond this life, and it certainly is a better state of existence than what we experience in this world.

  4. Thanks Ian, I gather the survival rate is 61%. So thats 39% die of it. I agree with what you say about us all having cancer cells floating around in our system. In some ways cancer cells seem to me to be equivalent to mortality cells. Something we all have from the beginning. Sadly I dont have your confidence in a life beyond this one – at least not one involving me – though I am trying to stay open to persuasion. But meanwhile this leaves me with only one option I think – to enjoy the paradise that is here.

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