Silver bullets…

The problem isn’t a lack of silver bullets…the problem is we are not fighting werewolves!

When I was diagnosed, I was told that there were three things that I could control.

1. My physical exercise,
2. My diet, and
3. My state of mind

The rest, I was told, was down to the doctors.

All three of these points are easy to write down in a list. Also, with a little effort and some reading they are easy to talk about, seemingly from an assured position of knowledge.

However, actually doing all three, or even any one, was more difficult than I imagined. I am sure that if you already had control of these three things in your life or if you are some kind of amazing machine it would be relatively easy, in which case you have my respect. For us mortals it just isn’t that easy.

Before I was diagnosed, I went to the gym on an ad hoc basis, I ate rubbish food and drank too much alcohol, although I would never have admitted it. My attitude was simple…I am indestructible…I had never really been ill and cancer was a word that you didn’t even say.

I didn’t need a three-step philosophy.

And now these three steps are the cornerstones of my life. And don’t be fooled into thinking that I am fabulously successful in any one of these areas, just a bit better than I was. And that is the point, you don’t have to radically change your world you just have to keep making small adjustments.

Starting with physical exercise. I have retained my gym membership over the last two years and never once been to the gym. A common story I know and my reasons for not giving up the membership are also pretty common. I intend to go…when?…who knows?…but if I give up my membership I lose the opportunity…I lose the dream of going. Whilst I can dress this up any way I like, not going to the gym for me has nothing to do with cancer! If I wanted to, I could devise a workout that would be safe and I could find the time.

However, my exercise box is ticked by walking on a regular basis. My target is to walk an average of 10,000 steps per day. To start with this was a daily target but it soon became self-defeating as it is impossible to walk 10,000 steps on a day when you have been on an IV drip for seven hours whilst also fitting in a dose of radiotherapy! So rather than beat myself up I changed it, to something that worked for me. My phone averages my step count over a month and therefore my target is now to walk an average of 10,000 steps a day, over the period of a month. Good days I walk more and bad days I walk less. Most months I achieve my goal and some I don’t, and that’s ok. The important thing is I have a goal. A goal that drags me out of bed on a Saturday morning to walk to Blackheath and eat eggs on toast, drink cappuccino and listen to a book or music on the way.

The Saturday morning ritual ticks all three boxes and I look forward to it. During the week I walk to the station as part of my daily commute and when I can I walk between meetings in London.

My target works for me, because for the most part it is embedded into what I do anyway. I picked something that I knew I could achieve the majority of the time, made it a ritual and threw in some treats to keep it fresh.

Walking between meetings in London is great and can be an eye opener. Firstly, you avoid the underground! Secondly, when I walk, I take different routes and discover all kinds of strange things around the old streets of London. The other day I discovered The Old Curiosity Shop in Lincolns Inn. It made me happy…two boxes ticked!

Then there is diet. I started this essay with my reference to silver bullets and if the books and internet are to be believed then silver bullets, in the form of diets, are abundant. I am sure that the majority of them are fantastic and some can even have an impact on cancer. But cancer is not a werewolf. It is almost infinitely variable and complex…

If believing in a miracle cure works for you and you can maintain the change then great… it didn’t work for me. I read the books and brought the ingredients but could not sustain it. The end result was that I beat myself up about it… if only I was stronger willed…better organized…like the people from the book or the web site…perhaps then…NO STOP.

You can’t eat the elephant all at once…you have to take it a bite at a time.

(Just for clarity I do not advocate eating, or for that matter any harm, to elephants they are majestic creatures and probably a bit tough!)

So I took bits from each of the wonder diets that I had read. I took the bits that I liked, that were easy to implement. This way there was no regime to follow, no expectation of a wonder cure, no unpleasant smoothies. Just food that I liked and made me happy, two boxes ticked.

The change has had a more surprising impact on me. When I go to a restaurant these days I am as happy ordering a superfood salad as a fillet steak. For the first time in my life I no longer choose the default ‘favourite’ meal. Now, I give myself a choice. I was not adventurous with food and would have stuck to the default ‘favourite’ meals until I was ninety!

Circumstance helped me to make this change. Radiotherapy had damaged my oesophagus making some foods difficult to eat. I was forced to pick food that was easy to swallow. At first when faced with a superfood salad I was…it’s only for a bit…oh that was really refreshing…and quite tasty…I will have that again…

I love eating salad…there I have gone and said it. Not for every meal but on a regular basis. This change did not come about because I read a book or web page, it was not down to the wise words of a guru. It was part luck and part necessity. It happened slowly and with no pressure. The organic changes that have happened in my life happened for various reasons but I have been able to sustain the changes because they matched at least one of my three goals.

The last of the three is my attitude. This is an essay of its own (to follow) but simply put; I started to recognise and enjoy the small things, that make me happy, but that I had somehow taken for granted in the day to day journey of life. For instance, on my walk to Blackheath I pass beneath some cherry trees. The blossom in spring is beautiful. It makes me happy…if I allow it to…the strange thing is I had to give myself permission to recognise and enjoy this strange fleeting moment of happiness…it is as though I had to look at the world as though I were three years old again…

It steals your future…

Two years ago when I was diagnosed with locally advanced lung cancer the feeling of despair was overwhelming. One aspect of that despair was the belief that my future had been stolen. I tried to write an essay on it at the time but it was impossible. Two years on this is my first serious attempt at describing the feeling.

I was initially told “…you will never go back to work”..(I did by the way). And that I should get my affairs in order.

No one actually tells you how long you have to live at that stage because they just don’t know. However, it didn’t take me long to find the statistics on Google that showed there was a 5% chance of being alive in 5 years. I know these are quite old stats and cannot be applied to an individual but it is very difficult to be objective…at least at first anyway.

At 47 even with a fair wind that makes living to 52 very good going! Strange that prior to diagnosis I was not really looking forward to being 50 but now it is a massive milestone in my life.

I could not get out of my head all the things that I would never do:

I would never grow old…
I would never walk my daughter down the aisle…
I would never be a grandad…
I would never retire (a bit of a relief as my pension is rubbish…every cloud!)…
I would never…
I would never…

This is despair of the like that I had never experienced before. It was actually worse than the thought of dying (more on that in another essay).

It is like I was grieving for myself, for the loss of my own future.

It does not go away. Writing this in a coffee shop in Blackheath two years later my eyes still well as I type the ‘I would nevers…’.

But it does become less prominent, to the point where you only think about it in your occasional, lowest moments, when your guard is down.


The answer is simple. It does not get easier, you do not get used to the concept or accept it.

The reality is that other things get in the way. Bit by bit they cover the wound until, for the most part, you don’t realise it is there.

I guess this is what they mean when they say that time heals. It doesn’t… it just puts a whole load of other stuff in your way, slowly covering the wound.

You also get bored of the same thoughts. And this happens very slowly and without you really noticing it. You can’t just make yourself get bored of it, it doesn’t work like that. It just happens.

And if you are an analytical person like me you start to find the space to be objective (some initial therapy really helped with this and if you get the opportunity I would recommend it).

Logically you have to ask yourself is there any point wasting effort grieving for something that has not yet, and may never have, happened? You cannot lose something that you never had. All you lost was the vague promise of having it in the perfect world that you had planned out in your head.

Ask yourself how did all the perfect world thoughts you had 30 years ago go? Not to plan? Not how you expected? Then why now do you believe that the perfect world you have planned out for next 30 years is any more likely to go to plan?

And now?

I live with the sword of Damocles hanging over me. A horses hair keeps the sword from falling down to secure my fate…a bit over dramatic and historically incorrect, but hey I am indulging myself!

Living with the impending threat of the cancer once more proliferating is now a greater day to day concern.

Logically I should therefore focus on the things that are real, that are happening now. Things that have a direct impact on me and the things I care about. My family.

And I have been partially successful with this but also the normal stuff like work and paying the bills becomes important again. It had been suggested to me that these things would become more trivial after holding hands with Thanatos. And maybe it did for a bit until the stark realisation that the realities of life had not gone away.

The ‘old normal’ so to speak!

It is too easy to forget how lucky I am to be alive and generally well, for however long this reprieve continues.