Saturday, 26 November 2011

Putting the 'umour back in tumour

So why try to be funny about cancer? A tumour isn’t really a very amusing thing, unless perhaps it’s shaped like a willie. That would be quite funny.

Well, OK. But why be miserable about it? It’s already intrinsically a miserable thing for millions of people, why add to the horrible pile?

Besides, I confess a certain advantage here: I’m not going to die. Some very highly-skilled people are going to get this thing out of my head and possibly put me on a course of harsh chemicals to mop up the residue, after which life will return to normal. I’ll have a scar and possibly less hair, but that’s really pretty trivial. Had I been told it was terminal, I might not be so upbeat about the whole thing; I’d like to think I’d be able to be as balanced as the inestimable Christopher Hitchens is being about his very likely fatal stage four oesophagal cancer - he’s fond of pointing out that there is no stage five - because life is precious and short, and it thus seems important to try to enjoy as much of it as possible, or at least to bear it in the least unpleasant way you can. But I don’t know if I would. I’m not particularly keen to find out.

When I went into the Western General last week to be told that my MRI had shown that I pretty certainly had a brain tumour, I was also told that if I felt anxious my GP could give me temazapam to deal with it. But even in the immediate horror of being told I had a rogue lump growing in my brain - and I’m very fond of my brain, I really don’t like the idea of something eating away at it - I knew I wouldn’t. The recreational possibilities of a ready and legal supply of jellies aside, I’d much rather experience life. It’s generally pretty good, I don’t want it fogged out.

A few nice people have told me I’m being remarkably calm, even accused me of bravery. But I don’t think it’s particularly brave to be faced with the inevitable. Bravery is doing something anyway, in full understanding of the risks and with the opportunity to walk away, because it’s somehow worthwhile. It’s a choice. This is merely inevitable: I’m going to have this operation because I have no choice other than not to, which would be a ridiculous decision to make. I’m doing the easier thing, and it’s the better course. So let’s get on with it. And I will remain calm because it’s illogical to spoil the period between now and then with futile anxiety and fear.

People are good at making that easy. A friend emailed to suggest that “if they do scrape some of that towering intellect of yours out with the tumour” would I fancy swapping my new Android tablet for some of his infant daughter’s wooden blocks? “They are nice and coloured and come in a box with teddies on, you'll love em.”

The world is full of horror: depression, abuse, unspeakable selfishness, futility, oppression, random catastrophe and Noel Edmonds. And yet it is also full of beauty, humour, love, entertainment, fascination, wonder, and the great old gag in which you’re asked what you’d do when you’re trapped in a room with Hitler, Stalin, and Noel Edmonds and you have only a gun and two bullets (you shoot Edmonds twice).

At the end of Blackadder Goes Forth, the so often unfairly maligned Ben Elton and Richard Curtis gave us one of our finest moments of British comedy. The guns stop, but the gags don’t quite, although they become bleak. Inevitably, the whistles blow and the characters have to go over the top. It doesn’t end well for them.

It may be that on Wednesday night, when I have to stop eating and drinking and eventually try to get some sleep before heading for surgery the next morning, I will be less cheerful. But I have a well-trodden and expertly-guided path through no-man’s land, and I fully expect to be in Berlin by lunchtime. So let’s keep joking.

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