No longer "that guy with charisma" but "that guy with cancer"

By Gideon Schneider
September 25, 2008

Being named after the place of your conception may just work for Paris Hilton and Brooklyn Beckham, but ‘University College Hospital Fertility Laboratory' hardly has the same ring. Not even Bob Geldoff or Gwyneth Paltrow would entertain such a name.

I am referring to the fact that the combination of Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy I am likely to receive has a one in ten, to one in five chance of leaving me infertile. So this week the hospital arranged an appointment at the lab for me where my inchoate offspring could be frozen for future defrosting. The reality of my visit was a cold, clinical room where the footsteps of the lab technician could be clearly heard just outside the door. Hardly a candle-lit boudoir. I sympathised with couples who have to go through much worse when trying for children.

In the past two months I have several times enjoyed the hospitality of various in-patient wards. While being prepared for my general anaesthetic for the biopsy on my neck, I was stripped and paraded before an assembly of doctors and nurses in a gown not even Primark would claim ownership of, before being spread out on a slab like a sirloin steak waiting for the surgical knife. (Actually I felt worse for the doctors than myself in this particular case.)Being hooked up to several drips as well as receiving a battery of blood tests has left me feeling like Obama's Palin-shaped voodoo doll. On occasion I've resembled the back of a computer with wires and tubes snaking away from my arms and chest. I have also been squeezed, prodded, pinched, poked and groped by various doctors, with the added pleasure of having it all witnessed by medical students. At first a person's inhibitions make such experiences an emotional ordeal. However, as anyone who has spent time in medical care will tell you, there comes a point where getting worked up about intrusive treatment feels like more of a hassle than just letting the doctors get on with it.

To add to this, I have been asked to decide if I want to participate in a national study looking in to the potential benefits of a new treatment. I would be given a different course of chemotherapy and radiotherapy to that usually administered to adults. It is hoped this would reduce the chances of future relapse and reduce future heart failure, two common side effects of treatment. There are never guarantees with any treatment, but at least with tried and tested methods one is comforted by the knowledge that all possible outcomes have already been seen. My lack of medical knowledge makes me feel as qualified as Dr Pepper in making this choice. How am I to choose which treatment would be best for me to have when I only heard of Hodgkin's Disease a few weeks ago? My only option is to defer judgment to the wisdom of the Doctors, accepting their advice as though from the Delphic Oracle.

And so I begin to feel disconnected from my own body. This shell that carries me from place to place has become the property of the NHS, like a Blockbuster video with a schedule of return dates to the consultant's office. You are no longer the sum of your experiences and achievements, you are hospital number 43276. You are no longer ‘that guy with charisma', you are ‘that guy with cancer'. At least, it's easy to begin feeling like that. But the survivor in me has had to choose to view things alternatively. I can't get upset about this, because crying would waste energy that could be exercised more usefully enjoying my life. I have to make the effort to keep up with my social life, because the alternative is isolation when it would be the hardest to cope with. I must write about my experiences and continue raising money for charity, because if I don't find creative outlets I become no more than the flesh and bones that the Doctors handle. These are not brave choices I am making, they are necessities of survival. Mostly, it's imperative I not view this cancer as a setback, but rather as an opportunity to achieve things I otherwise would not have. And at the very least, I have to be grateful my parents didn't name me Apple!


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