Thank you, and yes please more.

I’m writing this quickly, I’m still working on something that’s taking forever but I don’t want to leave these posts for too long. It’s a thank you to every response in my last post.

I felt the impetus to write this the other day, at work. Someone came into the office and we exchanged pleasantries and then before I knew it started talking about near-death experiences. I would say ‘like old friends’ but that isn’t something old friends talk about. In fact, it’s rather alienating.

The man asked me, after we exchanged stories of hospitals and flat tyres, whether I had learned anything from coming close to death. He said he still felt the same. I said “Yeah, kinda. I mean I love life now. I don’t take anything for granted. I’m better than the moody sod I was before.” That is so easy to say isn’t it. People do catch themselves taking things for granted don’t they?

My housemate and I started watching 'Cosmos’, hosted by Neil Degrasse Tyson. In typical fashion, I decided I wanted to know everything about him and the black holes he was talking about. He makes a podcast called 'StarTalk Radio’ where he talks about the universe and everything else (it’s great have a listen). One episode has him and my hero, Jon Stewart. Two genius’s, one audio booth. 

They talked about scientific discoveries, leaps forward, and how we take them all for granted. Flying on an airplane, something that literally defies gravity, and we complain about the seat we get or whether it’s peanuts or pretzels. 

They both made me think about cancer. What cancer taught me. If you’re like me, 'a survivor’, for lack of a better descriptor, this may be the best part of getting to go back to your life in remission. Taking nothing for granted. Expressing enthusiasm and gratitude for pretty much everything (not necessarily aloud). But yeah, everything. I mean it. 

A couple months ago, I had the most grateful moment of my life. I got my first pay check, for a job that I love. Capitalist, yes, but bare with me. I stared at it for 10 minutes at the very least, taking after last blue edge of it in. I thought about how far I’d come. I took a really long time, out of the work I was supposed to be doing, to let it sink in. I have a job. A job I love and get paid to do. I am 23 years old. I have been in remission for nearly 7 years. I have long hair now. I have friends and family who I still get to see. I’m alive and I have a pay check.

My friend at work saw me staring it and joked “I know, it’s not a lot is it.” I didn’t tell him or anyone except my parents what I was thinking. I just soaked up the fact that I got this far, that I got to see this. 

In the car journey back from Charing Cross Hospital, when the cancer spread to my lungs and chemo was imminent, I realized I had Stage 4 cancer. I remembered that statistics for my cancer weren’t great once it got that far. I remembered, looking at the pay check, every moment in life I wasn’t supposed to get. To graduate. To go to university. To have a boyfriend. To have sex. To have a job. To get a pay check. To see the rest of the world. To keep living. They weren’t going to happen as far as I was concerned, at that point.

7 years later. I stare at my pay check and count my lucky stars that I get to hold it and stare. At 15, when I pictured the life I was going to miss, this was as far as I could imagine.

I annoy people with my positivity sometimes. I call everything 'brilliant’ or 'awesome’. Shit that really isn’t that great, I go nuts for. Peanut butter. Diet coke. Cold weather. Knitwear. Running. Good TV. Blankets. Drapes. Smoked Salmon. GOD I LOVE TV. Comedy. Wood floors. Someone saying thank you. Ugly carpets. The noise of the water pump in my room. Getting to go to work before the light is out.

People who hate exercise. I feel you. It’s a total shit show. I sweat so much I’m asked, on a regular basis, if there is a leak in the gym. BUT, and it’s a big but, spend a year strapped to a hospital bed staring out at a gorgeous London skyline that you don’t get to touch or breath in. Cut a few scars in your abdomen and try to limp to the bathroom. Pump poison into your veins and think about all the things you can’t do and don’t get to do and maybe won’t get to do. Then tell me you don’t think about running.*

I am terrible at running, it hurts and I can’t do it for more than 20 minutes or 4k. But every time I leave the gym, and every morning I get to work, and every time I eat Reeses Peanut Butter cups I am so bloody effing wheezing thankful that I can.

I hope this isn’t preachy, I don’t mean it as a wake up call or a sermon. I complain, and I’m sarcastic, all the live long day too. I’m sad for all the things I’ve spoke about here before. I’m not ignoring all the crap and sadness that’s out there in the world, but this is one of only two things to come good out of cancer.

If we hang out and I tell you excitedly that this coffee is 'sooo good’, and this sofa is 'unbelievably comfy’ and 'I’m so happy and excited to see you’, I’m sorry if it’s too much. But sitting in the lumpy sofa, and smelling the crappy coffee, and getting to sit with you reminds me every day that I get to be alive and everything that comes with that.

*Full disclosure I would be lying if I didn’t say I run to try and look good in a bikini too but sshhhhush (focus on the philsophizing bit).

Susannah TemkoComment