Leukemia, a word that sounds softer than cancer. Cancer sounds hard and abrupt, leukemia sounds more chilled out, like Bohemia. But the verdict of it still slams at you full force like a charging rhino. What do you do when you’ve just been told you have it? I went and sat in an empty church for an hour. I’m not religious, I just wanted to sit quietly somewhere. I needed time to compose myself before bumping into anyone I knew, I didn’t want to blurt it out to the first person who said hello to me. Someone’s innocent ‘Hi Tom, how are you?’ being met by a babbling mess of ‘Pretty shit, I’ve got leukemia.’ Nobody wants that answer to a rhetorical question.
I contemplated all the funerals that had taken place there in the peaceful sanctuary. Hundreds of bodies over the years being carried in and out via a wooden box, loved ones crying tears of goodbyes and guilt, sorrow and sentiments. This would be me soon.
Well, I say soon, between now and about five years, that seems soon now to me, too soon. That’s the estimate of my life expectancy. Science isn’t that accurate yet. Five years if I’m lucky, some fortunate people managed to drag out their existence by eight years. With medication, I might even make ten more years. Or I could get hit by a bus tomorrow. I assumed that I’d get to old age, stressing about pensions and whether I’d be able to afford my retirement barge on the canal. I know we’re not immortal, but when your life sentence is reduced, plans and thoughts crumble quickly. Just five more Christmases, five more birthdays, five more holidays. These bubbles of time are going to rapidly pop.
I sat in the cold church wishing I had a faith, maybe it would be easier to live with this death sentence if I believed a higher being was looking after my soul, or that I would be reunited with deceased family. Instead I know I will just simply die and everything will end. Game over. I want to scream, I want to cry, I want to laugh. Laugh at the irony, the irony of living with depression and fighting to stay alive every day, but wishing I could disappear, and now finding that my cosmic ordering has worked. I get my wish. But now I don’t want my wish. I want to send it back. I am ungrateful. There’s too much left for me to do.
I want to watch my son’s life unfold, see him enjoying life and having his own family. I want to have grandkids and be that fun Grandad everyone wants, a pocketful of sweets and a twinkle in my eye as I teach them poker and blackjack. I want to laugh some more with my friends, grow old disgracefully with them. I want to explore the world, see beautiful sights across all continents, dip my toes in the oceans and seas. I want to watch more seasons of The Walking Dead.
I want to fall in love one more time, and feel that person’s love wrapped around me always. I want someone to hold me and know that I am their whole world. But that’s not going to happen, I’m going to die alone, I’d better get used to that and not wallow in a pity pool. I want someone to hold my hand as I take my final breaths. But that’s selfish isn’t it, I should be grateful I am single and therefore sparing someone that loves me the agony of watching me ebb away without them.
I haven’t told anyone yet. How do you tell people you’re a ticking time bomb? Do you tell people? My first instinct is to tell everyone. This is big news, I need to share, to get support, to get help making sense of it all. A Facebook status maybe, ‘Make the most of me, I’m not going to be here for much longer.’ Too dramatic? How about just simply ‘I’m dying.’ Too basic? After all, aren’t we all dying in various degrees? I’ve just moved up a few gears and I’m speeding along in the fast track lane. Typical, the only race I’m going to win is the death race.
If everyone knows I’m fast tracking death I’ll get sympathetic looks everywhere I go, do I really want people in my local Tesco’s looking at me thinking ‘oh that’s the man that’s dying, how sad’, and then carry on deciding what shade of toilet roll to buy. Do I just tell family? I have to tell my family. How do I do that? To see their faces try and grapple with emotion, to see their pain, to feel responsible for their grief. They need to prepare though, if you can ever prepare for someone you love dying. I’ve lost two people suddenly that I loved from heart attacks, I didn’t have chance to say goodbye or tell them I loved them. That haunts me. I don’t want anyone else to feel that.
There are too many emotions pin-balling around in my head. It’s like my brain doesn’t know what it should be feeling so it’s throwing everything out there, hoping the right one sticks in place. I’m going to just have to take each day as it comes. Find out what emotion my brain tries out each morning.
Today I woke up wanting to make the most of the day. I’m going out with Dave and some other work mates after our shift has finished, Murphy’s getting married so we’re off to celebrate his future. I’m going to have about six pints to celebrate mine. It’s worth celebrating. Some people have heart attacks or get hit by a bus, they’re gone instantly, I’m a lucky one getting notice to go. I can do my goodbyes and tie up my loose ends, closure. And if I’m really lucky a fiftieth party that will rock everyone’s socks off. And maybe their pants.