I learnt that there was a bed free for me in the Ruth Myles Unit on the morning of Sunday, 20th October, but was told it wouldn’t be ready until early afternoon. Naturally I did what any self-respecting Englishman would do, and went out to brunch with my wife.
We went to Jack’s at the Junction, where as usual I enjoyed some fabulous eggy bread (or French toast, as they like to call it) and various other favourites from an English breakfast – bacon included, of course. Mariacristina insisted on a hash brown each, too, and I wasn’t complaining. A bottomless coffee and an orange juice topped it all off, and after Mariacristina – chivalrously – paid, we headed out to Clapham Junction absolutely satisfied.
It was while walking down Lavender Hill, towards the train station, that it struck me how surreal it was, having been diagnosed with a relapse of leukaemia, to be walking around Clapham Junction just as I may well have done on any other weekend when I hadn’t had such news. I felt something ought to have been different – perhaps it was just not being in hospital despite having had the cancer confirmed. In a way, though, the normality was comforting.
I looked around at all the other people wandering around, who in all probability hadn’t just been told their leukaemia had returned. There they were, shopping, eating, chatting, ambling; all oblivious to the fact that I had just had my last meal before going into hospital for chemo etc to combat ALL.
Then I realised just how egotistical that was. All these other people in Clapham Junction, getting on with their lives, had their own challenges to face. The woman over there may have just lost her job and be struggling to pay for her mortgage. The man over there may have just lost a close relative. The child rushing up the road might have been dreading a telling-off from his parents for not being home in time for lunch. That couple may have been enjoying a last weekend together before his deployment overseas for six months. Who knows?
My challenge is pretty big and obvious; it’s probably not something I could keep private even if I wanted to. Everyone knows what Mariacristina and I are going through: my diagnosis, treatment and the accompanying isolation and separation. As a result we have been blessed with wonderful support from so many corners.
However, everyone faces challenges – a lot of them remain private, or are harder to identify and/or provide support for than a cancer diagnosis. Getting cancer sounds terrible, but – in my case, fortunately for me – there is treatment and a huge amount of support available. In many ways, it seems much tougher for someone facing a private struggle with no obvious way out or people to help.
But who would I – or anyone – be to judge whose battle is harder; whose suffering is worse? There is no league table of ‘difficult challenges to face’ or of ‘terrible things to happen to a person’. Each individual fight can be as important and tricky to that person in that moment as any other.
On a grander scale, seeing the consequences of the typhoon in the Philippines puts it all in perspective, too. Suffice to say that I feel lucky to be in the situation I am, compared to all those who lost their lives so suddenly and brutally.
And I’ve been fortunate enough that trumpeting the challenge I am facing all over the world through my blog, Facebook, etc. has been met with such a loving, generous, supportive response. But spare a thought for everyone else, too, facing their own, individual battles, sometimes alone and often in silence.