[Postscript: Nigel Charles passed away at St Luke’s Hospice (Plymouth, Devon) on the 10th July 2018, aged 56. This site is a lasting tribute to him and the hundreds of moving – and often darkly humorous – messages he sent throughout his cancer journey.]
I have cancer. In fact, at the time of writing this – late May 2018 – I’ve been given just a few months left to live. This website tells the story of my cancer journey through the 46 text messages and (lately) several emails I’ve sent in the nearly two years since I was diagnosed.
From the start, the texts have been a semi-public journal: a way of updating friends and family on what’s been happening – the downs, ups and downs since finding out I had Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. They have been terse and they have been mini-essays. They have discussed my many experiences in hospital, and my attempts to make the most of my time – from sculpting to driving down the motorway with the car top down.
Throughout I’ve wanted to put a light touch to these very dark issues – the best way of dealing with ‘Donald’ – the name I gave to the lymphoma early on. (No prizes for guessing where the name came from…).
Cancer scares some people. Many are cured of it, the Daily Mail seems obsessed by it as much as it is by house prices, and there are plenty of tiresome clichés about the disease – “so and so’s battle with cancer”, “the tragedy of [insert name of celebrity] fight with cancer”.
But cancer is not a battle or a fight. Battles and fights involve two sides – often with weapons of steel or word, with an expectation that both are in with a chance and an implication both sides have chosen to be there. Battles are attempts at annihilation or, at least control and domination, of one by the other.
A cancer patient does not have a choice to participate; they have no weapons beyond what their doctor chooses; the cancer patient cannot annihilate, control or dominate. That’s out of their hands and in the hands of surgeons, oncologists and haematologists. They’re spectators at someone else’s battle.
But how can you write about cancer without descending into tabloid cliché or feeding people’s natural fears about the disease – and what can you say that hasn’t already been said?
This website – and the texts captured within it – is an attempt to recount my cancer journey in full. It is a factual narrative of my diagnosis, treatment and prognosis journey as told by me to friends and family by using mobile phone texts.
And as I wrote in a recent message (the first sent by email in fact), I don’t have a naff bucket list. My over-riding wish is to be creative and positive, and to be as sociable and solitary as I choose. I’d like to have these things without letting symptoms, medical complications and the stress of the prognosis get in the way too much. The biggest issues have been tiredness, pain that my routine analgesics don’t always manage, dealing with bad or disappointing medical news, and not always handling the prognosis with equanimity.
Other than to keep them informed about progress, I had no desire to reveal startling epiphanies about life’s meaning, or the paradoxical experience of good emerging from the dark.
But you might, just might, find that such stories emerge from the text. It is my hope that those affected by the disease can find something to relate to with my story or to have a better sense of what could happen to them next.
Anyway – I’ll let you start:
- Chapter 1: Admission to hospital and cancer diagnosis
- Chapter 2: The start of chemo
- Chapter 3: A&E admission
- Chapter 4: Progress
- Chapter 5: Another round
- Chapter 6: Failure, and next steps
- Chapter 7: A research idea
- Chapter 8: Radiotherapy
- Chapter 9: Prognosis – part 1
- Chapter 10: Nexit party – part 1
- Chapter 11: Prognosis – part 2
- Chapter 12: Biopsy surgery
- Chapter 13: “A little bit of news” / Nexit preparations
- Chapter 14: A wedding
- Chapter 15: “….And a funeral”
Thanks for reading,
South Brent, May 2018