I’ve been thinking about that book I read last week – the cancer sufferer’s autobiography. It’s one of those books that stay with you; I can see why it was a best-seller when it was first published, and, like I said, I’ve been thinking about it. Actually, it wasn’t until I read it that I realized that chemotherapy is all about the administration of caustic chemicals into the body; drugs that attack and destroy the cancerous cells, a process which, unfortunately, also destroys some of the normal ones at the same time. Hence, the traumatic and painful side-effects, such as hair-loss, cracked skin and blisters, which are experienced and related by my autobiographer. The name is a bit of a giveaway really - chemo-therapy - and I find it quite shocking that I didn’t know this; particularly when cancer is one of the biggest killers in this country, coming second to heart disease, and when, statistically, approximately half of the population will contract cancer in one form or another during their life-times.
I don’t want to make this selfishly all about me – albeit, I am writing my autobiography - but on a personal level, I have identified a huge gap in my knowledge (and not the only one, I’m sure): illness and disease. I suppose we mostly seek out and acquire knowledge that is pertinent to ourselves, and (I’m glad to say) my experience of illness (and death, for that matter) is minimal. As a child, I never wanted to be a nurse. As an adult, I am rarely ill (*touches wood*). I can’t remember the last time I saw my doctor, and I think several have retired since I last visited the surgery. I usually get a bad cold or a bout of flu on an annual basis, around the onset of winter. In the event of which I grab the opportunity to take to my bed for a couple of days, with a bottle of brandy and a few tasty provisions: to ‘sweat it out’ and ‘tempt my appetite’. But even that eluded me last year.
I was talking to a woman the other week, who habitually suffers with her health. I reckon she’s had all the tests going, from scans to needles, poor thing. She has done her own extensive research into symptoms on the internet, and can carry out an admirable diagnosis and prognosis. She also knows about the ups and downs of certain medication, which she claims is ‘swings and roundabouts’ and ‘a bit of a lottery’, and she advises, 'for God's sake stay out of hospital. You'll end up with more than you went in with.' I’m in no position to argue, really. The little experience I’ve had with the NHS has been a positive one - my broken leg, remember. Feeling quite self-conscious and mildly guilty about my own rude health, I threw the sickened woman some consolatory comment about the probability of me suddenly dropping dead one day with a massive heart-attack. This apparently made her feel a bit better about things.
To cut a long story short: