I am not a cancer writer, I protest at the outset of a piece of writing about cancer.
Who am I kidding? Well, not myself, and probably not you. Suffice it to say, I never really regarded myself as a budding oncological wordsmith until about four months ago, and I can’t say I feel much like one even after the blog written in the immediate aftermath of me being diagnosed with testicular cancer on 22 August 2013. That blog is almost certainly up there as the most read thing I have ever written, assuming WordPress “views” statistics can be relied upon, so I suppose that makes me exactly what I protest not to be. But what does it matter what I think about literary compartmentalisation? Whilst I may have tied myself in unnecessary knots about whether I am a cancer writer, with some certainty I can confirm that I am not an oncologist. That raises a not insignificant question: why should you read what I have written about cancer? Does anything I write on the topic fall to be classified as the work of an untrained loose-cannon firing wildly at the internet?
Maybe, but then again maybe not. I certainly would not want to hold myself out as some kind of expert. To do so would make use of a reverse ad hominem argument, of a sort that would be deployed to suggest only parents can comment on childcare or only victims of crime can comment on victims’ rights. (The latter is perhaps the better analogy for the onset of cancer, given parenting will ideally involve an element of choice.) Clearly, the views of such people are important, but to treat them as conclusive on any points pertaining to their experiences would be simplistic.
All that said, I might just have something in the way of insight to offer, as a result of my experiences as a patient who went through 15 (yes, fifteen) weeks of chemotherapy, with all the associated drugs and tests that accompanied that most attritional of treatments. Perhaps a final analogy is apposite, that of a juror serving in a legal case. Like a juror, I have found myself at the centre of a world I understood only in the most general terms and was then subjected to an intensive crash course on a particular aspect of that world. Jurors cannot but emerge from that process without a certain insight, but my analogy then fails to an extent. Jurors are denied the chance to speak about those insights – as much as lawyers, judges and others may wish to know about them. So maybe my musing can serve a purpose for others after all.
What of the writer? What do I gain from writing about cancer? On one level, absolutely nothing. Publishing a blog on 28 August did not stop me having a massive pulmonary embolism on 2 September. (“Massive pulmonary embolism” is the medical term, not melodrama.) On another level, I have gained much, in terms of the communion I have felt with people who have got in touch with me and – more importantly – in terms of sorting out the key aspect of my treatment that I am best placed to control, namely my own thoughts.
Finally – and perhaps most importantly of all – there is the publicity aspect. Not exactly self-publicity, I stress; after all, I am not a cancer writer. By publicity, I mean about [testicular] cancer. Sure, not every man will have a ticking testicular time-bomb primed to send tumorous shrapnel around his body, but over 2,000 men in the UK a year will be ambushed with such a device. I can confirm it is not fun to be so ambushed, but the effects of that ambush can be mitigated by early diagnosis.
With that in mind, this WordPress page serves as a link to my earlier blogs, the first of which offers some insight into the warning signs that can help with early diagnosis. As a “static” page, this part of my blog will serve as a repository to allow the relevant medical blogs to be found more easily, without being lost in the churn of my other posts. My plan is for those posts to be primarily about matters other than cancer; after all, I am not a cancer writer.
Without further ado, here is my oncological output.
2014: Combeback Year (being a post in which I planned to write about my experiences of chemotherapy, which then developed into one of those “end of year retrospective yet also prospective” posts);
An understatedly exuberant blog about the (sort of) conclusion of my treatment can be found here.
Despite earlier indications I would not blog about cancer again, I did so. Here is a post about a particularly scary blood clot. With swear words.
Here is an article about the regulation of human tissue in Scots law, with some personal reflections.
And here is yet another post, on the anniversary of my RPLND.