I was born and raised in the UK.
As an adult, I lived for 12 years in Hong Kong, three years in Taiwan and the last five in Australia. A few years ago, I used to call myself a citizen of the world, but now I’m happy to call Australia home.
I never used to worry much about my health and ignored my wife when she said I had a lump on my neck. Then we had dinner with a friend who had just been through thyroid cancer and she advised me to take the lump seriously.
I was surprised, but not worried, when our family GP sent me immediately for a scan. I started to wonder when the ultrasound technician didn’t want to say anything, but I went straight to talk to her supervising doctor. Finally, I was sent to a specialist surgeon who said he was sorry to have to tell me I had cancer.
It took time to sink in. Cancer?
I suppose it was shock, but at first it was denial. I took refuge in the technical details. I felt blank. My poor wife, Chi Ping, took it much worse. Neither of us was prepared for such horrific news. She had a cancer scare herself just a year before and only recently recovered from her operation. There was a lot of information to take in and it was confusing, disorienting and seemingly contradictory.
When I became “Radioactive Man,” I was a bit of a danger to other people; the catering staff seemed scared to even enter my room. Yet the nurses looking after me would come in, take my blood pressure and do everything they had to without batting an eye, happily chatting away. It was almost the only human contact I had during that time and I really appreciated it – when I wasn’t worrying about their health on their behalf.
So, three years on, after an operation and three rounds of radioactive iodine, am I cured? Probably, but to be honest there’s some uncertainty, and with cancer one just has to learn to live with it.
Overall, I think I have been one of the lucky ones. It hasn’t really affected my long-term outlook on life although, for a while, death became real for me.
We all go through life acting as though it’s going to last forever and, in truth, there’s no other way to live it. But when we are faced with the real thing, it really does focus the mind on what is important and what isn’t.
To me, it was a reminder that people are more important than things. All the ambitions, hopes and expectations I had when I was young, well, most of those haven’t happened and probably won’t.
None of that really matters. The people around me – the important ones – they are what matters to me. The most important one is Chi Ping. She is the motivation in my life.
So what advice to give someone who finds they have cancer? In my case, it was eventually acceptance and a resolve to carry on living whatever life I had left, to be grateful for what I could still do – going for a walk in the countryside, spending time with my Chi Ping. Life is about living, not thinking about the end. Enjoy it while you can.