It’s now six months since I was diagnosed with cancer. That was a terrible start to the year. The surgeon informed me that, at my stage of the disease, survival rates are low. ‘But don’t give up hope,’ he added, having just made it sound hopeless. One thing, however, prevented me from becoming miserable: the fact that it didn’t make sense. Lord Byron, Mozart, Alexander the Great, Joan of Arc and Heath Ledger were all younger than me when they died. But they had achieved enough in their lives so that, at the moments of their passing, they might have thought, ‘Well, that wasn’t too bad.’ Considering how far I am from reaching most of my goals, it would be frankly embarrassing if I shuffle off this mortal coil in the next three years. So I’ve decided not to do it.
According to statistics, people with goals tend to live longer. So that’s the secret to a long life: never achieve your goals. Oh, and if you have cancer, get rid of it. That helps too. Once I recovered from my prognosis, I decided that I would fight rather than calmly surrender to my supposed fate. It was clear that the hospital couldn’t save me on its own, so I contacted a naturopath, who had helped me in the past with somewhat less frightening ailments. ‘If I were given a death sentence,’ she emailed back, ‘I would first ensure that I was prepared for death.’
Wait a moment. She had suddenly upgraded my prognosis from ‘don’t give up hope’ to ‘death sentence’? She added that fighting death was ‘a perfectly valid choice’ (gee, thanks), provided I was doing it for the right reason, because I felt that my life’s purpose still needed fulfilling, not just ‘fear of death’. By this stage, it wasn’t ‘fear’ of death, so much as a preference to avoid it, thank you very much. She concluded that, if I was sure I wanted to fight cancer for the right reasons, she was happy to help. I decided to contact someone else.
I’m officially ‘responding well to chemotherapy’, even though I haven’t gone through that torture for the past two months. Though I underwent four cycles of chemo, nuking my cancer cells (alongside numerous innocent bystanders, such as red and white blood cells), I’m willing to give some of the credit to other therapies, which might have made some difference. While Medicare doesn’t endorse these remedies (or at least, won’t pay for them), even the royal family uses natural medicine. That’s perhaps part of the reason why the Queen is on the verge of becoming the longest-running monarch in British history, and why her mother lived to be 101. But all that the hospital can offer is chemotherapy, which is both highly unpleasant and of limited use. ‘We can’t cure you,’ says the oncologist. ‘We can just control the disease.’
So I book myself into a clinic in Melbourne, the only place in Australia that offers the hi-tech therapy of electromedicine, which has had rave reviews from several cancer survivors. Melbourne is the best place for me to visit, for numerous reasons. I’ve been advised that laughter is essential to my recovery, and this city is known for its live comedy scene. The Melbourne International Comedy Festival is in town, so that evening, I go to see two standup comedians at Town Hall: adorable New Zealander Cal Wilson, followed by visiting British comic Sara Pascoe. These women are very funny, and clearly intelligent. (Well, they’re former QI champions.) But can they cure cancer? Not immediately, I’m afraid. I might make another appointment.
Advice for authors: don’t start chemotherapy in the same week as your book launch. I did numerous interviews to promote my book Best. Times. Ever. (Hardie Grant), while I had Xeloda coursing through my veins. The wrong time to get cancer! (Not sure if there’s a right time.) I was planning to head to London, in time for the book’s UK release, but my immune system was so damaged that I couldn’t fly anywhere. I’m not sure how many copies have been sold in Britain. Australian authors who are unfit to promote their own books don’t tend to make it big in the competitive London publishing scene. (Desperate not to waste another opportunity, I now say: ‘It’s a great book. Please buy it.’)
My first bout with chemotherapy also happened two days after I started an anti-cancer ‘detox’, removing most of my favourite things from my diet. For a month of detox, I went without grains, sugar, fruit, dairy… basically everything apart from vegetables and eggs. Result: Now that the chemo has worn off, I feel pretty good. Physically, I mean. Obviously, it’s a shame not to indulge in some of life’s pleasures, but ironically, I feel healthier than ever. I also lost 12 kilos in two weeks. I can see a bestseller on the way: The Detox-and-Chemo Diet. Or maybe not. Chemo is still torture, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. Especially if they don’t have cancer.
It’s been two weeks since an operation to remove part of my tumour. I’m still recovering, the cancer is still there, but I’m feeling pretty good. Certainly, I’ve made progress over the past few months. I’ll survive this disease — and when I do, please remind me to never, ever go through it again.
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Mark Juddery is an author and regular contributor to The Spectator Australia.
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