Being That Guy
Andy Burrows, 30 September 2018
Hello! It’s been a while!
I can remember writing in one of my articles about my 2015 relapse that I wanted, “to do other things rather than constantly being ‘that guy who has cancer’.”
A few months later, I went on to write, “I’m trying to close the door, mentally. I am a cancer survivor for a third time. And I want my story to give others hope and inspiration. That’s why I’ve written about it in this blog, and published the books. But to be honest, right at this moment, I’m bored of cancer. It’s overshadowed everything over the past year, and I want to get on with life.” (Closing the Door on Round Three)
Well, it’s not how things have turned out. And here I am in 2018, almost nine years after the first time round, facing lymphoma again, for the fourth time.
It’s now the end of September, and this chapter all started as a phone call from me to the nurse specialist at the hospital on 15th June. By 7th August, I was diagnosed and starting treatment.
And yet, in contrast to previous occasions, I’ve not been writing a lot about it. I’ve not published deep reflections, detailed updates, or anything.
And that’s partly because I have actually found it really difficult.
Part of the reason for that is that I talked so much about “closing the door” after the last relapse. I hadn’t realised the extent that I’d managed to do that.
I know there are some survivors for whom cancer remains large in their minds for years. But I think I have made a concerted effort to get on with life and to put it out of my mind.
Previously, I used to hesitate in doing new things, because I thought that “it” might return and get in the way. By contrast, in the last two years, I’ve just got my head down and got on with things. In particular, I did actually set up that internet business that I spoke of when I was blogging after my stem cell transplant. It’s called Supercharged Finance.
And I realise now that, psychologically, for me, writing and self-publishing the three books in 2016 was partly about being able to “close the book”.
I guess now – and this is the way I put it when I was initially telling people about the new relapse – I realise that just because I finished writing the books didn’t necessarily mean that the story was over. But that’s what I wanted to believe, and that’s what I told myself in order to move on with life properly and positively.
But also, aside from the shock, I haven’t been clear about what I’m supposed to do, or how I’m supposed to react.
There are lots of uncertainties which make things difficult, to be fair. Like the fact that the R-ICE chemo I’m currently going through is so much more intense and gruelling than anything I’ve been through before (apart from the stem cell transplant). I never know how much energy I’m going to have, what I’m realistically able to do, etc.
But, mainly, the problem has been my own mental attitude.
I really wanted to move on from being ‘that guy who has cancer’.
I’ve done my bit to help those going through lymphoma, by writing Cancer and Me – the account of my experiences. I’ve done my bit to help those going through autografts (autologous stem cell transplants), by writing and publishing My Autologous Stem Cell Transplant. I’ve tried to give some Christian encouragement in Facing Cancer with Faith.
I have sent those publications out into the world, with no promotion – a) because I couldn’t get my head around self-promotion; and b) I’m not a qualified theologian so why should anyone listen to my Christian reflections? And having done that, it was time to move on from being ‘that guy who has cancer’. What good was it doing me to keep going on about it? It was just stopping me moving on positively.
So, it has taken me a while to get used to the fact that I now do have cancer for the fourth time. It is going to overshadow 18-24 months of my life. And it’s taken a while to think through what I should be doing in terms of writing.
I really don’t want to be ‘that guy who has cancer’ any more… But…. It is what it is. I am what I am. Who am I to argue?!
At some point in August I was reading John 21, the passage where the resurrected Jesus appears to the disciples and tells Peter that he will also be crucified for his name. ‘“Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”” (John 21:18-19)
Peter points at John, and then says to Jesus, “What about him?” Peter wants to know whether he’s been singled out for suffering, or whether all the disciples will be together in it.
Jesus’ replies, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” (v22)
And, as John explains in v23, the point is not that John would live to see the day when Jesus returns, but that Peter should accept whatever Jesus’ will is for him without comparing to anyone else.
Our place as followers of Jesus is not to know who is to suffer, why and how. Our place is to simply follow Jesus into whatever situation he wants us in, whatever his will is.
And when we suffer, we’re to realise that in doing so we are following Jesus. He has suffered before us, he wasn’t spared suffering. If Jesus suffered for the salvation of the world, why shouldn’t his followers suffer also?
And when we do suffer, following Jesus’ example of suffering, we need to remember that we are glorifying God through our suffering (v19). That’s the purpose of it.
For me, reading that on a day that I was struggling to come to terms with having cancer again, the message was fairly clear. I could feel the Lord Jesus saying to me, “you may not want to be ‘that guy who has cancer’, but that’s the way I want you to glorify me. So just stop questioning and complaining, and follow me!”
It’s funny how God often puts messages like this in front of you just when you really need it. And it did help to settle my mind.
But it doesn’t entirely solve the problem!
I didn’t feel like a continuation of Cancer and Me would be helpful. When you’re going through your first experiences with cancer, someone telling you from experience that what you have to go through is possible to cope with, and worthwhile, is of some comfort.
Coming into my fourth round, I feel like my example is turning sour. If I’d been thinking about lymphoma for the first time, I would not have ideally wanted help and advice from someone who had battled it four times in different guises (and then only had a 40-50% chance of being cured), even if they’d experienced all the possible treatments under the sun! That would say to me that there’s a possibility that I may not get rid of this.
And this is where I pull myself up and recognise that I’m overthinking things!
I read something the other day, written by Rachel Hollis (NYT bestselling author, Girl, Wash Your Face). She said, “Even after years of putting myself out there, I still get caught up in the lie that I might be a terrible writer or that I should create or not based on whether I have an audience for it. I start to believe that I need public opinion to validate my desire to make something, when the truth is, I should embrace my creativity because it’s a God-given ability.
“So I have two choices: I can write down words and send them out into the world and hope they find a home. Or I can hide my light under a bushel because I’m too afraid someone won’t like the glare.
“I choose this.
“I choose to sit in coffee shops and on airplanes and at my kitchen counter writing. I choose to squeeze in minutes between soccer practice or before sunrise or long after everyone else in the house is asleep to type and type and type until I stream enough sentences together to make a book.
“I have no idea if you’ll love it or hate it.
“… But even if you don’t [love it], I’ll still be here.
“I started at this desk alone, without an audience to read my work. I’ll stay here as long as I’ve got words jumbling around in my head, whether or not there’s anyone to receive them.”
So, I’m (kind of) embracing my calling to be ‘that guy who has cancer’ again. And I’m trusting that I’ll be given the inspiration to write whatever people will benefit from or simply enjoy. But more than that, I’m praying for the grace to enjoy each day to the fullest extent possible, even while dealing with whatever hard trials come my way.
Now, finally, I don’t know what I’m going to do in terms of social media, promoting the new blog posts. Will it just be to my Facebook friends, to my LinkedIn network, on twitter? So, I will set up a mailing list that will automatically notify all subscribers of new blog posts. So, if you definitely want to see everything I post, subscribe on the mailing list.
Thanks for being interested in my journey. And always feel free to interact and let me know your thoughts.