Sunday, 28 July 2013

"Cool" or passionate. Part Two: cancer strikes

Cancer strikes . . . or in my case, sort of wanders in

The last post finished:
     When I was diagnosed with mouth cancer four years later, my reaction was similarly unpredictable. "Cancer, eh?  Never had that before."

     Almost everybody finds it hard to believe that a diagnosis of tongue and neck cancer in 2002 did NOT have me climbing the walls with fear, worry, anger or frustration.  Reporters from the local evening paper (twice) and a Scottish national (the Sunday Post) questioned me on it when a national campaign was promoting awareness of this particular form of cancer.  Each time I got almost a full page of publicity for my tai chi chuan class.  I was especially pleased to see that I was sharing the page with the legendary Lorraine Kelly, even though her column was unconnected.

     The odds of surviving oral cancer are not much better than evens, unless it's diagnosed early.  That's what the campaign was about and that's why I probably owe my life to my dentist at the time, Christine Lumsden. Incidentally, she was and probably still is a dead ringer for the actress Lynn Redgrave, still best known for the film Georgy Girl (1966).

    Christine first noticed white spots on my tongue in 2001 and referred me to Aberdeen's Maxillo-facial Unit.  A biopsy showed negative.  When a year later, similar signs appeared, she could have been forgiven for thinking, that's been checked, no need to refer again.  But she did check it out, thank goodness, and years later I'm still smiling - as well as chewing, kissing, gargling and singing, though my voice is now more Leonard Cohen than Frank Sinatra.  I blame the surgeon who cut my throat as well as my tongue.   You see, although I was into surgery within two weeks of diagnosis, by then the cancer had spread to lymph nodes in my neck.  Thank you again, Mr Rennie and the much maligned NHS.

     In the newspaper articles, I gave a lot of credit for my "coolness" to the Chinese martial art of tai chi chuan, which I've practised for over 25 years.  TCC  teaches you, even in non-physical confrontations, to relax and yield to an attack.  Yielding doesn't mean giving in.  In the simplest terms, you accept the situation and then deal with it.  Struggling against a stronger force is useless; you have to deal with it in a way which will nullify it.  That may mean bringing yourself and the threat into a position or a situation where you, the weaker, may have the advantage.  I never "fought" cancer; I dealt with it, relaxed, composed and strangely unafraid.

     On the other hand, has TCC only further developed my "cool" characteristic?  Thinking back, it seems I've always had this kind of outlook on life.

Continued next week in 

Under pressure - in exams, in fights



Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Is it better to be "cool" or passionate?

Before I start debating the temperature of our personalities, it may be a good idea to include an apology.

The man of the title, Kyril Bonfiglioli, was the subject of the first nine posts of this blog, from 31st March till 20th May this year.  That's where you'll have to go to read my memories of his exploits and escapades, the scandalous and scurrilous, comic and dangerous.

     I am reminded of him now because Bonfig, my late friend and one-time colleague, cult novelist, wit, raconteur and knife-thrower was, conveniently for this post, a perfect example of the passionate personality.  He was a man of extremes and contradictions, of quick temper and generous nature.  I know he was an outstanding teacher; I believe he could have been a dangerous enemy.  He both embarrassed and inspired me, not usually at the same time.  He loved and lost, had friends of brilliance in the worlds of art, literature and film-making, and in two of those fields shone as brightly as any.  He knew millionaires and men of power, gangsters and politicians, yet ended his days, to all intents, penniless in a tumbledown cottage in Ireland.

     And whom do I pick for the antithesis of this edgy, discomfiting, uplifting, mercurial character? Why, none other than myself - totally without ambition, wed to my first wife for 45 years till widowed, talented to "somewhat" standard in far too many fields but too laid-back (read "lazy") to concentrate on one and forego the joy of the others.

     Take my attitude to illness.  I had never ruffled the sheets of a hospital bed between an emergency appendectomy (1955) and a double coronary bypass (1999), so I could not claim to be inured to the anxieties of illness and the understandable fear of "going under the knife".  Yet I accepted the heart problem and its surgical solution with little more than slight anxiety and a mild irritation.  ("This shouldn't be happening to me; I'm a tai chi teacher!")   It may be hard to believe but I assure you it was so.

     It was at a tai chi class that the problem first arose.  Unusually, I had given way to anger in a confrontation with the hall manager.  I said to my wife, "Could you start the class off.  I'm not feeling good.  I'll go and sit down for a while."  Ten minutes later I came back and announced to the class, "Sorry about that.  I think I may be having a heart attack.  Could somebody drive me to A & E?"  Younger son Stewart, when he heard about it, thought that was "really cool".

     When I was diagnosed with mouth cancer four years later, my reaction was similarly unpredictable. "Cancer, eh?  Never had that before."

(to be continued - next Sunday, 28th July)

This post is getting too long.  And it's late.  I've tried to be consistent and post every Sunday, just like D C Thomson. (Scottish joke - Sunday Post.  Sorry.  It won't happen again.)  Now it's 11.30 on Tuesday.  I'll blog no more tonight.