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