Love Island, horrifyingly so, is how I’m starting this weeks’ blog post. Love Island?! Porquoi, Gareth? Didn’t you find its narcissism, psychopathy and all-consuming cacophony of bullsh*t to be the very essence of what is wrong with the world – famine, corporate greed, terrorism? You’d be very much correct were you to pose such a question to me, because after all, I am an extremely judgemental bastard. But step inside that steaming pile of excrement, and delve deep, deep inside the rotting, black heart of ITV’s flagship reality catastrophe, and what you will find is, essentially, a story of relationships, emotional hardship and the endless pursuit of happiness. Which is where, in the unlikeliest of unlikely’s, you will find that golden thread that leads us to the millions of stories of cancer. Living with cancer is not an individual endeavour. Cancer, much as it was on Love Island, requires two (or more) to tango. The effects of cancer are not solely burdened by that poor ugly diagnosed with it, but also those loved ones around him or her. Equally so, the patient bears the weight of dealing with those relationships in a different way. More so if said patient has a terminal diagnosis. Outstanding relationships notwithstanding, the making of new relationships becomes a far more complex and difficult matter, turning something that should be of sheer joy into a minefield of confusion and frustration.
I am, therefore, Love Island personified.
As much as I am confused by their unconditional love for me and my ugliness, my parents and family bear a gargantuan portion of the emotional fall-out that comes with their son, brother, grandson, cousin and nephew being given a terminal diagnosis. This point stands for people of all ages, but perhaps more pertinently for a child or young adult. The fragility of life is brought into sharp focus when the hammer strikes on someone who was categorically sure he was invincible (as evidenced by my behaviour during intoxication), but additionally so when said individual is younger than you.
For my parents and brother (perhaps less so for the latter, considering he spent the better part of seven teenage years attempting to kill me), the thought is, unquestionably, unbearable. To firstly watch your kin drag himself screaming and kicking through life and cancer is a brutal exhibition of the brittleness of our existence, but to secondly watch that life extinguished over that protracted period of suffering, and know that you have no power to halt that march towards oblivion, is incontestably one of the hardest experiences in life anyone has ever endured, and ever will endure. It is made significantly easier when your son is a complete cock, but it surely isn’t easy. There will always be a void for the rest of your days, no matter what. Twenty-five years aren’t so easily erasable. The frank reality is that cancer’s tentacles stretch far and wide.
Equally so, I concern myself with how they will fare after I’m in heaven with my seventy-seven virgins. Not as a matter of egotism or inflated self-importance, but to have a significant cog in the family wheel removed, regardless of the nature of those relationships, is weighty in its emotional toll. That said, coming from a family of stubborn, arrogant Northern idiots that possess the capacity for immense emotional intelligence (at times), I’m confident that my memory will serve as a motivator for them to continue to succeed in life, in all manners. Of all the insecurities and unknowns of this strange situation I’ve found myself in, that is one of the few certainties.
Familial ties aren’t the only form of relationship that suffers when cancer comes a-knocking. The veritable minefield of being in or having a relationship with a woman (or a bloke, if you’re that way inclined) is amplified by the knowledge that there is no end game for you, and for the both of you. Which means that even a start is a difficult task, and whether you even take the chance or not. Do you throw yourself into a certain finite relationship, or do you simply not take that risk at all? Do you run the risk of falling for someone, knowing that nothing can eventually come of it, or do you put another in a situation where they fall for you, and then you take away that love from them when the time comes to go? Cancer adds another enigma to wrap that mystery, wrapped in a riddle. The frank reality is that no option is the right one, and no option is the wrong one. As with anything in life, a combination of following what your heart tells you to do, alongside how your head tells you how to go about it, usually ends up being a sensible course of action. But, as with anything, it’s often not as simple as that.
There’s always another option; not dealing with humans at all. As I’m unable to find true, everlasting, romantic love, I’ve decided to buy love, not in the form of a Thai mail order bride, or a computer algorithm, but in the form of a canine. Her name is Florence (seriously, the image below is not a stock photo, that is my canine slave - women, control your ovaries), she’s better than your dog (mainly because she’s the Andrex puppy we grew up with and collectively loved more than we did our own flesh and blood), and she chews my prosthetic foot – if that’s not true love, then I don’t know what is. IVy has been replaced for a woman more caring and affectionate than how that cow treated me.
The affection one receives from a dog, especially a Golden Lab, of all breeds, is beyond any real comprehension. The daily occurrence of walking through the door and being met by unconditional (I say that, but the fact is that I feed her, and that, alongside pissing and shitting, is all she really cares about in life) love is such a wonderful feeling, and a real gift for many people. But the crux of this is less about Florence’s shitting habits, but rather the fact that there is very little more important than surrounding yourself with love and affection, and casting aside those things that diminish your opportunities for happiness.
Life, love and happiness is hard enough without cancer. It’s considerably more so when you have an expiry date. But where there are obstacles to these, as with any life, they don’t mean that they are not possible or attainable. They just come with awkwardness and a certain added degree of emotional difficulty and an extended thought process behind them. Cancer takes enough, but it’s not capable of removing your capacity to love and be loved, and this stands for anyone going through any form of suffering or difficulty in life. Cherish and protect those that you care for most in life, make time for them and savour their stories, their worries, their jokes (however atrocious, speaking from personal experience) and their joys, and you theirs. What else is there to life, when it comes down to it.
I realise that there will be very few people reading this that have any mental health difficulties, or emotional challenges in their lives, but if you do, unspoken or not, there are an awful lot of resources out there for you to help you get through any challenges you have, and this is coming from someone who has suffered in that capacity. There’s nothing better than speaking to people you trust about any issues you’re facing, but there’s also a lot to be said for speaking to someone completely detached from the situation, to give a completely impartial opinion. MIND (www.mind.org.uk) are a wonderful organisation that have a wealth of resources on this front, and likewise the Samaritans (www.samaritans.org). An awful lot of people are using it these days, but if you haven’t, I’ve got a world of good out of using Headspace on my phone (www.headspace.com), which is a tool that helps you develop mindfulness, and as a consequence, chill the fuck out. It really is outstanding. If you want a years’ free licence, get in touch and I’ll hook you up. Equally, either if I know you or not, I’m here to chat if you like, day or night, at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 07411 305802. That offer is genuine.
We’re also up to £33K in donations now, six months in. Your generosity is as stunning as it is humbling, and I’m extremely grateful for every penny raised. Please do keep spreading the word, then once we get to £100K I can stop pestering the shit out of you. Gracias amigos.