This seemingly innocuous greeting I am finding makes me pause and consider a variety of responses. At one level it’s a pretty simple greeting and I think it is not, at root, a question about your health. It stands alongside the more conventional hello or good morning and one greeting I like used by one of the guys who sits next to us at football who always greets you with ‘now then!’. If the person doing the greeting is unknown to me I tend to answer with the equally anodyne ‘I’m fine’, ‘fair to middling’ ‘ok and you?’ Job done initial contact made. But it is never as simple as that if you know the person approaching you and even more challenging if they know about your health conditions and appear to be making a genuine enquiry.
I was at the supermarket today when I saw someone who I had not seen since last summer. He approached and said those simple words. The tone implied he wanted more than a simple answer. It seemed a tone of enquiry that linked to last summer when he had been shocked to learn about my cancer. I felt a more complete answer was needed to see if he wanted to know more. ‘I’m ok, bit up and down but the cancer is behaving itself’. This gave him just enough to decide if he wanted to know more. The second response i think was ending the discussion but is one that can cause me more introspection. He replied ‘well you are looking well’. It is an ending remark I think, saying he knows enough and wants to move on. But, for me, it creates more complex thoughts.
It’s good that I appear to look well and when I am doing my work for the Probation Institute I want to look well, appear in control. I may be like the proverbial swan, serene and steadfast on the surface whilst paddling furiously underneath to stay afloat, ok an ugly duckling then! At times though I feel it’s a dismissive response and what is not being said is:
‘You are supposed to be ill but here you are looking good, five years on from diagnosis what the heck is really wrong with you, do you have cancer any more?’.
I was catching up on Clive James recently who wrote his ‘final’ book of poetry ‘Sentenced to Life’ in 2014 following a terminal cancer prognosis. Many of the poems in this collection echo themes I have experienced in the last five years including this strange but nagging conflict which survival engenders. There is a curious conflict in better survival than anticipated which James is experiencing. Here is one example of his poetry.
Japanese Maple by Clive James
Your death, near now, is of an easy sort.
So slow a fading out brings no real pain.
Breath growing short
Is just uncomfortable. You feel the drain
Of energy, but thought and sight remain:
Enhanced, in fact. When did you ever see
So much sweet beauty as when fine rain falls
On that small tree
And saturates your brick back garden walls,
So many Amber Rooms and mirror halls?
Ever more lavish as the dusk descends
This glistening illuminates the air.
It never ends.
Whenever the rain comes it will be there,
Beyond my time, but now I take my share.
My daughter’s choice, the maple tree is new.
Come autumn and its leaves will turn to flame.
What I must do
Is live to see that. That will end the game
For me, though life continues all the same:
Filling the double doors to bathe my eyes,
A final flood of colours will live on
As my mind dies,
Burned by my vision of a world that shone
So brightly at the last, and then was gone.
I have now seen a number of friends and associates pass away in the past five years which were unexpected and with whom I had discussed my own ending tale. It’s unsettling but at the same time affirms my approach to this which is to focus on life and living, be positive and continue as before. And to echo the sentiment in James’ poem to take note of what I can when I can. The simpler beauties of plants and flowers, birds, landscapes and seascapes. Try and reach the next milestone ‘what I must do, is live to see that’. I started this thinking way back in 1982 when recovering from my first and curative cancer experience. I wanted to see my children into adulthood and given they are both mid-thirties I can tick that box. Overall I embrace this extra time and gather what energies I have day by day to squeeze the most out of it. Clive James is about to publish his latest poetry volume ‘Injury time’ no doubt reflective of his surprise at the longevity of his survival. I know how this feels and will embrace it. Keep engaged as below this week.
So when you ask me ‘how are you’ it brings an array of thoughts and potential responses but today my answer is simply this………’ i’m feeling good today, actually it’s been a good couple of weeks overall. Until my next oncology appointment I can say that my cancer is behaving itself, I still have good symptomatic relief and I’m probably spending more time grappling with the effects of irritable bowel syndrome, variable diabetic control and the side effects of fatigue and physical frailties than worrying today about the future of my cancer. However, this is always by definition provisional and I never forget this. Every three months the visits to my oncologist runs the risk of change in the future direction and potentially puts me ever closer to injury time.’
A few other photos of this week: