Dropping the Cancer Bomb

Sorry i was on holiday. An actual holiday in the sun at the end of a plane journey and everything. But either side of that i have spent most of the last month dropping the “i’ve got cancer” bomb on unsuspecting friends and colleagues.

I think I’ve gotten better at telling people. I hope i have. It’s not really the type of thing you’re likely to get honest feedback on is it? “Martin you know when you told me you had cancer? well is that really the best you can do?”At first i had grand visions of telling everyone i know face-to-face. Very Hollywood. Not very practical, sustainable or scaleable. So instead i took some good advice from friends and strangers on some cancer blogs and changed the plan. I asked family to pass on the news initially to other family members and then wrote a standardized message that allowed me to copy and paste. First lesson in being kind to myself.

Telling everyone took me a long time. Each bomb drop was draining. I previously spent some time living and working in Iraq and Afghanistan. I almost never felt in any danger. You’d be wonderfully well looked after. Lots of protective measures. Lots of rules and guidelines to keep you safe. Lots of skilled men with guns and armored vehicles. i felt immensely cared for and safe. But then there’s this moment where you realize you need the protection because some really not very nice people (certified wrong ‘uns in fact) would very much like to kill you. There is something about being cared for and supported that reminds you that you need caring for and supporting. Each time i told a new group of people the care and support and love was both perfect and a very stark and repeated reminder that a new wrong ‘un wishes me harm.

Having gotten through the first few waves of telling people I then hit the phase others told me about where word just gets around and people start messaging you saying they’ve heard. And now we’re in the phase where most people know but i still bump into folks who don’t. The friend who you missed off a group message who tries to setup a catch up drink next year. The mentee who books in a mentoring session. The old boss who invites you to a catch up with mutual former colleague who’s lived with cancer for years….you’ll never guess what Tony….

So here we are. I’ve got my patter down good. But my side of it has been pretty dull. Contrary to popular opinion i get very quickly bored of the sound of my own voice. What has been fascinating has been the range and variety of people’s responses. Now this has not been a controlled experiment but i think there’s some trends.

Some things have been pretty common. Almost every response has covered the three core ingredients of (a) this is shit (b) i’m sorry for you and (c) let me know i there’s anything i can do to help. Good stuff. (a) yes it is. (b) thanks, me too. (c) i don’t know but i’ll let you know when there is – because there will be something. All of that was kind of expected….or it’s what i would say if the news were coming the other way. But some of you had more flair than that.

  • I’ve had 6 holiday offers. All deeply appreciated and yes, we will be taking advantage of all of them. Farm on an island in Oslo is the current offer to beat.
  • So many people have a personal link to cancer. somebody i know well turns out to be a secret cancer survivor. Lots of offers to link me into other members of the club nobody wants to be in.
  • Three people immediately called me as the message arrived. Called! Like it was the actual 1990s. One of them videocalled like a maniac. For each of them it worked. It certainly felt natural and was welcome. I think the correlation was that each of them is an arch extrovert. I really respected the presence and confidence they each showed.
  • The second person i told face-to-face checked my immune system was ok and then gave me a hug. It was very touching.
  • One person typed and retyped their reply for almost an hour as i watched their whatsapp status change. in the end their reply was three lines. i imagined their struggle to find the words and was so grateful for how hard they’d tried.

I’m sure there are people out there i haven’t told yet. But it certainly feels as though this phase is over. i am now official the cancer guy. And that’s fine. But i don’t plan on being him forever. Onward to treatment…

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