When I knew I had cancer



Seven years ago today, the date in the photograph above was the day I knew had cancer.

By this stage of the year in 2006 I had been hospitalised twice. I’d had an ultrasound and CT scan, and a biopsy of my tumour under X-ray conditions. My formal diagnosis was still days away, but I knew from everything the doctors had told me (and not told me) that the news, when it came, would be grave.

I went downstairs one evening, opened up an exercise book, and began writing down what was being said to me by doctors, friends at the school gate and medical friends alike. None of the protestations of ‘It’s probably nothing’ prepared me for the look of anxiety in my doctor’s face when I asked him straight out if there was a possibility I had lymphoma. He gave a slight glance away, a shuffle of some papers, then looked right into my eyes and said there was that possibility, yes.

And that was when I knew, seven days before my formal diagnosis across the desk of the woman who became my consultant, and four before the telephone conversation with my ward doctor, confirming my biopsy results.

The epigrams you can see on the page above are all present in the final published version of Love for Now

Sharon Olds’s line ‘I want to live’ is from her poem ‘I Go Back to May 1937’, a personal favourite.

The Violet Weingarten line, ‘The chances are, more of us are mortal than have multiple orgasms’, is from her remarkable memoir of cancer from the 1970s , Intimations of Mortality, which you can read about here.

The limerick of Spike Milligan is from The 101 Best and Only Limericks of Spike Milligan:

A man called Percival Lee

Got up one night for a pee.

When he got to the loo

It was quarter to two,

And when he got back it was three.

If that is not a chemotherapy poem, I don’t know what is.


You can read more about Love for Now here, and buy a copy here

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