Relapsing from cancer…by mistake


Seven years ago this is what happened halfway through my treatment for non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I went for a midway scan to report on the shrinkage of my tumour and was given the wrong results.

My tumour was in fact responding well to the chemotherapy treatment I was being given.

But the radiologist who analysed my scan pictures somehow looked at them the wrong way round, so mistakenly saw evidence of my tumour growing. I was told this meant it was not responding to treatment, and that a new, much harsher, course of chemotherapy would have to be put in place for me.

My family and I lived with the ‘truth’ of this misdiagnosis for nine days until the mistake was uncovered. In that time we did our best to commit to ordinary life as best we could, doing the school run, eating and watching crap telly together, as you do. I do know I began writing my funeral service. I even broke the habit of a lifetime and discussed money with my wife.

As my ward doctor told me: ‘If you’re given a shit pack of cards, those are the ones you play with.’

During this time I was glad to come across this poem by Patrick Kavanagh. It became a kind of touchstone, helping me to come to terms with my forthcoming oblivion in language that was even more direct than my doctors’.

Wet Evening in April

The birds sang in the wet trees

And as I listened to them it was a hundred years from now

And I was dead and someone else was listening to them.

But I was glad I had recorded for him the melancholy.

Patrick Kavanagh

Lifesaving Poems

You can read the full account of my story in Love for Now and in Riddance


  1. Hi Anthony

    I have read your comments about cancer as a battle before, and this poem puts it as well as anything. It got me thinking about my own job as a mediator, in which it feels as if I am constantly working against people’s urge to cast matters in a binary form. Much of what goes on in mediation is about putting a new frame on things. The frame of battle me v my enemy; good people v bad people; good v evil can eventually give way to a more complex frame. The classic knack for mediation is helping people to move from me against you to “us against the problem”.

    I realise as I write that I portray this as a complexification. Simple, binary certainties are incredibly appealing. But in attempting to make sense of conflict, people have to learn to live with complexity and mystery: you can be a good person AND do a bad thing; you can harm me AND have good intentions; or more simply my view of your motives may be wrong. I came across a wee article by Daniel Kahneman which I thought you might appreciate. He got the Nobel prize for economics and his book ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ is a fantastic read. A friend sent me this piece because I was talking about teaching a particular negotiation game and observing that it only needed one ‘hawk’ in a group of twenty people for the whole group to join the race to the bottom.

    Hope all’s well with you and yours.


    Charlie 07779 577019


    1. Hi Charlie Thanks so much for your comment and for stopping by on the blog. I like the look of yours!

      I resonate completely with everything you say. It is not quite the same thing but sometimes I need to mediate between students and schools who have different opinions of the process they are sharing in.

      I’d love to see that article by Kahneman. Was there a link on your comment? Do send it again etc.

      As ever with love and good wishes to you and yours Anthony Anthony Wilson

      Love for Now, my memoir of cancer, is availablehere

      Riddance, my new book of poems, is availablehere



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