It’s a wonderful life … (Darth Vader and beyond)
Growing up in the 1980s, I was a sci-fi geek. Star Wars, Star Trek, computer games, I spent every spare second obsessed with them. That is until girls quickly loomed on the horizon and I embarrassingly hauled all that sci-fi junk away into a dusty attic. I never realised that thirty years later I would find myself back in my Darth Vader Mask, listening to Space Invaders zapping away.
My younger self would have been immensely impressed. Heck, I was surprised at how much I was enjoying it. Of course it wasn’t a real Darth Vader Mask or the zapping of actual Space Invaders; but it was pretty close as I lay there for six weeks having daily radiotherapy treatment, my head fixed in with a mask, listening to the lasers.
Yes, I have a brain tumour. A terminal, grade four brain tumour to be precise. But this isn’t about having a brain tumour. Not really. Not even a nasty one like mine. I very rarely even think about it. Even when I’m having treatment, I think about the treatment not the cancer.
It’s been ten months since I was diagnosed and those ten months have been some of the best I’ve ever had. Sounds weird, doesn’t it? It would have done to me a year ago – ‘You’ve got terminal cancer and you’re happy?’ – but it’s amazing how your own experience changes you.
And that’s why I have a wonderful life.
Of course, everyone’s cancer is different. But I’m lucky with mine. It doesn’t affect me in the way that illnesses affect other people. For now, I rarely feel it. And because of that, it’s given me a chance to think about my life. Really think. Clearly. Precisely. Positively. I have never been so focussed in what I want from life than I do now.
Yes, I have a terminal disease. But everyone dies. The difference to me is that when you roughly know when you are going to die, it gives you a reason to live. A real reason to live.
Looking back, I feel like I drifted along too often, always putting off my hopes and dreams until tomorrow. And I was no different. I worry too many people die whilst still planning to live. As Henry David Thoreau said ‘Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.’
So many people die in sudden tragic accidents unprepared for death. I feel like I've been given a rare opportunity to know exactly what I want and when I want it. And now I just go ahead and do it.
It’s ironic how this is defined as terminal. It probably will kill me. But only probably. The tumour won’t protect me from being run over or having a heart attack or any of those tragic accidents. It’s only now I have terminal cancer I realise that cancer is not your whole life.
I am no hero. I’m not like the late Stephen Sutton who raised millions for charity. I don’t have a ‘bucket list’; I’m not planning to climb Everest, travel to the Moon or even buy an iPad.
That’s not me. But I do know what I want from my life. The time I’ve spent with my daughter has been incredible, the time I never had when I was the typical five-days-per-week working Dad, briefly seeing her before she went to bed. Or the time I spend with my wife when we take her out, sharing our interests, our friendship, our love.
I may have a brain tumour but I’ve never lived in poverty, through a civil war or had serious illness. I’ve never been a ferret, a frog or a flea. I’ve had a wonderful life, I’m still having a wonderful life and I’m grateful for everything I’ve got. I feel like a very lucky man.
You realise that there are only two things in life. Those that you can control and those that you can’t. And too often we try to control the things we can’t.
I’m not concerned about my future. I don’t know what will happen, when it will happen or even have any control over it, so why worry? I live for today, enjoying it as much I can, loving the ups and managing the downs.
And that’s why my Darth Vader Mask sits proudly on the mantelpiece once again.