So today I decided to start writing a blog about my own life experiences, which at the present will revolve around my recent diagnosis of nodular sclerosing Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (most likely stage 2 (pending PET scan results)). On the flipside, this one of the most curable forms of cancer known to man and also I’m a stand-up comedian, so hopefully this blog won’t be too grim or, at the very least, the grim bits will be made fun of to the point that we can laugh in the face of adversity.
This leaves me with the question as to what I want this blog to be about or what objectives I want it to fulfil and to be honest this is something I’m not entirely sure about. These are things that will hopefully become more clear and apparent as the blog starts to take shape. But with that said, there are a few preliminary issues that, at present, I would like to address;
The stigma surrounding the word “cancer” has, in my experience, been one of the most terrifying things about the disease. When you look at the survival rates of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, as well as many other cancers, it’s not all as scary as it’s cracked up to be. I am a young man with a very healthy medical history, the odds are definitely in my favour. Yet, when I was first told that I probably had cancer, I burst into tears. I couldn’t stop crying and worrying because I had one of the most feared diseases in the world.
I firmly believe that most of this emotional distress was due to the stigma surrounding cancer as opposed to the scientific reality of the situation which, while scary, is completely manageable in terms of stress and worry. If someone had told me “Listen Ben, you probably have X disease..” and then gone on to explain the same potential health risks and consequences, the news would have been a lot less harsh to take. This begs the question as to how I plan on trying to help break this stigma. I guess all I can really do is be as honest as I possibly can about my experience and crack lots and lots of jokes.
One thing I have noticed from doing stand-up is that people are generally quite overly protective of things that they consider “off-limits”. Cancer is, without a doubt, included in this category of things. I understand that this perceived right-doing comes from a place of love; people don’t want to laugh at the less fortunate. But how do you think that makes me feel when someone merely mentions the word “Cancer” on stage and all I can hear is a sharp intake of breath and occasional tutting. Fair enough, some people may not want to acknowledge that they have a serious illness on their night out but for those of us who have acknowledged and come to terms with their disease, it is incredibly insulting to assume that we do not/ cannot not have a sense of humour about these things because they are so fucking terrible that we’re not allowed to find light in them.
Honestly, if I was touchy about my diagnosis, why would I go to a fucking comedy club?! Like it or not, cancer will play an important part in my life over the next few months so fuck you if you don’t think other people, regardless of their health status, have the right to make me happy and find humour in my plight. Walking on eggshells IS NOT FUCKING HELPFUL! It merely adds to the stigma and makes people feel worse. When you decide something is off-limits it merely gives that word/topic an undue amount of power. A more useful approach would be to allow discussion of all aspects of such issues in a way that allows us to tease out the specific concerns which make us uncomfortable around such subject matter.
Obviously this is not the case with the vast majority of cancer jokes; they tend to be very dark and deal with the mortality aspect of the disease. Still, I believe these jokes are generally justified by the fact that THEY’RE FUCKING JOKES! These are things that people neglect to ask themselves; (a) why on earth would someone show up to do a set at a comedy club with the intention of making everyone feel miserable? And (b) What could they possibly gain by doing so? The answers are (a) They don’t and (b) Nothing.
People seem to have this perception that you can just jump on a stage, be outright offensive for no reason and have a room full of people applaud you for doing so. The reality of the situation is that people generally do not applaud offensiveness for the sake of offensiveness and that all a comic wants is for you to laugh. This doesn’t suggest that comics have an inherent feeling of moral duty towards an audience. It is merely a contingent fact that a comic needs laughs to do well in their career/ fill the empty void that led them into stand up or whatever the reason. To my knowledge, there is no comedian who has made a living without laughs.
Stigma=bad, cancer=not always that bad, comedy=good
Dealing with the emotional side of things
I’ve been up and down about the news like a Rottweiler violently pumping a poodle but, for the most part, the downs have gradually become less frequent and less harsh whereas the upstroke is ever invigorating and has become my primary state of being. The middle ground has taken the back seat for the moment and I think this is a good thing because why would you want to feel alright most of the time when you could spend that time feeling awesome?
Weirdly enough I feel much happier than I have in quite some time and I do hope that this high of being alive is something that stays with me. That is not to say that I am just grateful for being alive; the high is so immense that there are times when I feel like I could knock out Conor McGregor, times when, no matter what, I feel like I can do anything, come back from anything swinging. This is what I love about cancer; it has already made me a much stronger person mentally. At the risk of turning this post into a cliché, it has to be said that you cannot possibly fathom the amount of strength you have until you are forced into a situation which necessitates its use.
I firmly believe that this strength, once found, will always be there for you to use, even after you have overcome your adversity. This is the point I really want to get across; the emotional distress of a situation such as this isn’t just for nothing. It all counts towards making you a stronger person in the long run. This is a beautifully rare consequence of a very particular type of distress. To put things into perspective; think back to times where you feel that people have wronged you, be it a close friend/partner/relative or whoever. Ask yourself how it made you feel physically and emotionally. In my own experience, this is a worse type of distress than learning of an unwanted health risk in that it is purely destructive, it merely saps the energy out of you and ties your head up in knots. The anguish associated with cancer, however, is constructive and I wouldn’t want to feel any other way than I do right now in time. To oversimplify things; if you can get over the emotional low of a particularly bad break up or falling out with your mates/family, then treatable forms of cancer won’t be able to break you mentally.
This is a point I really want to get across; life’s fucking tough and it always has been. We come across adversity so much in our day-to-day lives and all of this is constantly preparing you for situations such as this. I know I said earlier that being wronged or having a negative presence in your life is merely destructive and I still firmly believe this, however, being able to withstand the heat of any destructive energy inevitably breeds some form of resilience in the long-term. You won’t realise the mental fortitude you have until you are forced to muster it up so don’t worry if you are afraid of any potential health risks or diagnoses (like I did for no reason for years); the strength will come to you when you really need it. It may not come instantaneously but it will come!
You may have noticed how much I have spoken about emotions and feelings like one of those women-type things they have nowadays. Masculinity is not a core issue which I wish to focus on and it hasn’t played a major factor in my very brief experience of cancer but one point which I really want to get across to men dealing with health issues is this: CRY IF YOU FEEL LIKE FUCKING CRYING! I have never understood the macho-culture bullshit which states that men shouldn’t cry, like it somehow makes you less of a man. Crying is a natural instinct and trying to fight it, at least for me, is physically painful. I have cried my fucking eyes out a lot since my surgeon told me I probably had cancer. I have been a snivelling weak mess, a shell of a man at times, but I always felt better afterwards and I refuse to take any shame in doing so. Look at me now; I’m on top of the world and I feel like I can deal with things I never thought possible before. I honestly believe that this wouldn’t be possible had I not let myself cry out the bad feelings when I was down.
So that’s my advice; cry your eyes out till they’re red and raw like you’ve just huffed a fat bong hit out of Satan’s cock! In my view, it is far more commendable for a person, regardless of gender, to accept their own vulnerability and come to terms with it than to merely refuse to acknowledge it or try and fight it.
This is really all I want to say for my first post, however, I would like to draw attention to a few final words and comments;
- I would like to acknowledge that the form of cancer I have (nodular sclerosing Hodgkin’s lymphoma) has a very high survival rate and that this may impact my views on a number of cancer-related issues. Obviously I cannot speak on behalf of those with more serious/life-threatening forms of the disease, as I can’t honestly say that I know what that feels like. Nonetheless, learning of a potentially life-threatening illness definitely has the potential to shift your perspective on life and make you a much stronger person mentally.
- I have a rough idea of what I want to write about over the next few posts; namely my diagnosis and the events leading up to it, my last session before I start my chemo and my first experience of chemo, which should be starting this Friday
- I was thinking about prefacing every new post by quoting a joke about cancer but this may not be possible logistically, as there are only so many good cancer jokes that I’ve heard of but sure I’ll leave you with a classic from Frankie:
‘What is it about people with cancer that suddenly think they can run the fucking marathon? “oh, I’ve got cancer, you gonna sponsor us?’ And you want to say, “you have no chance of winning!” If you know someone with cancer and they want sponsoring for something, sponsor them. There’s a good chance that you won’t have to pay.’
If you have read this far; thank you very much and I hope that you enjoy my blog! Feel free to get in touch with me any time, either through social media or this, I’d love to hear from you 🙂
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