This post was initially supposed to be a quick catch-up from the point of my diagnosis to my current treatment (2nd treatment in the bag as of last Friday, still feeling pretty fucking groovy!), however I got horribly side-tracked by the sheer contempt I have for the healthcare system, a sentiment that has been echoed a lot across social media as of recent and I thought it might be worth throwing in my 2 cents about it. I also came across a fantastic rant which sums up this collective outrage, which our generation is experiencing, from my good friend, medical student, Naoise Mulcrone and it was just too fucking good not to put in.
As with many rants, this began as a collection of small thoughts, which snowballed out of control, so I will be splitting this week’s post into two, easier to manage, pieces;
Post A: The Build-up pt. 2 (Today)
Post B: The Rant post (This Saturday)
I apologise for the backlog of posts. A LOT has happened in the last couple of months and it all happens so fast, so there is a lot to write about. I should have y’all up to speed shortly though. Next week’s post will focus on lighter topics, such as my last big night out before I started chemo, being made radioactive for a day and the grim, grim realities of freezing one’s own semen.
Testing.. testing… one two, one two
Anyway, back to the hospital! At this point, I would like to give a massive thank you to all of the staff at St. Vincent’s Hospital. This has, undoubtedly, been one of the scariest periods of my life and I am terrified of hospitals and getting sick. Every single member of staff I have dealt with has been nothing but kind and reassuring and, if I have learnt anything from my time in hospital, it is that nurses deserve infinitely more pay than they are currently given. Even purely from a mental health standpoint, their work has been invaluable to me and many others and this deserves a great deal more validation than is currently given.
So it was decided that I would be kept in for a number of tests over the weekend. I was absolutely raging that I was going to miss the 1916 centenary celebrations. “Is this what Pearse and Connolly died for?! So I could sit here sober, in a hospital bed, on a sunny Sunday afternoon?! It may as well still be fucking Britain!” It wasn’t all doom and gloom though; a hospital can be a really fun place to go exploring around and I am lucky enough to have good friends who were willing to keep me company along the way.
Like I said earlier, I don’t like hospitals; there’s just something about the whole emotionless clinical nature of them, which I find so creepy. Yet I found a number of simple pleasures which helped me adapt to my new environment;
- Communion. As someone whose family never went to mass (A big dirty prod), I always wanted to see what communion wafer tasted like. As it happens there is a woman from pastoral care, who comes around to all the rooms every day to give communion. On Easter Sunday, I decided to avail of this, however I had no idea how this worked. I knew there was some sort of ritual/words I was supposed to say to her but I had no idea. “This is the body of Christ.” she said. “Ah grand, sure pop him in there!”, I replied as she stared down at the big filthy protestant head on me, munching away on catholic Jesus.
- Sneaky tokes. As I mentioned in my last post, I have been using cannabis throughout my time in hospital for reasons I have already detailed. There was just something so deliciously mischievous about sneaking out in the evening for a covert bong hit, the ritual of coming back all glassy-eyed whistling “Buffalo Soldier” at the top of my lungs, with a fat glass pipe tucked safely away in the sleeve of my dressing gown, laughing away to myself at a secret joke only I was in on. (As I’m writing this, I realise I must’ve stuck out about as obvious as Danny Healy-Rae at a MENSA meeting.)
- Secret gig. I was offered to do a small set for the law school’s cabaret show in college, in front of all of my lecturers and thought “Fuck it, I’m not missing this for the world!”. It was the night before I was due to have my first neck biopsy and I was absolutely bricking it, as I had never undergone any sort of surgery in my life. My mam, the saint of a woman that she is, snuck me out of the hospital and dropped me outside the sugar club, where I performed a full 10 minute set to my lecturers, wearing nothing but an ass-less hospital gown. They thought it was part of the act and, not to be a conceited prick (I am), but I fucking killed it! The high from that set was enough to put my nerves in check and, the next day, I was all good and ready to have a large needle fuck me in right in the neck hole.
It was after this first biopsy, that the possibility of my condition being cancer became much more likely. The initial core-needle biopsy was inconclusive, so they sent in another surgeon to look at me, with the view of performing an excisional biopsy (taking out the whole lymph node.) “It’s probably lymphoma,” he said casually, as he felt my neck. *wanky cliche warning* – my whole world stopped still. “Wh- What makes you think that?” I stuttered. “Well, it’s consistent with all of your symptoms. It’s probably Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, lots of young people get it. Also, it feels like cancer.” I was stunned. How the fuck can you tell whether something’s cancerous just by giving it a quick squeeze?! With great accuracy apparently…
This was the point when the reality of my condition dawned on me, yet I had to wait another week to undergo the second biopsy, to gain any degree of certainty as to what the fuck was going on. This was, without a doubt, the worst part of my experience with cancer so far; not knowing. I spent most of that week in complete shock, unable to come to terms with my illness until one day I decided “Fuck it, I probably have cancer. This is the most likely reality of the situation I’m in.” After that, things didn’t bother me as much. Although I lacked any definite degree of certainty, accepting what I thought to be the worst possible outcome of my situation was liberating and this gave me strength. Enough strength that I was able to get my head together for a small set at Pop The Cherry Comedy in Whelan’s. (It’s on every Monday, the line-ups are, without a doubt, the most consistent I have seen on the Dublin circuit and I’d highly recommend going if you get the chance.)
This little bit of breathing room proved valuable and I spent the last few days before my second biopsy having pints, playing pool and chatting shite with my good friends and family. By the day of the operation, I was ready. I decided “Fuck, it’s probably cancer. There’s nothing you can do to stop this now; sink or swim, dickhead!” And swim, I did.
Accepting my own lack of control over the medical reality of my situation was painful initially, but also a massive relief, in the sense that I was now free to take charge of what I had left of my freedom. Doug Stanhope once said something along the lines of “To be happy in this world, you have to accept that you are undeniably fucked. Only then can you begin to enjoy life for what it is.” This rang true with me. I was no longer predisposed with worrying about what my condition might be and, instead, was able to focus on the positives of having cancer; namely that I now had a license to tell as many horribly offensive cancer jokes as I wished; an absolute gift to someone working in comedy.
Speaking of which, here’s an absolute gem from Brendon Burns:
Thank you all for reading! Stay tuned and keep an eye out for Saturday’s post if you’re into some serious rant-porn. (Nobody’s judging…. you sick fuck!)
I’d also like to give a big shout out to my friends at The Fine Ale Countdown podcast. Check it out, it’s genuinely one of the funniest things I’ve had the pleasure of listening to in recent months. Also, being off the drink at the moment, it gives me a perverse masochistic pleasure listening to the descriptions of all the delicious beers I cannot have. (Ok, maybe I’m the sick fuck here…)