Pre-Chemo (Pt.1)

This one’s more of a “dealing with cancer” post than a comedy post, so, much like a Lisa episode of The Simpsons or a Meg episode of Family Guy, nobody will blame you for turning back now

So, at this point in my story, I had just been fully diagnosed and had about a week and a half before I started chemo. This gave me a bit of time to get the last bit of sessioning out of me before I would be “officially” off the drink for a number of months. (I say officially but there’s always room for the odd sneaky can.) One thing that I really wanted to talk about in this post was my last full-on madouvih session before starting treatment, which was at the Trinity Ball, however, I have since realised that absolutely fuck-all of it is repeatable. I will however say this; if you and your stomach can withstand the absolute horrors of an event that necessitates you to drink to the point that you forget that you’ve just splashed out 80 quid to listen to a harrowingly sub-standard lineup surrounded by posh twats in tuxes, as you trudge through a cobbled sea of vomit, yokes and despair, in search of toilets that may or not be there, if you can fit an unforgiving digit in the front, not in the bum, yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, and—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son.

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Yes that last line was crass…. or was it….. POETIC?!

OK, I got sidetracked by the opportunity to throw in that weird Rudyard Kipling reference (Seriously though, when else would I ever get the opportunity?), but my point is that I was absolutely bricking it about what chemo-induced nausea would be like. It is something that, in my experience of watching shows like breaking bad, is represented as being this very dramatic unavoidable side-effect, where people are puking their brains out in some grotty toilet, gasping for air like a dying fish. The fact of the matter is that, in the last 10-15 years, the drugs for combating chemo-induced nausea and vomiting have been improved and developed by leaps and bounds, to the point that, as I write this (a good 2 months or so into my treatment) I have not gotten sick once due to my treatment. Given, there is the occasional bout of mild nausea, but nothing that can’t be sorted out by a little bit of vitamin THC.

ANYWAY! On my third attempt at making this point; the bottom line is, if you’ve ever had a night out where you’ve simply had way too much and puked your ring up, this, in my experience, a lot fucking worse than chemo is. If you have never done so and are starting chemo soon, I honestly couldn’t recommend it enough!

Meeting with my chemo nurse pt.1

As I explained earlier, the anti-sickness/nausea drugs for chemo have improved dramatically in recent years. All of this was explained to me at an information briefing session with my chemo nurse, Caroline, who has been just awesome and did a great job in helping me get my head around what chemo would be like. I was to be undergoing the ABVD regimen of chemo (It’s an acronym for the different drugs they use). My treatment would basically consist of being hooked up to an IV drip for a few hours every two weeks, along with daily medication to prevent the chemo drugs from damaging my body.

I won’t go through the long list of potential side-effects, which were explained to me, as I have not experienced most of them and I see little point in speculating as to what “terrible things” may/may not happen to you. One piece of advice, which I have found to be invaluable throughout my treatment, is to listen to other people’s experience of cancer and take in as much positive as are made but for the love of god, don’t sit there and let people tell you about how awful things are/were for them/their loved one unless you are currently experiencing those symptoms. In my experience, the best approach is to take everything as it comes. I understand that it is important to have a basic understanding of what may/may not happen to your body, in order to differentiate between what is happening because of the chemo and what may be another additional health problem.

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For if my hair does actually start falling out; this is what it looks like. From a gig I did for Trinity Fringe 2013, where I feigned an on-stage breakdown and shaved off my dreadhawk for the Irish Heart Foundation.

This is undeniable. However, I feel that this is best explained in an utmost objective and scientific way due to the fact that the body’s reaction to chemotherapy drugs is EXTREMELY subjective and varies greatly from person to person.Hence, I simply do not see the point in adding unnecessary fear and anticipation based on anecdotal observations from anyone. For example, I’m about 2 months into my treatment, I haven’t lost my hair (yet, at least), haven’t spewed my ring up once and I genuinely feel healthier than I have in about a year’s time. Focusing on these positives has been invaluable to me.

I do understand the importance of these back-from-the-brink stories and I found them to be of great value to me around the time of my diagnosis. However, I feel an important proviso with listening to any of these stories/watching any of these youtube videos, is to take in as much positivity as you can from these people’s experience of cancer and their fighting spirit but also to filter out any negative descriptions of anything that you are not currently experiencing, as, in my own opinion, there is fuck-all to be gained from anticipation of such negatives. That’s like deciding to show someone Braveheart to inspire them to fight for freedom and then fast forwarding to the bit where they’re tearing the poor cunt apart like a fucking brioche.

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“Jaysus, some slap off these yokes!”

I have looked up to/modeled myself on two key role models throughout my whole journey; MMA fighter, Conor McGregor and fictional spy, Sterling Archer. Something about the brash, over-confident, dickheaded nature of the two was inspiring, like their attitude towards life was the same that I should have towards cancer. Yes, this type of persona can be really fucking annoying for people when this is your attitude towards all of life. But life and the many people within it, who I have surrounded myself with, have earned my respect. Cancer, on the other hand is just a cunt, so why not be a conceited prick towards it and use all of that positive “I’m gonna wreck this prick!” energy  to fuel your way through treatment?

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*Spoiler alert for Archer Season 2* If you are currently/expecting to go through chemo at any stage, I highly recommend watching the few episodes towards the end of season 2 of Archer, where he gets cancer. It’s weirdly inspiring. I also just realised, upon re-watching it, that he too had stage 2 lymphatic cancer, which was also weirdly inspiring for some reason.

Anyway, back to my chemo briefing session. The obvious initial question, for some strange reason, for most people about to start chemo is “Will my hair fall out?” I’m not going to lie, it was one of the first things on my mind but it’s not something that really mattered to me. It just seems like such a tiny inconvenience in the grand scheme of things. I understand that it can be quite traumatic for some people, especially women, however, realistically, if you have the capacity and head space to be able to be upset by something that is relatively insignificant such as this, then I see that as being a good thing because that means your brain isn’t entirely pre-occupied by the thought of “Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, I might die!” One thing I noticed when I was being diagnosed was that my OCD left me alone because I was so busy being worried about dying and what might happen to me, that I simply didn’t have the head space for irrational worries, there were already enough rational ones there. The point is, if you have the capacity to worry about trivial shit, like missing hair that will grow back, or lost nights out that you will have once again, or a year of college that you will be able to resit, then deep down you’re probably doing OK.

Anyway, I was told that I’d probably lose my hair (again, still hasn’t happened a good 2 months or so in) and I’d most likely get to keep my eyebrows. As you can see from the picture earlier on in this post, I have shaved my head before and I know what I look like bald, so losing my hair isn’t really a worry for me. Plus I’m a big dirty punk, so I have a fine supply of boots and braces to get me through it. Funny enough, I actually had an idea for a joke a while ago about beating up a skinhead, who turned out to be a chemo patient. Maybe karma gave my cancer on the foot of that but either way, Larry David did a much better job of it than I would have:

 

Thank you all for reading!

Again, I had a plan to write about some really gritty shit (I assure you, the IVF wanking room will be discussed in the next post.), however I was horribly sidetracked by a number of thoughts I’d been having about attitude, positivity and the value of other peoples experience/how to use it (y’know, all that “dealing with cancer” crap, that actually aims to help other people going through treatment.)

Anyway, I hope I didn’t shite on too much and that this was of some use to some of you. Again, I love hearing from y’all, so feel free to get in contact with me through this or social media if you want to throw in your two cents on any of the issues discussed or just want to say hi 🙂

 

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Diagnosis and Breaking the News

Hello! I apologise for my lack of posting as of recent (I realise, as I am writing this, just how big-headed that sounds; “I apologise to you all for depriving you of my ramblings for a couple of weeks. Jaysus, you must all be devastated”) I’ve been a tad knackered from the chemo and I’ve been trying to finish off a few assignments for college here and there but I will try and keep you posted as often as possible 🙂

Sorry about the rant there the last post…

Bringing things back to waiting times, I had to wait a mere 6 days for my PET scan after my initial diagnosis. This is a long time, in itself, to be waiting on potentially life-changing news. Public healthcare patients have to wait between 47-55 days for the same results! “Get on with it, stop bitching about the healthcare system, Ben!”. Fair enough, I’ll get on with it.

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Given the title, I had to choose between a joke about Diagnosis Murder or Huey Lewis and the News. I was going to swap the images around, as Dick van Dyke’s face is covered up by my tagline, but faceless Dick is delightfully terrifying so I’ll leave him up there

Comedy! Nah, just kidding, more cancer shit. So I was diagnosed a week after my second biopsy. I was absolutely bricking it in the office, wondering what form of cancer I probably had. “Hodgkin’s Lymphoma”, I was told. At this point I started welling up. I was so relieved to find out that I had one of the most cureable, not treatable, cureable forms of cancer known to man. Not only that, but that it was Nodular Sclerosing Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, the most preferable sub-type of the most preferable form of cancer that there was. This is when I really started to find my strength. I was over the fucking moon!

I talked to a Haemotologist and we went through a potential plan of treatment together. I was to have a PET CT scan done to confirm my stage (2B, confirmed fuck yeah!), then they would freeze a load of my cum (nothing to do with fertility, Callippo were just stuck for a new flavour), and then chemo would be in a week. This meant that I had even more time to get in a few last-pints-before-treatment, play pool and talk shite. I felt so good that I was able to attend the Trinity Ball the next night (a story for another post, my stomach still churns at the very thought of it).

Telling my Friends/Family

I told my brothers, sister and close friends about the news and they all took it fantastically because I was in a genuinely positive mood when I told them. I then decided, fuck it, I’ll tell everyone, I’ll even write a blog about it! I then posted this status on my Facebook wall;

15 April · 

Today I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, one of the most eminently curable forms of cancer known to man. I feel that it makes sense to say this over Facebook for two reasons;

  1. It’s much easier than killing every conversation I enter into when people ask me how are things and what am I up to by answering “CANCER, CANCER, ALL OF THE CANCER!” and then having to reassure people that it’s one of the best types of cancer to have and that I’m doing OK
    2. I’m not a huge fan of really wanky emotional statuses where people just shite on about how they’re feeling but occasionally I gain a bit of insight or learn something from them, so fuck it, hopefully this may be of some use to you.(Nah, not really, just for the sympathy sex)

Honestly, I’ve expected this news for a bit over a week now and I was so relieved to hear that it was a curable form of the disease that I started welling up. At the risk of sounding like I have feelings, I’m so fucking grateful for this news and I feel that it has really made me appreciate life and weirdly enough I feel much happier than I have in a while. Being faced with your own mortality, even in the slightest sense, can really put things into perspective. I’ve been up and down a lot recently and I just wanted to thank everyone who has supported me so far. You’ve been amazing and really made me feel loved and supported, thank you all so much.

The next few months will probably be a shower of cunts; chemo’s not exactly a big sloppy blowjob and I’m probably not going to graduate college til next year but none of that shit really matters in the grand scheme of things, I’m just happy to be alive and fighting right now.

As you can, see, I had my staredown with cancer today, the crustacean bastard! The fight is set for some time over the next few weeks after they freeze a load of my cum and do a few scans. So place a bet on me, the odds are in my favour. Thank you all who have helped so far, and to everyone who will be with me throughout this: LET’S KICK THIS IN THE FUCKING DICK!

Thank you to ██████████████ for lending her photoshop skills.

 

Stare down with Cancer

Yes, this picture is genuinely how I broke the news to people. There’s that old joke along the lines of “My granny believed in the zodiac and she was a cancer. It’s quite ironic how she died really…. because she was killed by a giant crab.”

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The love and support I received was phenomenal and surprised even me. Then I decided, fuck it, I’ll write a blog about it to blow off some steam and keep me occupied. Again, the reaction I received was astounding. I never realised how much love and support was there for me when I really needed it. I never thought of myself as a particularly likeable person, but it was nice to know that doing my best not to be a cunt actually meant something to people.

I was then thrilled to learn that my very first post had been picked up by the largest-selling newspaper in the country and my story was going viral. Again, the reaction was bewildering to me. “Do people really want to read this?” I thought. Apparently so..

A few final words

Thank you all for reading so far, y’all are awesome. Like I said at the beginning of this post, I do acknowledge that I haven’t been posting much as of recent and I will try and make the effort to write a bit more often in between trying to catch up on college work and resting up from chemo. I feel this weeks post was a bit boring and lacking in terms of comedy but seriously, my next post will have harrowingly vivid descriptions and pictures of a legit IVF wanking room, that shit practically writes itself!

 

 

The Rant Post

As promised, here is the rant post, Part 1 of which is merely a hate-filled snowball of ideas and maths, which spiraled out of control, Part 2 of which is an equally hateful, yet eloquently thought out perspective on current mental health cutbacks from my good friend and medical student at RCSI, Naoise Mulcrone.

If you’re not arsed reading embittered rants, I completely understand, however, I would highly recommend giving them a lash if you have an interest in the state of the healthcare system in this country, as they contain insight from the perspectives of both a patient and a future doctor.

1. The 2+2=4 Rant

By the time my second biopsy was performed, I was ready to face the news that I probably had cancer. Having made peace with the fact that I most likely had a very curable form of illness, I went about my week the same as before; having fun with my friends and family, drinking pints and playing pool. I was told that the results of my tests would be in within a week, a long time to wait, yet I had already accepted my probable fate and hence was able to manage myself in terms of stress etc.

This is still a ridiculous amount of time to be waiting on a diagnosis for something that may have a drastic impact upon your life, something which, luckily for me, was mitigated by the fact that I am fortunate enough to be able to afford private health insurance.

Again, me giving out about the waiting time is not a reflection on St. Vincent’s Hospital, which, as I have mentioned in my last post, has taken fantastic care of me. It is merely indicative of the fact that our government needs to be spending more money investing in health and less on waving their dicks about, jockeying for positions in a government, which will likely fall apart before Christmas.

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I needed something to break up the long blocks of text, so I googled “random stock images” and this came up. I guess it’s partially relevant… new government by Christmas and all that…

To put things into perspective, consider this:

From March 2011- July 2014 , €22.9 million was paid out to TDs in expenses alone with a further €6 million of expenses awarded to senators. This adds up to just under €30 million, yet TDs bitch and moan about spending €40 million on another election, ridiculous! This works out at an average of just over €34,000 per year for TDs and just over €29,000 per year for senators. Ask yourself honestly, who is in greater need of this money; TDs and Senators who earn a minimum of €87,258 and €65,000 respectively, or those who cannot work, work less or lose income due to cancer, facing an income drop averaging €1,400 a month, or €16,750 per year?

According to the Irish Cancer society, In Ireland, an average of 30,000 new cases of cancer are diagnosed each year. Their survey also found that four out of five cancer patients (including myself) pay an additional €69 per month to cover the medication they need just to manage the side effects of their treatment (for example, fatigue and nausea).

Multiply this by 12 (so it’s a year’s worth of medication just for managing side-effects), then multiply that answer by 24,000 (4 out of 5 of the 30,000 newly diagnosed patients who have to pay this extra 69 euro per month) and you’re left with a figure of just over 16.5 million euro, roughly half of what our representatives were paid in expenses over three years. Yet they still bitch and moan shamelessly about wasting taxpayer money on another election, as if they have no personal interest at stake. It is obvious from this that these people are well capable of putting 2 and 2 together, as even I, the man, who spent all of ordinary level leaving cert maths down the back of the class trying to work out, mathematically, whether drinking listerine would get you pissed or kill you first, can. Yet they only choose to do so when it’s their heads on the chopping block.

 

I digress back to my initial point; it is not easy to pay for health insurance, especially as a single mother with two kids, yet my mam worked hard enough to provide me and my sister with this, something which I am eternally grateful for. BUT THIS SHOULDN’T BE THE FUCKING CASE!

I am absolutely disgusted by the state of the two-tier healthcare system in this country. My mother shouldn’t HAVE to work hard and scrape away just so her children can receive adequate healthcare. Patients who aren’t able to afford private healthcare shouldn’t HAVE to wait UP TO 25X LONGER for potentially life-saving tests. People shouldn’t HAVE to fear for their lives and wellbeing due to cutbacks in mental health.

And the sad thing is, they don’t HAVE to. If our elected officials gave a single fuck about the health and wellbeing of it’s citizens, we would HAVE universal healthcare by now. The stark reality of the matter, as the other week’s virtually empty Dail debate on mental health cutbacks shows, is that these people do not give a fuck about you or your loved ones. They are charlatans, who would rather spend thousands of hours and taxpayer’s money practically blowing themselves in front of parliament about why their stance on Irish Water is the most important, than merely listen to what the supposed representatives of the people have to say about a crisis which is gripping our country.

Suicide is at an all-time high and I am fucking sick to my stomach that our government is doing nothing to stop this. In the last year alone, 3 people I know have either killed themselves or tried to, yet the healthcare system is taking several steps backwards in this area.

2. The Mental Health rant (From guest contributor, Naoise Mulcrone)

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A bit of food for anger, just to fuel you through the second rant

 

I wanted to write a bit more about mental health cutbacks, but my good friend Naoise Mulcrone, a medical student at RCSI, summed up the collective outrage that our generation is feeling towards recent decisions better than I ever could in this beautifully put together, raw, uncut, uncircumcised rant.

“Yeah, so I’ve seen a lot of people posting about ‪#‎iamareason. I think it’s great that so many people have had the courage to talk about something so personal. And it’s great that we’ve showed just how much we accept these people’s struggles, despite what they might have thought or been afraid of. These “social media trends” are fantastic for putting something in the spotlight. That is until Kim Kardashian breaks the internet with some more softcore pornography. Or buzzfeed publishes another list of 14 reasons why we should all follow the next, newest, freshest, most popular trend. I think it was when Ghandi got that millionth like or retweet or follower or whatever the fuck they have on these sites, that the British really started to listen to him. I heard that Kony fellow was so moved by all the mean things we said about him back in 2012 that he decided to let all the children go.

And yeah people may have taken some time out of their day to write these posts. Some have made pretty eloquent pieces about their personal experiences. I read some lovely posts about the homelessness crisis before Christmas, intertwined with posts of big roasts and families relaxing by fireplaces. But I reckon most of you aren’t mates on Facebook with your local TD, or followed on twitter. They don’t see this, or at the very least it’s pretty easy to ignore. And after it I reckon you probably went back to whatever it was you were doing, continuing about your day happy with the notion that you’re some do-gooder saint a few likes richer than you previously were. Nothing’s really changed though has it?  10 minutes and a couple of likes, maybe even a few shares if you’re lucky, doesn’t make you a protester. It doesn’t make you an activist. It doesn’t change anything (asides from maybe your number of followers). Facebook has become this generations Joe Duffy show; An intellectual graveyard where people come to complain for the sake of it. To make ourselves feel better. So that next time your friends are conversing about it you can tut tut at the ongoing crises, safe in the knowledge you did your part. You had your say. You really made a difference.

We love to be outraged over the shambles that is our current government, or lack thereof. But are we really doing anything about it? Numbers of followers don’t correlate to impact on the earth. Kim Kardashian has 44 million followers on twitter. Ban Ki Moon has 328,000. Now which one of these two people has done more for the world?

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Again, another mildly relevant pic to break up the long blocks of text. One of my mam’s mates sent this on to us shortly after my diagnosis 😛

I’ve seen first-hand the inner workings of the Irish hospitals psychiatry services. I’ve seen a person be told they can’t get the help they need. And I don’t just mean being told that they have to go on some never-ending waiting list, I mean being told that the service they need simply doesn’t exist anymore, because someone left and they don’t have the funding to hire a replacement. I’ve been on a ward where a patient has hung themselves. Successfully. I’ve seen the impact that has had on every single member of staff in the place. Fuck it even hit me. This person didn’t have to die. None of us do.

It’s about time we put down the phones, switched off the computers and got off our seats and did something real. Something loud. Something you can’t just click onto the next page and pretend like it never happened. It was peaceful protest by masses of people that got India its freedom and it took time and dedication not just from a small group of idealists but from everyone. A million people showing up to Leinster house and telling the government that they care enough about how dire things have gotten in recent years to actually go out of their way to do something has much more meaning than a bunch of likes on a screen. I’m not just sick and tired of the way things are anymore. I’ve passed that. I’m fucking outraged at the state of us. And I want to do something. It’s time we stopped fucking around with our social media outrage and made ourselves heard. Before the next saga sweeps in and takes over the headlines. 250,000 people took to the streets for the 1916 centenary celebrations. Can we really care more about something that happened 100 years ago than the state of today?

Ironically they spent 22 million on the celebrations, considerably more than they’re taking out of the mental health budget. 100,000 people gathered at the biggest water charges protest to protest over €160. Surely this is more important than that. So why don’t we show these megalomaniacs who were supposed to be “running our country”, but instead are attempting to rob us of our futures, of our friends, of our family members just who we are, how many we are, and how tired we are of accepting their failures time and time again? If you’ve felt even the slightest indignation towards these cuts, take to the streets. It’s not enough to write, or share, or like a post. Let’s stop letting them ignore us. Let’s start making a difference. We are the majority and we are far more powerful than the cowards sitting in office, far louder than they can ever hope to ignore, we just need to realise it. I want them to hear me. I want them to hear you. They won’t listen to us apart but all together they won’t have any other choice.
‪#‎wearethereason 

 

If you’ve read down this far, fair play for taking an interest in what two young men have to say about the state of our healthcare system. It means a lot to me, as a cancer patient and a mental health sufferer that more and more people, especially young people, are speaking out about these issues

This post provided some much needed venting and I promise you that my next post will be far less ranty. This was sort of a once-off opportunity, given recent headlines.

I’d like to thank Naoise again for contributing an excellent piece of insight and if you’d like to throw in your own two cents on any of the issues discussed in this post, feel free to post in the comments section or get in touch with me through social media.

 

The Build-up (Pt. 2)

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.

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Probably Dev’s fault somehow… the prick….

 

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.
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Sound wan for the free Jesus, pastoral care lady!

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.)

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So I says to your wan, I says….

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…)

 

The Build-up (Pt.1)

A lot of shit has happened in the last month or so, since I was first brought into hospital, so I’m going to try and bring you all up to speed on how everything started etc. as quick as possible. That way it’ll be a lot easier for me to give an account of my  experiences as they happen, without having to refer back to things that happened months ago to just to fill in plot gaps like a lazy  self-referential sitcom *cough* *How I met your mother* “Oh this cough? Nah that’s just the cancer… which I almost definitely contracted from watching How I Met your Mother.”

First signs of illness

*NB* I would like to preface this subheading with a small proviso:
This is a rough recollection of my symptoms over the past few months, so don’t freak the fuck out if you have a few that are similar to mine. However, if you are consistently picking up illnesses for a few months, it may make sense to talk to your GP about getting a referral to A&E, as this will undoubtedly be the quickest route to your diagnosis for reasons which will be discussed throughout this section.

While I was only admitted to hospital about a month ago, I first started feeling ill on New Year’s morning, which, obviously, most of us would attribute to the sheer amount of poison we threw into ourselves on the session the night before, but to be fair, if you’d suggested to me that it was cancer right then and there I would’ve well fucking believed it. I had a pain in my kidneys and my body temperature was off so, anyway, after I was still feeling like shit a few days later, I went to my GP and I was put on antibiotics, I felt a bit better and got on with my life.

I still wasn’t feeling 100% though but it didn’t really bother me. It often takes people a while to feel completely normal again after a minor illness and college can really take it out of you so I didn’t think too much of it. Then, around February, I started getting sick again, worse this time. My body temperature was completely fucked, I was constantly shivering, just couldn’t get warm or cool enough. I started getting night sweats which progressed to the point where I would have to change the sheets on my bed every night and still wake up feeling like I spent the night with R.Kelly.

At this point, some of the lymph nodes in my neck started swelling up to the extent that it looked like I had a second spine growing up one side of it. I went back to my GPs office, where I was put on another course of antibiotics and bloods were taken. Same as the last time, I felt a bit better after a while but still not 100% and the spine of lymph nodes on the side of my neck remained.

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If you don’t know what I’m on about, Google R.Kelly

 

My initial bloods were also lost somehow in the testing lab and I was still feeling run down. Surely enough, I ended up back in my GPs office, where it became clear that I had some sort of underlying illness that was causing all of these other infections, as well as the spine on my neck. It was determined that I most likely had glandular fever and a second sample of bloods was taken for testing.

But before the results of my second sample came back, I started to feel a bit more run down than usual and my mam decided to bring me down to a swift-clinic in Dundrum. I explained my situation to the doctor and he wrote me a referral to A&E, the thinking behind this being that it made more sense to be admitted to hospital, where all the relevant specialists are in the one place and test results come back much faster.

This is not to suggest any degree of negligence on behalf of my GPs, who have been nothing but excellent. The fact of the matter is that, unfortunately, in my own experience, admin in Ireland is just shite and there are many bits and pieces of information, often important, that slip through the cracks. Again, this is not to suggest any degree of negligence on behalf of administrators. My own mother has worked in admin for many years and works her arse off every day.  The problem here is the existence of a system, which fails to safeguard against potential fuck ups and allows such failures to go unnoticed for days, often weeks. Human error is natural, nay inevitable. Systemic errors, however, can be easily identified and solved by putting in place safeguards to combat such fuck ups. Hence, these systems should be held to a far greater degree of accountability and scrutiny.

Either way, things will inevitably be done quicker when everybody involved in the process of diagnosis is in the same building, hence the doctor’s referral to A&E.

*NB* If you’re a student wanker like me (I am) and enjoy reading academic texts (I don’t), you can check out Professor Lucian Leape’s analysis of how systemic errors are largely responsible for the vast majority of individual error in the context of medicine here. It’s in a very different context than that discussed here but still somewhat relevant.

But enough of me shiting on about admin…

The doctor at the swift clinic briefly, yet as bluntly as being stabbed by a pair of crayola scissors, suggested that I might have Lymphoma.  This was the first point at which someone had suggested that it might be cancer and that freaked me the fuck out. I was screaming internally; “Why the fuck would he suggest that it *might* be cancer, the stupid fuck?! What possible use could I have for this information?! Why would you tell someone they might be dying when there’s no tangible evidence to suggest that this is definitely the case?! I’m going in for tests anyway, could you not have just waited until they came back and then tell me for definite, instead of leaving me hanging in the fucking dark here, wondering?!”

While I do still hold a great deal of that sentiment with me, it occurred to me a while later, after finding out more about lymphoma, that this wasn’t necessarily such a scary diagnosis after all and that the doctor was merely desensitised to it. The survival rates are through the roof, for christ’s sake! I can now see that it was just so normal to him, as it should have been for me and, indeed, all people who have to deal with cancer in their lives; be they a potential patient, a sufferer or a close friend/relative. We all deserve to have the same calm mentality as that doctor had, as opposed to this knee-jerk reaction, triggered by the mere mention of the word “cancer”, which makes your mind instantly jump to the worst possible outcome of this situation; “Holy shit, death is an actual possibility here.”

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Didn’t have a relevant cheery picture to break up all the talk about death and cancer, so here’s one of me fufilling a childhood dream, wearing Gerry Adams face Buffalo Bill style, from when I was filming for Des Bishop’s Election on RTÉ

I understand that the survival rate for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, especially in young people, is generally very high (most sources seem to suggest that it’s well over 90% for young men), and that an “Oh fuck!” reaction may well be warranted in a case where the rate is less favourable. The point I’m trying to make is that the instant, terrifying, Pavlovian reaction upon hearing the word “Cancer” is not helpful in any way, shape or form and that we need to smash these negative connotations in order to change this line of thought from “OH FUCK, OH FUCK, OH FUCK, I MIGHT DIE!” to something more along the lines of “Ok, so this may be cancer. How bad is it? What treatment is there available? What can we do about this right now?”, so that we can calmly assess the situation in an objective manner and analyse it for what it really is.

Anyway, I eventually got over this, dismissing cancer as an improbable worst-case scenario. Jaysus, I was some fucking thick.. 😛

 

A&E – Admission

The next morning I was admitted to St. Vincent’s Hospital, just down the road from me. I caught it at a good time; all of Friday night’s drunken casualties (if any) had been cleared up and I was seen within half an hour. After wee bit of time waiting on a trolley, it was decided that I was to be kept in for tests over the weekend, even though test results don’t come back until Monday (Because people don’t get sick on weekends, right?). Again, this is not a negative reflection on St.Vincent’s Hospital, who have taken extremely good care of me. It is merely a reflection on the state of the healthcare system in this country and the need for additional funding in this department.

After settling down, I was brought into my room for the night and they took my vitals/weight etc. It was at this point that I realised just how much weight I had lost since Christmas. My appetite was completely obliterated for months and I was visibly skinnier, yet it hadn’t bothered me too much. I had put this down to the fact that I had stopped working out, due to injury.

Rapid weight loss didn’t seem so scary to me; during my last run working at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I somehow managed to lose about 5kg within the space of a month on my patented fried haggis and buckfast diet. But when they weighed me this time, I was shocked to see that I had lost about 9kg since Christmas. While this is a terribly excessive loss of weight, I have no doubt in my mind that this was drastically mitigated through self-medication with cannabis.

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Nothing like a fried haggis swimming in salt, vinegar and brown sauce.

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Bucky, the Buckfast Buck (or stag, whatever..) on the last day of Fringe. (Those are just the bottles that made it home to the apartment…)

This is another point, which I want to dedicate a good deal of writing to in future posts. I don’t want to conflate a number of issues, such as access to medicinal cannabis with other arguments regarding regulation, decriminalization and harm reduction, so I’ll try and keep this short, to the point and directly in reference to my own personal situation;

  • Cancer completely destroyed my appetite and, at many times, self-medicating was the only viable option for me to be able to eat and survive.
  • Self-medication is not preferable and, while cannabis is undeniably safer than most chemicals that we put into our system on a daily basis, there are inherent risks associated with putting any unregulated/untested substance into your body. We need to have legal access to medical cannabis, not just for the sake of convenience (In this day and age, anyone can pick up a bag of untested, potentially adulterated Cannabis with one phone call), but so that medical professionals can properly assess its use, so that the same rigorous regulations for other medications can be applied to ensure quality standards for this medicine and to ensure that patients are not ingesting poison. I’m not trying to say that Cannabis is inherently safe, on the contrary, further scientific study and regulation is needed in order to ensure that it is used safely and responsibly, like any other medication.
  • You cannot possibly fathom the immense amount of strain that cancer can have on your mental health until it affects you/you’re loved ones. As someone who has been treated for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and anxiety since I was 15, I have built up a number of coping mechanisms, which allow me to function on a day-to-day basis without the need for medication. However, I have been pushed to the very limits of my mental strength over the past month or so and, at times, cannabis provided me a moment of relief, which allowed me to relax and consider my situation in an objective and calm manner. These little moments of calm meant the absolute world to me and I have no doubt that, without them, my attitude towards my situation would not be so positive. Everything happens so fast when you’re forced into a situation which necessitates you to consider your own mortality and sometimes all I needed was a moment for everything to slow down so I could come to terms with my situation, let my mental guard down and cry.

I’m not saying that cannabis is some miracle drug and that it will automatically work as well for others as it has for me, just that it is worth investigating the immense potential for cannabis to be used to combat mental health disorders, stress and the side-effects of chemo, such as nausea, vomiting and diminished appetite, to name but a few illnesses.

By raising public awareness of my own use of medical cannabis, I hope that this will help other people in situations similar to mine. Using a medicine that has not yet been regulated in Ireland can be isolating due to the stigma around illegal drug use, however a recent RTÉ poll found that 79% of the Irish public support the legal access of medical cannabis. This is a conversation worth having in contemporary Irish society. It’s 2016 for feck sake!

Help Not Harm are an organisation campaigning for the legal access of medical cannabis through GP prescriptions to ensure stringent medical standards. If anyone would like to join the campaign they can do so at helpnotharm.org

If you would like to take some sort of action right now, you can sign this petition right here.

Thank you all for reading! I have the draft for my next post or two sorted already, so you won’t have to wait as long as you did this time. Have a good one and feel free to get in touch with me through this, social media, carrier pigeon, telepathic thought sent by creepy warlocks or whatever you usually use, I’m always happy to hear from y’all.

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Little bit of food for thought.

 

 

Introduction and shit

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Me having a stare down with the crustacean bastard that is cancer. (I should probably note, since this is a blog that discusses issues surrounding cancer, that this is an old picture and I quit smoking tobacco years ago.)

 

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;

Stigma

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.

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Wait, no, that’s stigmata.

 

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.

In summary:

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.

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Cue the baby oil and wah pedal

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!

Masculinity

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.

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The height of masculinity

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.

Closing remarks

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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Twitter: @jaminmorgan

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Tumblr: stagefourchancer.tumblr.com