Friday October 30th 2020

LIVE LIFE DECADENTLY – About a boy and his battle with bladder cancer

My dear friend Jamie has bladder cancer. He had it before, got rid of it, and now it’s back: it has one of the highest recurrence rates of any cancer, at 50-80%. He asked me to write something for bladder cancer awareness, and I said “Sure: but what do you want me to write about? Statistics? Symptoms?” And after a little discussion we decided that what I should really write about wasn’t cancer at all.

We take so much for granted these days, but probably the biggest “given” is that our bodies will function relatively normally. We don’t think about breathing until we’re struggling for air; we just do it. We assume that we will be able to swallow; to digest our food; we assume our livers will process our alcohol; we assume we’ll be able to pee. In fact, we don’t even go so far as assuming these things; they just are. But what happens when you can’t make those assumptions anymore? When every day becomes a struggle, physically, and every function of your body becomes a thrilling success? Jamie’s friends are anxious for updates, and send messages of congratulations when “pissing goes according to plan”. Where do we turn when we can no longer trust our own bodies?

Turns out, we get just a little spirituality on. You don’t really appreciate life until you’ve faced death. It throws everything into sharp relief, like clicking “auto correct colours” on your photo enhancing software. Suddenly the edges are clear, and you see the little details you previously glossed over.

“What would make me bloody happy,” said Jamie, “is if people could realise some of the things I’ve realised, without the effing pain.” Cancer, like any deadly disease, helps you prioritise. Suddenly, taking home that huge salary at the end of the month, but never actually being home to enjoy it, doesn’t seem like the smartest idea after all. Another friend who’s faced death this year says “it makes you live more decadently; savour each bite of chocolate cake and calories be damned. Have more sex, laugh more, don’t be afraid to tell people you love them.”

Jamie counts himself  “extremely fecking lucky”, in that the surgery which removed his bladder didn’t have too much of an adverse effect on his, er, manhood. While having children in the traditional way might never be possible, Jamie can (and does) still get it up. And even while we’re laughing over penis jokes, and discussing possible methods of insemination in future, some involving lesbian aliens, we both know that for Jamie, the future might never come. Jamie’s doctors have given him a 10% chance of seeing out the year.

There’s a calmness about death when I talk to Jamie. To throw in the statistics for just a minute, worldwide 386000 cases of bladder cancer were diagnosed in 2008, and 150000 people died. Men have a 57% chance of survival within five years of diagnosis. “Death and taxes, you know, isn’t that the way? If it happens now it’s a little sooner than I’d have liked, but fuckit, I’ve had a good innings. I mean, it’ll be a bit of a bugger for you lot, you’ll miss me terribly.” There’s a silence, before Jamie reluctantly raises his eyebrows and says “Yeah, I might miss you too.”

Happily though, Jamie has also got several projects lined up for next year, is eternally contemplating how to propose to his girlfriend, and teases me endlessly about the speech he’s going to make at my wedding next year. While he’s reached a relative peace with death, he’s still madly and passionately in love with life. And he wants you to be too.

If you want to read some serious stuff about bladder cancer, you can go to http://info.cancerresearchuk.org/cancerstats/types/bladder/

(this beautiful article was written by a dear friend of Jamie’s, who wishes to remain anonymous).