“I guess everybody’s cancer journey is different, but in many ways shares common issues. Who would have thought that a chance meeting in a London pub would have such an impact on my life, in fact it is not too strong to say it probably saved my life!
After having worked and basically lived in London for 5 years, I was diagnosed out of the blue with kidney cancer at the age of 40. It was a huge blow. I was finally doing the job I loved and had worked so hard over 20 years to get and now this. I remember coming out of the consultation to greet my father in the waiting room with the words, “Yep, I’ve got it.” We walked in silence to the car and nothing of it was mentioned on the journey home. We walked through the door and acknowledged my mother with just a simple nod. It was enough.
I had been living in hotels for the past 5 years and had nowhere as such to live and so moved back into home. Although at 40 this seemed a backward step, I was surrounded by love and support and, after surgery a few weeks later to remove my kidney, I was more than grateful for the home cooked meals and someone to help apply the necessary ointment to where the staples were. The surgeon had seemed almost over-excited that it had been the longest cut he had ever had to make at just under 24 inches, I was not so thrilled!
A month or so later whilst I was still recovering the company I had been working for decided not to renew my contract and so income ceased. Not that this was a real worry. I had a few quid saved and my parents, although by no means well off, had said not to worry about things like money, just concentrate on getting better.
Life moved on and with each passing month the physical wounds healed, but unfortunately the dark clouds of mental health got blacker and I struggled; again family support kicked in and after a hug or a few words the clouds seemed to lift a bit.
One of my usual treats was to go to London every 3 months for a long weekend. London makes me feel alive and excited. The frustrated singer, dancer, artist and entertainer can come out to play and going to some of the free drag shows on offer was always a highlight of these weekends away for me. Such funny and talented people with a wicked sense of humour and usually the capacity to drink seemingly endless shots without it affecting their vocal chords!
It was during one such trip that I ventured to Halfway to Heaven to see the Sunday afternoon cabaret. Firstly the superb CK and then the zany MrsMoore with her baby grand! I got chatting to MrsMoore during the customary cigarette break and she told me about a fundraiser that they had been running over the past few weeks based on old TV game shows, hosted by Drag Idol 2013 winner Martha D’Arthur. The following Tuesday was the last and was going to be based on 3-2-1. I hadn’t seen Martha before and was keen to do so as I had heard she was great and 3-2-1 was always a Sunday night must in our household, so I decided to extend my stay so that I could attend.
I was happy to find when I arrived at Halfway that the fundraiser was for a charity called Cancer is a Drag who I had never heard of before, but any organization raising money in the name of cancer was good as far as I was concerned. I bought £10 worth of raffle tickets and stood back ready to enjoy the fun. To my total surprise my ticket was drawn out and I was paired with Mrs Moore. Fate I suppose you could say. I reached the final to be told that the jackpot was a few hundred quid and that if I didn’t win it that amount would be donated to the charity. My luck ran out and I just won a bottle of fizz!
This is when I first met Alan Bugg. The Founder of Cancer is a Drag. He and his partner came over to thank me for getting the question wrong and over a glass of the fizz he told me a bit more about the charity and how the money would make a huge difference to people. I shared my own cancer story with him and he told me of his. Strange as it may seem, at that point I suddenly felt empowered and I changed from a victim to a survivor. Alan gave me a card with the charity’s email address on and told me to keep in touch.
Over the following months I continued to follow the charity’s progress via the internet and sent the occasional email commenting on the various charity events and on Alan’s continuous battle. It was a bit of a distraction as in an 18 month period I lost my eldest brother to bone cancer, my father to prostate cancer and Alzheimer’s, found my mother dead at home and then on going to pick my other brother up for her funeral found that he had committed suicide. The black clouds of mental health returned heavier than ever.
May last year saw a bit of a breakthrough. Doctors said there was no sign of anything returning to the kidneys. Hooray! Something to celebrate at last, but then October bought more worries. I found what I thought was a hard lump in one of my testicles. I must admit that I wasn’t a religious checker and it was an article on the TV which had reminded me. For a period of 3 or 4 days I was constantly feeling myself. One minute convincing myself that there was nothing there and then the next convinced that there was. I wasn’t sleeping and was becoming increasingly paranoid and so grabbed the bull by the horns and went to the GP to put my mind at rest. Within 3 days I had undergone tests and received the confirmation. Cancer! The surgeon said he would operate the following week. It would be simple and quick, easy, and nowhere near as bad as the kidney operation, but for me this time seemed oh so much worse!
You see this time I felt so alone. No family to put an arm around me or crack a joke to bring a smile to my face, no one to make a homemade pie and no one to listen to my worries. It bought all the grieving for my family back into sharp focus and I felt as if I was losing them all over again. Not only that but I had not been able to work since the original diagnosis and all my savings had long since gone on surviving.
I thought that I should drop a courteous email to Cancer is a Drag to let them know what was going on and that I may not be in touch for a while. I had no idea what wheels this would set in motion and what work would go on behind the scenes.
I received a lovely email from the charity and they made me promise to let them know how things went and when I was home.
As I came around from the operation, the enormity and reality of what had just happened started to hit. There were so many questions and so many worries and yet everyone around me seemed to think that this issue was now dealt with. They had removed the cancer and so everything was now ok right? Wrong!
You see cancer is not only a physical invasion of your body, but also in its own way invades your mind and your finances. All of these things need to be dealt with before recovery and healing can start to take place.
On getting home I started to worry over how I was going to afford to get to the following weeks appointments. The buses from where I live to the hospital do not start running until late in the day and are infrequent. I would have to get taxis to some of the appointments at £20 a go. That meant the heating would have to go off and food would be limited, yet they were also important to the recovery process.
I let the charity know that all had gone well and that I was now home and starting the recovery. Almost by return I had an email back and its tone was not what I had expected. I had thought it would say the same as the doctors, “That’s good, all’s well now,” but it didn’t, it was different.
Of course it expressed how pleased the charity was that they had appeared to get rid of the cancer, but it had a practical and emotional side to it which made me realize someone gets me and the situation. Cancer is a Drag actually gets it!
It asked how I was going to manage financially, how was I feeling within myself, had I come to terms with things, did I have someone around to talk to? All the things no-one else had thought of asking. It was also done in a way that did not seem prying.
I replied and again thought, ‘well it’s probably just the standard spiel.’ Oh how wrong I was!
Cancer is a Drag said it was on this journey with me. Not just during diagnosis, not just during the initial recovery period, but for as long as I wanted them on it with me. I was now part of the Cancer is a Drag family. That word ‘Family’ meant so much at the time and has come to mean even more in the months since.
For a single man, with no close family, few friends and seemingly alone, I now felt loved and cherished again.
E-mails, phone calls and texts are now a regular occurrence between me and the charity. Late last year they kindly sent me a donation of £300. This enabled me to keep the heating on and eat well and no doubt speeded up the healing process. Not only that but it removed a huge weight from my shoulders and ensured that I was able to go to all the chemo and check-up sessions without the added worry of where I was going to find the money from.
There are many, many cancer charities out there; most either deal with research or children, or are for people with terminal cancer. Cancer is a Drag is different. They are there and lend financial and, as importantly, emotional support for people living with cancer. Not only that but they are also very special in the way that they raise much of their funds.
Drag Queens and Kings freely give of their time to entertain audiences and raise money at the same time. I find this very special as most of the people they are raising funds for they will never meet. I just hope they realize that the work that they do really does transform lives.
This was perfectly represented recently. In March I was also diagnosed with a rare form of arthritis which is going to gradually restrict my movement more over time. For me this seemed like one diagnosis too far! I really was suicidal. Then came the Cancer is a Drag email in my inbox. It reminded me that I was a survivor and that my ‘Family’ cared. It stopped me from doing anything silly.
Cancer is a Drag is my family, my friend and my benefactor and this is what makes it so special and unique.
Thank you Cancer is a Drag!”