Musings From The Day Room – Mike White Reflects On Chemotherapy, Lanterns, Austerity & Mortality

Mike White‘s diary entry reads: 9th.January. I am up the Northern Centre for Cancer Care this morning for my chemo breakfast, the Special K in my treatment plan.  The day room is furnished like the lobby of a budget hotel with vinyl armchairs in alternate pink and purple. Here 20 or so of us sit with our lines in, reading the papers or talking in hushed tones with our partners/companions. De Quincey in his Confessions (1821) describes his wife as his ‘amanuensis’ through the pains of opium, which I used to think was the peak of Romantic chauvinism benefitting from a classical education.  Now I can appreciate the intimate comfort of such relationship and I welcome Catherine’s role play as the private secretary on my own cancer campaign trail. Cliché suggests the trail is a rollercoaster ride but I would settle for a whirling teacup and a tad less nausea.

When the chemo drip feed is complete the unit emits a disconcerting beep like an HGV alarm. I half expect it to announce “Attention! This vehicle is reversing”, which I suppose it is metaphorically, restoring my body to a pre-metastasis state with a knackered carcinoma. How quickly one picks up the snippets of medical lingo.

It is iPads-a-go-go in here as several of us are absorbed in our Christmas presents. I just got an e-mail from my dear friend Margret Meagher of Arts and Health Australia who tells me her beloved Labrador died on Boxing Day in the midst of a family reunion. She frets that religious dogma has restrictions on pets passing over, but I respond that any worthwhile after-life should include all we have loved wisely and well, and so I cannot believe there is a sign on the pearly gates warning “no dogs allowed and keep off the grass”. I mean, God must be a dog-lover – they share the same Scrabble letters. Do not mistake all this for idle musing – this is a hyper-real me, on drugs and multi-tasking.

Just like a reversible hat, what a difference a day makes.  Yesterday at this time I was passing over flooded fenlands en route for – a-ha! – Norwich, musing (again) on that new entry in our political as well as meteorological vocabulary, ‘the polar vortex’, as the Treasury’s brash announcement sinks in that £25 billion more is to be stripped from our quality of life index. And there I was preparing a pep-talk on evaluating the sustainability of Norfolk’s new arts in health initiative.

Current events are teaching me it is best to sustain some dual thinking for keeping attention both near-to-home and far ahead and not let the bastards narrow one’s horizon. Next week I am helping host CMH’s long-planned lanterns colloquium, the first of its kind (?) and our contribution to Durham’s Institute of Advanced Studies 2014 inter-disciplinary theme of ‘Light’. Indeed it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.

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