Sunday, 4 February 2018

The New Normal

It is now 7 months since I first knew I had cancer.

Although at times the days and weeks have dragged by, the months seem to have gone so fast.  As I look back, I find it hard to fully appreciate how much my life has changed.

Before then, being healthy was simply a case of watching what I ate, trying to get enough exercise, not drinking too much and taking my daily vitamins.  That was normal life then.  Some days I would do better than others, and some days I would fail completely!

Since then, being healthy has been turned on its head.  What would have been considered deeply unhealthy before, is now a staple part of my life. Things which normal human beings would avoid like the plague have now become part and parcel of extending my life.

In the bleakest terms, this new normal consists of chemical castration by hormone therapy, subjecting my body to radioactive bombardment, and having poison pumped into my veins every 21 days.   That is not to mention all the tablets, blood tests, x-rays, scans and medical appointments which have become a normal part of life. 

I wonder how many people know that the average CT scan exposes you to ten times more radiation than two weeks in the Fukushima exclusion zone in Japan and almost twice as much as an hour in the grounds of the Chernobyl power station in 2010.  Radiotherapy treatment is measured in many more multiples again, which is why radiologists don’t just go behind a screen, they have to retreat to a separate room down a corridor before flicking the switch.  

Then there are the steroids given to ward off an adverse reaction to chemotherapy; a low daily dose and then a blitz of 2 weeks-worth of steroids in 2 days around each infusion.

It’s hardly what I would have called normal before and yet, for so many cancer sufferers, this is the new normal.

There have been other changes too.

Before cancer, the kind of church service I looked for would have been full of lively worship, with a band rather than an organ, lots of spontaneous participation, modern prayers and a sermon peppered with humour to liven it up.

Now (and I amazed that I am saying this) the service I best connect with each Sunday is 1662 Prayer Book Communion.  I have never been one to do away with BCP services (Book of Common Prayer) in the churches I have served in, but it has never been my cup of tea.  Since my diagnosis, that has all changed.  There is something about the gravitas of a 1662 Communion service which now feeds me; something about being carried by the liturgy which sustains me; something about the stillness which offers no answers but assures me of God’s presence.  They are the things which meet my needs now.

It has given me a new understanding of those who faithfully and resolutely come to church, often early on a Sunday morning when the church is still cold, to bathe in the 450-year-old language of this act of worship and prayer.

Then finally, there is a new awareness of those around me, who are also battling cancer – friends & neighbours, colleagues & those I network with via social media.

It is a bit like being inducted into a secret society, then having the doors opened wide to reveal a whole crowd of people in the same club, many of whom you knew, and yet didn’t know.

It seems that there is still a subtle taboo in talking about cancer, particularly among men, despite all the media publicity.  In the news this week were new statistics which show that more men now die from prostate cancer than women from breast cancer.  Yet breast cancer has achieved a national profile that prostate cancer has not.    I have become accustomed to a man drawing me aside to reveal in hushed tones, that prostate cancer is part of his life too.  It’s almost like a confession of some dark secret or clandestine conspiracy.

Discovering this wider community leads to sharing in other people’s journeys too, for good or ill.  On the same day a few weeks ago, I received two Facebook messages.  One from a friend who has been given the all-clear, and another from a friend who has been supporting me through chemo, to say that her treatment was no longer working.  She now has just months to live.  Joys and sorrows walk hand in hand.

This is the new normal. 

It’s a world where drugs and needles, poisons & radiation, spirituality & community, elation and grief are all integral parts of our day to day journey. 

So to all who are touched by cancer, I wish you every blessing as you navigate these very different paths in life, both fellow sufferers and their loved ones.  On this World Cancer Day 2018, let's break the taboos which still keep people silent and increase everyone’s awareness of a road better travelled together.

Let this be the new normal.

Many readers will know that my wife, Mel Hazlehurst, is having her head shaved to raise money and awareness for Prostate Cancer UK.  If you would like more information or want to donate simply visit

and a big thank you to all who have already given so generously.

In Mel’s words – you Rock!

PS  Back to Crossing the Line next week...

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