The period of time since July last year and my near death experience with an incredibly aggressive cancer, whilst it’s been physically and mentally demanding and really tough at times, has been a miraculous and astonishing experience that has blessed me and has had the most profoundly positive and energising effect on me and my life journey.
It is easy and perhaps perfectly reasonable to presume the whole cancer experience is bad and a rotten deal for life to dump on us. In fact, in almost every report, media presentation, and medical approach, cancer is just bad, but none of that even remotely helps us to live with it and deal with it, yet live and deal with it we must.
Well, here’s a thing, I lived with brutal depression for most of the years of my life and I didn’t begin to come to terms with it and appreciate it until I stopped seeing it as an enemy. Depression, like cancer, is unquestionably no easy ride, but what I learnt was that it’s how I dealt with it that mattered and all that profound experience with depression has informed my dealing with cancer. I am reluctant to call either a friend, but it’s like a brutally honest advisor (Kings and Queens pay heed) you might not like it, but if you pay attention you can learn from it.
Last Friday I was laid out in the radiotherapy machine as it did its thing and I was just happy and the thought ran through my mind, “I have a blessed life.”
And it’s true, I didn’t make up being happy, in fact until July last year I had never experienced what ‘happy’ was, now I have and it has nothing whatsoever to do with how good or bad things are, it’s entirely separate from all that. My experience of it is an inner well spring that just bubbles up and it’s more like magic than anything I have ever experienced. I’ve always wondered about ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’, enshrined in the United States Declaration of Independence as ‘unalienable Rights’, and wondered how that was supposed to work? It seemed to me that the pursuit of happiness was as pointless as chasing rainbows. Maybe it’s about being still.
Most of us are taught to be small in our own eyes and to live small limited lives and never explore the endless possibilities of life. Education steers us in a predetermined direction and away from our dreams and other possibilities, we learn to adhere to the tramlines of waged work and to accept the insult of our worth measured in pounds and pence. Looking back to my own ‘education’ I do not recall happiness ever being mentioned, nor inner contentment, nor to know myself or even how to, nor kindness, nor to appreciate the wonder of nature and this incredible body I inhabit, made entirely of star dust.
I was born to be a thinker and a dreamer, to this day it’s what I do best, yet I was punished for both in school. Somehow, though, some vital creative part of me endured and has never left me. Just before I left school I was asked by the Schools Career Adviser what I wanted to be and I told him I wanted to be an artist and he laughed at me, thus reinforcing that indomitable creative spark, though I did not know the way.
A very foolish man, a former Supreme Court justice, said yesterday that some lives are less valuable than others – ‘He said he did not accept that “all lives are of equal value”, adding: “My children’s and my grandchildren’s life is worth much more than mine because they’ve got a lot more of it ahead.”  At what point would I ever say to my daughter that as she gets older, her life will become less valuable, because she hasn’t got much time left? As each season passes I hope she treasures it more as maturity brings depth and vibrancy, experience, knowledge and understanding, as it has for me. I suspect Mr former Supreme Court justice is the kind of guy who expects young people to fight the wars of aged fools in power. It makes no sense. Life is amazing, we do not value it enough, if we did, there would never, ever, be such a thing as a minimum wage and no government would vote to deprive children of food .
If cancer has given anything to me, it has given me the space to grow up and appreciate life more, to understand its depth and beauty more and, above all, appreciate and understand the need for kindness, the most life enhancing, life changing, gift we can offer each other and, indeed, ourselves. It is almost universal that people find being kind to themselves hard and I think that’s learnt and not innate. As I look at the world, people don’t seem to have much of a problem with self loathing, but loving ourselves is a big problem. Jesus (whatever you may think of him, spirituality and faith) said, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Tough call. I wouldn’t treat my worst enemy the way I’ve treated myself at times. But I think it’s time we woke up, above all, to, ‘money is not the measure of worth’. Life is priceless. It’s the most amazing thing we’ll ever, so briefly, have and the least we can do is treasure it.
Keith Lindsay-Cameron. 18 January 2021.