Beatson patient and Journalist, Ally Mclaws, explains in his own words the challenges with treatment, living with cancer and taking positive approach to end of life.
The knowledge that one day we will die is hardly a revelation. How we’d choose to leave this mortal coil, if given a choice, is another matter entirely.
A sudden fatal heart attack – or being hit by a two tonnetruck will deliver swiftly and avoid the agonies of protracted personal illness, pain and burden on family.
Most of us would opt for a swift death rather than face a long lingering battle with disease or painfully slow deterioration of mind and body. If you asked me that question before I was diagnosed with terminal cancer I would have chosen swift and sudden.
Now I am the main character in this real-life movie there is nothing hypothetical about the reality of the situation and I am so glad that my cancer did not kill me swiftly within days or weeks of diagnosis.
I am alive, and have been for 18 months since learning of the cancer that would kill me.
During these months I’ve had tearful and difficult moments… there’s also been painful surgical procedures, scary emergency ambulance journeys and periods of extreme fatigue and grueling side-effects from chemotherapy treatments… and more recently the addition of two brain tumours affecting speech and facial expressions.
I have had wonderful moments with my wife and family and my friends during those same months.
Every day lived in sharp focus and appreciated with a new feeling of worth. I have been allowed time to prepare myself and those closest to me.
It sometimes seems like a scene from an old fashioned movie where the main character is able to watch people attend his funeral and can hear them talk. Secretly I think we’d all quite fancy being able to hear and see that … in the hope that the majority would have some nice things to say.
By writing this column, and my own use of social media, many of the people I have met and known in my personal and professional life are aware that I am on very limited time and am being kept alive through vigorous anti-cancer treatments that will eventually be overcome.
I have received personal messages from pals I haven’t seen since school – from journalist colleagues scattered round the world who I didn’t think would even have me on their radar.
A great school pal who remembers tiny details of our teenage friendship and even what we did on my 15th birthday. A very senior journalist who has always remembered that I made sure to forward his football medal to him after he left the newspaper we worked for – he tells me he has always treasured that medal and valued the effort I made to ensure he got it. How nice and how odd that this little thing should be remembered by him for 30 years.
A good friend I worked with on the Evening Times in the 80s writes out of the blue from London where he is now a successful freelance artist. His words are personal and touching and I am immediately transported back to the boisterous and joyful times of an era long since passed.
I’ll treasure my life’s memories and the love of those around me every minute of every day I have.
Ally McLaws is a journalist and former Director of Communications with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.
He newspaper column “Living with cancer in a pandemic” is published weekly in The Herald on Sunday. Back copies of his columns can be read on his website (under the charity section) at www.mclawsconsultancy.com
Follow Ally on Twitter @allymclaws
You can also read Ally's Beatson blog on Living with cancer in a pandemic, here