inverting the glass

Although people tell me I am tolerable company with a decent sense of humour, that normally is when I’m in a hostelry holding on to the emotional crutch of a pint of beer (or Grolsch) in my hand. I have rather a dry, cynical, biting British sense of humour.

However, I am sure that, to the people closest to me, I can come across as a grumpy old man. I tend to moan about my commute into work, other car drivers, that ridiculous second half display by Arsenal last night, elements of my job etc. I simply am not genetically engineered to be a relentlessly positive full-time optimist. Once, I surprised my parents by declaring ‘Oh God – no. I am definitely a `glass half empty` man’.

As soon as I received my (preliminary) cancer diagnosis, I immediately decided this ‘glass half empty’ would rapidly have to be inverted and I would have to re-invent myself not as a relentless, ‘power of positive thinking’ evangelist but simply to look for the positives (rather than the negative) elements of any story or situation that presented itself.

For example, as I walked out of the hospital and slumped in my car seat, I could have thought ‘Cancer. 48 years old. Fucking hell, I need to check the life insurance policy and update my will – I’m dead’.

Instead, I tried to breathe deeply and focus on the Doctor’s words – ‘You have a serious problem. It’s going to be a long, hard slog and it will takes months (not weeks) but you’re going to come through this’.

I also understood what the consultant meant when, minutes earlier, he’d told me ‘You are walking out of here today, just the same man you walked in’.

I think what he meant was ‘Hours earlier, I was working on my computer, walking, talking, eating, drinking, laughing, popping out for a paper, procrastinating on work’ and when I returned minutes later, I would still be capable of all of the above. I wasn’t compelled to take to my bed, curl up and wallow in self-pity for 72 hours.

Of course, the other reason the glass has to be inverted is not for me – but for my friends and immediate family. In  fact, that was the other necessary change – from being a selfish bastard to one with a little more empathy and kindness.

It rapidly struck me that all eyes would be focused intently on me for the next few days (at least). Every twinge, every grimace, every frown, every smile, every joke would be unwittingly analysed – ‘Are you OK ?’ ‘Do you want anything ?’ How could I possibly urge and expect my children to carry on with life, school and everything ‘as normal’ if I was confided to bed emerging only for sustenance with bloodshot eyes and a face like a long weekend.