The King and Irony

4 minute read time.

Just a few days ago we heard the news that King Charles has cancer. The media coverage for this has been, understandably, extensive. Much of the coverage has focused on the Kings openness in sharing this news and how this will help with raising the profile of cancer and improve the treatment of all cancer patients. The King has not shared the details of his cancer or of the treatment that he is receiving. And I think that’s just fine. Now, I’m not an ardent royalist nor an anti-monarchy campaigner. I find much of the media coverage of the royal family offensively intrusive and truly wonder at why so many of us encourage the ‘tabloid’ media by reading their continuous outpourings of salacious gossip?

Many of us, me included, are facing the impact on our lives of being diagnosed with a serious illness or of a close friend or relative being diagnosed. And we will respond to this news in ways that are particular to ourselves. Through my conversations with others affected by cancer, I am conscious that this unwelcome guest can generate vastly different feelings and responses. I am aware of two people who have really struggled to accept their diagnosis and consequently have avoided seeking help and have kept friends and relatives uninformed. I get this, it is immensely hard to truly accept that everything has changed.

But it has.

And we need to respond to this in the way that works for us. I made a conscious choice soon after my diagnosis that I would look my mortality straight in the eye and accept it. This is not some kind of macho, tough guy ‘kick cancer’s ass’ attitude. It’s probably the polar opposite. I do awake in the early hours, and I get surges of emotion and a tear when I think of the wreckage that this wretched disease has caused to our lives.

I have been very open with those around me about my cancer and have described in earlier essays how brilliantly I have been supported by family and friends. One of my friends has confided in me that my openness had made my diagnosis so much easier for him and for our mutual cohort of friends. He, and others, have told me that I am an ‘inspiration’ and that we are very ‘brave’. This is very kind and I am not about to argue or dispute this view. I am able to keep this apparent strength because I am being supported by them and so many other people. And I think that I am getting this support because I have been open about what I am going through and welcomed the support that has been offered. In the nonsense, jargon filled, business world this would be termed a ‘positive feedback loop’, I prefer to think of this as simple human decency.

I wish the King well and hope that he has as supportive a group of people close to him as I have. I don’t need to know what type of cancer he has or what treatment he is receiving. He doesn’t need to share with me.

However, I doubt whether the King having cancer will miraculously improve the outcomes for all cancer patients. Undoubtedly, the treatments for many types of cancer have progressed impressively over recent decades. And the same can be said for many other diseases. We know that our NHS is overworked and does not have the resources of people and finance that it needs to respond to every need as we would ideally wish. I can’t suggest a magic solution to this, and I would not like to be the person making the decisions on where resources should be directed, a thankless task. And I doubt the election chances of a politician who campaigns on a mandate of tax rises to fund our public services to the level that we would like. A celebrity member of ‘club cancer’ seems unlikely to change this. 

What the King’s diagnosis may help with, is increasing the conversation, awareness, understanding and ‘soft’ support for cancer patients and their families. His recent prostate operation generated significant coverage and discussion. I know that I have become a more knowledgeable and, I hope, more understanding person since I have been diagnosed. I think that I am less judgmental; I really don’t know what is going on in other peoples lives, that grumpy, rude git may well be having a rubbish day for goodness knows what reason. If the King’s response to his diagnosis helps foster a kinder approach from all of us that will be a real and achievable positive outcome.

I am now just three days away from finishing a five-week radiotherapy treatment, which we hope will reduce my bowel and lymph node cancer sufficiently to allow surgery. And I have just turned 60 and received an invitation for…

NHS Bowel Cancer Screening

The booklet accompanying the letter explains how this screening can detect bowel cancer in its early stages and so make treatment more effective. The real irony is not the timing of this letter; I recognise how important this screening is and would definitely be sending in my poo if we did not already know what the answer is. No, the irony is the two lists in the booklet.

List one is factors that increase the chances of bowel cancer; being inactive, being overweight, high red meat/low fibre diet, smoking, excessive drinking.

And list two is what you can do to reduce the risk of bowel cancer; pretty much the opposite of list one.

For me, they appear to have put the wrong title on each list!

What neither list mentions is…luck

Life eh, do all the right things and it still comes along and poos in your porridge.


11th February 2024

  • Thanks for writing this, I agree with you completely. I have also found it has helped to be open. I initially decided to be open because I felt it would be too hard to hide physical changes, such as hair loss. As my own journey turned into the nightmare of being found to be metastatic, then having a load of life altering complications from my immunotherapy, I am grateful I made that initial decision. The support and understanding of most people has been immense.

  • Hello Coddfish, thank you for your kind comments. I am so sorry to hear that you have had (are still having?) such a horrible time. I am pleased to hear you have good support. I don't think that I would be coping anywhere near as well as I am without the support that I am getting. I have had a pretty rough time, 3 months of debilitating ineffective chemo and a very challenging prognosis. 

  • Yes, full agreement. Having chatted about my diagnosis with Mrs Millibob she was fine with me being fully open with my diagnosis. I feel that I don't have to hide anything (a cracking pair of "moobs" I have grown on Hormone Therapy for Prostate Cancer - thanks NHS!) although how I would anyway is another question - There are physical changes!!

    To start with everyone was sympathetic and slowly acceptance of my cancer became the "new normal" and life carried on. But the more I thought of it - there's no testing scheme for Prostate Cancer - the more I thought I would "Promote" the cancer. So I have my coffee in the office out of a "man of men" mug - I have the famous badge and a t-shirt to go with it. 

    And then it started, people came to me with their "wee problems" they were too shy to take to the Doctors. Two years down the line I have lost count of the men I have pointed in the right direction for treatment - so being open has not only helped me - it's helped many more men.

    Carry on blogging - I love your style - and stay well - I hope your 5 weeks on the "sunbed" have worked.

    Best wishes - Brian.

  • Thank you so much for these kind words. And really well done on what you are doing to encourage men to get their prostate checked out and to act when things in the trouser department start behaving differently. The more we can do to promote discussion and action the better.  It sounds like you are still getting into work? I have not been able to work since last Summer, the medics advised that being surrounded by the under 9s was just a bit of an infection risk, they are a reliably icky, sticky and oozy cohort and very generous in sharing. And my job is very practical and physical, I really would not manage it at the moment as my fitness has well and truly gone South!    I now get a treatment free window as the radio will keep working for a few weeks post treatment. Then it's scans and a big decision on whether surgery is an option or not.    Good luck with your continued treatment and keep spreading the word.