Life and death

Yesterday I found out I will die soon.

A half hour video call with my oncologist in Southampton concluded I have a life expectancy of six to twelve months as my cancer is terminal.

The nasties growing between my heart and lung that three months of “salvage chemotherapy” had shrunk earlier this year have come back to life, but there are now more, and the expectation is they will continue to do their thing, possibly making their way to my liver, my brain and elsewhere in my body. They’re inoperable. There isn’t a treatment left to get rid of them.

I’m apparently unusual (I knew that!), with my oncologist seeing only one such case of this rare cancer each year.

There is a chemotherapy treatment that has the potential to add a few extra weeks, maybe months, to my life, but the trade off is the loss of quality of life due to the side effects of that chemo. Right now, I’m yet to decide whether to go for it or not.

Hearing you’re going to die is odd.

I’ve had friends and acquaintances receive that news and I thought I could empathise with their devastating news. I now know I couldn’t.

It’s a strange, other worldly experience, to think there may only be one more birthday, one more Christmas, one more wedding anniversary.

It immediately washed over me like the most overwhelming sea of guilt to think that my husband is likely going to be alone at home without me. Our holidays. Our watching telly on the sofa. Our weekend breakfasts down the west coast. I won’t be there to laugh or nag or snuggle up in his lap.

It just feels totally unfair. For him. For me. And I know that makes me sound selfish. I don’t mean it like that.

Having to ring your dad to tell him you’re going to die is horrible. Then your brother. Then a friend. Then another friend. Then your boss. Each call is utterly exhausting.

The weirdest bit is that, deep down, I’ve sensed I am dying for around three months now. I just kept hoping I’d be wrong.

The doctors didn’t know as I only had the scan and other tests last week, but I knew I was dying. I just didn’t have the words to describe it and I was determined to keep my best game face on as each day had become ever so slightly more difficult than the previous day.

It’s tiny stuff. I’m just a shade slower. I’m just a shade tireder. My skin is just a shade drier. My pain is just a shade sorer. And on it goes. Incremental, but over time it adds up. I don’t feel good.

But I smile my smile. I do my work thing. And when wonderfully kind people say nice things, especially “you look so well”, I cry a little inside, and outwardly I smile, thank them, and say “I’m plodding on”. It’s my way of trying not to lie to them while not burdening them with my woes.

Right now I finally feel able to let that mask slip. Again it feels selfish. But I think that’s okay.

Do I transfer my savings to my husband’s bank account? What happens to those flight loyalty points I’ve got? Do I need to ring the tax office and let them know I’m dying?

They’re the daft, wide-ranging and random questions that pop into your mind at odd times of night.

It’s currently 2.40am. I’m absolutely wide awake. I can’t sleep. My mind is racing.

Should I plan my funeral now? Do I want to be buried or cremated? What will dying feel like? How can I not exist any more?

I told you the questions were random!

I’ve Googled “what happens when you’re told you’re dying of cancer” and I now know the results are rubbish. Not rubbish in the sense that the situation is rubbish, but rubbish in the sense that all the results are inane. Apparently I’ll be upset.

No shit, Sherlock!

I may get angry. Yup.

I may find it helpful to cry with my partner. Oh we’re doing that alright!

Weirdly one of my very first thoughts after being told I’ll likely be dead in a year is that I need to write a book for other people to read as soon as they get similar news to tell them what happens. Then it occurred to me, the last thing you want to do when you’re told it’ll soon be game over is read a how-to guide. So I’ve parked that one.

The other oddity is how the normal bits of life just continue to happen.

Within two hours of being told the news, my husband and I were chatting about what we were going to cook for dinner. We both smiled when we remembered it was Only Connect night on TV. We treated ourselves to a bowl of ice cream while we curled up and watched the quiz.

It was like nothing had happened.

Yet he’d had the awful job of phoning his parents and brother to tell them the news. He’d rung his boss to let them in on what was going on. He shouldn’t have to do that. We’re both relatively young.

We should be thinking about holidays and home improvements and all the things we want to do in life, together.

Now my heart breaks at the prospect of the person I love more than any other in this world being cut adrift. It’s not fair on him. I feel like the worst husband ever, even though I know that’s just self-serving self-pitying silly talk.

We lost our holiday at the start of this year to my chemo. We rebooked it at the end of my chemo and lost it to the pandemic. We then rebooked it for this week, and the pandemic has put pay to our trip away yet again. Damn you, Covid!

It sounds so daft, but I just want us both to be on the cruise ship we love, sailing from place to place, sitting in our cabin, on our balcony, or in a cosy corner of the ship just letting the world go by while we read a book. I want us to go to the daily quiz, the nightly show, and to disembark in different places each day.

I hope, if this world reopens in time, we get our chance to do that. It’s our happy place.

We all deserve happy.

Anyhow, I’m rambling, and for that I apologise.

Letting these words spill from my fingertips to my computer screen is helpful. It’s also, currently, giving me reason to use the ‘dying’ word. I’ve never been a fan of abstract euphemisms like “passed on” or “gone to a better place” as it’s always been my feeling that it’s delaying the inevitable reality check that somebody is dead.

And now it’s me.

They say six to twelve months.

It could be more. It could be less.

I promised the oncologist I wouldn’t be alive to complain if he got it wrong. That was my attempt at humour, but I do have a point!

Right now I am broken. But, with the love of my friends, my family, and most of all my husband, I’ll get it together with a view to living my best life.

I’m not dying. I’m living. It’s just that I’ve got less of it to do so it’s my obligation to make it matter more.

Thank you for reading this. Thank you for caring. x

(This blog was written in the early hours of 3 November 2020, but posted later to give us chance to speak directly to our nearest and dearest first. I am 100% certain that I will have forgotten to speak directly to at least one person I had intended to who, instead, has just read this. For that, I apologise).

265 thoughts on “Life and death

  1. I’m so sad to hear your news! You have been so brave with everything you do including holding everyone to account & the way that you have approached your prognosis is remarkable. You are allowed to feel angry & mad but your overriding concern is for your loved ones.
    Make the most of the time you have & I hope & pray that you get to go away on your cruise.
    My dad had been given 6 months & he managed to get to India to attend a family wedding, travelled to all the places he wanted to see & extended his trip to Dubai on the way back… so you never know! Stay positive! 🤞🏼🙏🏼❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    • What an amazing piece of writing and you have my empathy. I hope your dr is wrong and you have longer. But I don’t believe you’re as broken as you think you, as you have been able to articulate your thoughts and feelings so insightfully. Yes what you and your family and husband are going through is tragic but instead of feeling selfish be triumphant that you found love and were able to love so successfully. Your husband will be so grateful for having had you in his life, as will your family. They will be angry at this situation but use the time you all have left to try your hardest to make your peace with this situation, as in time that will help everyone deal with this sad time. But above all, make as many memories as you can and make sure you tell your loved ones how loved they are and don’t waste too much of your remaining time being angry or sad. As you said, live with your cancer to the best of your ability before you die. Dont let it take whatever time you have left to make good happy memories as well because that would be such a waste. Thinking of you. Xx

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Gary. We are both so sorry to read this heart breaking message. You are an inspiration to all, having such composure to write such an honest but heart wrenching message in sharing such sad news. We hope the coming months afford you continued true quality time with Alan. Sending you both our love and best wishes. Fiona and Dan. X

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Gary I met you briefly at the Pride of Guernsey Awards,of cause I had heard you on the radio and the television.
    Reading what you have written I felt my heart raced and a tear for the question one word WHY!
    You are a smart witty likable man with a big heart
    Live your best life with your husband if we could heal with loving thoughts you wouldn’t be going through this
    With much love and hugs to you and yours xx

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My mam always said … where there is life there is hope ….. you want and deserve to live, so fight with all you have ❤️ My friend had been told she had 6 months, she lived a further 3 years – fingers crossed you get at least that xxx enjoy every moment with those you love xxxx

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh Gary, I am so sorry for your news 😢 for you, your husband, family and friends. I truly hope a miracle happens and you get much more time than has been predicted. I have cried my eyes out reading your eloquent blog. As I read it I felt you should write a book, I feel you have one in you! So it was weird when you mentioned writing a book.
      Spend every moment living and I truly hope you get much more time. Miracles do happen. Live live live and continue to love each other whilst creating funny, loving memories. You are a gorgeous person & I truly wish you a miracle !
      I will pray for you and your family xxxxx

      Liked by 1 person

  5. So sad to read this news. You are a bright, shining example of how to make the most of life around you, be enthusiastic about everything and your positive energy throws itself out of our screens and radios.
    My father has just concluded his battle, which could not be won, but he was able to be grateful for all the good things he’d experienced and to share his thoughts and feelings with those he cared for the most. He was diagnosed on the first day of lockdown and there was a big element of feeling cheated by it, most notably the travel restrictions.
    I hope you find a way to make your time left special and fulfilling.
    Much love to you and Alan,
    Melanie

    Liked by 1 person

    • Be strong as u sound u are and remember u have always been loved and that will always continue for now and after. Keep fighting u never know whats around the corner ie cure or anything xxx

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Broken for you.
    So sorry and supportive for you at the same time.

    Your courage and self awareness is staggering. Thank you Garry for being so open and real in this unusual time and world,

    I feel thankful to have known your persona, followed your courage since I first heard you many years ago on Gsy Radio, thank you for touching my life.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Dear Gary, Thank you for sharing your personal story with us all. You are a beacon of positivity and honesty. I have watched you reporting since your last bout of recovery chemo and have palpably felt your total gratitude and happiness for being alive and working, and I hope you can keep that going for as long as possible. We are all behind you Gary. Keep smiling, it’s better than the alternative. Love Michelle x

    Liked by 1 person

  8. So sad to read this after being very glad earlier this year to see Gary Burgess apparently making such a good recovery, and appreciating his wise comments and criticisms……..

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I feel like I’ve known you for years, but of course, I haven’t. I’ve heard your voice over the airwaves, seen you on TV and read your columns. Always at the forefront of Jersey’s media. This is such a powerfully emotive piece I am at a loss to find the right words to respond. My heart goes out to you, your husband and your families.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Dear Gary, I have never met you but have commented and admired your journalistic excellence for some time now. This morning I sat and cried at this devastating news for you, your husband and family and all those who have grown to love you over the years.
    In work you have never been afraid of a challenge and I hope you can fight this news with the same gusto. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family, God bless.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Oh Gary, you are so brave, and importantly you have made a difference in this world, you are loved and have inspired people, what a fantastic accolade. It feels odd that the planet won’t care, the tide will still ebb and flo and nothing will stop and mark the occasion, and that feels so wrong. so for now start a “fuck-it list,’ do doughnuts in your car, eat the bloody ice cream, write memories on post its that your hubby can pull out and read on future anniversaries, you will be remembered as a brave, kind and a humorous good soul, we all wish for that. in your darkest hours remember that there will always be someone worse off and in turn you are that person for someone else, hey thats another accolade! i watched my hubby die from cancer and i can empathise with your fellas situation, but i cant give advice, it is different for everyone, (but getting a tattoo was great!) put yourself first now, dont worry about who you offend, make the most of this time, did i mention eat the ice cream? bless you Gary, xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  12. So sorry to hear this . I always find your tenacity as a reporter to find the truth and ask the questions we all want to ask so refreshing. I look forward to your columns and reports with interest and applaud your resilience over the last few months given the circumstances.
    Working in healthcare, I see so many patients and relatives receiving news similar to this and still there is no standard response that even health care professionals have ‘up their sleeves’ to give . I will continue to look forward to any views, thoughts and wisdom you have in the following months that may offer some solace to others that find themselves in similar circumstances.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Between birth and death we have the opportunity to build a legacy from our living. You sir are giving the world an amazing legacy to benefit from with your humility and candour in the sharing of your life experiences. I wish you all the very best as you continue to love, laugh, cry and live your best life in these coming months.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Gary you rock…! What a fabulous man you are…………, I only met you a couple of times when you lived in Guernsey, but I always woke up with you in the mornings in your Island FM days. I am sending you my love and healing thoughts via the post,
    you may have to sign for them. Time is precious so go do what you want, how you want, when you want and bugger the consequences.
    I can see you are loved and admired, so absorb all this positivity and live what life you have left to the fullest.
    Thank you for sharing your story, it can’t have been easy. Now get out there, stick two fingers up to the world and scream. “Yahooooooooooooooo”

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Dear Gary, what devastating news for you, your husband, families, friends & of course, for all of the friends you haven’t met yet! We love your bravery, honesty and fearlessness in challenging injustice & the downright lies that flow from some of our political figures mouths.
    You are justified in getting angry, it shouldn’t be happening to someone with so much to live for but miracles can happen & I hope they happen for your loved ones. I hope they have you around them for many years to come. Live your very best life knowing that you’re well loved and respected. X

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Gary I’ve followed the Zonked club and I’m so sorry to hear this news. So cruel. Heartbroken on your behalf. Sending love to you, your husband, family and friends x

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Am sorry to hear your news but keep fighting , 6 yes ago I was told I would be dead in a yr due to one of my illnesses , sold my properties , spent the money , 2 yrs ago I discovered I had cancer , so I thought that the original dr had got the time wrong . 2 years on I am still here , so as I say dont give up. keep fighting and enjoy everyday , you may have longer than you expect . Wishing you all the best …Jerry

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Hi Gary, so sad to read this, i can only add my name and thoughts to the long list of well wishes. i am just another person you have just not met that feels you are someone i know as i have seen and heard you very often. no other words needed.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I lost my sister/best friend almost 20 years ago, and can so relate to your feelings..All I can do is send you my love, and tell you to do everything you want to do in the time you have xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Thinking of you Gary and ur family, keep fighting. Being a registered nurse in the past , I have been at many bedsides when someone was told bad news .I’ve cried with them and their families. At present I have a 7 year old cousin in America who is fighting leukaemia . His advice to you would be kick cancers butt. I hope that you get your wish, for COVID to end so you and your husband can get away. Be as strong as you can be xx

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Dear Gary. We have never met but my husband and I have always enjoyed your appearances on Channel News. We thought you had made a good recovery from your cancer and are so sorry that you have received this terrible news. We pray 🙏 that you will be able to spend as much precious time with your partner as possible.
    Carole & Alvaro

    Liked by 1 person

  22. As I have had cancer for 4.5 years (actually first time I went to doctor was 6 years ago.I find that every problem can be looked at in a different way.
    So far 7 operations after be told I was inoperable and cancer has reappeared three times last time as a brain tumour. So have strength and try to prove the medics wrong and push them. And enjoy yourself in small and big ways and make time for yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. It’s very difficult to find any words….. when you have done such an astounding job in delivering the most devastating news.
    I know what it’s like to hear the news of having cancer but I’ve no idea of the hearing of the sentences you’ve recently heard.
    I’m very certain that you won’t give in but to say ‘keep fighting’ sounds trite and condescending. Because of course you will….. small victories against the vile shite that is cancer means everything.
    I wish that you and your husband find strength and love in each other during the coming months and am sure you will tackle this with incessant bravery.
    And by the way, it’s okay not to be okay.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Gary

    Honesty like this is so rare and you are right … you are living so squeeze each inch of joy and sorrow and love and passion out of each minute with those you love who love you. Sending you live and prayers

    Liked by 1 person

  25. I am so sorry to hear your news. My come away thought was maybe not write a guide of how to die if you like. Gosh that sounds horrible. But how to support people like you and your husband. What are things to say or not say. What are the things that mean the most. Xxx I wish both of you so much love, joy and laughter with your time together. Xx

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Dear Gary
    I was so sad to read this , you are such an inspirational journalist and brave man and now you need to be braver so put your boxing gloves on and fight the cancer ! My late husband was diagnosed with cancer and given the same sentence 3 to 6 months but he got in the boxing ring and fought and lived 8 years ! Most of it with a good quality of life only the last year was up and down until he finally lost his fight .
    If you believe in God ask him for help and strength to carry on if you don’t still ask him for help , I will pray for you and I am sure so will others .
    They sometimes get it wrong and I hope with all my heart they have got it wrong this time and you will have more time with your husband .
    Thinking of you both and your families and ending lots of love 💕 God bless you 💕xx

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Dear Gary, you don’t know me but I’ve seen you so much on the channel news, so sorry to hear what you are going through, and felt so much st this write up as I myself have just been through the same thoughts when I was diagnosed with cancer of the bowel which the managed to operate in April. But it seems wants it in you you always think it returns, you’re such a genuine person I just pray you have longer then what you have been given and my thoughts are with you and your partner and family, your write up will be in my mind and thanks for sharing it as I think it will help others in this same situation, bless you Gary.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Heard about your illness a few months back, after seeing you on channel news recently thought you looked well and was on the mend, sad to read your news, praying this current virus allows you to get on that cruise very soon, make it a world cruise Gary’ you certainly deserve it.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Hello Gary, I don’t know you or anything about you professionally, I happen to stumble upon your blog via LinkedIn. Your post really moved me and I just wanted to say thank you for sharing something so personal and moving. “I’m not dying. I’m living.” those words are Incredibly inspiring and will continue to be for so many other people too. I wish you and your husband every happiness while living life to the fullest.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Dear Gary, I was upset hearing your devastating news, I don’t know you personally but I feel I know you as you are a lovely man with a good heart and soul. My mum was having chemo at the same time as you were, alas she died at beginning of August. She lost her hair and when she saw you on the telly, she would say ‘ why is my hair not growing as quick as Gary’s’. She, like many of us islanders love you and think you’re a top bloke with a sense of humour and when you report the news, you actually say what we are all thinking and want to say!! To you, your husband, family and friends, I send you love and stay as strong as you can for each other xx

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Thank you for posting on a subject that has always terrified me. Your words and those of others here in support, tell me you have created an amazing legacy. None of us are here forever, and it is only some people, like you, who make the life you have lived here, purposeful and meaningful. Everything you are and everything you stand for will remain, will live on in the lives of those you have touched, both known to you and unknown to you. Your strength will become their strength to get through difficult times, your dreams will become their dreams to fulfil. Although I have not been on the other side of life yet, nor am I specifically religious, I am absolutely convinced that we do see our loved ones again and that those who have gone before us will be there to welcome us Home.
    Wishing you strength, love and grace as you continue on your journey.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. I’m just crying reading this. I don’t know you, but your story sadly is familiar. I hope that you feel well enough to make some smashing memories for your husband, family and friends and maybe you too, I don’t know whether you get to take your memories with you. Sending love and hugs to a stranger who has had the courage to share his story. x

    Liked by 1 person

  33. There is something pertinent about you asking how can I not exist any more. There is more to us than just a body. We also have a soul and that also matters. Our creator loves us very much. He would also love a relationship with us and because he loves us we are free to come to Him or not. My prayer for you is that you will experience the deep peace and love of a heavenly Father over these next few and difficult months. As you read this, I will be praying for you Gary, I pray that Gods hand holds you tenderly and lovingly as you go about your days and that you will be free from anxiety and suffering to allow you to enjoy the time you have left on this earth with your loved ones. You are known by God, every hair on your head is counted, every tear collected. With much love in Christ. Someone who cares very much xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  34. We’ve never met and likely never will but I’m hoping that the love and peace I’m sending through the ether reaches you anyway. I’m the kind of soul that trusts it will. I am wishing you that cruising, a good book, a nightly show that takes you out of your element, the richest moments in your love yet to come.

    Liked by 1 person

  35. Pingback: Twenty days in… – Gary’s Chemo Diary

  36. Gary. I was very sorry to hear your news, which you wrote about in such an open way true to form.
    would like to say a big thank you to you, for your wonderful advocacy for the ME community. I’m sure many like me will have been cheered up and inspired by your warm and positive presence and by your wonderful interviews, which always seemed to be with just the right people asking just the right questions.
    I hope you and your husband can take some comfort in knowing you are thought of warmly and with affection as a friendly and generous spirited person who holds a very special place in the ME community. Sending love and best wishes to you both. x Jane

    Liked by 1 person

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