The 13th Step? Get over yourself

“Ceci n’est pas la fin”. These are the words I cling to in my darkest moments, said to me by my assigned infirmiere Sophie at the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital. This is not the end. They’re useful to remember when friends mail me to tell me they’ve been reading about my predicament, and not to soft-soap them because they can handle the terrible reality of my situation, and then you find yourself trying to reassure them with what you’ve been told, all the while wondering what the bloody hell it is they’ve read. A word to the wise: telling someone who has cancer how anguished you are about the Sword of Damocles hanging over them is not comforting.

The Pitié started life as a gunpowder factory and has served as a prison for prostitutes and a home for the criminally insane over the centuries. Famous in-patients in the modern era have included Ronaldo, Michael Schumacher, Valérie Trierweiler and if you like the macabre, the operating theatre where they sliced out a chunk of my colon was also where Princess Diana breathed her last. When you first arrive there it appears to be the size of a city, but the more you go back, the smaller it gets. I had to return there the other day to pick up a coat I’d left behind. It felt like I was going to work on my day off.

My partner Claire told me it was a year to the day that I came out about my illness from when they first found a tumour, during what I assumed was a routine colonoscopy. I suppose a year is long enough to keep these things to yourself, though what surprised me most was how many people I thought I knew quite well who contacted me to tell me they’d gone through – or were going through – something similar. When I say many, I mean I couldn’t count them on one hand. Most wanted to keep quiet about it themselves, confirming my suspicions about stigmatisation that I spoke about in my last blog. Last Wednesday turned out to be an emotional day for me, and a busy one too.


Another important personal anniversary is coming up, a milestone in any recovering alcoholic’s life. On Sunday I celebrate five years clean and sober. The malady has taken the shine off it a bit, but then I don’t suppose I could have got pissed to celebrate anyway. Instead I’ll be doing the Paris 10k, which is far enough from my last chemo session to be manageable. I should probably pick up a chip at an AA meeting, though I’ve not attended one in months. In meetings they ask that you share exclusively about alcohol, but to be honest – even through this whole nightmare I’ve not felt like a drink – which makes sharing difficult and I end up wondering why I’m there. I love my life too much here in Paris with Claire to want to jeopardise that, and besides, I only have enough money now for vinyl and books, and drinking looks expensive these days! I’ve come a long way and I have no intention of stepping backwards, no matter how often those in recovery tell me to keep going to meetings to keep reminding myself. The 12 Steps has served me well up to now, so I don’t want to denigrate the process, but right now the programme feels inadequate.

In meetings other people’s problems are trite to me, handing it all over to a higher power of your own delusion is folly. The cold reality of machinery, injections, scans, yet more scans, endless waiting, pills, suppositories, more pills, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, waking up three times a night to go to the toilet, excruciating pain when you do, operations, being shaved in intimate places by strangers in scrubs, being forced to wear a bloody hairnet, having to sleep on a rubber mattress away from the person you love because you’re too sick to go home, these things just can’t be remedied by lofty claims about a God of your own choosing and a bunch of pseudoscience, though the meditation practices I learnt from 12 steppers helps, as does a steady drip of morphine. It’s very bad manners of me given the hours my sponsor and others spent sorting my contorted little brain out back in the bleak days of 2010, and without them I wouldn’t have made it I don’t think, but the God of my own choosing – were he or she to exist – would have the good grace to expunge the world of all stupid cancers. Perhaps there should be a 13th step: We were told to get over ourselves, and we did eventually, when we realised we weren’t the only poor sods in the world having a hard time. Anyway, this is the end… of the blog at least. À la prochaine.

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2 Responses to The 13th Step? Get over yourself

  1. rhoda says:

    I really would love to have a long chat with you right now, about our silly bet six years ago. But now I’m just thinking Ronaldo, Michael Schumacher and Valérie Trierweiler aren’t criminally insane. Are they?

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