Posted by: rajagainstthemachine | February 3, 2011


Seven years on, I am back at St Vincents in Sydney, looking westward from my hospital room window.

Oak, Port Jackson fig, eucalypts, palms and ferns cast a gentle shade over a sandstone building in the foreground, against the backdrop of the Sydney city skyline. In the distance, Centrepoint stands tall above the canopy of buildings – gold, brown and bronze – looking like an out of place relic of the 70s amidst steely and glass panelled buildings at its base.

The doctor that saw me this morning took my history. “Well, you have sure had a time of it“.

On paper, I admit that it is messy.

But I think that in spite of the hours spent in wards, waiting rooms and clinics over the past seven years, I have lived life at least as fully as anyone else I know, and more fully than most. And by that, I don’t just mean the phsyical things I have done – but in my mindset. Even if it does not always appear that way.

So, whilst it sounds cliched, if I could go back I would probably not change a thing. I am simply not the same person I was – my experiences have made me different. You could say I have differentiated, emotionally.

For anyone fighting cancer, it is tempting to hold on to the notion that you are a rock, unchanged by the experience, unwavering, marching on with life in the face of all obstacles and adversity.  People equate this with “being positive”, which seems to be the first thing many people feel that they just have to tell you to do when they find out.

But there are many ways to be positive – and soldiering on boldly is just one. Survivors come in shapes and sizes. Some of us are cockroaches – not meant disparagingly, but in that we are capable of surviving a holocaust of interventions and treatments, poisoned in unfathomable ways, yet emerging as ourselves, just as we were before.

Others are caterpillars.  Even if the drugs don’t work, we emerge from the cocoons of illness, differentiated, with new colours and wings.

For me, being positive has been about metamorphosis. Looking inside myself and learning, slowly, to come to terms, piece by piece, with the people, environment and energies around me. It has been about letting cancer change me, and resisting the urge to hold on to what was before.

My life, and therefore my person, has become inexorably more complicated, bringing with it  new connections, feelings, intimacy and depth of relationships.

I have experienced moments of incredible emotion, some alone, and also with others. To learn, to feel, to know the energy of those you love, is a feeling like no other. It surges through your blood, awakens you, exposes you to the electricity of human connection.

Before, you go through the motions, snug in the comfortable semblance of your good life and your easy Sunday mornings. After, the first time you stare at yourself in the mirror, your face freezes. Cracks jag their way through the glass, shattering it into a thousand shards, splintering your former self.

You can try to pick up the pieces and rearrange them into a picture of the person you were. At a distance, the image will be familiar. But looking closely, there is a web of infinitesimal fault lines, running capillary-like across the reflection. You cannot paper them over.

In coming to terms with your new self, there will be dark times. When the sky is brooding black and wind rips the roots from the earth, the moments of connectedness – with yourself and those close to you – are the things you cling to; tiny pebbles glowing amber in your palms; the points of light in your compass.  Cancer gave me such things. And I could never throw them away.

They – and IT – are a part of my life, every bit ingrained as any other aspect of my character. There is a what might have been, but there is no who might have been. There is a “before” and “after”, certainly, but I am a bundled composite of the conjunctions, contradictions and tensions of each, a Pushmi Pullyu; in which neither “before” nor “after” could exist without co-existing.

Cancer did not happen to me, any more than did the other seminal experiences in my life. And it is changing me, just as those other experiences did, although more strikingly. Perhaps I will confine it, one day, into the amalgams of my memory. But for now, I am growing with it, even when it grows within me.

Let cancer change you.

For the moment, I am quieter now.  My episodes of brashnesss are fewer and further between.  I won’t get in your face as much. Sometimes I might seem distant, but I am just thinking things through.

When you ask me about my health, I might struggle to look you in the eye. I will probably find comfort looking down at a sixty degree angle.  I will answer you with a look from the corner of my eye, telling you that I never felt better. But the momentary silence that follows will be comfortable.

The door is open. Come inside.


  1. Raj — Your blog helps me understand more what Jack has been experiencing for the past two years. It is true that one never returns “back to normal” but who is to say that is a bad thing. Your “metamorphosis” is certainly a sustaining and illuminating experience which I hope will continue for a very long time. I don’t mean the illness — but the personal and philosophical growth with which you have been gifted. Please know that we love you like family over here. with much fondness and many prayers, Karen and family

  2. Rajiv,
    This is so beautifully written – I am glad that through this blog I get to understand a little bit more about your journey.

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