Similar can be said, then, for what’s happened – happening – in my body. I can understand where the cancer’s found itself, what it’s done when it’s got there, and why it’s never going away – but I’m a long old way off accepting it just yet. And that, I think, is the reason why I’ve been having such a hard time on the depression front lately: that continual beating myself up about still not having come to terms – hell, even being able to believe – what I’m dealing with.
The gap between understanding and acceptance even runs to the smaller things, too, like the necessity to spend so much time in waiting rooms, the drag of taking so many pills each day, and last week’s inexplicable presence in the chemo room of The Most Annoying Man On Earth: an unbearably merry dude with a painted guitar and an entire back-catalogue of wince-tastic, headed-for-Jerry-Springer songs about how marvellous and magical he was to have beaten cancer. (For he, of course, is the only person in the world ever to have dealt with it.) So yes, I can perfectly understand why the Royal Marsden would allow him to sing to their patients… but accepting the offensively wanky intrusiveness of some perma-grinned dickhead singing ‘you’ve got to feel in order to heal’ right into my terminal-diseased face? Hm, reaching acceptance wasn’t so much on my mind as wondering how far up a colon it’s possible to shove a guitar.
What I'm struggling to accept this week, however, is all the more difficult to swallow: it’s looking like I’ll never again be able to go to the USA… and all thanks to the insurance industry’s oh-so-thoughtful decision not to go within a barge-pole’s length of me and my disgustingly diseased old bones and brain.
And who’d have thunk it of them, eh? Here we all were, blissfully pootling along in our lives, assuming that insurance companies were the meerkat-chirpy, opera-singing, dog-nodding, Nectar-point-gifting, underdog-championing, brightly-animated purveyors of cheeriness and caring that they’d led us to believe. Well, I hate to break it to you, dear reader, but – much like day you heard the news that it wasn’t Santa who delivered presents to the foot of your tree but a sherry-drunk, pyjama-wearing parent – I must today burst your bubble with the revelation that insurance companies aren’t here to save us, offering up can’t-miss deals in the process, but are, in fact, utter bastards, hell-bent on screwing us for every quid we’ve got. The kind of bastards with the gall to quote you £36,000 for single-trip insurance on a week-long break in New York before then hearing more details of your diagnosis and, actually, withdrawing their oh-so-reasonable offer in the first place. Yes, folks: I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you, but insurance firms are bastards. Bastards with a capital bee-yatch.
Oh, hang on… you knew that already? Dammit, I thought I had a scoop there.
In short, then, nobody will insure me to travel to the USA. Not the ordinary companies, not the cancer companies, not even the we’ll-take-the-hopeless-cases-that-no-bugger-else-will-go-near companies. And no amount of ‘terminal cancer patient taking the trip of a lifetime’ storytelling is seemingly going to make a difference.
The thing is, I can perfectly understand the decision. I can perfectly understand that, with my health history – hell, my health present – I’m just too risky a customer. I can perfectly understand how reaching New York and having a problem with, say, my pain levels or my sickness or the migraines caused by my brain tumour could, thanks to the USA’s freakishly costly health system, easily run up a bill in the millions. (Hence the reason we couldn’t possibly risk going there uninsured – at least, not without the back-up of the combined estates of the Branson, Trump and Hilton families.) I can even sort of understand the businesslike attitude to it that prohibits the robotic, emotionless insurance-company telephone operators (well, all but one) from speaking to me like a human being. But never getting to see New York? Never getting to visit the White House? Never again going to the States full stop? That’s altogether more difficult to stomach.
It's not even easy to forget. If I'd compiled a ‘bucket list’, finally seeing New York through my own eyes would have been one of the few things on it. (Alas, I don’t have such a list because, frankly, as much as I'd like to go to NY, I’d rather not waste effort compiling the kind of to-do list that’d put my life in the context of all the things I haven't achieved.) Because, as anyone with half an eye open will appreciate, New York isn’t especially simple to avoid – even if you’re in London. I imagined that Andrew Marr’s (somewhat bum-licky) three-part documentary on the Queen might take my mind off things for a while… only to discover that a large chunk of it was filmed in New York. Then there’s the girl who keeps jogging past my window in an ‘I heart NY’ hoodie. Plus all the movies: a significant portion of those I’ve watched lately have been set there. And when you add to that the common cancer side-effect that is the shocking number of times per day you find yourself watching Friends, well, it’s not exactly an easy city to ignore.
Of course it’s not just the New York thing. After last year’s wonderful road-trip through California, there was plenty more of the States that P and I wanted to see. One of my very best mates even lives there, ferfuckssake, and this is how she’s finding out that I’ve made my final visit.
I know that, in the context of the things about which I should be having a good whinge, this probably seems rather insignificant. And then, of course, there’s the argument that I should feel lucky even to have visited the USA so many times in the first place. And I do! Heck, most people don’t even get to go there once in a lifetime. And besides, it’s not like there aren’t plenty of other (more easily accessible, with simpler-to-negotiate health systems) parts of the world that I’d love to visit, even right on my doorstep. I suppose the New York thing was just symbolic of yet another freedom I’ve lost thanks to The Bullshit.
I’ve got my head around it though. Because, as I say, I can perfectly understand the reasons why. I even think I was heading towards a level of acceptance, keeping an open mind as I opted for a more ‘I know it’s a long shot, but…’ approach with my final, last-hope of an insurance company. They knocked me back as well, of course, but at least it was done with empathy. I even laughed it off with the phone attendant at the end of our call, listing all the places in the UK that probably ran rings around New York anyway. (Coventry, Hull, Milton Keynes…)
After making myself a brew and resignedly yet contentedly tutting as I gave my Times Square snow-globe a shake, the doorbell rang (as it does several times a day thanks to my somewhat incessant online shopping habit). And behold: another Amazon parcel. I tend to order so much stuff online these days that I can never quite remember what’s coming next, but I ought to have had an inkling about this particular package…
After 32 years, I think it’s fair to say that I understand how planning ahead can occasionally bite you on the ass. As for acceptance of that fact, however? Well, let’s just say that all I’m accepting in this case is that travel guides make one hell of a dent when you chuck them at the living-room wall.