• Austin Birks

Six Degrees of Cancer Separation

It is a strange quirk of fate how we find ourselves drawn to music of different sorts. No rhyme or reason as to what we might like or indeed dislike. Music is simply subjective. You either like stuff or you don’t. No DNA to unlock, it's your own preference.


So, what has that got to do with living with cancer? Well, let me try and explain myself. There is a particular band that I like, an Irish group from Dublin called The Script. They are just a good old pop band loved by no doubt lots of young people around the world, Irish or otherwise. I have no idea why I like listening to them, but I do. And, I tend to whenever I cook. Which is most nights, as I find it very relaxing doing my cooking, having a bit of an experimental dabble with different ingredients, and humming along or even worse, singing happy in my own little world.


There is one song in particular that keeps coming back around in my head. It’s called 6 degrees of separation. It examines the intriguing theory that every single person on this planet is somehow engaged with each other within the scope of no more than 6 relationships. It’s the sort of thing that does your head in if you think about it too much. So, my advice is: don’t think about it, accept believe, or not, and move on.


But, strangely, in the last 5 weeks of my forth and by far and away the toughest chemotherapy regime, I’ve had cause to stop and think a bit deeper than ever before about my current battle with cancer, and how the axis of my resolve always utterly resolute, has been challenged recently as the fight has got mentally and physically harder. The escalation has been rapid and very unpleasant if truth be told.

But, and this is the key, any challenge in life has a price to pay and you yourself have to decide what you are going to do about it. If honest, when last night at 03.16 my stoma bag burst open when I was fast asleep and it leaked everywhere making a horrendous mess, I had to man up, get up, sort it, clean it, and then spend an hour and a half having severe diarrhoea standing naked at the toilet waiting for the storm to pass.


Not my finest hour, but it allows you time to think and reflect. Yes, I’m sure some might think: "To hell with this for a game of soldiers, I’ve had enough of this I’m just going to give up." Frankly, why not just get yourself on a plane to Switzerland and sign up to Dignitas and finish it all off? And this is the low point in this battle and that is what got me thinking about the realities of life and death and those 6 degrees of separation, between life itself and the end of life.


Funny thing for me is that no matter how bad this has got, and trust me it has got really bad, what I have found, ironically, is that the nastier and harder it gets, the greater my resolve to beat this seems to get stronger, how strange is that? Is it supposed to be the case that your resolve weakens as your body weakens?

Well probably, and my physicality has been sorely tested, severe sickness, stomach upsets, deep fatigue, badly cracked skin on your fingers, toes, and feet that stings like nothing else, and bleeds constantly. Acne and skin diseases that makes you bleed and sees your skin falling off you like snow on a roof in the afternoon sunshine. The list goes on, mouth ulcers, blah blah blah, and now an ever noticeable breathlessness that is a new edition. So, what do you decide to do about it?


For me it’s easy: don’t let it bother you, don’t feel sorry for yourself. Trust me, it does not stop you bleeding or being sick. Nope, accept it, process it, one by one, take the medication, talk about how you feel, and guess what what happens is you suddenly think: "I can deal with this challenge" and day by day that is exactly what I will do, and ironically I have taken a lot of solace from the strategy of dealing with degrees of separation, all 6 of them if need be.

The symbolism is in dealing with the escalation of symptoms. The truth is, they might well get worse. I honestly don’t know. What I do know is that I’m still as determined to keep alive and keep well. I’ve been blessed recently by being out in my campervan with Yvi having a ball and feeling great - 24 hours later the complete opposite: sick as a dog. But that’s the game, you simply play it, deal with it, and move on. Just like life itself.


So my dear friends, no matter how grim life might feel, never forget there are always options in life and no matter how desperate things may seem, there is always that beautiful beacon of hope, and the power of the human spirit. And that is where my 6th sense of separation always brings me back to, as the salmon swims against all the odds up the stream, no matter how strong the current, or the steepness of the incline. It just keeps going. How and why is that? Simple, strength of character, determination to never give up, never give in, belief in your own power of survival and beyond anything else, be true to yourself all that you love, and cherish. It is worth fighting for every second that you breathe on this wonderful world that we share.


Do not give it up easily, you have one shot at life, live it to the full. Make sure you get your 6 degrees of separation.



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