Entry 50, March 8, 2014: It has been a glorious summer, and a long one, surprising us by starting in August, usually the cruellest month.
It saddens me to notice the signs that it's coming to an end but change is inevitable and is to be embraced.
This week also marks the 50th Topic of Cancer, and I am grateful for every day that has made up this strange saga. But I fear the title is becoming misleading. Cancerous tumours may still be present in my liver but hours - days! - pass by without me giving the disease a second thought.
Here I am, a year or so after the cancer came back, not only alive but, to all appearances, healthy.
This restoration throws up a few new questions: what to do with my time, now that vitality has been restored? I need paid work, and soon, but I'm reluctant to commit to anything too stressful or which doesn't nourish my spirit.
So for the time being, I'm happy to take on a bit of service here and there - helping others where I can. And that sometimes involves nothing more than being present, and listening carefully.
Attention is the only real gift I have to give, and through some strange mystical process that conscious, creative awareness brings gifts back, and tenfold.
I spent part of last weekend at a men-only forum, listening as blokes of every stripe spoke about what it means to them to be a man and, almost inevitably, about their fathers.
Many - most - of them had been brutalised as boys, bullied or bashed, humiliated, betrayed. They had in turn grown up to be brutes, embarking upon careers of violence, delinquency and addiction.
As a result of confronting the destructive behaviours they had escaped into as youngsters, and persistently pursuing freedom from them, these guys - tough and tattooed, scarred and scary - had begun to grow up and slowly evolve into decent, loving fathers and partners.
Their substance abuse had made it impossible for them to avoid the destiny of becoming just like their once-despised or feared old man.
Freedom from addiction gave them the opportunity - the imperative - to change, and to break the damaging cycle of god knows how many generations.
One of my oldest mates from NZ - a bit of a prof - was across for the gig and he too opened up about the life-long process of coming to forgive a tyrannical father.
We talked and laughed and shed tears. It was healing.
My dad was as mild mannered as Clark Kent but my mother was capable of titanic rages, and anger still terrifies and revolts me today. My own anger has caused me - and others - much pain, and it still can, even masquerading as impatience or irritability.
Having the cancer at bay means I have the opportunity to look at these "issues" in my life.
There's work to do and I'm thrilled to feel strong enough again to be able to get on with it.
Entry 49, March 1, 2014: A snake bit me on the foot in the vegie patch the other day and when the bite site started to sting I called the ambos.
They barely succeeded in suppressing their sniggers as they took my temperature and showed me an image of a whip snake, explaining that they are not known to be venomous.
As a consolation prize, the long-suffering medics left me a couple of bandages, to be applied in a genuine emergency.
The pint-sized serpent's attack serves me right: not because I choose to walk around the garden in bare feet (I can't be arsed to pull on boots every time I go down for a sprig of parsley, and naked contact with the ground feels good and is good for the soul); rather because it's nature's way of telling me something's wrong.
Wrong with the way I've been neglecting the garden, letting grasses grow thickly up the middle and leaving desiccated, possibly diseased, tomato vines to hang, fatally wounded, their withered stalks rustling in the hot wind.
But directing passive-aggression at tomatoes is a ridiculous approach to horticulture, and nor should I try to blame the weather.
I've simply been too tired, lazy or busy to give the garden the attention it needs.
Which is wrong on almost a moral level because for many years it has served me well. Post diagnosis in particular, it has been a source of spiritual uplift and distraction, and loads of life-restoring produce.
One day I found myself scratching around in the dirt for a few potatoes - foraging for food, like a medium-sized marsupial - and I felt a flash of prehistoric self. I swear, my sinews tautened.
Even ignored, the vegie patch continues to give: four types of kale (which has become faddish, alongside the ubiquitous coconut), lettuces, celery, beans, silverbeet and spinach, beetroot (for the leaves especially), broccoli that won't give up, potatoes for the first time, and yes, even tomatoes - indefatigable cherries.
Herbs in successful quantities and variety are another first: basil and oregano, rocket, coriander.
My lemon tree has a way to go at the moment so I buy or am given organic ones, and ladle in the ginger, turmeric, garlic (I must reek) and avocadoes!
I believe in the healing power of this stuff: I feel it nourishing me, not only as I eat it, but also as I take it from the plant, pick the bugs off and cook it. I even try to make it look pretty on the plate, including when I'm alone.
Laurie, my big grader-driving mate in cancer recovery, does the same, demonstrating respect both for himself and for the food that's helping to keep him alive.
Recovery is enhanced by such details, subtle gestures that speak of self-care. Planting things shows faith in the future, and offers a deep connectedness to life.
Entry 48, February 22, 2014: A friend in the healing professions told me this week about the many people he had witnessed over the years who had greeted their diagnosis of cancer with fighting words.
"I'll beat this!" and so on … possibly the way they had lived their whole lives, if not in conflict, at least making a struggle of it.
"They all die," said my mate, meaning such resistance is futile.
Surrendering to the fact of the disease rather than jumping to battle stations is, I would suggest, a healthier approach - surrender meaning acceptance, not resignation and giving up.
It's facing life on life's terms, as some recovery models put it.
I can't say with any truth whether I surrendered to it or not: there are blocks of time in which I was a bit dead to feeling last year, with a grey cloud following me around.
But it is accurate to say that for a few months following diagnosis and surgery, I quite enjoyed the experience, partly because - sadly - it somehow made me extraordinary (though of course my situation is far from unique, cancers now being as common as a cockroach in the kitchen).
It's hard to find the line between resistance and acceptance, because the latter, to be complete, comes with an obligation to do something about it (if you want to live).
It's not passive and calls for some of the same actions carried out by someone "fighting" the disease: discipline with medications, diet, exercise, and a methodical - conscious - shifting of one's thinking into positive gear.
"Fighting", I suppose, entails exertion, self-will, the need to be strong, invulnerable (dishonest, in short), a degree of denial or wishful thinking, a focus on the disease - and some angry energy.
I've had bouts with all the above but couldn't keep it up: I may put on a brave face but I'm a cry baby and whether alone or in company, I find a good bawl can release days of built-up tension and worry.
As to anger, it was never an option: it's about as welcome as northerlies in the Bay: I want to drain that deep reservoir of suppressed rage, not add to it.
It was, after all, along with its attendant thugs fear, shame and self-loathing, what kicked all this off in the first place, what led me to chase the "angry fix", in Ginsberg's words.
Anger didn't help me get out of that particular ring but acceptance did.
And when the fight stopped following my last round with the oncologists, I was free to to start to get better.
I got a new manager who retrained me and gave me hope. Forget the cancer, he said, get your body right.
Acceptance requires trust - and breeds more. I trusted this guy and I'm alive today. That daily confirmation has helped trust spill out like golden syrup and seal up some other cracks in my life, which feels very sweet indeed.
Entry 47, February 15, 2014: Lee T, a dear old mate, told me recently that the toughest time during his long bout with throat cancer was after he had been given the all-clear.
He was haunted by the fear of it returning, he said, and, I surmise, the sudden removal of the intense focus on a very specific goal: survival. What now? he must have wondered, pondering the void.
Lee likes occasionally to don the mentor mantle, to play the elder, and people mostly just nod their heads and smile sympathetically.
But this time I listened. And I've been reminded of his comments as the very reassuring blood test results I was given recently continued to sink in.
You'd think, wouldn't you, that Lee's clean bill of health after a couple of years of illness would rocket him into a new, bliss-filled dimension, above it all, untroubled by worldly concerns.
That didn't happen to him and while I've been declaring that I received the news with a bodhisattva's detachment, it hasn't happened to me either. I've simply reverted to type.
Call it an individual's sense of entitlement, or an everyday human response, but I find myself taking the renewal of health for granted. I'm not basking in any glory, or taking credit for being a cancer survivor - that would be crazily premature. But I am carrying on as if the disease had not played - was not still playing - a big part in my life.
My first words after leaving the doctor's surgery were that I was going to eat a hamburger (and yes, I will have fries with that) which, as you might imagine, were received like a slap in the face by the person who has nourished me so carefully since this all began.
I didn't ingest the offending "food" but I've been neglecting a few of my healthy practices, have become so much more gung ho about it all, and that's not always pretty.
The future … well, it's full of possibilities now. A flood of lurid options slops about in the euphoric brain; vulnerability fades away. I'm back - and bulletproof.
The true, weakened state of my body is forgotten: Perhaps I should have taken Lee up on his offer to travel to Auckland to carouse and see Eminem, I muse.
Insanely unfeasible lusts loom: that honey-toned nymphette smiling and dancing beside me at The National concert in Brisbane? Mmmm.
Nonsense, all of it, and only mildly reprehensible. Pitiful, more than anything.
But along with the re-emergence of the inner sleazebag, the unreconstructed juvenile delinquent, comes a darker, uglier shadow: a reversion to the cranky, andropausal old bastard I was becoming before I was diagnosed. The new energy too often feeds old, useless, angers - at all the dumb dangerous drivers on our roads, for instance.
This miserable creature had no place in the recovery regime: I was humbled, needy, accepting, and I think I preferred myself then.
Entry 46, February 8, 2014: In Singapore once, at a gathering of sober alcoholics, I heard a Chinese man tell of the anguish caused him by the psoriasis on his hands.
The itchy discomfort - and possibly its unsightliness - made him want to jump out a window, he said.
I understood how he felt - recognised in myself the same reaction - over-reaction, in truth; the turning of a manageable problem into a catastrophe, with suicide presenting as a viable solution.
It's a textbook alkie response to life's difficulties, and confirmed for me the universal nature of the condition: race means nothing when dealing with the mysterious complex of forces that run strong inside the addict's mind.
It was a classic example of the broken shoelace response: it's the small stuff that trips us up.
I have probably felt more distressed, more despairing, about having pimples than I have about having cancer.
For a start, the disease's targeting of my liver struck me as fitting, even just, considering my early, ingrate's rejection of the gift of life, and the abuse I heaped upon a healthy body.
So there's been no anger, no outrage, though such is my sense of entitlement to a full and fulfilling life, it took a while for the diagnosis to sink in, and fear to follow it.
But while these hard truths and the grief at leaving loved ones have been intensely upsetting at times, at no point have I been inconsolable. Giving up, suicide, hopelessness: they haven't had a look in.
And last week's good news, which implied that we have the tumours on the run, has been received just as calmly.
There has been no popping of champagne corks, for obvious reasons, but my joy has been muted. I neither believe the blood test numbers, nor disbelieve them. If I believe them completely I am thrust into the future, with expectations.
That is just a disappointment waiting to happen, as the saying goes, so I have instead been focusing on each day's renewed sensation of strength. I'm even back at the gym.
The endeavour to avoid being blown about by the winds of change is based on the principles I learned almost entirely from sitting in rooms similar to the one in Singapore, listening to similar stories.
The Chinese man helped two alkies at least that day: himself and me. By being honest about his outlandish mental processes, he was taking responsibility for himself, and being part of the solution. He hadn't killed himself; he'd made a decision to go on living, to get healthy, despite his affliction.
It's what I've been aiming to do: accept the reality, feel the emotions but don't act upon them, seek the courage to change what I can, ask for help and receive it graciously, help others where possible, and be thankful for my life. All of it.
And it seems to be working.
Entry 45, February 1, 2014: I receive a telephone call asking me to make an appointment with my doctor to discuss the results of a recent blood test.
Doesn't sound too promising, does it?
That was 10 days ago and this week I saw the wise woman to hear the news.
The phone call had sprinkled some doubt through my day, during which I gloomed about the place, tempted to ring the medical centre for more detail, a hint: thumbs up? Or …
I resisted the urge. Why risk spoiling the city holiday we had planned? If the results were poor - more gloom; if positive, they'd keep.
But strangely, holidays can be tiring, which combined with other bloody dramas to lead me to doubt the possibility of my survival - and even to doubt that I really wanted to - so I anticipated the appointment with a low-level dread.
I spent the morning lying around, inert, listless, my vision shrunk to anger about the neighbourhood dogs and their incessant noise. But, as you must, I arose to shower, shave (but no shampoo, long abandoned), donned fresh clothes and headed out to face the facts.
Within minutes I was in the surgery, looking at the numbers on a screen.
I had understood the test to be a standard liver function assessment, to see how the misused organ was holding up, but the good doctor had slipped in a check of my alpha-fetoprotein levels, a tumour marker in liver cancer.
In July last year, six weeks after the second chemo invasion and a few days before the hospital oncologists gave me months to live, the reading was 2475. "Normal" is 12 or less.
This week it was 15. Barring error, that indicates the tumours are largely inactive.
"Whatever you've been doing, keep it up," my GP said, before proceeding to throw in some welcome counselling on the side.
It's not often confessions of guilt come up in a doctor's rooms, but having those moments of frankness and acceptance was almost as heartening as the astounding - almost unbelievable - reversal in tumour growth.
Indeed, the suspicious, Scottish strands of my New Zealand soul didn't quite trust the news at first. For several hours, I was advising myself not to get my hopes up.
But naturally I am elated: the future has flung open its arms. And I'm grateful: this progress is based upon the "Sledgehammer" regime laid out by my militant naturopath in Boona and the ministrations of an angelic creature who has cared for me selflessly throughout, sometimes to her own detriment.
Added to these are the support and love of family and friends (and readers) and, not forgetting the unsurpassed opportunities for healthy living in the Northern Rivers.
Farmers' market food, clean environment, enlightened people … they all conspire towards wellness.
I feel well, I look well, and it seems I'm getting well. There's still a long way to go but, like encouragement, evidence of progress is a fantastic motivator.
Entry 44, January 25, 2014: My son has had to do some accelerated growing up since the diagnosis. I have been open about the cancer from the start and its causes came as no surprise to him, as I have also been frank about my past.
It saddens me that he has had to face the possibility of my death - and I cannot fully gauge the impact all this is having upon him - but I am immensely proud of the way he has responded to the crisis.
We joke about the ethics around his playing the cancer card - at school, for example, by way of special pleading for extra marks, or as a possible leg-up into a university of his choice, without the usual grades requirement. We laugh about a lot of things - always have - and I feel fortunate that we are able to use humour to counter-balance what at times seems insupportably dreadful.
But the growth I see in him every day is no joke: it is based upon emotional depth - gravity - and manifests as a loving kindness.
For, while he remains in many spheres a stereotypical 16-year-old (rude, self-absorbed, oblivious to housework - work of any kind), when the call comes he answers it.
This week we caught an early morning flight to Melbourne, to see a band perform, catch up with friends and explore the city.
Upon arrival, tired after a sleepless night, hungry, I used the toilet and was shocked afterwards to see blood in the bowl.
Fear seeped into my body until at Southern Cross station, waiting for a shuttle bus in its noxious, Stygian depths, it overwhelmed me.
We stood there, alone and far from home, me crying, shaking, feeling horribly weak and hopeless, wildly imagining an emergency dash to a hospital, he with his arm around my shoulders, holding me with all his might.
Noah remained the calm, positive one until we ventured out into the city and found food: beef burger for him, scrappy items approximating something healthy for me, and the happy little adventure we had anticipated began.
The child becomes father to the man. Many youngsters facing bereavement, their own illness, a family break-up, will surprise with their courage and wisdom, and I'm not making a case for his exceptional maturity or inner strength.
But as well as being a comfort to me when required, his solid presence is gratifying in other, bigger, ways.
I am cheered for his sake, that he should possess these qualities, and relieved to know that, whatever may happen to me, he will be all right. The prospect of us parting forever crushes me with grief, but it is my loss that causes me to weep, not any fear for him, for how he will cope. I can rest in peace on that score.
I am also witness to the growth of another teenage lad as he is forced, prematurely, to assume some of the responsibilities of adulthood to support his mother during a family crisis.
All around me I see other young men and women developing into fine human beings.
They fill me with pride, and hope for the future.
Entry 43, January 18, 2014: The bad news is that I have lost 3kg. The good news is that I am unable to restrain myself from carrying out random acts of running - on beaches, along coastal paths and up obstacle-strewn bush tracks.
Mysteriously urged - compelled - I startle companions by suddenly taking off, to abandon myself to pure, unthinking movement, my mind preoccupied with breathing and dodging rocks and hidden roots.
Vigorous swimming produces a similar result: the body floods with feel-good chemicals and any troubling thoughts and emotions are burned off.
Running has become possible again because the weight loss caused by a monastic diet means my rugby-ravaged knees don't hurt any more. And to be free of that painful restriction brings much more than physical relief: the spirits lift, a sensation of youthfulness returns.
My niece and her radiant, ocean-adoring daughter are visiting from New Zealand and the little girl, witnessing my antics, remarked to her mother "he's not sick" - and any observer would have to agree.
How seriously ill I am remains unknown. How well I feel is not only obvious to others, it's a palpable reality for me: and one that continues to astonish.
It has prompted me to become, slightly obnoxiously, something of an evangelist - for exercise as the surest antidote to depression, for diet as the best medicine, and for an attitude of gratitude as the formula guaranteed to create a contented existence.
But cancer or no cancer, life insists on changing and challenging. Relationships or money (and often both) can overnight bloody the emotional waters.
Perhaps I should view such challenges as assets, because they can push my illness into the shade, which is where it belongs. After all, my "problem" is a banal one: I have cancer, which could finish me off this year. That's sad, but not a tragedy.
Any suffering following the diagnosis 15 months ago has been caused by fear and grief stoking the emotional fire, and a salient feature of both these feelings is that they are based on an event that hasn't happened - my death.
Which means that it takes mere seconds' thought to establish that right now, everything is just fine. And often more than fine: physically joyous, sensually replete, intellectually stimulating, daily life is full of funny, intimate, surprising moments.
Athletes and many lifestyle "experts" assert that there is no gain without pain. While I can see the truth in this T-shirt slogan when it comes to the body, it sits uncomfortably with me in the emotional/spiritual realm, because I don't want to hurt.
But judging by recent experience - and Buddhist teaching - suffering is unavoidable. In the past, I've sometimes felt as if I couldn't live through it.
Now survival is the priority. I can sit for a while with painful emotions, and learn from them, but I refuse to allow them to replace or blur that focus.
So off I trot. Not away from the pain, but through it.
Entry 42, January 11, 2014: I heard recently about a fit young local woman who, out of the blue, was diagnosed with cancer and within a few weeks had passed away.
Another girl, a beautiful, talented teenager, the daughter of a friend, lost her fight with a rare form of the disease late last year.
Cancer's appearance often seems random, unfair, and its conclusion rapid and devastating.
Nowadays, I notice its presence everywhere: in the media, in conversation - and in people.
I was waiting in the Bexhill butchers this week when the customer before me revealed that he had a suspected tumour and was booked to have a biopsy. He had apparently lost a lot of weight and to me already looked weakened and defeated.
Another friend is a silent, powerless witness to his own physical and mental deterioration with MS.
I can only wish them luck and something miraculous, and value the perspective granted me by their suffering. I am reminded how fortunate I am to have been given this period of grace between diagnosis and … resolution.
For more than a year now I've carried around the illness and the awareness of its presence within me but, aside from the months of recovery from surgery and chemo treatments, I have shown (or suffered) no symptoms.
A new year surge in strength, morale, libido is very gratifying in itself, but more than that it comes as a herald of hope. It is also mystifying: how is it possible to have such a serious illness and yet feel so good?
Many of my cancer comrades are in a less happy position. Tired and uncomfortable, disabled by a tsunami of drugs and other debilitating therapies as well as the ravages of the disease, they are just too unwell to get out and about. There's not much they can do to distract themselves from their plight. My heart goes out to them, and I have huge respect for their stoicism.
I have had only a taste of their loneliness and fear and I wouldn't fancy my chances of maintaining dignity or even emotional equilibrium if I were to start being restricted by pain or exhaustion.
But life continues to improve - and bring delightful surprises, such as the recent series of visitors I've had from all over the world.
And from my recovery mentor, a man my age who had a vast tumour successfully removed from his kidney but who was sent home to die when the cancer showed signs of spreading. That was two years ago: he's now back at his physically demanding job. We find a spot in the shade and natter like two old biddies, swapping recipes, gardening tips and encouragement.
It is impossible to feel bitter under the circumstances: I have a reprieve in which I can go on living as if all were well. And by acting upon that irrational belief, make it so.
Entry 41, January 4, 2014: I learned only recently that Lou Reed's most famous creation, the saccharine Perfect Day, is a paean to heroin - a discovery which made me feel instantly obtuse and unworthy to ever again remark upon any aspect of popular culture.
But I will happily borrow the curmudgeonly (liverish?) performer's song title and apply it without irony or metaphor to my start to the year.
January 1 contained almost everything that fills me with joy: fellowship and story-telling, further psychic cleansing in the ocean, a day and night of music under sheltering skies at the Falls Festival listening in ecstasy to bands I have enjoyed for years, absorbing as much of the wonderful mind and body-blowing noise my skinny frame and battered brain could handle. (I knew Grizzly Bear would be interesting but they were sublime).
I was alone for just enough of the day on site but was otherwise in the company of much-loved friends, and although I felt like Rip Van Winkle amid the 12,000 babes in the woods, after the initial shock, it didn't matter!
It's deliriously disinhibiting being surrounded by strangers and I danced what's left of my arse off - ungainly and undignified, no doubt, but unashamed, wholly liberating, and an expression of animal health.
The day (and its eve) were full of other good stuff too, including cooking a delicious "pure cure" meal to take to the festival, full of home-grown vegetables, which was consumed by my bestie and me in a late-night (and period-piece) picnic on the grass of the disabled car park.
(Yes folks, I'm embarrassed to admit it but after I'd been gouged and gored by poison-spurting radiologists, I was too unwell to walk far, and played the cancer card for a sticker. Now that I'm fit I feel a fraud. However, when it comes to cancer, you've got to look for the perks).
It was also uplifting to party alongside so many people young enough to be my grandchildren and find that aside from littering and their incomprehensible use of nicotine, they were friendly, funny and courteous - and easy on the eye.
Hearing the Cat Empire reminded me of their frequent guest on stage, David Ades, who we lost in 2013, which added poignancy to an already emotion-packed day. But for me the year brought the best of times as well as the worst. Despite cancer, it was far from terrible and included an indecent amount of fun.
A little wobbly over Christmas (when fear had the most plausible lines), I had to give myself a good talking to one evening to rally resilience, restore mental toughness. The decision to do that, topped with exhilarating rock music and celebration with loved ones, brought the life-force roaring back into my being.
Indeed, too forcefully: reinforced by an illicit coffee, it kept me awake until 4am. I arose at 7 and got down on my knees to a force I don't understand to give thanks for the past year, for cancer and for survival.
I should be nearing death's vale, according to the doctors, but I'm delighted to say that "outcome" feels very far away this new, four-square year.
Entry 40, December 28: Between you and me, I have always thought of naturopathy as a bit, you know, anaemic. Now, those practitioners of the craft among my acquaintance, please don't take offence. It's just another choice item from my glittering array of prejudices.
So there is some irony in the fact that I have based my treatment plan largely upon the advice of a member of that fraternity.
And far from having anything airy-fairy about him - the facile diagnosis, the aura of special knowledge and moral purity - he is scientific and quite fierce.
The good man, whom I have come to like and trust, (as much as I do ever trust) gave me a pre-Christmas pep-talk this week, accompanied by many a forbidding stare.
A spare, Dickensian figure, he glanced up from his microscope to convey to me, in mournful tones and faintly accusatory language, that he was a little disappointed at the state of my blood - which he blamed on dietary transgressions.
I was forced to do a "busted" routine, feign penitence and generally joke around and flirt with the poor bewildered naturopathy student sitting in on the session, in order to win the old goat over. (As if I could bullshit my way into a diagnosis of health, use charm to snatch life from the slavering jaws of cancer).
I still came away feeling guilty about my "breadcrumb sins" - trivial to most, but starring honey, yoghurt, cheese, fruit, peanut butter! - all on the banned list.
I had been toying with these, in minuscule amounts, justifying lapses with the line "I don't think this is going to kill me", but concealing the fact that I'd consumed something wrong from those who love me and who know the score (and will call me on it).
(To my shame, I've lied about and hidden chocolate from my son often over the years. He never thought to look in the freezer.)
But these recent food slips reveal a potentially fatal vanity: that I can beat cancer despite defying my adviser's guidance. Such an attitude can make it difficult for me to believe I have cancer at all, which means life seems very surreal some days.
Nevertheless, I hurried home to carry out his advice.
Why? Because in the five months I have been seeing him I have gained in strength and wellbeing. And in hope. His program is working.
But getting back on the wagon is never easy. Especially as, following a disturbance in a matter of the heart, an old pattern resurfaced: hurt wrapped itself in anger, perspective became warped, gratitude went AWOL and on Christmas Day I hit the destruct button.
In a brooding, labile mood, to the unconvincing (and juvenile) mantra of "I don't care", I hoovered up bacon and eggs, sausages, orange juice, then went out for fish, meringue, ice-cream and glazed fruit.
All of it bad for a cancerous body but, along with the delightful company, bloody good for the soul. I felt normal: happy, and even a little festive.
Entry 39, December 21: I spent Tuesday in a disturbed, discontented state, marked by frequent crying jags.
Softened up by days of feeling tired and weak, I succumbed to the cancer horrors: fear of imminent death, scepticism about my laughable attempts to improve it, an acute loneliness and sense of waste.
The doubts harden into certainties: "It's ridiculous to imagine that tomatoes and turmeric are going to save me now," I grumble sotto voce.
Self-pity oozes in: "I'm dying of cancer and spending my last days alone, just as I have always been alone ..."
Cue boo-hooing, snotty nose, shoulder-heaving sighs.
But while my solitude is self-imposed, I can't take all the blame, so I call in a few sure-fire resentments, targeting the people, especially those closest to me, who take my being here for granted, as if my illness were a long-forgotten hoax.
The grievances ripple out: old lovers, family, humankind! - all needing a good telling off.
Clearly, it's not a happy or a healthy state to be in.
Duvet therapy and escape (using the rock-bottom route of TV or DVDs) are not options, so I drag myself into action.
Mowing the lawn distracts me up until lunch, after which I "rest" (and time-waste on Facebook). A late afternoon in the garden provides a simulacrum of meaning as well as proof of physical wellbeing: I flap around like a busy old chook for several hours.
I remain dogged by sadness, but the focused activity - especially turning the compost - goes a long way to burning off the death-terror and anger.
"Action purifies" was one of the simpler sayings of a now departed local guru (long-winded and a dreadful lothario) and I absolutely believe it.
For years I took action with the hangman's noose vision I wrote about last week: every time it appeared I pulled an NLP swiftie - by visualising the noose being untied and turning into a limp length of dangly old rope. It worked.
This week, I acted against type and reached out to other humans. Not personally, you understand, but via one of the strands of the social media web I'm stuck on.
After a loving exchange with my brother in the glacial reaches of northern Canada, the febrile emotions lose power. Preparing a nutritious dinner and writing this ensure I retire peacefully.
The guru aside, I have to thank my education in 12 Step programs for the "tool" of action which, in the jargon, propels you into living "in the solution".
As an approach to life I love it and I'm also chuffed that I am usually able (and willing) to do exactly that.
The doctors say I am one of the "unlucky ones" on cancer's death row. But mostly I can't believe how lucky I am - fit, cheerful, free of pain, fear or grief.
I just have to accept that there will always be rough days like Tuesday, and worse.
Entry 38, December 14: I flew to the big smoke last weekend to see a production of the Samuel Beckett play Waiting for Godot.
Concluding as it does with the two protagonists consoling each other with the thought that they can hang themselves the next day, Godot is famously bleak; it is also poignant, richly comic and, as with all great art, mysteriously uplifting.
Despite the weighty themes, Hugo Weaving and Richard Roxburgh indulge in several bouts of knockabout humour - physical clumsiness to match the tricks, habits and hopes they invent to avoid facing the fact of life's meaninglessness.
Their everyman antics include a capacity for courage and loyalty, but also for capriciousness and cruelty, as they slip-slide between persecutor, victim and rescuer - the unholy trinity of relationships.
We humans are absurd, riddled with doubt and weakness and a desperate need to have our existence acknowledged by others; but there is also heroism in the daily decision to go on living.
Godot was first staged in 1953 and its themes formed part of the zeitgeist I grew up in, themes only very shallowly grasped by me.
The play's recurrent hanging motif became entangled in my earnest, impressionable teenage mind with the statement from Camus that the decision to continue living (or not) is the only significant philosophical question: a perfect ideological bolt-hole for a lost and unhappy youth.
For years after, during times of even moderate emotional stress, an image of a hangman's noose would pop into my head, often with a little scenario of knot-tying involved. Wherever I found myself, I would cast my eye about for the ideal beams from which to dangle oneself.
Knives, trains, drugs all featured too - followed by a tearful and guilt-drenched funeral - but the involuntary vision of the noose, with its comforting promise of oblivion, was the most common event.
What subterranean rage or despair is revealed by that grim symbol, which continued even after suicide became unconscionable with the birth of my son.
I mention all this because my theatre companion, my beautiful angel, has never had a suicidal thought in her life. I have met such types before - people with healthy self-esteem - and they strike me as so odd as to resemble an alien species.
That polarity exists between us too, but doesn't throw up any obstacle to our profound rapport and trust.
And reflecting upon the play, I realise that the noose has not come dancing into my inner vision for a long time.
Not, in fact, since I was diagnosed with cancer. That provoked a shift at a level of being from which the over-dramatic "I" is quite shut out. The self-indulgent fantasy was terminated as being incompatible with survival.
I'm free of it, and much other psychic detritus I was barely aware of. Its elimination has allowed me to tread more lightly and breathe more easily.
Entry 37, December 7: The phrase "God moves on the waters like Casey Jones" accurately sum up the extent of my spiritual life.
The lyric from the deliciously languid (and more-ishly morbid) Gillian Welch has all the necessary ingredients: it makes the claim for a beneficent universal power, conjures up pretty pictures of lakes and oceans, and has a loaded rock music reference as a pay-off.
The last two stand on the peaks of human experience, high up there among the things that make life worth living: nature and music.
And because it's rock 'n' roll there's the promise of a pleasing amount of grubbiness in the mix as well. Sex, nature and music then: they all tie together nicely too, don't they? And even if you can't play an instrument (like me, to my irremediable frustration), we can all enjoy the first of these - even if we aren't very good at it.
Listening to music though, what a marvellous and mysterious gift. It can be transporting, transcendental...
Now where was I? Oh yes, God. Well, that's just the word I use whenever I say thank you to whatever force there is behind music and nature and sex -- and cancer. It's the simplest word to use when I'm lying otter-like on my back in the ocean, or gazing out at the twilight sky stippled with clouds in a thousand gorgeous hues, and am suffused with peace and acceptance. Death, you have no sting at moments like this. I am for that short time sated with life, in a state of blissful acceptance, a surrendering to what is (and, like in that old Doris Day song, whatever will be). But the gratitude can be for more basic blessings as well.
Not least among these - and I crave your forbearance once again, patient reader - was learning my digestion problems of last week were just that.
My excellent GP promptly assured me that I did not have secondary malignant tumours forming an unspeakable snarl-up in my bowel.
"That's not how it works," the saintly creature said, adding that, should it occur, the collapse of the liver would bring with it not a pulsing pain, but a relentless one, more like toothache. "You just have a bug," she said, to my great relief.
I also inquired about what I feared was a post-op hernia which popped up alongside the hepatectomy scar from a year ago, and which I imagined starting to protrude Alien-like from my stomach, perhaps finally bursting out at the beach, my horrible condition on full display before a nauseated public. It turns out to be a harmless cyst which could be excised easily enough in the local surgery.
Well, that's something to look forward to in the future. But if I'm so clueless about my own body, how can I talk about god ?
I mean, what do I know? (And how much more do I need to know, really?)
Entry 36, November 30: I am writing this in severe discomfort, after 36 hours of gripy pain churning through my lower abdomen.
I can't think of what I've eaten that might have caused such a ruction but my digestion system has never really recovered from years of abuse, aggravated by vicious bouts of gastro enteritis enjoyed in toilets across the developing world.
Then there was the decade of late nights putting out newspapers, where health is sapped by stress and bad food; heartburn and halitosis a recurrent reality.
I expect it will pass, as it always has. Except … now there are be other forces at play. It doesn't take too much writhing around in pain before I start imagining cancerous growths in the bowel: maybe the tumours have metastasized - a word whose meaning was unknown to me a year ago.
"This is how it begins," I mutter darkly to myself, as the intestines twist and turn.
The pains persist but the fear passes - I am too distracted by my groaning guts to run with it (and I wouldn't anyway), but the real downside is that I'm unable to concentrate on a conversation with my son Noah about his viva voce at school in the morning.
It was to be the latest of several such discussions on - and arguments about -biology, law or literature, which have provided me with some of the most rewarding hours of my life.
Noah may not thank me for revealing it but the other night he wrote "thank you, daddy, I love you", in a journal he has to keep to record the creative processes behind a short story he's writing for his Year 12 English.
Our earlier talk had led him to some plot breakthrough and he was so pleased he wrote that uninhibited, happy note, which delighted and touched me profoundly.
It's a fearless note too, especially for a teenager, and just one example of the deepening of our relationship - a consequence of both his maturing with the years, and also of the diagnosis, which demanded an overhaul of priorities.
I'm enormously proud of Noah and the way he has handled the threat, stepping up into new responsibilities, demonstrating to me, despite his unspoken fears, that he will be OK no matter what, and that he won't waste his time here.
The new order means I am free to sit and talk for an hour, fully present and responsive, giving him my total attention.
Along with time (fast running out, cancer or no) the acute awareness of mortality has motivated me to step up too, for my most important role on Earth.
Noah and I have an intimacy that I grievously missed with my dad and there's not much more to it than taking the time to listen, and share with him who I am, and by doing so, show him I love him.
Entry 35, November 23: Straight after concluding a pre-surgery visit with the liver people at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane last November, I drove into the CBD, went to David Jones and bought an expensive set of kitchen knives.
It was a textbook example of retail therapy - my "purchasing power" giving some illusion of control in a crisis.
It was not a one-off. Another specialist appointment, one more pricy shirt to add to the rack that would last me even if I lived to be 100. Shoes, ditto.
Losing weight through the medical interventions and reformed diet justified the acquisition of new trousers, shorts, swimmers, some of which are already unwearable as I start to thicken up again.
And while I deplore this pointless, compulsive consumption in others, by some sleight of thinking I can more easily forgive it in myself.
Still, I have at times been rooted to the spot in shops, overcome with nausea and self-loathing after spending far too much time in them and I am more than a little uncomfortable with what such concern with appearance reveals about my hidden shallows.
The need for the comfort of instant gratification I can excuse in myself. But vanity is a deeper vice of character and very unattractive, despite its being a hallmark of the age. It also tends, though strenuously concealed, to out itself in unconscious and rather distasteful leaks.
And beneath the amassing of clothes, bed linen, towels, slumbers the awareness that this is what unimaginative and unhappy people do: they buy stuff. In fact, "shopping" is now shamelessly proclaimed a favourite pastime … and I feel just as trashy and miserable a mug as those who fight for pole position on big sales days.
But the knives were something else as well: they were an investment in the future, in my future.
Every time I use one of them I feel a small jolt of pleasure, at their utilitarian excellence and for what they symbolise - the intention to live, and to live more creatively, while taking more responsibility for what goes into my mouth.
But regarding the vanity: I shouldn't be so unforgiving, as it has helped to keep me alive. An idea that was popular in my 20s was "live fast, die pretty", but life slowed down and became ugly, a groundhog routine of topping up to make it through the day (and night).
After warnings from specialists (again) about alcoholic brain damage, I was terrified at the prospect of becoming a vegetable, with a face the colour and texture of an over-ripe pumpkin.
That was about the extent of my ambition back then: to avoid turning into a pumpkin in the park. It was enough to get me sober but I didn't realise it at the time that staying sober demanded a rigorous internal overhaul. No amount of dressing up the outside was going to help that.
Efficiently chopped up food, on the other hand …
Entry 34, November 16: Except for the wetsuits, black clothing was not much in evidence as hundreds of us gathered at The Pass on Tuesday to give saxophonist David Ades his final standing ovation, after he quietly surrendered to cancer at his home last week.
There was sadness at the ceremony, of course - we (and the world's jazz aficionados) have lost a wonderful man and artist. Tears flowed, and one speaker, a musician more used to expressing feeling through sound, was almost mute with emotion - which in itself said a mouthful.
But as with his life, David's death and the bare-feet and boardies turnout to honour him were a great gift to those present, and left me, and many others, feeling more elated than dull with grief.
David's dying days were filled with love and joy and the beachside rite was accompanied by music and laughter - just as he would have wanted.
He could be a prickly bugger but the lethal imperatives of cancer caused much of his irascibility to drop away, like a redundant carapace, and the loving, gentle man who was always there come to the fore.
Those closest to him expressed their love in action and attention and he returned it with interest, even when all he could do was smile through the fog and pain.
Relationships are all that matter, David said, and that if he had his health back he would see more of his family and friends and watch the sun go down.
Ten days before he died I was fortunate enough to spend a couple of hours with him on the sun-dappled deck of his Bangalow home and we spoke as men rarely seem to.
We had overcome the same demons, were no strangers to madness and loss and were brothers-in-arms in the cancer campaign, during which we shared some treatments and many responses to our new, unspectacular horizons.
He was clear that cancer is "a motherfucker"; but it can also be liberating, we agreed, nearly a year ago.
David made the most of his 20 months of liberty, to honour his gift and draw those he loved even closer to him - a fine example to me.
Laurie Anderson said shortly after losing Lou Reed: "I believe that the purpose of death is the release of love."
The ultimate outpouring of love occurred at David's beach send-off: the rain withdrew, out of respect, the trees shook with laughter, "mourners" jitterbugged to Bye Bye Blackbird, his ragged requiem; the surfers' circle was a ring of raucous cheering. We travelled home in an afterglow.
That night I sang and danced around the kitchen, knowing David would applaud the vitality and joy, if not the sense of rhythm.
Such a good death can order up an inventory of one's own love supply - and how selflessly it is expressed. In the past I sometimes wondered if there was any at all in my being. Now I know there is, and that it's enough.
Entry 33, November 9: I recently went out wearing mismatching sandals. My error wasn't spotted until I was leaving a friend's and put them on again to come home.
It's a bit worrying on a few fronts but the surprising thing is that I had anything on my feet at all - going unshod being my preference these days, the opportunity for it one of the many reasons I love living in this part of Australia.
I have become, in the old vernacular, a beach bum; moth-eaten T-shirts, mad hair. The indecent pride I take in walking the Cape Byron Lighthouse track in bare feet is now tinged with a moral superiority.
What is also slightly indecent is how avidly I assumed the role of "local" on the walk, which I've only been doing consistently for the past six months, usually beginning at Wategos and returning via the bush track and the Pass, though sometimes the other way for a little excitement.
"A local" then, humming with all the parochialism, snobbery and we-don't- care-for-strangers-round-these-parts attitude that is contained in that noun.
I "tsk tsk" at the litter, glare at anyone who insists on smoking or talking loudly into their mobile phones, and take a pedagogical approach toward foreigners who cling to the handrail on the wrong side of the path.
But such is the radiant beauty and uplifting effects of the walk that I am usually able - bare-footed, saintlike - to rise above such provocations. I can turn the other cheek to vast families of vast people bedecked in leisure wear and jauntily angled caps, and greet them, even those self-evidently from the Gold Coast, with a genuine warmth.
However, there is a breed whose presence on the track it is impossible to ignore.
They are the fitness fanatics: not the emaciated runners, mainly women, for whom this, all exercise - life! - is a tragi-drama of self flagellation, but the over-muscled descendant of the Yuppie "jogger". Ambitious, soulless, egocentric.
It is not enough that the coastal cliffs reveal sublime views and that the bush offers a place of cool silence in which to stop and imbibe some serenity; these Masters of the Universe need to exploit it, to use it in the pursuit of their PBs, or whatever.
They come pounding down the path, snorting and glassy-eyed like speared bulls, emitting an aura of testosterone, sweat and self-entitlement. And, very often, martyrdom.
It's a serious business for them; it's also joyless and does little for the environment.
The Cape is a sacred place, and has been for millennia. It is also a place of contemplation and healing, crafted by nature and lovingly maintained by its guardians.
The Bay's waters have already been invaded - infested - with learner surfers and kayaking armadas. I would hate to see the coastal path become just another lifestyle accessory.
Could the boot camp boys and girls please take their stampeding elsewhere, and leave the lesser-spotted locals to potter along in peace, enjoying the wildlife and the endless views.
PS: David Ades, the Bangalow saxophonist, died peacefully at his home early Friday morning. He will be much missed but he left us his music and many happy memories. RIP David
Entry 32, November 2: Lying in bed one night I experienced some grumbly but insistent pains beneath my ribs.
In a nanosecond I was staring into a possible future: awful pain, decline, dementia, death, and was so terrified I feared I might vomit.
I breathed through it but I was reminded that I haven't been tested by this disease yet, haven't been made privy to its full box of tricks and its monstrous, everyday tortures.
And I pray I won't be. Judging by the acute dread of this moment, I'm sure I would collapse into a trembling, whimpering wreck, like a failed soufflé.
In contrast is the experience of my friend David Ades, whose story I have touched on, and who is 20-months alive after being diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer - a cruel irony for the gifted saxophonist.
Gravely ill, colonised by a large and ravening tumour which has invaded his trachea and with secondaries in the liver, David remains a paragon of endurance, courage and clear-eyed acceptance, as dynamic as the wild sounds he urges from his horn, only now rendered pianissimo.
Now in considerable pain, from the tumour and a broken rib that his coughing won't let mend, he has undergone a blitzkrieg of therapies, often uncomfortable, debilitating and disorienting, and through it all has maintained his humour, kindness and dignity.
Indeed, this weekend he hosted a barbecue/meeting of the weekly Bangalow postmodern discussion group, of which he has been a lively member for many years.
David has just returned to the Northern Rivers from his most recent adventure, a trip to New York City to record a follow-up album to A Glorious Uncertainty.
The title of the new work captures David's lust for life and his fierce determination to get his art onto tape - and is his acknowledgment that this will be his last record.
It's called A Life in a Day and was recorded in five hours, some numbers in a single take, with an ensemble of fine musicians who are also his friends.
The flight to New York was arduous and David spent some weeks in a clinic in Germany being helped to recover from the ordeal with invasive chemotherapy.
"But once I went into the studio, I didn't feel as if I had cancer at all," he says. The music is likely to reflect that freedom from pain and worry - unimaginable and taken for granted by healthy people.
The trip took a heavy toll on David and he is relieved to be home, where he is being cared for by his partner and family in an atmosphere of light and pure love.
He has lost weight and the crushed trachea is causing him many scary choking moments, especially at night.
But he knows that travelling to the States was the right decision and I admire his single-minded fervour to give his art a meaningful conclusion.
We are very different people and our cancer paths quite dissimilar.
But I have watched him, as one would a guide, and he is teaching me about grace under pressure. It's a privilege just being around him now.
Smile on, brother. Play on too.
Entry 31, October 26: It's about a year since the first tumour was detected in my liver, but the intruder had already been busy down there for many months, doing push-ups, getting fighting fit.
It muscled up quickly, to reach the size and shape of a small egg, built to punch above its weight.
But it was on its own, and lurking on the periphery of the much-abused organ, so the decision to cut it out was the obvious one, and I went ahead with relief and even some insouciance.
The tumour and a lump of liver came out as sweet as a nut and I left hospital after five nights with a six-inch scar, feeling both absurdly puffed up about my tough constitution and a little more vulnerable than ever before.
But I hadn't accepted that I was up against something truly lethal. Tumours, obeying the Big C's number one commandment to go forth and multiply, resurfaced on the other side of my liver … several of them, and with a Tony Soprano-sized appetite for self-aggrandisement and living large.
It was a disappointing result, said the surgeon, who had not expected a recurrence.
A couple of bombing raids on the tumours with chemo crippled me for weeks but I'm vague about how effective the "therapy" part of the equation was. Not very, from what I could gather talking to the boffins.
Unluckily, it turns out the cancer I have is a "multi-faceted" form of the disease. That is, it's a many-headed monster. It's also pin-headed - which might be comical in a human being, but is less amusing when it comes to malignant growths.
For one, it rules out any further intrusive chemical response or surgery, as does the fact that one tumour has sunk its teeth into a major vein.
Since then, the slowing (and defeating) of the disease has become a fulltime occupation, the driver behind a slew of lifestyle changes and, I think, a shift in consciousness.
Pursuing a policy of blissful ignorance, I don't know what the tumours are up to, and I'm in no hurry to find out. The outcome can wait.
As a result, sometimes I feel as if I'm in a dream. I potter around quietly, with the thought "I have cancer and it could kill me" only infrequently gate-crashing my serenity.
A well-meaning friend remarked on the degree of my denial the other day and yes, I may be living in a fool's paradise.
But at least it is a paradise, and a place of my own choosing. It's where I am lucky enough to be able to elect to dwell: in health, hope, harmony and the occasional high old time.
Whatever the outcome, the psychic shift from treating living as a waiting room, a means to an end, to the end in itself, means that these days are some of the happiest I've experienced. And I have cancer to thank for that.
Entry 30, October 19: Summer has arrived and I was putting away some cold weather gear the other day when I asked myself: "Will I be around to need this next winter?"
The moment wasn't as morbid as it may sound, more of a passing house-keeperly observation. But an icy one, nevertheless, and carrying a whisper of loss.
Thankfully, it lacked the impact of the kind of sorrow that has recently appeared out of nowhere, curling itself into a fist and punching me in the throat.
On the one morning in which the wind took a break from its sustained attack on our nerves, the feeling seized hold of my chest and wouldn't let go.
In this mood, past friendships, lovers, cities, family members glide into the memory with a crepuscular and haunting air, making me want to reach out (back?) and ask how they're doing, and tell them how I've been.
Very likely such feelings make up a good part of the musings of many men (and women) of a certain age. Essentially it is sentimentality, but it can be a heady mix of grief, nostalgia and regret for what never happened, and I'm a bit of a sucker for it, especially if it comes scored with potently maudlin music.
Booze feeds this kind of ersatz emotion. When a drunk drinks, he or she commonly lurches through four stages: from jocose to bellicose, lachrymose and comatose.
I have humiliated myself in all of these spheres but the third was routine, from the 14-year-old's snotty bleat of "I'm so lonely", to the damp implosions of a defeated 30-year-old gaping blearily into the abyss.
Why all the blubbing? Ethyl alcohol mainly, but also grieving for the absence of intimacy, of connection, understanding, appreciation.
That kind of emptiness is long in the past and I'm also way beyond the mid-life crisis - in years, if not in maturity. I regret very little, and cancer has anyway presented an attention-grabbing, existential crisis of its own.
In doing so it has if anything bounced me OUT of tearful reminiscence, along with much else of my once habitual negativity. Or at least it has given me the motivation to bounce myself out with all the elasticity, momentum and focus I can summon.
Those qualities of the spirit that are empowering me in this crisis I learnt from the decades spent among people who were intent on recovering from the same sort of mental health and living problems I had.
With them and through them I learned about one day at a time, acceptance, self-honesty, humility, courage and above all gratitude.
Also … to take responsibility for myself and not be a victim.
So, seductive as the "melancholy" is, I refuse to wallow in it or deny it or try to escape it.
Instead, on the day in question, I threw myself in the ocean, which, as always, washed my psyche clean … until the past seeps through again.
Entry 29, October 12: First there was slow food, then slow schools, and now there is slow Digby.
Slowed by the double whammy of a ban on all stimulants such as coffee and a banquet of left-field remedies and nourishing food which calm the blood; and then by becoming conscious of the need to rest, to switch off the mind with its never-ending "to-do" list, its incessant shoulds and have to's.
And damn, it's not easy doing nothing and feeling OK about it.
But I think it's a vital element in my recovery from cancer. Working in Fleet St in the 90s, my stress levels were very high and I became, like many press people, addicted to that state of driven-ness.
I thought I would escape it by coming to Australia but it had welded so well with my anxious-to-please personality that it took the flight out here from London right with me.
My last job (well, hopefully not my LAST job) was as editor of the Byron Shire News and it had as many stressful moments on press day as any bigger newspaper. There was something about that adrenaline charge I loved while realising that it wasn't doing me any good.
Indeed, stress is recognised as one of the main causes of cancer.
Self-punishing, work-ethic protestant and borderline workaholic that I am, I seriously considered sticking at that job, even when the cancer came back and I was bracing myself for a flogging from the chemo.
Six months later, I am finally starting to stop and be still. And only just starting to …
The irony is that what people with cancer want more than anything is time, and yet time for me has usually been something to chew through in order to get going to whatever's next.
I eventually realised that this was my life I was burning up with activity and impatience, but it didn't make me pause.
Now, however, I am slowed by circumstances I cannot alter. I am obeying a categorical imperative to put my health first, and that includes eliminating as much stress - as much busy-ness - as possible.
Of course I have to drive, and have to practise patience with the holiday crowds, but otherwise I do as little as possible that is not pleasurable.
And the extension of that applies too: I try to take pleasure in everything I do. You can, when you are unhurried or unworried enough to pay close attention to what you are doing. Even folding the washing provides me with Zen moments, including a reminder of the beauty of movement. Swimming is similar, with added animal vitality.
Solitude, stillness, silence make for blissful days.
There is a new age trope that reminds me I am a human being, not a human doing. Being: it's hard to do, but I'm working on it.
Entry 28, October 5: I have turned into one of those people who used to drive me crazy: a food bore.
Not like one of the fetishists and snobs who salivate and gush over the stuff on television, but the kind of person in front of you at the cafe who asks 11 questions about the contents of the rice balls or the salad dressing.
Finally they decide against buying anything because there may be stevia in the sauce, or it isn't organic enough.
I used to want to shout out (and may even have done so): "Hurry up, it's only food!"
Now I have morphed into one of those over-precious sad sacks, except I twitch with self-consciousness at the sighing coming from those standing behind me.
The problem arose recently when my niece visited from London and we ate out a bit. And, as a good food bore, I have to report that it is impossible to order a restaurant meal without it containing something nasty. Sugar, for instance, is everywhere, often hiding under an alias.
I rarely need to go to the supermarket nowadays but when I do I gape at the aisle upon aisle of appalling products masquerading as food.
Not only is all of the garishly packaged gunk not food, it is a kind of anti-food; not only not nourishing but actively depleting or attacking the consumer's body.
I have recognised this for years but, being (sort of) healthy, I never did anything to take good care of myself, and shovelled the sweet and fatty crap into me as cheerfully as Billy Bunter.
With the threat to my life, that awareness is turned up to the max and the willingness to act on it becomes absolute.
Trouble comes when I try to impose my new attitudes on those around me, which this week provoked a disagreement with my son. He opted for toast and jam for breakfast, and I criticised it (and him) for the unhealthy and lazy choice.
Unfair, of course, and hypocritical. I would kill for a thick slab of hot toast smothered in butter and strawberry jam.
So I need to keep my mouth shut - although that wouldn't have altered how unreasonably irritable the exchange left me.
Surprise, surprise, Australians have deftly dubbed such grumpiness as "shit on the liver".
I don't like behaving like this. It seems there are external stimuli to which I am powerless to react with anything but impatience and bad temper - dangerous drivers, dawdling pedestrians, squealing infants in coffee shops, the neighbours' yapping dogs.
But the internal flare-ups are increasingly rare and I hope the reservoir of anger that fuels them is shrinking, just like, I trust, the tumours it has helped to spawn.
Entry 27, September 28: I HAVE binned the last of the anti-depressants. I was holding on to them, just in case. But I don't need them and besides I have discovered a natural alternative which not only doesn't have the pills' emasculating side effects but is also fun.
The clear-out was not prompted by a rush of joy to the head. It was more an act of puritanism and done in a rare hour of loneliness.
That feeling of separateness arrived instantly with the diagnosis of cancer - separateness from everybody - or at least from all those who are not of my stricken tribe.
It began with the doctor giving the bad news, just one member among the billions in the Healthy Club.
As I say, it descends very seldom now but sometimes at night my aloneness wraps around me like a threadbare but weighty old cardigan. It's a familiar garment too, providing a sinister kind of comfort. Sweet melancholy quickly slides into morbidity, which conspires with fatigue to make oblivion appear attractive.
The feeling is an old familiar because in all of my relationships, starting with both of my parents, I have craved greater intimacy, but have been unable to do whatever is required to achieve it.
Cancer has changed that: the gravity (and the fear) associated with having the disease has made me more vulnerable, more willing to ask for help, and open to accept - and express - love. And also more discriminating.
So most of those who were close to me before the diagnosis have become closer. The bonds with my son, my lover, a beautiful niece, have become simpler, deeper, richer.
There's been a shift in all of my relationships. The internet allows connection with long-distance mates and I relish being to drop in on their lives, to maintain and strengthen links that have been in place for four decades and more.
Locally, many friendships have dropped away, or are kept barely alive by the occasional SMS. But I have been delighted to forge new ones, centred around recovery, and unexpectedly revive a few others.
I lead a sheltered, self-protective life, which means I choose not to be very social, and have become better at saying no. I've spent too much time doing things I didn't want to do and now I don't have the time, energy or willingness. Once again, the existential threat posed by the disease has forced me to free myself of useless behaviours.
The greater intimacy - the realness - in my significant relationships more than makes up for the downsizing in my social life, but on those dark nights I can still become fearful that even those closest might leave me.
Come the dawn, they are still here: as am I. We are together and our enjoyment of each other is growing day by day.
Entry 26, September 21: Call me naïve - or even a fool - but I have cancelled my appointment with the oncologists in Lismore next week.
The decision became ever easier as the weeks passed and I continued to be blessed with vitality and high spirits. I am the picture of health, and I believe that more than ever, the outer shell reflects the inner reality.
As a rather narcissistic and very drunken university student, I was bewitched by the Gothic novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde's imaginative study of the chasm between an individual's appearance and his true nature.
The idea of an angelic surface and a degenerate, corrupt inner being was fascinating, and as alcohol and other substances began to erode my personality, I almost came to believe that I was getting away with a similar duplicity, keeping the shameful secret hidden behind a plausible front.
It was nonsense of course, and the hard living eventually started to take its toll on my physique. And anyway, my behaviour usually gave the game away.
Getting sober is a journey into integrity, in which the disintegrated parts of the personality begin to fit together once again, or in some cases, for the first time ever.
In other words, what you see is what you get - a phrase that could not be applied to any active alcoholic or drug user or, sadly, to very many "normal" people.
The question is important to me now, because I am continually being told how well I look, and one consequence of my delusional past is to make me mistrust such comments, however welcome they are.
But a kind of proof of authenticity, of integrity, was provided to me this week when I visited my naturopath in Queensland.
He tells me there has been a significant improvement in the state of my blood cells and the level of , and while I am reluctant to allow this news to get my hopes too high, I feel vindicated in choosing to go down the alternative route. It has done nothing but make me feel fantastic, and I am encouraged to pursue it with renewed enthusiasm.
A visit to the cancer specialists would only shake this foundation, by instantly turning me into a patient, a "case" in palliative care. To take their drugs at this point would reinforce that idea. I would feel physically sick and that would frighten and depress me.
Health (and illness) work on a feedback loop: if I feel well, I do healthy things (including, this week, Bikram yoga); these make me feel good, so I do more of them. Health, including the immune system, must surely improve.
Recovery (and I dare to apply that term now) is an inside job. But I don't doubt that the two realities tell a united story: one in which my physical appearance does not mislead, but honestly reveals what is going on down in my entrails.
Entry 25, September 14: NEVER before has it been so important for me to be conscious of the advice to live one day at a time. I had plans for this month - to travel to the US and Europe, including going to see the Alhambra in southern Spain - but I cancelled the flights many weeks ago when I doubted I would have the stamina to handle New York.
I haven't made any plans since.
Planning implies a future, or at least a future with a set of certainties. I don't have that luxury just now. I am more like the character in the exquisite Ryan Adams song, Come Home, who says "my fate's a wandering river with no riverside".
I hope to live, of course, and expect it. But even in my most positive moments (and they are plentiful: I rarely give cancer the time of day) I have to admit that there are no guarantees. And while I'm not exactly surprised when I open my eyes each morning, I do continue to be slightly astonished at waking up feeling completely well and, most days, untroubled.
I still hope to get back to London, my stomping ground for many years, for a short visit, but I will have to wait until travelling feels exactly right. Until - or if - that time comes, I can only thrive in the absolute present. I know, I know… everyone with any imagination is familiar with living in the now, of the deep wisdom in it.
Some even manage to put it into practice. I never have, despite being long familiar with the concept and using it often as a balm in my most fearful moments. But it has become imperative - and unavoidable - and brings a huge sense of relief with it. I really do not have to worry about any future event.
I exist daily with the knowledge that dwelling within me is a repellent force that is intent on taking me over and killing me - but somehow it fails to terrify me or, most of the time, even lower my spirits. Having that knowledge, what could life throw at me that would be more disturbing?
Only one thing: the possibility of something terrible happening to my boy. That is the unthinkable (and so I don't). Being present now means that recently I have been able to enjoy perfect moments, in which I am fully conscious of the hum of life. Add the moments together and they become perfect hours, days… sacred memories for me and my companions.
Which is not to say it's all rosy dewdrops. In the middle of a recent happy sunny Saturday a powerful sadness came bubbling up and I had a good cry, the first in many months.
The trouble with perfect moments is that you don't want them to stop. Life can be so beautiful that it's almost unbearable to reflect that it could end.
Entry 24, September 7: I have been lucky enough to devote the past week to the pursuit of pleasure in several of its myriad forms - yes, including that one, if you must know. The experience has spawned a resurgence of the life force within me, a sheer delight in being.
"Pursuit" is slightly misleading: there is no chasing involved. In truth, I can loll on the sofa, or even in bed, reading or listening to music, and feel fulfilled. The ocean is always there, and the bush, my vegie patch, loving friends - all sources of great joy, requiring nothing except my presence.
One outstanding pleasure was watching a documentary about fractals, the complex patterns whose secret was unveiled through mathematics but which are found everywhere in nature, such as on a fern or the head of a cauliflower.
Fractals: the Colours of Infinity shows how, when a simple formula is charted in 3D and represented visually through a computer, a bug-like shape is created, named the Mandelbrot Set after its discoverer.
Look at the Set's edges with ever increasing magnification and you see a series of kaleidoscopic patterns - gorgeous, hallucinatory, mysterious yet recognisable - which go on and on, apparently infinitely.
The "bug" continues to reappear no matter how close you zoom in - the icon of order amid chaotic replication. The same principle applies in nature.
Cancer represents chaos to me, cells reproducing out of control and eventually killing their host. It's a gross affront to the natural order, which is the impulse towards health and survival.
The doctors see my cancer taking me inexorably in one direction: towards the grave. Hearing this afresh last week, I felt newly relieved of my need for them. The chemo offers the possibility of a few extra months, with devitalising side-effects almost guaranteed. The medics have done their best, and I'm grateful, but what can they really do for me at this stage but feed my fear?
I contrast this approach with the way I feel, with the life force pulsating through my body, mind and spirit. Sometimes I feel as if it's bursting out of my chest.
I am part of the natural order and I feel absolutely in tune with it right now. In Dylan Thomas's words, "the force that through the green fuse drives the flower … drives my red blood".
It also keeps the blood flowing in the people I continue to meet who were sent home from hospitals and advised to get their lives in order, some given just months until they died.
They chose instead to stay alive, using more natural therapies.
It may be arrogance on my part ("I'm too special to die"), or denial, or ignorance, or simply that a few months - possibly - doesn't seem like that good a deal, but I'm reluctant to do the chemo thing.
I think I'll take my chances with my life-affirming sisters and brothers.
Entry 23, August 31: The numinous peace of mind I boasted about in such poetic terms last week proved fleeting, eroded by that most banal of concerns, money.
Financial fears were soon reinforced by a barely suppressed anxiety about an appointment looming at the Liver Clinic in Lismore.
I try not to have any expectations, but such encounters are always approached with hope - and with a lurking dread. What will the blood tests reveal?
This time it's nothing too sinister, but there's no miracle either and the good doctor outlined my condition kindly but frankly. The medics' expectation, as I already know but have been quietly ignoring, or rather, belittling, is that despite how well I may feel (and look), my time is limited. Anything they can offer is palliative, not curative.
Like the great bluesman Robert Johnson, I have arrived at the crossroad. Would I sell my soul to the devil in exchange for a return to health, as he claimed he did for commercial success? I doubt it, and anyway, my option is a good deal less exotic.
The choice is between the alternative path I'm on now and the offer of a form of chemotherapy, daily tablets, which could extend my life. They could also provoke a rash on my hands and feet, make me tired and give me diarrhoea, but hey, nothing's perfect.
It's a dilemma nearly all cancer patients face: amid the plethora of options suggested, from "miracle cancer cures" such as New Zealand prune juice through to major surgery, radiation and so on, which path to choose?
The drug on offer is my only option within conventional medicine. Do I take it and risk compromising the good work being done by diet, supplements and lifestyle?
Do I opt for a longer life, but one impaired by side-effects, or choose to remain active and feeling well until the sudden - though not inevitable - falling off of health?
As the clinic's specialist said, it depends on one's philosophy of life. Personally, I'd go for the quality. I'm already sick of myself sick, as I was after the chemo interventions. This wouldn't be as drastic, but my present vitality is easily compromised.
And there are other people to think about. I'm told there are people who would like to have me round for longer, fatigue, diarrhoea and all.
I take the rather vainglorious view that if I can't be fully present, upbeat and top of my game, I'd rather not be there at all.
That pride, or egoism, is one reason behind my recent isolation from others. I suspect I share with a lot of men a reluctance to be seen in a vulnerable condition.
The pills would reduce me to a weakened state. I have some time to decide before I go down that path. The key thing is not to make a decision based on fear.
Entry 22, August 24: Often, when my parents had left the house to go to work or, rarely, for a social occasion, my grandmother would lift her eyes skywards and exclaim "peace, perfect peace".
Her relief gives an indication of the tension that was a regular feature of our home life. The phrase is the title of a hymn, whose composer was inspired to write it after attending a friend's death. Its theme is that Jesus has vanquished death - something to do with his shedding blood for us, so that Christians can die cheerfully, knowing they are heaven-bound.
I emerged from that highly-strung household (having added to it my own variety of trouble) with a desperate need for peace, perfect or not, and have pursued it down many avenues. Pills, pints and powders proved a catastrophic mis-step, creating greater chaos; LSD provided moments of ecstatic "knowing" but always had a hellish comedown. I've tried meditation and prayer, including, as a gormless pre-pubescent, within Christianity. But by the age of 14 I worshipped Jimi and Jagger and Jim, and was lost to Jesus.
I still can't warm to a belief system that has the image of a being tortured to death as its central symbol. And as for human (and animal) suffering down the ages, isn't God supposed to be all-loving?
Alcohol lulled me for a while but it is a depressant, biochemically speaking, and too much lulling made me half crazy in the end. I only began to enjoy any peace of mind once I had put the cork in the bottle.
Even then the material world - travel, work, romance, service to others - left me dissatisfied.
With age, a certain peace of mind has come, through acceptance of life's limitations and the surrendering of ambition, of desire.
But it is cancer that has been the great liberator: I have never felt as peaceful as I do now. Being out of the daily grind of work helps: I can do what I love doing, with whom I want to do it (though I'm most often alone, and happily so).
There's something greater though. I'm not precisely aware of my physical condition. I feel healthy but I may be dying (and please don't say "we all are". I've heard it and it's facile and annoying). I might, quite suddenly, experience peace as in RIP.
But death holds no fear for me and while I don't think it has anything to do with Jesus, this calmness has a religious quality, like a blessing or grace bestowed.
And being free of that primal fear is allowing me to live more fully than ever.
Forced to slow down, I can experience the present more richly. A pile of driftwood on the beach has a psychedelic impact on me; I gaze and marvel at the colour palette of my tibouchina tree; birds absorb my attention.
I can see more clearly now, and the darkest hours of the disease (so far) were simply the prelude to the dawn.
Entry 21, August 17: The novelty and fresh hope sparked by an alternative therapy program of action have worn off and the diet-supplement-topical lotion regime become a rather lonely and demoralising chore.
There should be joy in food and with my limited skills I am incapable of creating it.
So I begin the day ransacking my soul for a little enthusiasm for a sort of gruel made of rice and whatever ingredients I am allowed to give it a glimmer of interest - nuts, shredded coconut and so on. Fruit, which I adore in all its wondrous, colourful forms, is forbidden, and I miss it keenly.
Salads I can manage but some of the messes that come out of the pan in the evening, while edible, have a texture and appearance and taste that would make Gordon Ramsay lose the will to live.
That's their effect on me this week too, and the rigidity of the diet has given me nightmares, in which I rebel and prepare a feast of banned delicacies.
Awake, I lust after coffee, yoghurt, pastries, a sausage perhaps?
I move sluggishly from the breakfast table to skull shots of vitamins C and B, magnesium in lethal doses, enzymes, sea minerals, iodine. Then, fluids sloshing around inside me, comes the inevitable visit to the toilet.
When I complain about my lot, my son reminds me, between mouthfuls of bacon and eggs, that the privation is worth it if it prolongs my life. He is right, of course, though I am leaning to the quality not quantity viewpoint.
But I also have to remember what most people endure when faced with this disease: years of pain and indignity and fear.
I have no idea what is going on in my liver, but it's not preventing me having time at the beach, working out in the gym, digging the garden and generally enjoying life like a normal person.
And, this week, working. I've missed the engagement with the world that comes with work. It may be a form of escape, but what's wrong with that?
Work immediately brings a degree of stress, which I've been advised to avoid, but the reality is I manufacture my own stress anyway. Getting the lawns mown, cleaning the kitchen ... even a pile of dirty dishes can provoke a slight anxiety.
Writing this right now helps me put my "problems" in perspective: it's one of the column's therapeutic effects, and I am grateful for it.
Gratitude, that rare and precious quality, is sometimes not easy to find in one's being. And feeling well, having energy, a brain that functions, loving friends, a home, a healthy, cheerful (and nagging) son and sunshine in August, are all things I can say "thank you" for ... to whatever entity or force is running the show.
Entry 20, August 10: Week One of the Sledgehammer DNA repair program is finished and I'm surviving the spartan regime nicely.
It is forcing me to be creative in the kitchen (not "more creative", as I could hardly have been less before) and to make a real effort to ensure healing vegetables such as kale, celery and beetroot are thriving in the garden.
And despite the lack of carbs, fats and proteins, my energy levels are good; good enough to immerse myself in the stimulating Byron Writers' Festival, cold sea water and the gym.
Rest is supposed to be an important part of this project but I find it hard to sit down and do nothing. Fortunately, the supplements I'm glugging down thrice daily - minerals and vitamins mainly, in big doses - have the effect of clearing and calming the mind.
And Sledgehammer keeps me busy.
I haven't mentioned the lotions yet, partly out of embarrassment. Twice daily I am required to anoint myself with large quantities of watery unguents, two containing the well-known remedies echinacea and calendula, but also brews targeting mycotoxins and fungus - the cause of cancer, according to my naturopath, and many others.
This apparently sybaritic ritual can be damp and dreary and I'm tempted to duck it. But then I remember the healer's words: "110% … nothing less will do", and slip, slop, slap, on they go.
I'm tempted to rationalise his warning as the voice of a fanatic and disobey him, do what suits me. But I realise that fanatical is how I need to be - or at least disciplined, for once. Faced with a bewildering range of advice, often contradictory (beetroot, anyone?) I have chosen this man's approach, and I've committed to follow it fully.
But there are some suggested therapies where I have to draw a line. Among them is the enema.
Strangely perhaps for an individual who once so recklessly violated his body, the enema, highly regarded in some quarters, represents an affront so personal, so fundamentally intrusive, that I cannot bring myself to face it.
Call me up-tight, but the idea of inserting a tube into my rectum makes me squirm, especially as the ingredient recommended to then flow through it is ozone - a gas!
Once inflated, I picture myself floating up to the ceiling, zeppelin-like, only to be halted halfway, tethered by that abominable pipe, as if I had regressed and now sported a prehensile tail, which I could use to balance on, while reaching up to pick fruit from the higher branches.
And a quick look on Ebay for ozone generators frightened the life out of me: how can I trust a machine that looks like that?
The counsel of more enlightened souls may be able to help me overcome my fears, because although I may say "I'd rather die than do that", I don't really mean it.
Entry 19, August 3: I have bought a diary for next year and entered an appointment for August 2014 to see my liver specialist at the hospital in Brisbane.
The appointment was his idea, although he added that looking beyond that date might be overly optimistic.
However, he also expressed some surprise that according to the most recent scan there had been no change in the pathology of the liver. That is, the tumours had not grown.
It's good news, and a surprise to me too, as I'd had been looking at some elevated numbers from a blood test and reached the opposite conclusion - that is, that they were running out of control.
But it seems these numbers don't mean that much, which came as a great relief.
I happily took the specialist's suggestion of a 2014 check-up as a challenge to live that long, a response that seemed to cheer the slightly lugubrious medic up. He displayed further signs of being a fully rounded human - unusual within his profession - when we parted, thanking me quite emotionally for "doing something for him" that day. It seems a cheerful acceptance of one's condition, and a positive outlook, are rarely witnessed within these gloomy walls.
The next day, as a committed first step on the path into a healthy future, I drove deeper into Queensland to consult with an experienced natural healer, who also expressed some surprise at quite how well my liver seemed to be functioning, after 40 years of the inflammatory disease hepatitis C, followed, or rather joined, by cirrhosis and, finally, cancer.
Though I was exhausted by the time this second consultation ended, both meetings were enormously encouraging: the foundations are within me upon which to build a sound recovery.
But the naturopath was quite clear, and quite stern: his emphatic message was that I have to work hard to get better and to that end he tasked me with a dietary regime that would make the most ascetic holy man renounce his vows, supplemented by a pharmacopoeia of strange and foul-tasting concoctions.
It's a seven-week program, a DNA repair plan named the Sledgehammer and I am to "hit it hard" - no compromises or cutting corners. It will be my primary focus until late September, making me very poor company indeed and forcing me into a kind of hibernation.
The alternative I was considering - and may still undertake - is a visit to a psychic healer in Brazil: I am open to anything to recover from this, and I also fancied a week lounging in the sun at Copacabana afterwards, while the Southern Hemisphere endured its coldest months.
But I don't have to travel out of Byron Shire to experience a metaphysical healing session. This weekend I will be put into a semi trance state to allow my subconscious to flex its muscles and give the cancer a kick in the pants.
I'm fundamentally a sceptic but I won't dismiss anything until I've tried it and it hasn't worked. And maybe not even then.
Entry 18, July 27: Although I smoked the stuff for years in my youth, I never much enjoyed the effects of marijuana.
Occasionally it enabled me to follow the bass line in a rock song and it could make the most vacuous bore seem intriguing. But I usually needed strong drink or several pills to take the edge off, which invariably led to blackouts and disgruntled girlfriends.
Without those, the weed could cause paralysing self-consciousness (and self-doubt). Often I felt divided: there was me and a meta-commentating "other" in my head, judging and criticising me. All sense of authenticity vanished, along with confidence and spontaneity.
The effects could be extreme. Once at a party, believing I had wet my pants, I sat petrified, unable to stand up, let alone dance, mingle, laugh and joke - you know, partay!
I've also run, panic-stricken along dark streets because I imagined I had seen men sitting in a car up ahead, waiting to jump out and beat me up. Very uncool.
I mention these times of fear and self-loathing because it has been suggested that marijuana in oil form could cure my cancer. It's one of a suite of alternative treatments, which already includes essiac tea, bicarbonate of soda, turmeric and nigella seeds.
On the menu I am considering, next to the tetra-hydro cannabinol, is olive leaf extract, iodine, colloidal silver and a water purifying bleach. I could need the pot to help make the rest even partially palatable.
But the THC is the most problematic for me. I am both drawn to it, and wary. Cancer has stripped away a lot of the layers of ego and left a simpler, more integrated individual. I am very reluctant to endanger the kind of wholeness - of authenticity - the disease has paradoxically brought me.
And I really don't want to repeat that hash oil experience of decades ago, being skewered to the bed, white face between trembling hands, silently emulating Munch's Screamer.
Plus, of course, it is, ludicrously, illegal.
On the other hand, I need all the help I can get and I'm prepared to chuck just about anything at this disease.
Speaking of authenticity, I spent some time with my friend and neighbour David Ades this week. David's quality of life is severely compromised by a large tumour in his lung which is pressing on his trachea and a major blood vessel.
Despite the discomfort, and the grim outlook, he remains determinedly, courageously - authentically! - his self: defiant, irascible, intelligent, funny, kind. His lust for life, and for making music, is unquenchable, and he is a huge inspiration to me.
David has had stents inserted into his vena cava and trachea to take some of the pressure off. Miraculously he can still blow his horn - "and loudly", he boasts - so next week he is getting on a plane to New York to record a new album.
Travel comfortably, my friend. And come home soon.
PS: Thanks to the kindness of the organisers of Splendour in the Grass, I too will be enjoying music for much of this weekend. Highlight of Friday night was Mumford & Sons, but it was also good to see Pete Doherty of Babyshambles looking so well - and so well-fed. He must be off the gear.
Entry 17, July 20: My first attempt at body boarding eight weeks ago was not a success.
I could manage the board on dry land but as soon as I entered the water it took on a life of its own, banging into my legs as I stood in the shallows struggling to get stones out of my flippers.
In the breakers I spent more time underneath it than on top, but once there, hands flailing to try to make headway, I found I had to use my chin to steer it - which meant meeting incoming waves with an open mouth, and an open gullet. It was all very discouraging.
That was two weeks before my last, very debilitating, chemo. One of the problems was that, reluctant to have my efforts witnessed by others, I chose isolated, deserted beaches. They were deserted for good reason, of course. After a couple more abortive tries in the following days I found a spot where the waves weren't quite so crap, watched other boarders, swallowed my pride and went out where they did.
Soon I was "out the back", ecstatically lying in the silence and solitude, warmed by the sun. The failure to catch a wave was inconsequential.
Since the chemo I've been forlornly hoping I might feel strong enough to get back to that place, to that state of being, and this week I did.
After the rock bottom last week, when I could see no end to the feebleness, and the fear that it was the cancer and not the chemo that was causing it, the outing into deeper water was a major triumph.
More than the (non-existent) surfing, it's the feeling of vigour restored, the end of fragility, the return of personal power that are so important. Out there, and for the rest of the day, I vibrate with life. My mind is calm and clear. I'm a player again, not a victim. The possibility of a premature death seems inconceivable.
Even my mojo is threatening to resurface, though I won't put you off your breakfast with the sordid details.
Dealing with this disease is down to me now. The doctors have as good as written me off.
I can only return the compliment. I can no longer place much faith in them. I'm not angry that the surgery and the chemo failed, but I am dismayed that first-world medicine has given up on me at the first real hurdle. And I feel a degree of outrage that, given the limit to their capabilities, a doctor should tell someone when they will die.
Understanding that my condition is beyond medicine, I've been lucky enough to be able to reclaim my power and utilise everything else available: optimise my body and mind's capacity to deal with the illness through diet, exercise, rest, loving company. I can do that. I am doing that.
These things make me stronger and help me make the most of every day.
Today, right now, I feel fine - and that is the only reality I can trust. Today I'm making the most of it.
Living one day at a time - or attempting to - is the source of my power, along with the openness to the possibility of something miraculous happening.
And of course, a stubborn determination to ride the wave, no matter what form it takes.
Entry 16, July 13: "IT took less than 48 hours for me to bounce back from the death sentence handed down by the doctors last week."
That was the intro I drafted in my head as I got ready for a walk and a swim two mornings after the verdict, full of defiance and bravado. And I did walk, and swam, declaring to all that I wasn't going to take the prognosis as gospel and that I will beat this disease.
But it was pure reactive denial, with no substance to it. I was like the boy whistling in the dark - making a noise to mask his terror.
The week since has seen catastrophic fall-offs in energy: not so much tiredness as a sudden loss of any physical strength, an all-body weakness that made another step seem impossible.
The braggadocio continued: "It's fall-out from the chemo. I'll be right in a few days ... "
But I wasn't. On Tuesday, a brilliant walk to the lighthouse with my son, catching the elusive golden weather, a rejuvenating haircut and the assertion that "today is a new beginning". Wednesday, I wake up after 10 hours of reasonable sleep and I am almost incapable of movement.
With the weakness and the nagging pain comes every kind of demon you don't want paying a visit. Depression, hopelessness, guilt. Regret, doubt, dread. Fear of dying (and worryingly, of living, of having to face the daily grind of life, with all its responsibilities and chores, its discomforts and frustrations).
All day I lie inert, a state worsened by my shaming, hectoring thoughts: You need to get organised, make a will, sort out your affairs. That's what real men do, with dignity and silence. Here are you, whining in public.
I've been here before, but not quite so low. There's no fight left; I feel forced to accept that I'm fading.
Then the day is redeemed ... and by another's love. An angel sweeps in with a delicious, nourishing lunch. She does all the dishes and cleans the fridge. I am ordered to stay in bed. Restored somewhat, I reach out to a mate with whom there has been a rift, and he responds positively. I feel less of a passive victim.
Noah's mother has us over for dinner, and a few peaceful, healing hours pass. A family that disintegrated 12 years ago unites in a hug.
My vulnerable condition is forcing me to accept love, and to attempt to return it. I am a beginner here ... in the past unable to let it in and inevitably sabotaging it. It's become a personal mythology - part not feeling worthy of love, part not wanting it, and the obligations it brings.
Now I'm being bombarded with it, and from all around the world. I have to surrender to it, give up the myth. In some mysterious way it provides a solid underpinning of strength, creates a genuine hope for a healthy future, replacing the sputtering defiance of before.
I find myself saying out loud, for the first time since the diagnosis: "I want to live."
And to learn to love is surely a project that's worth living for.
Entry 15, July 6: This week I went to Brisbane's Princess Alexandra Hospital looking for some straight answers about my state of health.
And boy, did I get them, like a cold hard slap across the face.
The cancer, like a cunning guerrilla fighter, has outsmarted my body's heroic efforts at resistance and the best medical treatment available. I'm one of the "unlucky ones" and there's not much more the medics can do for me. My life has been officially declared finite.
Everything is in my favour: I'm fit and strong, all my organs are functioning well and even the liver is ticking over nicely. But one of the tumours has manoeuvred itself into an unspeakable coupling with a major blood vessel - the portal vein - which renders most medical interventions unworkable. A transplant would only speed up the progress of the cancer; and other forms of surgery are no longer viable for the same reason.
Death, sooner rather than later, is now the reality - a reality that has plunged me into a surreal state of mind. My brain is racing but I feel stunned, dumb with grief.
I will have a scan to see how the last TACE procedure went but, similarly, the presence of this tumour around the vein makes that procedure too dangerous now.
There are few other options and the doctor, sensitive, genuinely upset, was quite matter of fact: "I'm sorry to deliver such bad news."
In an almost comical haggling with him, we went from his verdict of "months", to my pleading "not years, multiples of years?" to his, "perhaps, but not decades".
I don't need decades but I do need two years, to see my boy out of school, so I immediately decided, vowed somewhere down in my soul, that I will be here in two years' time.
There's something pitiful about imagining such a decision can out-distance this disease: it will help, surely, but it will take a load of willpower and self-discipline and self-love - more than I really believe I possess, and not enough, I fear, to wage a consistent fight against the death wish that has lurked forever deep in my psyche.
But I can do it for my son. It's simply not right that he should suffer for the crimes of my past.
Leaving him is the only real fear I have of dying: the thought of that loss is the source of my tears, which are plentiful. But he is wiser than me, telling me not to regret anything, to be grateful for what we have had, and still have, and it occurs to me that my sadness is really a projection. I am devastated at leaving him in this world, desperate not to add to his sense of aloneness - a pure reflection of what has been the dominant condition of my life, which is loneliness. My grief is presumptuous, as if he will feel what I feel.
So I have my answers, but out of the gloom emerges the thought that, really, my luck hasn't run out at all, because I have been given time with him now: time to exercise together, to enjoy the ocean and the sunshine, to dance like no one's watching at the Splendour music festival, to enjoy Breaking Bad, to garden, and laugh and talk. To talk and talk and talk.
And to follow George Harrison's advice to beware of sadness, until the time for sadness comes, as it inevitably will.
Entry 14, June 29: Correct me if if I am wide of the mark here, but I suspect that among my many loyal readers there is perhaps a dozen of you lusting after my body, seduced by the manly courage combined with the great sensitivity of feeling shown in the column, and stimulated by the brilliance of the prose, as it reclines there, each word burning with a hard, gem-like flame.
So allow me to offer a few remedial insights into the true state of my being just now.
Hepatitis C and cirrhosis cause a maddening, subcutaneous itching, which means we sufferers spend hours clawing at our arms and necks, digging away until the skin is broken and bleeding. That doesn't bring us blessed relief: we just scratch on, as scabby bloody sores appear up and down our arms, continuing to infuriate and refusing to heal.
Then there are the painkillers, which also cause a kind of elusive, phantom itching, but now around the entire body. You will have seen junkies on the nod, propped up by a building, bent 90 degrees from the waist, nails working the side of the face or nose, as they make the most of their few minutes of freedom from their hellish lives.
Similarly, I have recently spent entire nights gouging away at my legs and groin, throat and scalp, a psoriatic simian, twitching and jerking awake every half hour from a ghastly drug nightmare. Coleridge glorified the opiate dream in his fine poem Kubla Khan, but my experience is that they are filled with anxiety and ugly scenarios. Why I chased this experience so avidly in my youth is a mystery to me now, and I'm relieved to have passed through the worst of the pain and don't need the drugs any longer.
But their legacy remains - a constellation of pustules across my chest, and bruising and nail marks around the stomach and thighs.
As to the chest itself, and the shoulders, three weeks of bed rest and being doubled over in pain have caused any musculature to vanish. Or rather, it has gone south, leaving a scrawny upper body which widens out around the middle, topped off by a self-important little pot belly. Below this are the emaciated hips, an arse becoming flatter by the day, wasted thighs and calves leaving the knees to look more knobbly than in all their six-decade history.
I ought not overlook the sweats, defying the cold nights we've been having, and leaving me thrashing around in sodden bed linen, as slippery as a performing seal; or the vile taste in the mouth; nor the 10 days of passing ti-tree lake coloured urine, the cytotoxins bubbling and gurgling away in the bowl, impatient to be unleashed upon the environment.
It's just as well I'm not a vain or shallow man. I would hate to be noticing this diminution in appearance and letting it affect me.
And anyway, of course, cancer is like masturbation: you don't have to look your best, or even make much of an effort. I have the perfect excuse to look like sh*t.
But further, those people who genuinely care about me don't care what I look like.
They can see the humour surviving beneath the pain and disappointment in my jaundiced eyes; the hope climbing to its feet after every cowardly king hit from despair; the love of life getting its sparkle back beneath the dull patina of fatigue; and the wonder and gratitude at the kindness and big-heartedness of others reaching depths I have never known before.
Entry 13, June 22: People who know us often ask me how Noah is going.
They're concerned about how my son, who turned 16 yesterday, is coping with his father being in the grip of such a scary disease.
From what I can see, he's doing pretty well. He is protected to an extent by the demands faced by any 16-year-old - the social and school pressures which keep him very busy, allowing little time to brood - and by a teenager's psychology, which is predominantly self-absorbed.
But naturally there are powerful currents of sadness and fear running through him. We have spent a lot of time together, even when he was a tiny boy, and there is a very deep bond between us. The thought of losing that must be devastating for him.
I have been a far from perfect father, and on occasions I've behaved no better than a bad-tempered old bugger. But one thing I am grateful for is that we have had a deep human relationship - something I never had with my silent, shut-down old man. Noah knows me intimately, warts and all, and I believe his acceptance of those imperfections, and his trust within them, are indicators of his wisdom and depth of character.
He has even expressed gratitude that his mother and I are such oddballs: "It will help me be a better writer," he told me recently.
Noah' sadness surfaced this week when I revealed the fairly horrific results of my last chemo blast in Brisbane. I'll go into detail next week, but suffice to say that trans-arterial chemo, in which I placed so much hope, is no longer an option. Now there is only conventional chemo, which has a very low success rate. Or, my likely path, Chinese herbs and acupuncture.
Of course I am glad when his feelings do puncture the noisy, cheeky chappy persona: he's good at putting a brave face on things and I suspect he thinks he has to protect me from his "negative" emotions. But it is he, and the others who love me, who are really going through it. They are the ones who need care and protection. Weirdly, I feel somehow cut free from too much emotion around this, but I need others to be upfront about theirs.
I am enormously proud when Noah does give voice to his feelings, that we can speak honestly about the situation, without him being burdened down by them, becoming depressed, or feeding it into a gloomy, goth-like teenage angst. We quickly move on.
His behaviour in all areas has gone up a several notches this year - not entirely because of the diagnosis, of course, but through a general maturing, and aided as much by his mother's guidance as anything else.
Nowadays he takes more responsibility for himself and his belongings, he has become more self-motivated and doesn't have to be nagged into practising the piano; his standard of schoolwork and the enjoyment he gets from it are a joy to witness.
The diagnosis has conveyed an important message to him: Life is precious, and short. Don't waste it in worry and regret. Identify your talents and use them.
Noah, you are the best thing I've ever had a hand in, and are, I believe, a valuable gift to the world.
Happy birthday, darling boy.
Entry 12, June 16: Gentle reader, please forgive me if today's column wanders about a bit. It comes after a week of painful treatment, confusion and exhaustion. Its highlight was a return to my own bed on Thursday afternoon after three nights in a Brisbane hospital. I had been summoned there at the last minute on Monday, the result of a bureaucratic snafu.
I was booked in the following day for the second round of chemo, whose form I have outlined here before, with a catheter inserted into an artery and pushed into the tumours, which are then flooded with strong chemicals.
I was delighted to not have a long lead-up time, to be able to get the treatment over and done with, as there is the possibility of some much-needed work coming up soon.
And the procedure, gruesome as it sounds, is not only painless, but even quite pleasant, such is the calm state induced by a cocktail of modern pharmaceuticals.
Afterwards however, as in April, there is crippling pain, this time across the full width of my stomach, at the bottom of the ribs. But again, the drugs are wheeled out, and although it takes time for them to do their work, they are effective and allow me to move about a little.
The next day, a complication arises, not fully explained: the doctors want to see a follow-up scan. But I've already had breakfast so I need to wait until 2pm before I can even think about going home. Travel arrangements with friends and my guardian angel are made, then cancelled.
I'm finally scanned at 6pm: hungry, cold, tired and sore. The unit has only one machine working that day. As in NSW, this is a medical system under stress. Confusion rules, and the price is paid, as always with "cutbacks", by the personnel. I am amazed that the staff here never, in my experience, let that stress leak out and affect their warmth and professionalism.
On Thursday morning, another worrying but once again unidentified development. I'm not told (and I'm getting fed up with being kept in the dark, or do they just not know?). I'm to stay for another scan. Then suddenly I'm told it won't be necessary. They just want blood. I give it and scuttle out, feeling great sympathy for my ward mates, even if some of them are hard to love.
I get back to Bangalow and urgent messages: the hospital wants me back in -- today! There may be an infection, and so on. Well … no way are we doing that trip again and after an hour in my bed my temperature drops, eyes whiten, I'm feeling fine. I'll take it from here for the next few days, thank you.
It seems a quantity of healthy liver tissue was killed off during the procedure, which I need like a hole in the head!
So, two steps forward, one back, or maybe the other way round. I'm still absorbing the unwelcome news.
Entry 11, June 8: "Am I bovvered?" was the stock response of TV comedian Catherine Tate's obnoxious Cockney schoolgirl Lauren - a catchphrase reproduced by the egregious populist Tony Blair.
"I'm. Not. Bovvered!" Lauren would end the skits shouting at her hapless interlocutor.
It's something I'm increasingly coming to think; about the cancer inside me, and about my life in general.
Some comrades in illness regularly have intravenous injections of vitamin C, consult meditation experts, dieticians, spiritual guides, cancer gurus. I have yet to link up with a local oncologist, and am starting to feel like a slacker in the recovery stakes.
I do the very minimum to "fight" the disease. My recovery program consists of trying to eat well, swallowing vitamins when I remember, exercise when I feel like it and waiting patiently for the doctors to do what they will next.
My time alternates between walking and swimming, followed by long periods in bed, loafing, sleeping, and gazing out the window at the sky and the wind in the trees.
Is it denial that I refuse to give the disease any real attention, any "energy", in the new-age parlance of Byon Shire?
Or is it an equally pernicious passivity, a subterranean resignation to the "fact" that it's going to get me in the end, so why bovver doing anything?
The reality is that the full horrors of cancer haven't hit me yet. At worst I'm suddenly tired, with occasional nausea - both the product of the chemo, not the disease.
I may escape the horrors, or, in time, I may come to know them only too well. Until then, however, I'm not going to let it bother me.
There's also a deeper detachment that comes with the inescapable focus on mortality which accompanies a diagnosis of a serious illness. And that is the detachment from life itself: life in general, what is going on out there, beyond my window. But even more profoundly, from my life. From my being alive.
Except for a sadness about the pain my dying will cause others (very few others, let's face it) I have no "negative" feelings about it whatsoever: no anxiety, no anger, almost no regret. And certainly no fear about "the other side".
It is, after all, just another life, though it happens to have been inhabited by "me", whatever that is.
And it's been a good one, with its share of confusion and heartache, true, but also full of music and love and laughter, as much sensation and experience as anyone could ask for. This dance with cancer is just more experience, and one I'm grateful to still be alive for.
Entry 10, May 31: ACROSS the road from the hospital I go to in Brisbane are several cheap eateries. I was in one recently, having a cuppa after a scan, when a chemo patient, bald beneath her headscarf, came in and sat down with her husband.
Soon she took out a packet of tobacco and wandered off to have a smoke. I watched, incredulous, feeling something bordering on contempt.
But who am I to judge?
I've been told that sugar "feeds" cancerous tumours, and that the glucose created in the body by eating certain grains does the same. I believe it to be true, but do you think that stops me?
Six months ago I swore off all sugar, including fruit, and stopped oats based muesli and porridge, bread, rice, pasta and so on. I lost weight and felt good.
But slowly, slowly, coffees came back, with a "just a small spoonful" of the sweet stuff. Bananas and other fruit were gobbled. Chocolate, bikkies and the occasional small cake started to disappear.
Worst of all was the yoghurt/cereal/dried fruit habit, which is, in truth, an addiction. Returning home after a gloomy day I feel my spirits lift at the thought of buying and consuming these. Having dispatched a bowlful, I'll return to the kitchen for another.
Even though it makes me feel bloated, I'll still want more.
Some days I like to call this defiance of advice a healthy disrespect for the disease. Another view is that it's arrogance, or apathy, or, worst of all, a form of self-destructiveness.
For years after I sobered up, whenever I felt a headache or twinge coming on, I would swallow a couple of painkillers, preferably codeine based. I'd blame work pressures, or rugby injuries. But as time passed I realised I was often taking them to relieve other types of "pain". Loneliness, sadness, frustration, even anger.
I suspect I'm not alone here, and that emotional neediness rather than pain relief is a major cause of the huge sales of such "medications".
Long before the cancer diagnosis I was aware my liver was vulnerable. The tablets often made me feel queasy, playing havoc with my digestive system. I knew they weren't doing me any good.
But like the sugar - and the ciggies - they offered some immediate pay-off, an instant, if illusory, solution to discomfort, fatigue, misery.
Did I have the willpower to stop? Only after a complete "rock bottom" when I was struck by the truth of my behaviour: the delusion, the self-harm, the tawdriness of it as a coping option.
I'm trying to cut out sugar, in all its forms. No more grains either (no matter how gluten free, or "ancient").
Yoghurt I'm still working on ....
Entry nine, May 25: DESPITE a telephone conversation with a local GP and a consultation with a liver specialist in Queensland, I'm no better informed about my condition than I was a week ago.
The doctor was unable to interpret the films of a recent scan -- for which I can hardly blame him -- or the terminology of the written report.
The specialist, eccentric, remote, overworked, peered quizzically at his screen and made vaguely reassuring noises about the "take-up" of the chemotherapy drugs by three of the tumours in my liver, although it's too early to tell if they have shrunk. He seemed pleased, and because I'm not sure what to ask, that has to be good enough. As I am hurried out into the crowded waiting room I am ... well ... vaguely reassured.
The two men's rather minimalist approach leaves me needing more and adds to a creeping sense of my being somehow fraudulent. The other patients here are manifestly unwell, grey and skinny, or with distended stomachs.
I feel too healthy -- too undeserving! -- to take my illness seriously, to ask the penetrating questions, do the research.
But this week I met someone who has, because she's been forced to -- and she told me more than both medics put together.
She has tumours in the liver, "secondaries" following bowel cancer. Over the course of nearly four years she has undergone surgery, conventional chemotherapy, a more radical chemo in Germany and most recently, a research trial in which "balloons" were inserted into arteries to temporarily shut off blood supply to the liver, followed by a blitzkreig dose of drugs into the tumours.
Her last treatment required seven general anaesthetics and she has survived ghastly pain, hunger, exhaustion, loneliness and heart problems throughout it all.
But her eyes were clear and bright and she was full of energy, and believes that the awful pain of the last treatment sounded the death knell of the main malignancy.
It's a miracle she's alive and clearly she's doing something very right, though no doctor has asked her what that is.
Our discussion was inspiring, but I felt like a phony in her presence. Yes, I have cancer, and I know it won't go away without further ordeals. But last week I did the full Byron Lighthouse walk several times, strode 12km along the coast from Ballina for charity, swam and body-surfed.
Compared with this woman and her hard years, I feel like an amateur in the theatre of pain. I was awed by her courage, her refusal to consider dying until her children have finished school, and I wondered if I have the same capacity for suffering, that same grace and level of resilience.
Time will tell. Meanwhile, she offers me a shining example of how to ride the wave.
PS: Today is my mother's birthday. She died in 2006 aged 87. She could be difficult but she also possessed intelligence, humour, curiosity and moral courage. I owe much of what is best about me to her.
Entry eight, May 18: THE prospect of a CT scan earlier this week has me unusually nervous. After the last time, I know they can bring bad news - though I'm feeling so healthy that I can barely imagine the tumours have failed to shrink.
But after a busy morning, I bowl up to the clinic, cheerful, meek as a rabbit, and undergo the screening. It's innocuous enough, despite the all-too familiar probing for a vein in the crook of the arm to inject the iodine. (A nurse recently commented on the scar tissue at the site and I, paranoid, embarrassed, wondered what she was really saying).
Then there's the chemical tang in the back of the throat and the warm "wet your pants" sensation between the legs, which I was very glad I was warned about the first time.
On this occasion the technology falters, there are delays, and a second dose of the purple radio-contrast agent is required.
Except for being well and truly hydrated, as advised, with the consequent full bladder bringing some discomfort, the hold-up doesn't worry me.
I seem to have become a good deal more patient these days (a much-needed change, I'm sure), but especially in these circumstances.
It's partly because I'm hugely grateful for the ready access to such high-quality care - the million-dollar equipment, the medics' expertise and solicitude: I have come to rely upon the kindness of strangers, so I try to leave any personal grumpiness at the door. I need them to like me, to want to not hurt me.
But the docility - the acceptance - is something more than mere self-interest. It's one of the many gifts of cancer, and points to one of its many paradoxes.
Being diagnosed with the disease liberated me in a number of ways, among them being freed from the 9-5 drudgery of work, and from the fear of others' opinion of me.
I feel I can do and say whatever I please - but far from indulging that, I've become, in my view anyway, a nicer person, more restrained in my judgments.
So I am both untethered (from convention, routine, dogma) and at the same time cut down to size.
My "softening" may simply be a result of not sweating the small stuff, conserving my energy for the bigger things going on - I won't call it my "battle" with cancer, although I have been guilty of that journalistic cliché.
But again, it's bigger than that too. There's now a heightened sense of our shared frailty, our mortality. And then there's the less loving insight into the fact that those who do manage to upset me will be getting theirs one day too, in one form or another.
PS: It is my mother's birthday today. She died aged 87 in 2006. She could be a difficult woman, but I owe most of the best parts of me to her.
Entry seven, May 11: I APPEAR to be shrinking. I can tell this, not from the expensive set of scales I bought recently which have stopped working, but from my clothes.
Everything is suddenly looser: I now fit snugly into a size S T-shirt, where once I took an L, or even XL. It was L in all the wrong places, mind you, and I don't object to some slimming down.
Except that the downsizing occurs after several days of fatigue and feebleness, which causes me to start brooding. This leads quickly to the thought "I have cancer!" which prompts fears that I am being consumed from the inside, eaten away - and that all I have to look forward to is getting skinnier all the time, then dying.
Fortunately a sensible friend reminds me I'm not eating much in the way of carbs, and no sugar, and that this might account for both the weight loss and the weakness in my limbs.
It's a reassuring idea, and along with her propelling me off the sofa, down to the beach and into the ocean, is enough to restore a sense of vitality. I'm back - but I needed help to get me here.
They weren't fun, the days spent horizontal, lacking any oomph, physically drained. But the role - jaded decadent lying limply on a chaise longue, sustained by an occasional peeled grape - is one I cultivated many decades ago, and is easily slipped back into.
The episode exposes the lie of self-sufficiency, a "I don't need anyone" mode adopted in wounded adolescence and nurtured by the lethal machismo of the Antipodean male's socialisation. (And not just the Antipodean: suicide rates have soared in the US in the past decade, especially among men, a result surely of loneliness and silence).
I can't win this battle on my own but during the low points my enthusiasm for social activity shrinks along with my waistline, which just deepens the feeling of irrelevance.
Deprived of daily work and its connection with people, I am humbled to discover I don't have the inner resources to consistently provide myself with a sense of meaning.
This week it took receiving some positive feedback for this column to lift my spirits.
And that acknowledgment may even be one of the motives for writing it. To proclaim: I'm still here! I still have something to contribute!
I may believe I'm shining a light on cultural taboos, but another, less grandiose, motive is the ego's need for recognition, to have a voice in society.
Like other serious illnesses, cancer erases things, starting with "the patient's" autonomy and dignity at the hands of the medical profession, no matter how caring its workers.
It isolates (there's now you, the healthy ones, and me), and is busy trying to make itself the centre of my world.
Alone, I can distract myself with things that make me feel alive. But I need connectedness to others to experience it deeply as a reality.
Entry six, May 4: A NEW "protocol" - or cocktail of drugs - to treat Hepatitis C became available recently.
It's great news for sufferers, as the treatment times are reduced to a few months and it has been proven to be effective against the most stubborn strain of the virus, known as Genotype 1.
Clearing the virus is an individual's best hope of preventing the onset of cirrhosis and cancer and anyone who has put themselves at risk of contracting Hep C ought to go and have a check-up and, if they test positive, seek treatment.
There are many thousands of people with the virus in the Northern Rivers and even those who have cleared the disease but have had it return have a good chance of clearing it again - a better chance than ever before.
Then there are those such as myself, the "non-responders". The new treatment is still based on Interferon, with a couple of new drugs on top. Non-responders - those who have failed the Interferon regimen - still have only a small chance of a cure.
So, depressingly, the pathology feeding my cancer cannot be removed by orthodox medicine. I was told this two months ago and it was confirmed in a recent face-to-face with a staff member of the excellent Lismore-based Liver Clinic.
I am in the "Those we can't help" category, so my mind immediately leaps went to the alternatives available. Some acquaintances swear by Chinese herbs, saying they helped them clear the virus, although mainstream medicine remains skeptical.
Many alternative treatments for cancer have also been presented to me since my diagnosis became known.
Unfortunately, they often accompany rabid attacks on conventional medicine and its practitioners, but it is not my experience that the doctors, surgeons and specialists who are treating me are especially narrow or closed-minded, bigoted, slaves to Big Pharma, or corrupt.
Nevertheless, beggars can't be choosers, so I'm investigating some of the more fringe "cures", while at the same time availing myself of all that first world medicine can offer, such as surgery, and the ongoing chemotherapy with its "cytotoxic" bombardments of the tumours colonising my liver.
Common sense tells me that no amount of apricot kernels or flaxseed oil and cottage cheese are going to halt their growth.
However, I'm a believer in miracles. I see them every day, witnessing apparently hopeless addicts, including of the drug alcohol, halt the progress of their illness and have their humanity and dignity restored.
Soon after they stop poisoning themselves, these shrunken, hardened, frozen people begin to inhabit their bodies, their true selves and their new lives. They begin to grow up and grow into the beautiful human beings they were meant to be, before they were disfigured by addiction.
So, a starry-eyed believer underneath the mask of cynicism and scorn, here I am, lying on a table having acupuncture needles stuck into me, seeking out Chinese herbs to quaff, and poking around in health shops, inquiring about the best quality flax oil and whether they stock turkey tail mushrooms.
And, crucially, opening up about my sickness and its causes, baring my soul, knowing (though sometimes just hoping) that the truth will set me free.
Hepatitis C may be a physical driver of liver cancer, but secrecy and shame surely feed it too, on that mysterious, non-medical level where miracles are needed.
Entry five, April 27: ONE week after chemotherapy and the pain in my liver becomes tolerable. It's still there, jabbing me under the ribs with every attempt at a deep breath, and making it a chore to get comfortable at night, but somehow, I'm feeling freed-up.
Out go the painkilling drugs: I'm unwilling to have them in my living space, as I know they will call to me, Siren-like, to take them, to help this niggle or that discomfort, or even to lift the gloomy or irritable moments that come (and always go, without any chemical assistance).
Similarly, I've stopped taking anti-depressants - begun during two three-month long treatments for hepatitis C to deal with the god-awful side-effects of the drug Interferon - itself a kind of chemo, involving big doses of pills and weekly self-administered injections in the stomach.
It's brutal and gives most people a very rough time. Weakness, fatigue, depression, hair and weight loss, skin problems and, in my case, a mouth full of ulcers, are just some of the unwanted results. The anti-depressants were welcome.
And when I began taking them before the first treatment I started to feel "normal". The weekend-long sloughs of fatigue and inertia, the crying jags when brooding on my mistakes as a father, fears about the future (illness, decrepitude, death - the fate of many of my teenage friends) were much reduced.
At the end of the last, unsuccessful, treatment I gave them away. Then, in November, after the surgeons removed the tumour, along with 15% of my liver, my inner world was turned upside down: wakeful nights were spent listening to music, wallowing in sadness and regret, and I began them again.
Now, however, I want to face the cancer unmediated, face on, just it and me (backed by every form of medical, alternative medical, social and spiritual assistance available.)
I'll accept drugs for the pain, but I don't want my experience to be dulled by anything. This is an exercise in digging deep. I need to be fully cognizant of what I'm facing.
So they go down the dunny too.
"Real" things can take the medications' place. Exercise, diet, attitude. I celebrate the passing of the pain with an optimistic visit to the beach with my boy. But you have to be feeling strong to tackle the Northern Rivers seas. I'm too frail, can't work hard enough and so quickly get cold.
Three days later it's a different story. I join my son at the gym: it's the best anti-depressant on Earth. I'm feeling good, a little feeble, and conscious that my groin and stomach still resemble a palette of marine park greens and purples, but willing to push myself. An hour later, sweating, panting, we head to the ocean. I can't swim properly because stretching out in over-arm invites the fist in the side again, but I compensate, with a shortened right arm, digging in: enough movement this time to stay warm.
Afterwards, drying my hair, I realise I've pulled a muscle near my shoulder blade - sadly perhaps as a result of drying my hair. It's painful, and I lift my shoulder up to my ear to protect it. The midriff is nagging me too, after being pounded around in the waves.
Inside, I'm zinging with a sense of good health, of sunlight and vitality; joyful. Outside, I'm doubled over to the right to protect the aching liver, and with the left shoulder pulled up tight, I scuttle along the foreshore like a geriatric crab.
Entry four, April 20: PARDON me if I'm over-sharing, but I had a bowel movement a couple of days ago. Now that may seem like a status update from your saddest Facebook friend, but have some compassion. It's been four days since the chemo procedure and well, you know, it was starting to concern me more than the cancer.
So, as with our lonely "friend", the event was something of a highlight in my week, which has been otherwise marked by pain in the midriff, causing whimpering and mutterings, aural hallucinations, fatigue, and a growing awareness about what the real fight will entail: discomfort, soreness, aches and occasional agony. Even my hair hurt there for a while.
But it's passing with every day. And there's something "pure" about pain. It's not like nausea or fever or even a headache. Pain like this I can handle.
And I know I'm not unique. Millions of people have had - and have - cancer, and millions have undergone chemotherapy before me. And hundreds of millions will follow, because liver cancer is the fastest growing cancer in the world and liver diseases feeding it are at epidemic proportions, including here in the Northern Rivers.
It's partly because we ageing baby boomers are now starting to pay for the wild indulgences of our youth.
Liver cancer is often a result of having hepatitis C, which is caused by exchanging blood, usually through intravenous drug use. There's a stigma attached to it: I'm not proud of a teenage past that exposed me to the disease, but I'm not so ashamed of it that I'm going to dance around the truth.
Better to put that energy into marveling at the sheer dumb (and undeserved) luck (or maybe something more) that has granted me a full life since I gave up the booze on Anzac Day, 1983, and using needles 10 years before that.
But the disease had already found a home and putting down the syringe wasn't the end of addiction. I was already trapped: What had started as a naïve, reckless search for new experience shrunk to a groundhog day grind of drunkenness, dishonesty, trouble and humiliation.
My 20s contained a marriage, a university degree, Territorial Army training and the beginning of a career, but it was a decade of committing suicide by degrees, in which I inflicted horrible physical, emotional and spiritual harm to myself, and those who loved me.
Stern moralists reading this may judge me, and save their sympathy for a more worthy case. I brought the cancer on myself, they might say. I completely agree, which is why I've never had any anger about contracting it. I can't blame god, or society, or even the dealers, just myself.
The illness is entirely my responsibility and so is my recovery - like my recovery from addiction, which I address every day.
For the cancer, I will step up willingly, cheerfully, and do whatever is required. Suck up the pain, and be grateful for those successful visits to the loo.
Entry three, April 13: On Thursday I was pricked, punctured, painted pink and penetrated with tubes that targeted the tumours in my liver and zapped them with chemicals.
And so far, so good. No nausea, no fever. The collateral damage with this form of "transarterial" chemotherapy is not caused by the drugs but by the overnight stays in hospital. To misquote Sartre, hell is other patients.
My three ward-mates snored like wart hogs all last night, repeatedly jarring me awake.
It made for a grumpy start to the day. But now, post treatment at the skilful hands of the Princess Alexandra Hospital's radiology staff, my cheerfulness is restored.
The procedure itself was even quite enjoyable. Sedated and medicated against pain, I had to lie perfectly still for two hours, holding my breath on command as the tube was steered through my veins. Most of the tumours were hit -- bar one in an awkward spot -- and over time they will be "killed" by the chemicals, to use the specialist's rather non-scientific term. Well hallelujah. I'm a big fan of killing in this context.
I welcome his reassuring words because in the days leading up to admission, my optimism was sometimes hard to locate. I had attacks of self-pity and resentment, which I dislike in myself, and bouts of acute sadness, which I accept, and even welcome, as an authentic -- and appropriate -- emotion.
In those moments I'm ambushed by an existential dread, a shocking awareness of my mortality. A twinge in my kidneys starts me thinking that they too have been colonised; a mother of pearl sunset prompts me to wonder how many more of them I will live to enjoy.
On the eve of admission however, thanks to my trainer and his breathing/meditation exercises, my calm and sense of hope are restored.
It's been suggested that my optimism is a function of denial. Or is it a symptom of my shallowness? The ego's incomprehension of its own extinction?
Now, as I sit here in anti-embolism stockings, non-slip socks, paper underpants and a purple smock, my arse hanging out the back, all dignity erased, there's no room for such vanity.
But my sense of well-being feels authentic. The cancer has brought with it a sharpened appreciation of the preciousness of life and I've embraced the concept of living one day at a time.
And today everything is just fine. Although I'm tired and alone in a Brisbane hospital, surrounded by strangers, the cancer has been attacked and I'm still alive. Bruised, bloodied, sporting bright pink privates, but undeniably alive.
Next week: the rise and rise of liver cancer.
PS: Since I wrote the above and submitted it Thursday to meet a deadline, my situation has changed, and wiped the smug smile off my dial. There has been fallout -- I'm not special and able to somehow escape the nasty aspects of this treatment. After the slightly surreal hospital experience, it got suddenly, shockingly real.
Shortly after I arrived home on Friday, the hospital-administered narcotic wore off and I was crippled by flurries of stabbing pain in my side and shoulder, whenever I moved or even lay still.
I couldn't get comfortable and ended up wincing, whimpering, doubled over and gasping to take a decent breath, groaning with a pain I'd never known before.
Luckily there were some tablets in the house and I got a degree of relief. A neighbour came to my aid with a hot water bottle and I was able to lie down and rest a little.
But it was a powerful reminder that any arrogant assumptions about my ability to coast through this would inevitably be shattered, and that there is more of this to come. The battle has really only just begun.
Entry two, April 6, 2013: Chemotherapy begins on Thursday. The doctors will insert a thin tube into an artery in my groin, then feed it up into the liver and into the tumours. It will deliver a mega dose of drugs into the growths to try to shrink them.
I will be awake the whole time and the idea - especially the groin part - makes me squirm, but otherwise I'm eager to begin.
In preparation I need to get myself strong, on all levels. I haul my diet back on track. Nothing extreme or faddish, just loads of leafy greens and proteins; no grains and no sugars including, distressingly, fruit. Not even a small piece, I plead? No. But fruit is something that's vital for a happy, healthy life, like music, sex or swimming. Please? No, nyet, nein, says my food Nazi.
There's exercise too, of course - especially activities that oxygenate the body (which means a lot of exertion, so I need a gym Nazi too).
The mind and the spirit are key to this fight and as my brain is a playground for chattering monkeys I've been recommended someone to help me meditate - I've just been too busy to contact them.
Then there are the so-called "alternative" treatments, some of them quite nutty: but I'm basically an old hippie and a resident of Byron Bay, so acupuncture and Chinese herbs seem pretty mainstream and I'm pursuing them enthusiastically.
One friend advised I see a psychologist but the last thing I need is a tissue for my issues. The spirit needs to be in charge here - that mysterious life force that's as close as I come to having a god and which, weirdly, is keeping me so positive.
Another friend got quite cranky about my "irresponsibility" that I didn't know what chemicals I'd be dosed with. Quite simply, I don't want to micro-manage this thing or become obsessed with it.
And one pearl of information a visitor gave me was that chemo would damage me so much I'd have to wear nappies, as happened to a mate of his (recently deceased). Well, thank you for sharing.
Fact is, I have complete faith in the specialist looking after me. I have surrendered (not the same as giving up) and will put energy into those things I can control, such as diet. And dancing wildly at Bluesfest - not pretty, but a pure expression of joy and animal wellbeing, sending any morbid or fearful thoughts rocketing out into the cosmos
NEXT: After chemo
Entry one, March 30, 2013: The news thumps me in the chest and my body goes numb: a CT scan has revealed the presence of four tumours in my liver.
It's not my first bout with cancer: four months ago I had a growth cut out, along with 15% of my liver. But it's back, with reinforcements.
Then, I kept the news quiet - either out of shame about liver cancer's association with a debauched lifestyle, or, absurdly, because I didn't want to make a fuss.
There were also many positives. It was just one tumour, eminently operable. I was unconcerned, even blasé.
Now, it's different. I'm afraid. These growths have appeared in a few months. They are proliferating, full steam ahead.
I have a powerful need to tell somebody: I keep an appointment with Ryan, my trainer, and tell him.
He is sympathetic but proceeds to work me hard. I feel like vomiting but I emerge strengthened, buoyed by endorphins.
I drive home to tell my teenage son - his fear the worst part of this illness for me.
He is shocked, frightened. I tell him 'it's bad but it's not going to kill me' - though of course I can't be sure of that.
A day later and the real urgency of my condition penetrated my denial. I'm grim, exhausted, but I fly out of the Gold Coast with a friend to snorkel in WA for 10 days.
At Melbourne airport my extraordinarily dedicated GP rings: This is serious, he says; liver cancer is not responsive to chemotherapy; transplant; survivability.
Suddenly overwhelmed with dread, crying, I decide to abort the trip. I panic, thinking I need to get home before I die.
On the return flight, a small miracle: the morbid mantra "I'm dying" and obsessive worrying about my affairs are replaced by a realization. "No I'm not, I'm living! I stretch, flex my muscles. Yes, today, right now, I'm living. I read the paper, chat to my neighbour.
I arrive at the Gold Coast to a message from the Brisbane specialist: Yes, I will need an MRI, but it's not urgent. I'm hugely comforted by his calm tone.
A mate drops everything to come and pick me up. We talk and laugh as we race south in his van through the warm night.
I buy us both Cokes at a servo - verboten for me because of the tumour-feeding sugar, but what the hell! I'm alive!
On Monday the specialist rings again: chemo is an option. I'm relieved and excited.
- Digby Hildreth is the former editor of the Byron Shire News