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Martin Kelner, Journalist, Author and Radio Presenter.
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My Struggle
By Martin "hero, schmero" Kelner on Sep 3, 2013 - 1:56:24 PM


My Struggle - How I bravely defied the world and refused to battle cancer.


July 30th, 2013


I'm with Tina Turner.   What we really don't need at this stage is another hero.   I work on local radio where heroism is more or less our stock-in-trade.   When we're not debating dustbin collection, cigarette smoking, and car parking issues, we're interviewing heroes; local folk battling cancer, bereaved relatives of soldiers who have laid down their lives for their country, doughty campaigners standing up against the authorities.


Even an old cynic like me cannot fail to be moved by some of these stories.   I'll admit it; when I did an interview with someone who had lost his children in the fatal crush at Hillsborough football ground, I locked myself in the disabled toilet for a minute or two and had a blub.   I'm human.   I recognise heroism, and I'm broadly in favour of it.


It's not me, though.   Here's the thing.   I have a sarcoma growing inside me.   It's big, it's bad, it hurts, and I go into hospital next week for major surgery to remove it.


I've been off work while I've been trying to manage the pain and get some sleep, and lovely uplifting text messages have started arriving from workmates on the lines of "You kick its butt," "You give it what for, I know you can get through this," and so on, which of course are lovely to receive, but should go to a worthier cause.   I don't see myself as one of those guys; cancer guy, turning up at the radio station in the little beany hat to be interviewed by someone like me.

It would be different if I had that celebrity cancer, where by "bravely" telling the world about it I could bring new understanding, raise millions for research, get guys to check their balls regularly and all that.


But what I have is minor celebrity cancer.   A few people know me through a long-running sports column in The Guardian and in the Racing Post, radio shows on my local station in Leeds, and appearances on a BBC 5Live Show, Fighting Talk.  


But I'm not remotely famous enough to change attitudes or inspire, or anything worthwhile like that.  I may have some mildly interesting or amusing observations to impart, but mostly, when I write about my illness it will not be in the terminology of a battle.   The territory I inhabit is somewhere between The Diary of a Nobody and Round Ireland With a Fridge.  


However, just like the fridge I am going on a journey, as I believe you're contractually obliged to call it these days; and if Michael Palin's career trajectory is anything to go by, you people are interested in journeys.  


It started with a tumour the size of a grapefruit.   Actually, I think it was bigger than that, and certainly a different shape, but there's a convention that tumours are always compared to fruit, in the same way news reports refer to areas of the Third World devastated by floods as being the size of Wales, and something else - I forget what - as the size of two double-decker buses.   Always large fruit, as well.   I've never heard of anyone having a tumour the size of a raisin.


I don't even know if it's cancer for certain.   It's not attached to any major organs, which means it's not lung cancer or liver cancer or any of the famous ones.   But it hurts. Yesterday morning, I lay on the floor for 15 minutes unable to move a quarter of an inch without the most excruciating pains shooting up through the abdomen into my chest.   I was begging my wife, looking on helplessly, to shoot me, but because of our restrictive, nanny-state gun laws here (irony, folks) she was unable to comply.


My problem in writing about this life-and-death stuff is that, in as much as I have made any kind of career, it has been firmly based on trivia; I like to review consumer items on Amazon; laxatives, pilchards, babies' rattles.   On Fighting Talk, typical subjects I've tackled include bagged salads, and why they wilt within 30 seconds of opening the cellophane, the remarkable disparity between the piquantly good smell outside Subway and what's inside, and why Sainsbury's finds it necessary to instruct you to "Please take your items" after you've put a big shop through the self check-out.  


What do they think?   That we pay our money, swipe our Nectar cards, and then stand there wondering what to do next.   "Ah, that's how it works!   I take the items."


For a whole quarter of a year after first discovering my problem I have kept up the relentless flow of trivia.   I even made time to review a box of broken biscuits on Amazon, and carried on doing my local radio show until the pain and the lack of sleep got too much last week.   But as far as tales of bravery go, that's pretty much all we've got.  


We do have a journey, though.   Having not been delivered of the early exit I was anticipating, next week I go into St. James's Hospital, Leeds, for what we doctors call a big fuck-off operation.   Apart from a few days as a child, I've never been in hospital before.   I could be in for a couple of weeks, they're going to cut me up good - this is the best case scenario by the way - and then there'll be months of convalescence.   


And if that's not a journey, I don't know what is.   Oh, and guys, check your balls.

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