It’s okay not to be fine…

By Ian Robinson

And though she’s not really ill, there’s a little yellow pill

She goes running for the shelter of her mother’s little helper

And it helps her on her way, gets her through her busy day

— The Rolling Stones


Ah hell, guys.

I have always been honest in this space. Sometimes to a fault. (Those of you who recall the two-part post about prostate cancer and the penis, illustrated with a picture of me and a penis pump know what I’m talking about!)

And so I think it behooves me to be honest again.

I have written, since the Covid pandemic began, that the cancer people are quite possibly a little better situated to deal with it that the normies. We’re used to struggle, to isolation, to difficulty, I wrote. We already have support systems in place. And I was cheerful in those posts. Perhaps even displayed some bravado. The subtext was I’m fine, you’re fine, everything’ll be fine.

At the time I wrote those things, they were true.

Then came the day when things were no longer fine.

I was no longer fine.

I found myself looking into the mirror thinking, “I am not fucking fine.”

I would collapse into a kitchen chair after the long and arduous trek from the living room, out of breath, exhausted. Fatigue, the kind of fatigue the cancer tribe is oh so familiar with. The tiredness of undiagnosed cancer. The fatigue of chemo.

For me it was neither of those things, but as member in good standing of the Stage IV Metastatics (worst Boy Band name EVER!) you can probably guess what was going through my mind.

My oncologist, the amazing Dr. N.A. listened to me talk and after about 30 seconds told me she was going to print off a script for a mild dose of an anti-depressant.

“But … but …” I began to protest.

I got The Look. The Look that says: Me, Doctor. You, Moron. Take the god-damned pill.

Of course she spoke with kindness and compassion as she always does. But she meant take the god-damned pill. Then my family doctor, with whom I had a phone appointment, told me recent blood work showed I had an iron deficiency. Why, he wondered, had I gone and developed an iron deficiency?

Hmmm. Let’s see. Pandemic isolation and sadness leads to a disinterest in what little life remains to me and I … kinda sorta quit eating.

That was why I was exhausted walking from one room to the next. Apparently an iron deficiency makes you real tired.

So bloody roast beef and barely wilted spinach and bottles of Guinness are now a regular part of my day. (Thanks to my pal Linda for the Guinness! And the flowers! And the pandemic safe visit in the freezing cold outside my house where she brought along her wee toddler grandson to cheer me up. He calls me “Mister Ian” with formal and courtly grace like it’s 1855 or something. It makes me smile.)

And now, after a couple weeks of eating sensibly and taking my pills, I’m better. I’m coping, more than coping. I’m cheerful again. I greet the day with something resembling pleasure instead of thinking: “God-damn.” And dreading the hours between waking and a return to unconsciousness. I did not, thank God, default to the traditional balm and comfort of journalists, both practicing and retired. Which is to say I did not endeavour to discover just how many bottles of tequila I could empty in a 24 hour period. So I guess refraining from descending into drunken madness can be counted as a win under such circumstances. 

I guess what I’m saying is as the pandemic has dragged on and changed, my coping mechanisms proved inadequate. The isolation is fierce. So much mask non-compliance out there that I feel unsafe even going to the grocery store. And I am also enraged I live in a country that has managed, through government incompetence and carelessness, to be 54th in the world in terms of vaccinations. That has screwed up the sourcing of vaccines so badly that we’re taking doses from a fund meant for developing nations.

So … I stayed home. House arrest. The cold didn’t help, trapping me indoors, nor I suppose, did the long days of soul crushing darkness. 

We are a smart and clever people, we cancer folk. We are very good at managing physical illness and challenges. But a global pandemic like this is unique and so too the challenges when heaped upon our existing troubles.

The reason I started writing this waaay too honest blog in the first place was to catalogue the horrors of my disease so men would get the prostate cancer blood test, diverting them from the path I have been forced to walk.

It was a below the waist blog. Now it’s a between the ears blog.

Suffering is suffering. Mental, physical, spiritual. All the same as far as I’m concerned. So in the interests of mitigating suffering … if any of this resonates with you, get your ass to your physician, be honest about your mental state. Take the god-damned pill. There’s help out there. Dietary, pharmaceutical, and it just helps to talk about it.

There are going to be a lot of casualties of this pandemic among those who never got the virus.

Let’s not add to their number, okay?

Be well, my friends. Be well.

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8 Comments

  1. I am the full time care giving husband. My wife was diagnosed with four stage bone cancer, in her sacrum. Feb 2017. In Nov that year she had a stroke that makes it difficult for her to choose the right words in a conversation. So the quiet person that she is became more withdrawn. She has pain, standing, walking and other times. Going for a walk is not what she would look forward to. The last scan showed the cancer has moved into her liver. Yes I am a mess. She has a 2 to 3 hour nap every afternoon. We play cards every morning. She is falling asleep playing cards before noon.

    • John,
      I am sorry to read how much you and your wife are struggling. I hope you have people you can lean on. Professionals, wellspring groups and friends are a help.
      I hear you and wish you both well.
      RTN

  2. I hear ya….as it drags on, it’s harder and harder to maintain the same vigilance about mask-wearing, constant hand washing, social distancing. In the past two weeks, I’ve felt the most vulnerable to covid as at any time in the last year. I hear about cases very close to my orbit. And such a true observation about the casualties who never will actually get the virus. Fingers crossed that the government vaccine program will pick up steam and make up some of the lost ground, so we can gather, hug, shop, and party! once again

  3. Thank you, Ian, for your unmitigated and heartfelt honesty in your columns. You are providing sage advice for all those who have not yet realized and accepted that they are not going to be able to simply choose whether they do, or don’t, fall victim to cancer.

  4. I am doing battle once again with the dreaded big C, bladder is already gone, so is prostate followed by one kidney, and now the colon has decided to give me further excitement. I cringe in silent fear when I see somebody maskless, have been pretty much isolated for a year now, shopping online is a boon but I miss the interaction and miss the regular visits to see my kids and grandkids. I never give up and will continue the fight, the golden years are not all they are cracked up to be,believe me. My thoughts are with all sufferers.

  5. I have only recently started to read your blog, Ian. THANK YOU so much for your forthright style, extreme openness. I can see why others recommend you!
    As a senior widowed person, I, too, have experienced the ‘downs’ of Covid isolation. Did connect with Dr. for help. More recently, I added ‘cancer dx’ to my status. Definitely agree- not a good combo. Thank heavens for Wellspring friends and programs!!

  6. Ian, I love your writing! It has just the right pH balance (pathos/Hunour)! Hang in there as you (literally) beef up! I look forward to stumbling on to more of your stuff in the future.

  7. Ian, I absolutely love your punches of reality that respectfully break open the hollow pleasantries hesitantly nudged forth by others! Keep at it. It’s so very much needed!
    As for the issues of depression & iron… both are quite relatable. I was working with both by the time I was 15, so it wasn’t at all surprising or questionable that a change of antidepressant was in order recently. It’s still ok to take breathers, even with supports in place. Stay well! I look forward to hearing your familiar voice in class.


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