It’s not what you say that counts…

I’ve been playing around with an announcement for some time now, and finding it to be one of the most difficult tasks I’ve ever had to face, not because it’s that earth-shaking on its own, but simply because of the underlying shades of meaning and consequence that go along with it. It’s a very private, personal kind of thing to have to announce and I tend to restrict my personal “public” utterances to the books I write.


I’ve just been informed I have a tumour on my left lung and I’ll be undergoing surgery within the next few days, and that was a life-altering piece of information. It wasn’t exactly a thunderbolt from clear blue skies; I’ve been a smoker since I was a kid, and we’ve known for several years there was an “anomaly”, a shadow, on my left lung. I underwent an exhaustive series of tests, back in 2008/09, that pretty firmly established a high probability that the mass in question was old scar tissue, conceivably from a childhood brush with tuberculosis back in the Dark Ages when I was a boy. It appeared to be dormant and inactive, but it was unmistakably there and so my thoracic specialists have been watching it carefully ever since, prepared to jump on it if there were any changes… Well, my most recent CT Scan detected changes, and then things started moving very quickly. It’s a small, dense mass, located on the upper lobe of my left lung, and so my doctors decided to go in and remove it ASAP. They’re confident that they can excise it arthroscopically—by inserting specialized, miniaturized equipment through a small incision—removing the entire upper lobe of the lung cleanly. I hope they’re right.


I’ve always felt uncomfortable whenever I’ve had to deal with people facing dreadful health quandaries, and I know it’s because of what I’ve learned as a writer: words are wonderful creations and when you learn to handle them deftly, with all the exciting complexities of spelling and syntax and grammar, you can juggle them delightfully and make a living, manipulating them. The corollary, though, is tragic in that you also come to know and appreciate that, when ‘push’ comes to ‘shove’ and there’s something viscerally and crucially important to be said—something that digs at the very vitals of our humanity—the words we have to work with are impotent and futile, the most useless, insubstantial and frustrating tools in the world. I have never learned to be comfortable uttering banalities when addressing people’s health issues—I deal in words; I’m supposed to know exactly what to say and how to say it on any occasion and it infuriates me when I find myself, time after soul-crushing time, cringing at the impossibility of finding le mot juste… And now I find myself dreading the thought that people won’t want to talk to me about my problem. But I’ve learned, from experience—in an incandescent series of explosions over the past ten days or so—that the words we actually say are unimportant—and that’s a hell of an admission, after decades of denial, from someone who makes his living as a writer. What’s important is what we show—empathy, sympathy, compassion, understanding… You can call it whatever you want to, but it boils down very quickly to common humanity and humane concern. And it’s hugely important to each of us.


So, on Friday, November 30th, I have a date with some very skilled professionals, one of whom enjoys my books and wants to read the last one in this series… The one I haven’t even started to write yet. I’ll probably be out of commission for some time after the operation—I’ve no idea for how long—but I’m already looking forward to coming back here and telling you about what I’ve learned in the meantime. I hope that won’t be too long.