John vs. Cancer #10: Big News, Big News

***Previously on John vs. Cancer: having gone two months without blogging, being in hospital or feeling even remotely ill, our hero had a bit of a time finding something to write about. Today, and for the foreseeable future, he has no such problem.***

Hi everyone. This is Ella, and I’m afraid I have some terrible news.







April Fool. OH, SNAP!

As Twitter erupts with its annual, and quite correct, lack of tolerance for horrendous corporate gags, I thought I’d write my own – because if there’s one thing about which people are generally po-faced, it’s bloody cancer.

We had Harry round for some ham last night (got a lot of ham at the moment, not really relevant), and he asked if it was okay to make some gently comic remark about my potential death. This is, just to be clear, my best friend talking after eight solid months of helping keep me alive. If he feels like he can’t make a joke, then as a population we’re basically fucked for ‘cancer humour’.

What we have instead are things like Cancer Research’s awful tone-deaf ‘cancer is happening RIGHT NOW’ advert, which has been carefully included in every Tube carriage and 4OD programme with which I’ve interacted since about October. CHEERS, GUYS. GOT THE MESSAGE. This sort of bollocks just hammers home our mad view of cancer as an impossible massive fairytale monster-type illness, about which nothing can really be done bar solemn head-nodding, the occasional mournful editorial and lots of well-intentioned but basically pointless fun runs. Just so we’re clear (and I’m going to drop a line and go bold to emphasis this):

None of those things is true. Cancer is just another illness, and it is a pain in the fucking arse but given time and funds we will cure it. Hence the fun runs. Until then, STOP MOPING.

Obviously, if you have cancer then mope away. Serve yourself a double portion of self-pity pie, have a doleful look at yourself in the back of your spoon and chow down. If someone you know has died, you are also permitted a reasonable sulk. I am not going to tell you not to be pissed off about having cancer in your life.

But I am going to tell you it won’t help. If you’ve got cancer, I know FOR A FACT that you hate people tiptoeing around it and treating you like an inherited china figurine – something to be cooed over briefly, sure, but in the long run absurdly fragile, of absolutely no practical use and the cause of a whole lot of extra dusting. I’ve talked to a lot of other cancer-people these last eight months, and I have never encountered an opinion that departs from the above. We all fucking hate being fussed over, and people thinking that cancer ‘isn’t something to joke about’ is maybe the worst bit of all.

Don’t worry, this isn’t going to become an unduly positive self-helpy type blog (in fact, my one cast-iron insistence during the negotiation stage of our Cancer Book was that I would not ever write anything deliberately heartwarming or inspirational), but I do reserve the right to tell you, and anyone who wilfully mopes in my earshot, that you’re wasting time you could spend on playing Trivial Pursuit or learning how to make an Old Fashioned or, I don’t know, going to Stonehenge or fucking jogging or whatever it is you would otherwise like to do with your remaining stock of days and hours. Personally, what I like to do is make light of the world while I can, because in eight months’ time President Drumpf will have me and all the other media scum in internment camps.

So, on this day of calendarily prescribed humour, here are some Cancer Joking Tips. (Use with caution: if someone you know has cancer and is moping about it, it may be worth trying to lift their spirits with non-cancer-based jokes before you hit them with any LOLphoma material.)

1) If you know someone well enough to take the piss out of their hair, you can probably take the piss out of their cancer. (NB: Being physically capable of tweeting a stranger is not the same as knowing them.)
2) Pop culture references with the prefix ‘cancer’ are never not funny. I think I’d been in hospital about 36 hours when my pal Caroline asked me if I wanted to borrow a Game Boy and Pokémon Yellow “to help us understand your evolution from Cancermeleon into Cancerarizard”. I am still chuckling (and waiting for the Game Boy).
3) Saying things are like cancer is generally not funny. Saying cancer is like things is often excellent. eg ‘David Brent is like cancer, because it keeps getting worse and spreading to new areas of the media’ – shit awful. ‘Cancer is like David Brent, because it reminds you of, whilst still being better than, Slough’ – would certainly make me laugh, although if you know someone who’s got cancer AND loves Slough then go easy.
4) If you accidentally say something about death, don’t flap and apologise and try to backtrack. Commit. Paint a vivid conversational picture of your pal’s funeral, threaten to draw a cock on their coffin, whatever. Do not worry that you’ve put death into their mind. They are already thinking about death quite a lot.
5) If you wouldn’t have made a joke about something in particular pre-cancer, stay safe and leave it alone. I was fine with bald jokes whilst I was bald, because I’d never been bald before and wasn’t upset about it. If I’d been wearing a wig or got really into hats, it would probably have been a ‘no bald jokes’ hint. If I’d been on the receiving end of any fat jokes during my bloaty-steroid-face phase last autumn, the joker would have lost a fucking eye.

As someone is no doubt going to point out, this is all relatively easy for me to say now that I’m in remission. I’m in remission, guys! Everyone on Twitter knew a month ago, but I can see the sense in rejecting the hyperactive 24-hour news cycle and enjoying your news nicely aged. When Captain Cook was eaten by Hawaiians the news didn’t get back to England for eleven months, and that didn’t do anyone any harm. But anyway, if your feeling is that I’m in remission so I don’t get to comment on Cancer Stuff any more, my response is this: go to fuck. Go directly to fuck. Do not pass ‘GO’, do not collect £200, just go to fuck and fucking stay there.

I’m not going to go into much medical detail in this blog, but remission is very much not the end of the story and, in my case, the next treatment I’m due to have carries a 10% risk of death. That’s not a huge risk, but it’s there, and it’s going to be hanging over me for a while yet. And the one thing it’s hammered home is that there is Just No Point in getting stressed or upset about what’s coming up. Of course I might die. Will I shave even one basis point off that percentage by staring blankly into the abyss? I will not, and I refuse to waste what might be my last ever healthy month on fretting when there is so much good shit to do.

Good shit I am planning to do this April includes celebrating mine and Ella’s fourth anniversary, lining up a load of new books for hospital and finishing that ham (there really is a lot, hit me up if you want to come over and have some ham). I’m also going to be gritting my teeth for one last Anthony Nolan fundraising push, because we are so bloody close to hitting a hundred grand and I can’t think of a better omen with which to face up to the transplant.

A couple of weeks ago, we went to an AN event to meet some of the people who’ve been supporting us this last year and hear about the groundbreaking work Anthony Nolan is doing – not only in finding matches for people with blood cancer, but in actually advancing our knowledge of how blood and tissue typing works. As of this year, Anthony Nolan has become the first stem cell registry to use ‘Third Generation Sequencing’, which analyses more genetic markers than ever before to offer the world’s most accurate patient-donor matching. If you’ve donated to our JustGiving page, shared one of these blogs or spat in a tube, you are a real, measurable part of this progress and I hope you are as proud as I am grateful. It’s been such a privilege to play a small role in Anthony Nolan’s lifesaving work, and it feels even more important to me and Ella now that we’re expecting to bring our own new life into the world.







Got you again! Praise God for the gift of laughter.
***Next time on John vs. Cancer: mate, who knows. I’ve never got a blog into double figures before, we’re off the edge of the map. Probably no more April Fools, though.***
I’m going to keep writing these blogs until I die or get better, probably, and although I don’t really want to sell them (there’s a time and a place for editors), I do want to include a regular plug for Anthony Nolan, the charity that will hopefully save my life with a stem cell transplant some time in the future. I’ve written a thing about them over on JustGiving, and put in a button below to make it as unavoidable as possible. You can give them your spit and maybe save a life sometime down the line, or give them some cash and support the work they’re doing right now. Either way, if you don’t at least have a cursory read then I’ll know, and I’ll lie in my hospital bed wishing you were a better person.

JustGiving - Sponsor me now!


9 thoughts on “John vs. Cancer #10: Big News, Big News

  1. mullaneanne says:

    Ha, that’s twice you got me in one post, so it worked a treat. And not just cos I’m half way through a cocktail ( know it’s only  12:30 but what the hell.)Good on you Sir ( and Madam)X

    Sent from my Samsung device


  2. Joanne says:

    What to say, what not to say and the language we use when we talk about cancer – great take on it here John. If you haven’t already heard it, the interview with Graham Joyce on Radio 4’s Word of Mouth programme is well worth half an hour of your time (podcast here, assuming links are OK in comments on WordPress blogs: Hope you and Ella find something better than ham to celebrate that anniversary with.


  3. Lucy says:

    Totally got me, you absolute cad!


  4. Miranda says:

    You are a sod! But I should have paid attention as that last comment goes under the deliberately heart warming section. You make me laugh and fuck cancer! Have a super weekend darlings. xx


  5. Lydia Cook says:

    Just want to say that you got me with the April fool …………. you fucker!! Glad to read your news – I am a lymphomaniac but not a twitterer so just great to hear your still on fighting hilarious form!!  Keep the e mail/website updates coming (whenever) as they really make me smile. You should definitely consider any film offers that may come your and Ellas way.  I am thinking some kind of Masterchef with a combination of The Big C – you both need to write it!! XX 

    From: JM Underwood To: Sent: Friday, 1 April 2016, 11:54 Subject: [New post] John vs. Cancer #10: Big News, Big News #yiv0852709097 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv0852709097 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv0852709097 a.yiv0852709097primaryactionlink:link, #yiv0852709097 a.yiv0852709097primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv0852709097 a.yiv0852709097primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv0852709097 a.yiv0852709097primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv0852709097 | JM Underwood posted: “***Previously on John vs. Cancer: having gone two months without blogging, being in hospital or feeling even remotely ill, our hero had a bit of a time finding something to write about. Today, and for the foreseeable future, he has no such problem.***” | |


  6. cherie79 says:

    All the people I know who had/have cancer have a really black sense of humour, I guess thats how we cope or the people I know! I told everyone upfront and defied anyone to feel sorry for me! Five years out and doing well. Glad to hear you are doing ok and good luck with the rest of your treatment.


  7. This is a subject close to my heart – I wrote about whether it is OK to laugh about mum’s dementia in my blog last year and am just trying to decide whether it is ok to laugh about incontinence too (tricky to say the least). I have been greatly reassured that both Messrs Elton and Baddiel have used dementia as comedy fodder and if you can make jokes about cancer too then I feel I’m on safe ground. Will crack on with ‘It never rains but it pours’ right now.


  8. Ruth Flavell says:

    Hi John,

    You don’t know me of course but I have been following you for a while. You have gone quiet on Twitter and I’m concerned that you are ok.

    Regards Ruth


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: