I’ve been keeping something secret for a while now. Mainly because I don’t want to jinx myself. And whilst it’s more-or-less official – I still have to pass ‘professional requirements’, which are things like CRB checks and the dreaded health-check. But – hopefully – if nothing bad happens & I pass all my ‘professional requirements’, in September I will be going back to university (as the Americans would say ‘med-school’ -sounds so cool) to study Radiation Oncology. Yep.
This doesn’t mean that I’m giving up art, or indeed giving up on art. Quite the contrary, – if anything I believe this will become an extension of an already multi-disciplinary practice. Art’s beauty lies in its ability to spread far-and-wide into other disciplines. Good art transcends something. I will still work as an Artist. I will still make art. I will still do commissions for clients – perhaps not as often as right now. But i’ll still be doing it – and I will still be teaching & working at SHU. Everything will be the same, except I will be studying on the side. I’m always an artist first & foremost. Art is, and will always be, my passion!
Not many people know about my decision (something I decided to commit to do just under a year ago now), and nearly everyone who I have told looks shocked (not in a good way). “Why? I don’t get it?” They all ask. (After what is Radiation Oncology?)
There’s many reasons for this. You might call it a quater life crisis. (it’s not but seems it).
After being told you might have Cancer, something fucks with your head. Like the rug gets pulled from under your feet. You might keep it together but you feel fragmented, you realize nothing at all is ever certain. You rationalise everything. You’re completely in denial. You’re strong – not only for yourself, but for your friends & family who are worried. You don’t make it a big thing, even though I think it’s something you just want to talk about all-the-time (or never speak of it?), just to make sense of it. But quiet doubt seems to consume part of your alone time. The questions and the uncertainties seem endless.
Slowly I came to understand what could/might be/might have been happening. Part of this was writing on this blog to help let the pain out and I decided not to hide behind the mystery illness, but to go out into the world and live as best I could. In my spare time, I researched EVERYTHING about all different types of Lymphomas. The survival rates, how people discovered it, how it’s super tricky to diagnose, how it spreads, it’s genetic make-up, treatment plans, ect, ect. After I read everything available on the first 10’s of pages on Google & many websites later, I started looking at other blood-cancers. I was fascinated. Curious. I wanted to know more. It became somewhat addictive.
I’m currently still having a bazillion tests, but the journey has already left its mark on me forever. I feel like a different person. It sounds cliched and it sounds weird, but I literally think and feel differently. Things I thought were important before seem trivial now. Before, my artist ego always wanted to be stroked. Now, I’m just happy that I’m doing what I love and meeting awesome talented people in the process. There’s no necessity to do a billion-things-at-once. It’s okay to smell the roses. I have this whole new level of empathy that I never had before. Nearly every experience/emotion has been heightened. Which leads me on to reason number 2.
Since October last year, I have had 4 friends (or friends loved ones) diagnosed with Breast Cancer. My reaction to finding this news out, is completely different now than from a year & half ago, before all this crazy health stuff started with me. I don’t know why the reaction is different but now I feel like it’s personal – even though it’s so obviously not. It’s just a genetic systematic failure, that’s random or could be trigged by an environmental factor – but even that is in luck. 1 in every 3 of us will get cancer at some point in our lives.
Cancer nearly took my moms life in 2000, it nearly took my friend’s life, my friend’s moms life, the person down the street, on the bus, in the supermarket’s life – and i’ll be damned if it tries to take mine. This personal alignment has made me realize that I want to work for something other than myself, and i know i gots the skills to help. I want to help make cancer be no longer scary. Like getting chicken pox or something. I don’t want us to have this hurt. Because, the thing is, if caught in stage one, and even stage 2- They’re completely curable now! Which is awesome! But we often misread the early signs. (You gotta check-yo-self-before-you-wreck-yo-self!?)
Reason 3. In radiation Oncology it’s providing exceptional patient care without exception through developing & delivering radiation treatment plans & providing emotional & social/psychological support, it’s amazing research to cure or detect cancer early, it’s working with amazing advanced technologies & engineering technology. It’s working collaboratively, within a multi-disciplinary team of medical professionals, equally, doctors-nurses-nuclear physicists, ect – to create the best line of treatment to being cured (or to ease symptoms in palliative care cases). I know that my background in art & technology will provide an interesting spin onto the research in this area. For example, 3D Printing (something we’ve been doing through the GRAVITY lecture series project) would be an awesome & much more easier/less stressful way to create moulds for patients for their treatments. BOOM! I have way more ideas. My over-all goal is that I want to go into the research side of it. It’s much easier to take what I learnt from art & apply it to oncology research, than vice-versea – but i’m super sure it will start to influence my work in someway.
The truth of the matter, however, is that when you go through some crazy dramatic life experience – such as this or something else. Things change. Even if you don’t want them to. When you live with this nagging small thought in the back of your mind that you might be dying, you feel like you deserve to spend the rest of your life on permanent vacation. And the reality is, you can’t. You must return to real life. I’ve been finding it a bit difficult to go back. It’s like, how do you slip back into the ordinary world, and your ordinary routine and being your ordinary self when you don’t feel like yourself? My world view has been shifted, thus my whole line of perspective. It would be an untruth if i continued on being & making the exact same work.
I didn’t think I was going to get accepted onto an academic program this year. I thought that they would have made me get more science knowledge. So I was genuinely shocked when I got offers. I’m proud of myself for getting accepted to all 3 universities I had an interview at. I got interview invites at all 5 places I applied to. It’s all funded by the NHS so places are small. Once I got my unconditional offer from Sheffield, I withdrew from the last 2 interviews in Cardiff & London South Bank and accepted the S-Town. So here’s hoping that nothing bad happens between now and Sept & I pass my healthcheck – something I’m super nervous about since I’m still feeling really poorly.
I can’t explain my affirmation with this new area, other than it has poignant roots – and I know through it – if successful – I will be making a genuine difference. (The very thing that all I ever wanted to do was to make a difference). It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be less sexy. But I genuinely can’t wait for this new challenge. I want to work for something other than myself. But remember guys, I’m still an artist – and will ALWAYS be an artist. Please don’t forget that.
It is to this end that I am committed to art but equally committed to creating/working on life-saving-research & I hope to make sure that we work on developments which mean we will never loose someone young (prob up to about 80 years old) to cancer in the near future.