Dermot Morgan's young comedian son battles cancer
After a recent diagnosis of Hodgkin's Lymphoma, Ben Morgan hopes to be able to laugh in the face of adversity in his new blog
Published 24/04/2016 | 02:30
I DECIDED to start writing a blog about my own life experiences, which at present revolve around my recent diagnosis of Nodular Sclerosing Hodgkin's Lymphoma (most likely stage 2 pending PET scan results).
On the flipside, this is one of the most curable forms of cancer known to man and also, I'm a stand-up comedian, so hopefully this writing won't be too grim or, at the very least, the grim bits will be made fun of to the point that we can laugh in the face of adversity.
The stigma surrounding the word "cancer" has, in my experience, been one of the most terrifying things about the disease.
When you look at the survival rates of Hodgkin's Lymphoma, as well as many other cancers, it's not all as scary as it's cracked up to be.
I am a young man with a very healthy medical history - the odds are definitely in my favour. Yet, when I was first told that I probably had cancer, I burst into tears. I couldn't stop crying and worrying because I had one of the most feared diseases in the world.
I firmly believe that most of this emotional distress was due to the stigma surrounding cancer as opposed to the scientific reality of the situation which, while scary, is completely manageable in terms of stress and worry.
If someone had told me: "Listen Ben, you probably have X disease", and then gone on to explain the same potential health risks and consequences, the news would have been a lot less harsh to take.
This raises the question as to how I plan on trying to help break this stigma. I guess all I can really do is be as honest as I possibly can about my experience and crack lots and lots of jokes.
One thing I have noticed from doing stand-up is that people are generally quite overly protective of things that they consider "off-limits".
Cancer is, without a doubt, included in this category.
I understand that this perceived right-doing comes from a place of love; people don't want to laugh at the less fortunate.
But how do you think it makes me feel when someone merely mentions the word "cancer" on stage and all I can hear is a sharp intake of breath and occasional tutting?
Fair enough, some people may not want to acknowledge that they have a serious illness on their night out, but for those of us who have acknowledged and come to terms with the disease, it is incredibly insulting to assume that we do not/cannot not have a sense of humour about these things because they are so f**king terrible that we're not allowed to find light in them.
Honestly, if I was touchy about my diagnosis, why would I go to a f*cking comedy club?
Like it or not, cancer will play an important part in my life over the next few months so f**k you if you don't think other people, regardless of their health status, have the right to make me happy and find humour in my plight.
Walking on eggshells is not f**king helpful. It merely adds to the stigma and makes people feel worse. When you decide something is off-limits, it merely gives that word or topic an undue amount of power.
A more useful approach would be to allow discussion of all aspects of such issues in a way that allows us to tease out the specific concerns which make us uncomfortable around such subject matter.
Obviously this is not the case with the vast majority of cancer jokes; they tend to be very dark and deal with the mortality aspect of the disease.
Still, I believe these jokes are generally justified by the fact that they're f**king jokes! These are things that people neglect to ask themselves: (a) why on earth would someone show up to do a set at a comedy club with the intention of making everyone feel miserable? And (b) What could they possibly gain by doing so? The answers are (a) They don't and (b) Nothing.
People seem to have this perception that you can just jump on a stage, be outright offensive for no reason and have a room full of people applaud you for doing so.
The reality of the situation is that people generally do not applaud offensiveness for the sake of offensiveness and that all a comic wants is for you to laugh. This doesn't suggest that comics have an inherent feeling of moral duty towards an audience. It is merely a contingent fact that a comic needs laughs to do well in their career or fill the empty void that led them into stand up, or whatever the reason. To my knowledge, there is no comedian who has made a living without laughs.
In summary: stigma=bad, cancer=not always that bad, comedy= good. I've been up and down about the news. For the most part, the downs have gradually become less frequent and less harsh whereas the upstroke is ever invigorating and has become my primary state of being.
The middle ground has taken the back seat for the moment and I think this is a good thing because why would you want to feel all right most of the time when you could spend that time feeling awesome?
Weirdly enough I feel much happier than I have in quite some time and I do hope that this high of being alive is something that stays with me. That is not to say that I am just grateful for being alive; the high is so immense that there are times when I feel like I could knock out Conor McGregor, times when, no matter what, I feel like I can do anything, come back from anything swinging.
This is what I love about cancer; it has already made me a much stronger person mentally.
At the risk of sounding cliched, it has to be said that you cannot possibly fathom the amount of strength you have until you are forced into a situation which necessitates its use.
I firmly believe that this strength, once found, will always be there for you to use, even after you have overcome your adversity. This is the point I really want to get across; the emotional distress of a situation such as this isn't just for nothing. It all counts towards making you a stronger person in the long run.
This is a beautifully rare consequence of a very particular type of distress. To put things into perspective; think back to times where you feel that people have wronged you, be it a close friend/partner/relative or whoever.
Ask yourself how it made you feel physically and emotionally.
In my own experience, this is a worse type of distress than learning of an unwanted health risk in that it is purely destructive, it merely saps the energy out of you and ties your head up in knots. The anguish associated with cancer, however, is constructive and I wouldn't want to feel any other way than I do right now in time.
To oversimplify things: if you can get over the emotional low of a particularly bad break-up or falling out, then treatable forms of cancer won't be able to break you mentally. This is a point I really want to get across: life's f**king tough and it always has been. We come across adversity so much in our day-to-day lives and all of this is constantly preparing us for situations such as this.
I know I said earlier that being wronged or having a negative presence in your life is merely destructive and I still firmly believe this, however, being able to withstand the heat of any destructive energy inevitably breeds some form of resilience in the long-term.
You won't realise the mental fortitude you have until you are forced to muster it up, so don't worry if you are afraid of any potential health risks or diagnoses (like I was for no reason for years); the strength will come to you when you really need it.
It may not come instantaneously but it will come. You may have noticed how much I have spoken about emotions and feelings, like one of those women-type things they have nowadays.
Masculinity is not a core issue I wish to focus on, and it hasn't been a major factor in my very brief experience of cancer, but one point I really want to get across to men dealing with health issues is this: cry if you feel like f**king crying.
I have never understood the macho-culture bullshit which states that men shouldn't cry - like it somehow makes you less of a man. Crying is a natural instinct and trying to fight it, at least for me, is physically painful.
I have cried my f*cking eyes out a lot since my surgeon told me I probably had cancer. I have been a snivelling mess, a shell of a man at times, but I always felt better afterwards and I refuse to feel any shame in doing so. Look at me now; I'm on top of the world and I feel like I can deal with things I never thought possible before.
I honestly believe that this wouldn't be possible had I not let myself cry out the bad feelings when I was down. So that's my advice; cry your eyes out till they're red and raw.
In my view, it is far more commendable for a person, regardless of gender, to accept their own vulnerability and come to terms with it than to merely refuse to acknowledge it or try and fight it.
This is really all I want to say for now, however, I would like to draw attention to a few final things. I would like to acknowledge that the form of cancer I have has a very high survival rate and that this may affect my views on a number of cancer-related issues.
Obviously I can't speak on behalf of those with more serious, life-threatening forms of the disease, as I can't honestly say that I know what that feels like. Nonetheless, learning of a potentially life-threatening illness definitely has the potential to shift your perspective on life and make you a much stronger person mentally.
I have a rough idea of what I want to write about in future; namely my diagnosis and the events leading up to it, my last session before I start my chemo and my first experience of chemo, which should be starting this Friday. I am thinking about prefacing every new post by quoting a joke about cancer but this may not be possible logistically, as there are only so many good cancer jokes, but sure I'll leave you with a classic from Frankie:
"What is it about people with cancer that suddenly think they can run the f**king marathon? 'Oh, I've got cancer, you gonna sponsor us?' And you want to say, 'You have no chance of winning!' If you know someone with cancer and they want sponsoring for something, sponsor them. There's a good chance that you won't have to pay."
This is an edited extract of Ben's blog, reprinted with his permission. The full version can be found at stagefourchancer.wordpress.com