This article appeared in our Summer 2018 issue, available now through our stockists or via subscription.
Healing, Courage and Honesty
How cancer set me free
by Keith Cullen
When I started chemotherapy at the start of this year, it took me a while to sort through my feelings: the layers of fear and disbelief, the desire to ignore reality (I am well known for this). I finally had to admit to myself – and I am able to say it out loud now – that I have stage 3 bladder cancer.
All the signs were there, telling me my health was unraveling, but it took a medical emergency before I was ready to listen. This I don’t recommend and this is why I want to share my experience will anyone who will listen. Last year was the best year I’ve ever had. I experienced some big personal awakenings, my career was on the rise, my love life was finally worth talking about, the schedule was full, and the lessons I was learning along the way were inspiring me in all the right directions. I was even prepping to attend the Grammys, for a big showcase and for my album.
During that hectic time, I started to notice blood in my urine. I thought I had some sort of infection. Eager to stay on schedule and keep up with the recording, I did the whole “mind over matter” bit, took advice from health experts and finally saw my local doctor.
By December, my symptoms worsened, and while I was on a trip in Sydney, I sought medical help again. Jessica, an Australian doctor I visited for more antibiotics, required me to have an ultrasound instead. That led to another specialist, which led to a CT scan, which led to my laying on the operating table in Sydney. December 8th will be a date I won’t forget, as they removed a large tumour from by bladder, not really knowing the full extent or nature of how the cancer had spread.
I’ve experienced every different type of emotion possible this year, from ‘WHY ME,’ to ‘I got this,’ to ‘I’m okay,’ to ‘This sucks balls.’ I’ve learned to be okay with not being okay.
I’ve been learning the difference between reality and fantasy, and how to be positive within my reality, rather than ignoring it in order to stay positive. I can be happy and have cancer. I can be whole and also sad about my circumstances. I can be afraid and still courageous about what is happening.
‘It takes a lot of strength to share yourself with someone else’ – a lyric of one of my songs written five years ago is back to remind me why it was written!
Being new to cancer and to chemotherapy, I hadn’t imagined it would force me to be so brutally honest and reflective as I currently am. Each decision I make now has meaning and the value attached to survival, and being a source of good has never been stronger at the forefront of my mind.
I’ve been gracefully broken and now am focused on rebuilding a stronger, more knowledgable, kinder Keith who surrenders to my new path and will continue to keep my arms wide open to life’s opportunities, whilst doing some good along the way.
Everyone is different regarding their journey. Please feel free to share yours with me. Just reach out at any point: Keithcullengm@yahoo.ie