When I was first ill with Testicular Cancer, back at the fag end of the last millennium, I was obsessed with travel. Lying in a sweltering hot ward at the QE Hospital in Birmingham, I'd play audiobooks of Billy Connolly's 'World Tour of Australia' and fantasise about the Great Barrier Reef. The more immobile I became during my treatment the obsession grew. The fact I couldn't go anywhere, meant I wanted to go everywhere. When I was finally well again I spent a year saving up and then went off backpacking around the world. That was one of the best decisions I've ever made. Since then I've made countless trips to far flung places and should have share in Lonely Planet, with the amount of guidebooks I've bought.
Fast forward 20 years and my travel needs are a bit more prosaic. My main journey these days is the 4 miles to and from hospital. Over the course of almost three and a half years since diagnosis, I must have made that trip hundreds of times. I pretty much could fall asleep on the bus and know from the dip of a pothole that my stop was coming up.
Often that short journey was hard though. I was regularly tired, nauseous and really didn't want to hear a terrible R'n'B song coming from some school kids tinny mobile speaker. If I used the tube I'd often have to stand on a crowded train and it was exhausting. The worst part of my twenty sessions of radiotherapy weren't the actual treatments, but the daily travel to and from them.
This is where James McNaught and his charity Cancer on Board comes in. James had a similar experience to me traveling to UCLH for his treatment. He came up with the idea of doing a cancer version of the Baby on Board badge produced by TfL. With hidden disabilities this can be a great help with letting other passengers know you could be vulnerable and need a seat.
The badges were trialed to great success, and the charity had it's official launch in the House of Lords last week. TfL have even adopted their own, broader in scope, Please offer me a seat badge. So I thought it was time I gave one a go.
The badges are obviously a great idea, but I had misgivings about wearing one myself. I've always fought against any binary labeling of my illness. Yes I have cancer but also I'm a lot of other things too. Just because I have a critical illness doesn't mean I stop being me. I hate bland epithets like "brave" "strong" or worst of all "inspiration" God that's patronising beyond belief. I would rant about that more but read this or this for great takes on disability inspiration porn. Why would I want to advertise to the world my disease? It's nothing to be proud of. It's nothing I've done or achieved. It definitely isn't " a gift" There's not a day goes by where my life would not be irrevocably improved by being cancer free.
Putting these feelings aside I pinned my badge on my coat when it came through the post from James, and I've spent the last week out and about around London. My first trip was on a crowded rush hour Northern Line train with no hope of anyone sitting down as we headed into the city. As the crowd thinned out at Bank a nice bloke clocked the badge and let me sit down for the one stop before I left the train at Moorgate. Another time when I entered St Paul's station after a hospital visit on Monday, a chap let me on to the escalator before him, obviously after seeing the badge. Most of the week I just received a few curious glances and some hopeful smiles.
I was still rather self conscious of wearing the badge and I decided to get some other badges to lighten the tone slightly. I found some excellent pins in the Southbank centre shop saying "Have Fun" and "Centre of the Universe" I may have an illness but I still wanted strangers to know I wasn't humourless with it.
The best moment of the week wearing the badge was another time on the Northern Line when a lovely black Labrador pup came and said hello when I sat in a priority seat and wanted scratches. A very intuitive dog and one which totally made my day.
I will keep wearing the badge and see what further responses I get to it. If nothing else it's an interesting social experiment.
This week I've been...Reading John Underwood's new rehab cooking blog and Justin Myers (aka The Guyliner) book "The Last Romeo" ....Listening to the Hookworms latest record Microshift...and my pal Lisa Francesca Nand's just launched pod project The Big Travel Podcast .... Watching Journey's End a powerful film set in the trenches of WW1 one week in 1918.
Next week.. I do something quite terrifying and report back if I don't die.