I HAD always wanted to be a teacher. I felt that it was what God
wanted me to do. And I found it stimulating, and, at times,
But, due to my tendency for anxiety and perfectionism, the
demands of the job gradually began to grind me down. Medics might
find other causes for the lymphoma with which I was diagnosed in
1989, but, to me, it felt as if my body simply gave up, refusing to
go on with my punishing lifestyle.
When I was diagnosed, I was told that the type of lymphoma I had
could be treated, but that it would keep coming back until,
eventually, it would resist treatment. At best, it looked as if I
had about six years.
Strangely, I felt a sense of excitement and relief: at last, I
could escape from teaching. And, if that meant dying, my faith told
me that the next world would offer more rewarding activities than
endless piles of marking.
But it also raised big questions about God's plans for me. If I
had been doing the right thing, why had it worked out to be so
destructive? If I had got it so wrong, why hadn't God given me some
MY SECOND outbreak of cancer involved six months off work. As I
sat in coffee shops and watched the world go by, I realised that
there was life outside the classroom, and the will to live
By this point, I had given up on trying to understand God's plan
for my life; I felt that I had to sort things out for myself. I
decided to get out of the classroom, take early retirement, and
start working as a private tutor. Now, I could take on as much or
as little as I wanted; teaching became rewarding again.
As expected, the cancer came back a third time. And when the
cancer came back, again, for the fourth time, in 1995, I suspected
that this was the end of the road. At that point, however, I was
offered a stem-cell transplant.
Three years later - sustained by the love of my family, friends,
and church community, whose support, I felt, contributed greatly to
my well-being - the cancer had not returned, and it started to
looked as though I might have more years than I had expected.
FOR me, remission was a strange experience; it was almost like
starting all over again. I had to "unpack my bags" and plug back
into life again. I began to think afresh about who I was, and what
I wanted to do with my life.
As part of that, I found myself asking questions about my
sexuality, specifically: why can't I accept that I am gay? Why have
I been running away from it all these years? The answer was simple:
because of the hostility of the world I had grown up in towards
homosexuality, and because of my understanding of the Christian
I also knew that if I refused to accept the truth about myself,
I could make no more progress on my spiritual journey. But I
struggled with this for several years on my own; my faith fell to
pieces and I became very depressed.
I experienced enormous anger with a religion I felt had screwed
up my life. And I felt there was no point in talking to a member of
the clergy, as I felt could predict what answer they would probably
give. At the age of 55, the umbilical cord snapped. I had to grow
up on my own.
I realised I did need help, however, and went to the doctor for
anti-depressants. I also found a Christian counsellor. We worked
together for seven years, exploring my attitudes to work, God, sex
During that time I completely dismantled my faith as it had
been, which had simply reinforced all my hang-ups: my anxiety,
perfectionism, workaholism, and my lack of love and acceptance for
my body, and so on.
I AM now a follower of a human, non-divine Jesus, and, as I try
to make space for "the kingdom" - that community of love and
acceptance which is his constant theme - an energy flows into my
life which others notice, but which I cannot explain. And that's
it. That's my creed.
I still go to church, although I find the services difficult
because there is too much insistent explanation of God. But I go
because my church is a loving and accepting community, which
supported me through illness, and continues to support me as a gay,
and somewhat maverick, Christian.
Alongside my faith and my sexuality, another area of my life
which was re-examined was my attitude to work and achievement. I
had always felt driven to achieve academically, but slowly this has
lost most of its power over me.
The hospital gives me a check-up every year and, in 18 years
since my stem-cell transplant there had been no recurrence. In
fact, at 67 I feel fitter and healthier than ever; so much so that
last summer I even spent five days climbing mountains in the Lake
For me, cancer has turned out to have been the best thing that
ever happened to me: it allowed people to express their love for me
more freely (or perhaps I was just noticing it for the first time),
and as my life juddered to a standstill I had the space to think
about things from scratch.
While remission brought to the surface issues in my life which
took 12 difficult years to work through, I have become much happier
and more together in the process.